National Industrial Recovery Act (1933)
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was enacted by Congress in June 1933 and was one of the measures by which President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to assist the nation's economic recovery during the Great Depression. The passage of NIRA ushered in a unique experiment in U.S. economic history—the NIRA sanctioned, supported, and in some cases, enforced an alliance of industries. Antitrust laws were suspended, and companies were required to write industry-wide "codes of fair competition" that effectively fixed prices and wages, established production quotas, and imposed restrictions on entry of other companies into the alliances. The act further called for industrial self-regulation and declared that codes of fair competition—for the protection of consumers, competitors, and employers—were to be drafted for the various industries of the country and were to be subject to public hearings. Employees were given the right to organize and bargain collectively and could not be required, as a condition of employment, to join or refrain from joining a labor organization.
The National Recovery Administration (NRA), created by a separate executive order, was put into operation soon after the final approval of the act. President Roosevelt appointed Hugh S. Johnson as administrator for industrial recovery. The administration was empowered to make voluntary agreements dealing with hours of work, rates of pay, and the fixing of prices. Until March 1934, the NRA was engaged chiefly in drawing up these industrial codes for all industries to adopt. More than 500 codes of fair practice were adopted for the various industries. Patriotic appeals were made to the public, and firms were asked to display the Blue Eagle, an emblem signifying NRA participation.
From the beginning, the NRA reflected divergent goals and suffered from widespread criticism. The businessmen who dominated the code drafting wanted guaranteed profits and insisted on security for their renewed investment and future production. Congressional critics insisted on continued open pricing and saw the NRA codes as a necessary means of making it fair and orderly. A few intellectuals wanted an even more extensive government role in the form of central economic planning. Finally, unhappy labor union representatives fought with little success for the collective bargaining promised by the NIRA. The codes did little to help recovery, and by raising prices, they actually made the economic situation worse.
Though under criticism from all sides, NRA did not last long enough to fully implement its policies. In May 1935, in the case of the Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the compulsory-code system on the grounds that the NIRA improperly delegated legislative powers to the executive and that the provisions of the poultry code (in the case in question) did not constitute a regulation of interstate commerce. (See the Interstate Commerce Act) In a lengthy and unanimous opinion, the Court seemed to demonstrate a complete unwillingness to endorse Roosevelt’s argument that the national crisis of economic depression demanded radical innovation. Later, FDR would use this Court opinion as evidence that the Court was living in the “horse and buggy” era and needed to be reformed.