More than social security, job creation programs, or Keynesian fiscal policy, the idea of full employment galvanized the progressive intelligentsia and excited the imagination of working-class Americans in the 1940s. If historians of the period discuss it at all, however, it is usually as a footnote to New Deal liberalism. These accounts fall short of considering the broader implications of the idea as well as the vigorous business-led opposition to full-employment legislation. The promise of full employment united farmers, workers, and a broad cross-section of the progressive middle class in the conviction that the right to work could be defended against the caprices of a market economy. By questioning business control over the labor market and investment, full employment challenged some of the most essential prerogatives of capitalism. More than security, it promised a fundamental reordering of postwar society.

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