Abstract: The Conservative State in the New Deal: Public and Private Power in Los Angeles

Thomas Dorrance


The paper looks at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to understand the reconfiguration of public and private power in Los Angeles during the New Deal. In doing so, it charts a shift as business leaders in the city moved from looking at state power as a resource to maintain local control over the economic relations to instead viewing the state as a corruptive influence in the economy. Working within the New Deal, business leaders developed a critique of the state that emphasized the susceptibility of elected politicians to popular pressure while embracing the bureaucracy of works programs as a means to build up the city's physical infrastructure. As a result, the New Deal developed in Los Angeles outside the informal sphere of extra-governmental politics, and local civic leaders interacted with the state as consumers of government policy rather than as participants in state development.