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America’s Great Depression began quietly in August of 1929, followed by the stock market crash of October, wiping out equity for thousands of individuals and companies, throwing millions out of work overnight. Some of the very wealthy avoided its devastating effects. Most didn’t.
In the deepest part of that Great Depression, Americans elected Franklin Roosevelt, who implemented his New Deal policies. The New Deal mandated a changed role for the Federal government. No longer passive, government became active and forceful in steering human behavior and the American economy. The government built dams along the Tennessee River. Farmers were paid not to grow crops, which ended wasteful surpluses and raised their income. Workers gained the right to unionize for better wages and conditions.
Most of all, Congress and the President created the Public Works Administration to build large public-benefit projects like bridges, schools and highways around the country, and give people jobs. The PWA employed millions, including artists. Efforts like these lifted the nation out of depression and poverty, and gave America back its future.
That concept—government by and for the people—runs throughout the Baha’i teachings. The Baha’i vision of a just government starts with democratic representation in a federal system, and then expands that representation to every human being on Earth:
…the Supreme Tribunal which His Holiness Baha’u’llah has described will fulfill this sacred task with the utmost might and power. And his plan is this: that the national assemblies of each country and nation—that is to say, their parliaments—should elect two or three persons who are the choicest men of that nation, and are well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments and aware of the essential needs of the world of humanity in this day. The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number of inhabitants of that country. The election of these souls who are chosen by the national assembly—that is, the parliament—must be confirmed by the upper house, the congress and the cabinet and also by the president or monarch so that these persons may be the elected ones of all the nation and the government. From among these people the members of the Supreme Tribunal will be elected, and all mankind will thus have a share therein, for every one of these delegates is fully representative of his nation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, pp. 32-33.
Abdu’l-Baha further endorsed such a global democratic system when he told an American congressman:
You can best serve your country if you strive, in your capacity as a citizen of the world, to assist in the eventual application of the principle of federalism, underlying the government of your own country, to the relationships now existing between the peoples and nations of the world. – quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 87.
Baha’is believe that a federal system of government represents the best foundation for the ordered life of mankind on this planet, the best foundation for responding to the immediate and long-term needs of the peoples of the world.
Of course, the question arises: “how do we pay for such a global system?” I cite below a beginning to fair and adequate resource allocation from Benjamin Franklin in an 1883 letter:
What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of living might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of public utility; what an extension of agriculture even to the tops of our mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals; what bridges, aqueducts, new roads, and other public works, edifices, and improvements… might not have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good, which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief.
The Baha’i teachings share that view:
The war expenses of each nation have increased greatly of late years. Although there has not been the physical clash and turmoil of actual war, yet in reality a financial and economic war has been going on incessantly and draining the resources of the people. For a goodly portion of what the poor labourers, farmers and artisans get with the sweat of their brows and the labour of their hands is taken from them under the name of taxes, and expended over military preparations. Hence war is uninterrupted. This exaction breeds discontent, class feeling and group consciousness against the established order;-everyone realizing that human society is out of gear. Now if they could employ this pugnacity, this hammer and tongs, this fists and heels spirit, this feverish haste in the accumulation of war materials, this waste of great thoughts over the perfection of military science—I say if they could expend this exertion and effort, this endeavour and high-mindedness, in bringing about Love among mankind, in strengthening the ties of interdependence between nations and governments and in establishing fellowship and affinity between the races—how much more efficacious it would have been! Instead of unsheathing the sword to shed each other’s blood, they should think of the perfection of each other’s civilizations, sciences, arts, commerce, progress and advancement. Is this not better? Is it not worthier for the noble station of man? – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 180.
Franklin also wrote: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Rather than expending all of our energy and preparation on the immediate threat of hostility and war, we would all do humanity a great service if we prepared now for the inevitable extension of the concept of federalism to the entire world.