Tag Archives: stimulus

Why Not a New WPA?

Sidewalk Lippitt Park

That’s a seventy-year-old sidewalk laid down by WPA workers in the Great Depression. Still sound, like a lot of the infrastructure work done then.

The New York Times business section puts in simple terms why stimulus money used wisely on needed repairs is smart policy…

Millions of Americans remain out of work only because employers can already produce more than enough to meet depressed demand. The obvious remedy is to increase total spending. Although economic stimulus has become a controversial topic in the abstract, a few simple observations should persuade every sensible legislator — perhaps even a majority! — to support a specific type of higher spending: accelerated refurbishment of our crumbling infrastructure.

Some in Congress have consistently opposed the president’s infrastructure proposals, citing the huge national debt. But that’s an incoherent objection. If repairs to the Capitol dome or a tattered stretch of interstate highway are postponed, they will just become more costly. Many job seekers have the skills for this work. If we wait, we’ll have to bid them away from other tasks. The required materials are cheaper now than they will ever be. And interest rates are at record lows.
Of course, the debt is an important long-run problem, but deferring infrastructure repairs will only worsen it. Relative to current policy, then, such projects would address multiple pressing problems without distress.

Pumping up consumption while neglecting essentials just means that the car we bought on credit gets dinged in the pothole we didn’t fix.

It’s true, Americans want jobs, but when we get past the desperate stage we want work that matters. The WPA created both jobs and useful work. Why not build on what we learned then at such cost?

Job of Work

I was stuck waiting in my car yesterday evening so I improved my mind by listening to live coverage of the Republican National Convention.

There were politicians talking about how their parents, their grandparents, their families started small businesses. We love small businesses no matter what party we vote for. The big businesses and multi corporations that both parties answer to for the big bucks were staying discretely in the background. That’s always the way. McDonalds hides behind the Mom and Pop diner and Walmart wipes out the corner store. Good luck, small businesses, you are minnows in the shark pool.

Anyway, I am sick of this phrase, ‘Job Creators’. If you are religious, there is only one Creator, and His name is not Donald Trump. If you are scientific you know that Einstein said you can’t make something from nothing. Since when have some of our population assumed Godlike powers? This couldn’t be Evolution, could it? Wouldn’t that be problematic with the base?

With all this self-congratulation about being the party of Job Creators, the politicians I heard seldom used the word ‘work’. Perhaps because ‘workers’ has a slightly discomforting sound, as if perhaps the workers might start organizing. It’s better to focus on the Job Creators, who bestow employment on the deserving if we just give them enough tax breaks and deregulation.

I think we are all, Republicans and Democrats, looking in the wrong direction. A job is a task. You can get a job digging holes and filling them in, but that would not be meaningful or dignified work. Anyone with their eyes open knows that there is abundant opportunity for work that needs doing. Construction and rehabilitation of our cities, roads and bridges, creative problem solving, service work for our growing elderly population to name a few obvious crying needs. There are qualified people ready to do this work.

We still use construction almost 80 years old from the WPA. I wish the Obama Administration had called it that. ‘Stimulus’ doesn’t have the historical connection that would have made it clear how we got the job done in the Great Depression.

Beyond that, we are in a new millenium. No one has to spend forty years kicking a foot press in a stifling mill. It’s all automated. The human being, who is capable of so much more than being used as industrial machinery could make her contribution though meaningful work, or be discarded and despised for her unemployment.

It’s been said that ‘workfare’ only makes sense when the government is committed to 100% employment. You don’t shove someone out of the plane without a parachute. There are not enough jobs. There is more than enough work. To balance the real needs and resources will require both private and public institutions in coordination, with some commitment to the good of our country.

There was a phrase I first heard at Occupy Providence, ‘solidarity economy’. An economy that takes into account mutual aid and the public good, independence and free enterprise, equal representation for all regardless of social class. If we get too fixated on ‘jobs’ we are not aiming high enough. If we don’t recognize that we all built it, we are deluding ourselves.

It’s like a game of mis-direction. No matter which side is talking, don’t watch their mouths, watch their hands.

Tom Sgouros has an analysis of job destruction in North Kingstown at Rhode Island’s Future.

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