Rexford Guy Tugwell

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Rexford Guy Tugwell

Born July 10, 1891
Sinclairville, New York
Died July 21, 1979
Santa Barbara, California
Spouse Florence Arnold,[1]
Grace Falke

Rexford Guy Tugwell (July 10, 1891 - July 21, 1979) was the most influential ideologue of economic planning in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. He was a leading liberal proponent of the welfare state, but held only minor jobs.


Tugwell came from a New York State farm, went from high school to the Wharton School of Business and then began as a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington and finally Columbia. Raymond Moley, who knew him at Columbia, drafted him for Roosevelt's Brain Trust in 1932 and when Roosevelt was inaugurated Tugwell was made Assistant Secretary of Agriculture under Henry Wallace.

Tugwell wrote:

Planning will become a function of the federal government; either that or the planning agency will supersede the government, which is why, of course, such a scheme will be assimilated to the State.

While at the Wharton School, Tugwell was a student of radical professors such as Simon Patten and Scott Nearing.[2][3] There, he drew much inspiration from the writings of Thorstein Veblen.[4][5] Once he went to Columbia University, he attended lectures by John Dewey.[2]

Banking crisis of 1933

President Herbert Hoover tried to coordinate national policy with FDR to deal with the banking crisis during the long interregnum between the November election and the March 4 inauguration, but Roosevelt refused to cooperate. Tugwell communicated a message which said President Roosevelt was "fully aware of the bank situation and that it would undoubtedly collapse in a few days." Ray Moley explained years later Roosevelt refused to cooperate because "he preferred to have conditions deteriorate and gain for himself the entire credit for the rescue operation." [6]

Economic planning and the New Deal

The theory of economic planning envisions government bureaus and planning boards mandating what goods will be produced, in what quantities, who the producers shall be, prices of pre-finished and finished goods, wage levels and compensation of workers, regulations, conditions, etc Cartels, such as were established in Germany under the Third Reich, would unite with foreign counterparts that would regulate the international flow of goods. The central planning agency would control the banks and the flow of all investment, deciding who will benefit and at what price. It is essentially a centralized command and control economy, or totalitarian regime, such as was common throughout the world in the 1930s. James Burnham referred to this as the Managerial Society, or rule by the 'experts' and technicians.

Secretary Tugwell and FDR

It was at this point in time that terms in the basic political lexicon of America were transformed -partly due to Tugwell's influence. The term 'liberal', which at one time was considered moderate and even mainstream, became a code word for 'radical', and 'socialism'. The idea's formerly associated with 'liberalism' became conservative, libertarian, or classical liberalism.

Tugwell as "the most left-wing member of Roosevelt's brain trust" was "open in his respect for Mussolini's economic policies." Of the Fascist system he wrote, "It's the cleanest, neatnest [sic], most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen. It makes me envious." [7]

U.S. Ambassador to Italy Breckinridge Long wrote to Tugwell, “Your mind runs along these lines [corporativism]… It may have some bearing on the code work under N.R.A.”[8] Tugwell, the “most prominent of the Brain Trusters and the man often considered the chief ideologist[9] of the ‘first New Deal’ (roughly, 1933–34),” said, “I find Italy doing many of the things which seem to me necessary…. Mussolini certainly has the same people opposed to him as FDR has. But he has the press controlled so that they cannot scream lies at him daily.”[10]

Crash of 1937

As hopes for the Second New Deal faded with the onset of the Recession of 1937, a book appeared in early 1938 entitled, An Economic Program for American Democracy which postulated, "The government must assume full responsibility for maintaining national income at a sufficiently high level to assure full utilization of our human and material resource...The notion that public spending can be safely resorted to as a temporary emergency device must be abandoned."

Tugwell and Leon Henderson claimed the first two incarnations of the New Deal failed because government intervention had been on a far too modest scale. Instead of spending three billion a year, for which Roosevelt was being criticized, Tugwell said FDR should have spent twelve billion a year. President Roosevelt was delighted with the advice.

Roosevelt told DNC Chairman Jim Farley on March 28, 1938 many WPA projects approved by the government were abandoned because the states and cities could not raise the money to support them. The one big spending program the federal government could fund was defense. FDR biographer John Flynn described the situation in the county, and the world, as Tugwell's and other Brain Trusters ideas were adopted:

Governor Tugwell, standing on the left
The onset of fascist governments in Europe ...corresponded precisely with the schemes of the Tugwells and Hansens and Hendersons and Hillmans and Wallaces and Hopkinses which had now become the motif of the Third New Deal -not Communist, not fascist, but a common program on which for the moment Communists and fascists and various grades of pinks could unite under the great goal of the State Planned and Managed Capitalism for abundance....billions were flowing again, everything was going up wages, prices, sales and government debt. But it didn't matter because now we had learned from the Harvard and Tufts economists that government debt is a mere nothing - something we "owe to ourselves." We were all off on a grand crusade to save the liberties and the "democracy" of Europe, now caught in the great final disaster which marked the climax of all those crazy ideas that had bred fascism and Communism in Europe and which were now being introduced into America...

In 1941, Roosevelt appointed Tugwell as governor of Puerto Rico.[11]


  • "If we lack purchasing power, we lack everything. There is just one thing to do: Take incomes from where they are and place them where we need them."[12]
  • "To attempt to support prosperity values for property among an idle and impoverished people is a futile gesture. Its like trying to revive a dying tree by applying fertilizer to its branches instead of to its roots."[13][12]


  • The Economic Basis of Public Interest, (1922)
  • Industry's Coming of Age, (1927)
  • Soviet Russia in the second decade: a joint survey by the technical staff of the first American Trade Union Delegation, (1928)
  • Mr. Hoover's Economic Policy,(1932)
  • The Industrial Discipline and the Governmental Arts, (1933)
  • Our economic society and its problems: a study of American levels of living and how to improve them, (1934)
  • The Battle for Democracy, (1935)
  • Puerto Rican Public Papers of R. G. Tugwell, Governor, (1945)
  • Forty-Fifth Annual Report of the Governor, 1945, (1945)
  • The Stricken Land: The Story of Puerto Rico, (1947)
  • The Place of Planning in Society: Seven Lectures, (1954)
  • A Chronicle of Jeopardy, 1945–1955, (1955)
  • The Democratic Roosevelt: A Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, (1957)
  • The Art of Politics, As Practiced by Three Great Americans: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Luis Munoz Marin, and Fiorell H. LaGuardia, (1958)
  • The Enlargement of the Presidency, (1960)
  • The Light of Other Days, (1962)
  • How They Became President, (1964)
  • FDR: An Architect of an Era, (1967)
  • The Brains Trust, (1968)
  • Grover Cleveland, (1968)
  • In Search of Roosevelt, (1972)
  • The Emerging Constitution, (1974)
  • Roosevelt's Revolution: The First Year, a Personal Perspective (1977)

See also