The Need for a Federal Jobs Program.
We find our population suffering from the old inequalities, little changed by our past sporadic remedies. In spite of our effort and in spite of our talk, we have not weeded out the over privileged and we have not effectively lifted up the underprivileged….We have, however, a clear mandate from the people, that Americans must forswear the conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, January 4, 1935
Corporate finance capital will not and cannot get us out of the current economic crisis. Only a large scale federally funded and managed jobs program can save us now. Private corporations, determined to make profit by any and all manner of exploitation, cannot lead a renewal of democracy. This is the lesson of history. Though WWII played a role in rebuilding the American economic machine and ending the Depression, the federally funded Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and other federal programs sustained the country during the Depression. The WPA demonstrates the power of the federal government to creatively employ millions of people in public funded, publicly created and publicly built projects. Over its life, the WPA employed over 3 million people with another 3 million employed in various other public projects of the federal government. Full employment of millions may be sufficient reason to study the efforts of the WPA. However, what was built and why offers an even more inspiring and ennobling vision of what our country can be.
Democracy Education offers study and classes in the history and analysis of the Roosevelt administration’s jobs program. These studies offer insight into how we can reconstruct our democracy. The WPA and New Deal jobs programs, including the CCC and others, built a major portion of the countries infrastructure. The CCC alone planted 3 billion trees; the Federal Art Project created close to 200,000 separate works including post office murals, national parks posters and thousands of sculptures (the FAP also held art classes estimated to have been attended by over 50,000 youth and adults in New York alone); the Federal Writers Project, at its peak, employed over 6,600 writers and produced world famous travel guides on each state in the Union. The Federal Music Project put close to16, 000 musicians to work and in 1939 alone provided over 100,000 youth with music instruction. Many of these projects, many more than most of us know and particularly the infrastructure built by the WPA, are still in use today. These include roads, bridges, city halls, libraries, swimming pools, high schools, zoos, parks, lodges, universities and post offices to name a few. An interesting map of some of these projects can be found here: http://livingnewdeal.berkeley.edu/map/
This map reveals an incredible fact: during the Great Depression our government employed millions of people to rebuild the nation. This means, as the map above illustrates and the numbers listed earlier testify, that in communities across the country people were employed to build a school or a bridge or a university in their own town and at the same time avoid the pain, disenfranchisement and despair of being unable to provide for their family. This is the kind of power and creativity that can only come when the profit motive is removed from the equation and jobs are created by the public and for the public.
Our nation’s infatuation with private capital and private money is relatively new. Only 75 years ago the government of our nation understood that a nation could not be built for profit. Today, cities like Chicago sell their publicly built parking meter system, entire highway systems are sold to private investment companies, and profit driven companies take over our education system. We rush towards the profit motive and bet on finance capital as the tool of nation building and renewal and run from forcing democracy to face squarely its responsibility to put our nation back to work and ensure we leave it better than we found it. Democracy Education concludes that only a federally funded jobs program offers the best hope for both the rebuilding of nation’s economy and the saving of our nation’s soul.