Huey Long first came to national attention as governor of Louisiana in 1928 and U.S. Senator in 1930. He ruled Louisiana as a virtual dictator, but he also initiated massive public works programs, improved public education and public health, and even established some restrictions on corporate power in the state. While Long was an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, by the fall of 1933 the Long-Roosevelt alliance had ruptured, in part over Long’s growing interest in running for president. In 1934 Long organized his own, alternative political organization, the Share-Our-Wealth Society, through which he advocated a populist program for redistributing wealth through sharply graduated income and inheritance taxes. As his national recognition (and ambitions) grew, he spoke with increasing frequency to national radio audiences. No politician in this era—except Roosevelt himself and Long’s sometime ally, Father Charles Coughlin—used radio as frequently and effectively. In this April 1935 radio address, Long sharply criticized FDR and the New Deal and then sketched out his alternative program.Listen to Audio:
Huey Long: Now in the third year of his administration, we find more of our people unemployed than at any other time. We find our houses empty and our people hungry, many of them half-clothed and many of them not clothed at all.
Mr. Hopkins announced twenty-two millions on the dole, a new high-water mark in that particular sum, a few weeks ago. We find not only the people going further into debt, but that the United States is going further into debt. The states are going further into debt, and the cities and towns are even going into bankruptcy. The condition has become deplorable. Instead of his promises, the only remedy that Mr. Roosevelt has prescribed is to borrow more money if he can and to go further into debt. The last move was to borrow $5 billion more on which we must pay interest for the balance of our lifetimes, and probably during the lifetime of our children. And with it all, there stalks a slimy specter of want, hunger, destitution, and pestilence, all because of the fact that in the land of too much and of too much to wear, our president has failed in his promise to have these necessities of life distributed into the hands of the people who have need of them.
Now, my friends, you have heard me read how a great New York newspaper, after investigations, declared that all I have said about the bad distribution of this nation’s wealth is true. But we have been about our work to correct this situation. That is why the Share Our Wealth societies are forming in every nook and corner of America. They’re meeting tonight. Soon there will be Share Our Wealth societies for everyone to meet. They have a great work to perform.
Here is what we stand for in a nutshell:
Number one, we propose that every family in America should at least own a homestead equal in value to not less than one third the average family wealth. The average family wealth of America, at normal values, is approximately $16,000. So our first proposition means that every family will have a home and the comforts of a home up to a value of not less than around $5,000 or a little more than that.
Number two, we propose that no family shall own more than three hundred times the average family wealth, which means that no family shall possess more than a wealth of approximately $5 million—none to own less than $5,000, none to own more than $5 million. We think that’s too much to allow them to own, but at least it’s extremely conservative.
Number three, we propose that every family shall have an income equal to at least one third of the average family income in America. If all were allowed to work, there’d be an income of from $5,000 to $10,000 per family. We propose that one third would be the minimum. We propose that no family will have an earning of less than around $2,000 to $2,500 and that none will have more than three hundred times the average less the ordinary income taxes, which means that a million dollars would be the limit on the highest income.
We also propose to give the old-age pensions to the old people, not by taxing them or their children, but by levying the taxes upon the excess fortunes to whittle them down, and on the excess incomes and excess inheritances, so that the people who reach the age of sixty can be retired from the active labor of life and given an opportunity to have surcease and ease for the balance of the life that they have on earth.
We also propose the care for the veterans, including the cash payment of the soldiers' bonus. We likewise propose that there should be an education for every youth in this land and that no youth would be dependent upon the financial means of his parents in order to have a college education.
Source: Courtesy of Andy Lanset.