As part of the centennial celebration of Princeton University’s Industrial Relations Section, this exhibit showcases the work of labor economist, and Princeton economics professor, J. Douglas Brown (1898-1986). Brown’s philosophies of individual incentive, mutual responsibility, and the preservation of dignity under a system of democratic capitalism informed the design of the Social Security Act. Upon signing the bill into law on August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that it “represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete ….” Despite notable incremental changes since then, the legislation that is Brown’s legacy has benefited over 70 million people.
In 1935, as millions of workers received employment relief through the New Deal, policy makers took on the economic problems of older adults. During the period in 1935 known as the "Second Hundred Days," Roosevelt aimed his political trajectory at developing a contributory insurance program that would benefit eligible older adults as a matter of right. He faced three questions: Would such a law be constitutional? How could the Treasury raise the money? What would a sound program look like for the nation?
As one of four staff consultants, Brown was instrumental to the President’s “Committee on Economic Security” in drafting the original bill for the national pension system. Throughout his decade of service to the Federal government, Brown remained a dedicated member of the Princeton faculty, serving as Director of the Industrial Relations Section, and later as the Dean of Faculty. In the latter part of his career, he took on the role of the first Provost of Princeton University.