Steel, Rubber, Energy: The Politics of Privatization, C. 1952

Tim Barker, Harvard

It is a commonplace among U.S. historians that Dwight Eisenhower, the first Republican president since Herbert Hoover, governed within the "New Deal paradigm." Indeed, the 1950s are increasingly remembered as a time of social egalitarianism, progressive taxation, and friendly industrial relations. This picture makes it hard for us to remember, much less understand, the strong feelings that surrounded the 1952 election, in particular the feeling within the business community that the outcome of the election had existential stakes for the American economic system. My paper reconstructs this conflict with a focus on members of the original Roosevelt coalition, such as Goldman Sachs chairman Sidney Weinberg and Fort Worth booster Amon G. Carter, who switched loyalties in 1952. I show how the threa of public ownership and control - of steel, synthetic rubber, offshore oil, and atomic energy - both remained alive after the 1940s but also suffered a decisive defeat in the 1950s at the hands of a business elite mobilized around this specific cause. The paper allows us to rethink privatization as something that happened over the course of the ostensible "New Deal order" rather than an external imposition or reversal that emerged in the 1980s.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 69. The New Deal Order and the Origins of Neoliberalism