“He was forgotten,” noted Steven Fenberg, author and documentarist, when I asked him to characterize most people’s knowledge of Jesse Jones (1874-1956). It was an unlikely fate for the man once described as “The Fourth Branch of Government” whose entrepreneurial skills with philanthropic endeavors to help build Houston into the nation’s fourth largest city. Fenberg wrote about Jones’s achievements in Unprecedented Power: Jesse Jones, Capitalism, and the Common Good, and he spoke to the Junior Fellows about them in the World Affairs Council’s “Conversations About History.”
Fenberg described his early interest in Jones, prompted in part when the Houston Endowment asked him to create a chronological history of Jones. Fenberg was given complete access to the Jones’ papers, which gave him unique insight into Jones’s world and power. Jones was the Director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) under both Hoover and Roosevelt, and he used this position to solidify the US economic system by providing loans and bailing out banks. Remarkably, it is possible that the outcome of World War II could have been different if it weren’t for Jones and his support of industries that were crucial to the war effort. It was this type of influence that made Jones an advisor to presidents from Wilson to Truman.
Fenberg fielded numerous questions, with his responses hinting at the old adage of history repeating itself. Fenberg pointed out how the Financial Crisis of 2008 was handled in a similar fashion, via T.A.R.P (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funding, to the RFC funding during the Great Depression.
The Junior Fellows greatly enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and talk with Steven Fenberg and would like to thank him for not only his time in coming to visit with us, but would also like to thank the World Affairs Council for facilitating this discussion with this great author!