Brother, Can You Spare A Billion? The Story of Jesse Jones  

Executive Producer and Co-Writer

Steven Fenberg, executive producer and co-writer, has been a student of the Jesse H. Jones legacy for a number of years. After establishing the Jesse H. Jones Archive and developing a permanent exhibit on Jones' life and contributions, Fenberg began an oral history project to record the memories of those who had known Jones. From there, the seeds of a documentary, Brother, Can You Spare a Billion? The Story of Jesse H. Jones, were sown. The multi-awarding winning program, which is narrated by Walter Cronkite, airs April 3, 2000 from 10:00 to 11:00 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide (check local listing). In the following interview, Fenberg shares his thoughts on Jones and his own role in the project.

Q: Jesse Jones is not a familiar name to most people. Why did you feel it was important to share his life story and legacy through the PBS documentary Brother, Can You Spare a Billion?

I felt it was important to tell Jesse Jones' story, because to me, he embodies the best of capitalism. He shows us how to increase personal wealth and improve the common good at the same time. Jones also shows us how government programs can be operated at a profit. He initiated and ran huge relief agencies that made money for the Federal government during one our nation's most disastrous economic events, the Great Depression. I think that is something that deserves great attention today.

Q: Jesse Jones' contributions to the nation are remarkable -- from helping to save the nation's economic system during the Great Depression to transforming the Red Cross into the worldwide relief agency it is today. What do you think Jones' greatest contribution was?

I think Jones' greatest contribution was saving capitalism during the Great Depression. I won't go as far as to say that he solved the depression, because that happened with the onset of World War II. But, he certainly put a strong foundation under a crumbling economy through his agencies at the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. And, he did so through the clever use of credit. I think his other great contribution was militarizing industry in time to fight and win World War II. Roosevelt knew that he had to start the mobilization process, but he also understood that if he approached Congress for appropriations, he would have to fight the isolationists, which would have caused great delay. Instead, he turned to Jones and the RFC to fund the defense plants that would build the great "arsenal of democracy."