The markets are crashing because of unchecked greed. Schools are failing. Roads are literally collapsing. Airports built in the 1950s cannot handle the demands of twenty-first century flight. Here in Chicago the last major sewer renovation was in 1900.
Americans require jobs that cannot be outsourced. Americans require jobs that will not only make them solvent enough to pay their mortgages, but also healthy enough to see those mortgages through to the joyous day when they’re paid off. Most of all, Americans who watch their cities crumbling around them need to be able to see a future instead of mourn the past. The little guy needs his future to be rosier than his past.
Yeah, it’s that time again. Time for public works, time for infrastructure, time to literally rebuild America.
It’s time for the WPA.
The Works Progress Administration, also known as the Work Projects Administration. Created during the New Deal, it employed millions of people and affected most every area of the country, but especially rural and western mountain populations. The idea was to create a flood of jobs to keep the economy moving until the private sector recovered its balance.
Now, before I am savaged as some kind of socialist-welfare-commie, a few quick Wikipedia facts about the WPA:
About 95 percent of WPA employment and expenditures went to public facilities and infrastructure, such as highways, streets, public buildings, airports, utilities, small dams, sewers, parks, city halls, public libraries, and recreational fields.
The WPA built:
- 650,000 miles of roads
- 78,000 bridges
- 125,000 buildings
- 800 miles of airport runways
Look at those numbers and you realize that most of your life you’ve been reaping the benefits of the work done in that eight year span. And let’s not forget a little thing called Rural Electrification.
Now look at America today. I mean, really – look! Have you felt the craters we laughingly call potholes? While driving under an overpass, have you seen a yellow metal joist up on wooden shims supporting the road overhead? Have you had water trouble? Electricity trouble? Phone trouble? And, parents, how are the schools? You know, the ones built in the 30s and 40s that haven’t had more than new windows since then.
We’re in stop-gap mode. Quick fixes that fall apart in a year, two if we’re lucky. The glib thing to say is that America needs a facelift. Or perhaps a decent chiropractor. But we’re very good at glib, so let’s be blunt instead:
America is crumbling.
I’m not talking about morals, or ethics, or the ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, though yes, all of those have been whacked with a stick. I’m talking about the literal, physical America, the place we live, the place our kids live.
Sure, there are a lot of pretty places. Every city has a nice park or fountain or a building they can rejoice in. Meanwhile the bones of the nation are being leeched of life. The very simple idea of getting from place to place gets complicated when roads are undrivable.
So again I say it’s time for the WPA.
Just think. Buildings like Houston City Hall, or Dealey Plaza in Dallas. State parks like Lapham Peak in Wisconsin, or Lake Afton in Kansas. True, these things are built today, but most of the federal dollars goes to fill the coffers of private corporations. What happens if the American worker gets that money direct?
It would certainly be cheaper, for one thing. If the Iraq war has taught us anything, that old canard that the private sector can do it cheaper is an out-and-out lie. Corporations need profits, and rightly – they answer to the share-holders. But if, as we are so often told, America is like a corporation, then the citizens are the share-holders. Let’s try lining their pockets, just for a change.
And teachers. Let’s hire new teachers, an army of educators. If the old WPA set aside 7 percent for artists, let’s set aside at least that much for teachers, and after-school programs, and summer camps. Remember Jefferson Smith, and his boy’s camp? Let’s all for a moment pretend we’re Jimmy Stewart and make something happen for the next generation of Americans, too.
If the Federal Government is willing to dust off Depression-era laws regarding loans (hello, Bear Stearns), perhaps it’s not beyond them to acknowledge that what America needs is another New Deal – or just the Old Deal, dealt from the top of the deck, not the bottom.
Seriously, it’s time again for the WPA. Let’s hire workers from across America to rebuild America. Let’s lay the infrastructure for the next hundred years. Because the private sector owes its ability to function to the pubic sector’s willingness to invest in infrastructure. So let’s build roads and bridges, schools and civic centers. And while we’re at it, let’s do Rural DSL, too.
It’s time for government to live up to its name and govern. Clearly the money can be found, if there’s a will to find it. There will be a lot of resistance, because Americans don’t like being told what to do. But Americans are also the most pragmatic of idealists, they’ll see the truth of this moment: that the private sector needs time to right itself, the housing market needs time to settle, and we need to invest again in this land we love.
David Blixt, author, citizen