The Great Depression was a stark time in the United States, with many feeling the pain of hunger and malnutrition, but for some of the wealthiest families in America the Great Depression was a time of profit, as many of the wealthiest profited from this period of recession. Huey Long was one of the first political figures to talk about this openly and pioneered what many knew as a gut feeling, that the rich were cheating the poor in America. A sentiment that regained traction in political movements such a Occupy Wall Street following the 2008 Recession, or even Bernie Sander’s movement, both often using the idea of an exploitative “1%” rigging the system to stay rich.
Huey Long knew of poverty personally and used this as a rallying cry, using oratory skill and real world metaphors to illustrate his point that federal spending, a wealth tax, and wealth redistribution would stimulate the economy and help the poor. But Long also echoed the isolationism of the time, something that has also re-emerged recently, Long claimed Standard Oil and Wall Street were an influence over US foreign policy and argued for reform. But most famously Long argued that Roosevelt’s New Deal didn’t go fair enough in tackling poverty and inequality.
Long gained so much support through his skill as a public speaker, for example carrying out on of the longest Filibusters in US history, speaking for 15 hours and 30 minutes trying to block the National Recovery Act in 1935. This level of commitment and heartfelt conviction earned Long and his proposals widespread support, Long established local 'Share Our Wealth' clubs across the US with millions becoming members. In a current age of populist bandwagon jumpers, especially on the right, now is a good time to remember figures like Huey Long, appreciate how long these negative dynamics have perpetuated themselves in society, and ask ourselves, have we lost any scope for moral improvement in how we organise society?