We feel more patriotic when the government splashes the cash | Torsten Bell | Opinion

Times change. JFK might have told Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you”, but 30 years earlier FDR’s New Deal was all about what the state could do to help Americans out of the huge Wall Street crash-induced depression they’d fallen into.

But what was the effect of Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal, which saw US federal spending rise from 4% of GDP in 1933, to more than 9% by the end of the decade? Most answers to that question focus on its impact on unemployment and the economy. But an imaginative study has examined its impact on Second World War patriotism.

It turns out that what your country was willing to do for you had a significant link to what you were willing to do for your country. People in the areas of the US that benefited most from the New Deal were much more likely to engage in “patriotic” acts, such as buying war bonds. They also put their lives, not just their cash, on the line, being more likely to volunteer to fight and to do the kind of brave/dangerous things in battle that get you a medal.

Now, hopefully, there’s no war coming up, but the important lesson is that how the state treats people and places clearly affects how those people and places feel towards the state. That’s worth bearing in mind as the government promises to “level up” Britain with £100bn of new infrastructure projects set to be outlined in this month’s budget.

Torsten Bell is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. Read more at resolutionfoundation.org

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