Social Security has long been called the third rail of American politics—an unassailable institution for which we can thank Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Or can we?
Abraham Epstein was a major figure in American social reform during the first half of the twentieth century. His name and his theories appear in almost every book written on Social Security and the New Deal, but a full account of his life has never been made. Epstein’s son, Pierre, now secures his legacy in this book that tells for the first time the story of his father’s role in the conception and enactment of Social Security and sheds new light on the inner workings of the Roosevelt administration.
Combining memoir and intellectual history, Pierre Epstein takes readers behind the scenes of New Deal legislation to tell how his father’s fast-moving career led him to become the real architect of Social Security—he even came up with those two words to explain his theories. A prolific journalist, founder of the American Association for Social Security, and author of numerous books, including Insecurity: A Challenge to America, Abe Epstein fought desperately with FDR to remedy the failings of the original Social Security Act—only to be cast aside by political machinations. Nonetheless, the exclusion did not stop him from making significant contributions to the 1939 amendments that solidified Social Security for coming generations of Americans.
In this book readers will meet a colorful and tenacious player in the history of this critical piece of social insurance legislation—an obsessed reformer who mobilized support from the bottom up for his vision of Social Security. They will also meet his family and learn of the struggles and frustrations Abe Epstein faced in making his way in America as an immigrant Russian Jew.
This engaging book fills a major gap in the historical record, showing that Social Security is more than a technical subject about finance and actuarial statistics, that it is primarily a human idea with deep philosophical roots. In the face of today’s privatization controversy, Abraham Epstein’s theories have much to tell us about the current debate while Pierre Epstein’s insightful narrative shows us the underlying importance of one man’s indelible legacy.