It's no secret that the only jobs creation program in the US is the military and the military-industrial complex. If you're poor and uneducated, you can always get a job by joining the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Coast Guard or the Border Patrol. If you have a college degree you can join the FBI, the CIA, Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics or any one of numerous other defense contractors. These are America's jobs programs. So when President Obama talks about putting Americans to work building and repairing infrastructure, this is a radical departure from traditional American job creation. But it's what FDR did in the 30s with the Works Progress Administration and the Civil Works Administration.
Faced by what he knew would be a bitter winter, in 1933-34, Hopkins on Nov. 1 presented the President with a plan for a Civil Works Administration (CWA), to be run by his staff, which would initiate federally sponsored work projects throughout the nation, mainly projects of city, county, and state infrastructure, to be designed, planned, and proposed to CWA by those government units. These included repair and construction of streets, roads, schools, public buildings, playgrounds, and parks, as well as flood control, sewage, and water management, and much else of that sort. Roosevelt created the agency nine days after their meeting. Its budget eventually rose to $900 million.
Hopkins managed to employ 800,000 people on such worthwhile projects within ten days. Nearly 2 million had been employed by two weeks later. Nine weeks after the CWA had been started—in the week ending Jan. 18, 1934—the CWA had its peak employment of 4,263,644 men and women. Despite orchestrated charges of corruption and waste in the controlled press, the exhaustive investigations found very little of either. A study commissioned by the Army praised Hopkins and his staff for what had been the largest peacetime project in U.S. history, noting that he had mobilized “in two months nearly as many persons as were enlisted and called to the colors during our year and a half of World War mobilization....”
Beyond preserving the lives and labor power of over 16 million Americans during a cruel winter, CWA built and repaired over 40,000 schools and 255,000 miles of roads and streets; built 469 airports and improved 529 others; laid 12 million miles of sewer pipe; employed 50,000 teachers so that many rural schools could remain open; and built 3,500 playgrounds and athletic fields.
FDR and Hopkins employed 2 million people in two weeks! And Obama, alpost a year later, has not spent the first jobs stimulus program's money. What's going on here? In short order Roosevelt and Hopkins initiated a two pronged jobs programs one prong of which put people to work immediately and the second prong of which involved subcontracting to private companies (Obama's approach) which took a lot longer. The important point is that these jobs programs were NON-MILITARY RELATED. Later WW II would create another huge jobs program and then pent-up consumer demand would provide plenty of jobs in its aftermath. FDR seemed to provide all these jobs without Congressional approval which by today's standards would have dragged on for months so why can't Obama do the same today?
Any non-military related programs already created are paltry in comparison with either the FDR era programs or the vast military budget projected to be $1 trillion in 2010. While US infrastructure continues to deteriorate, while bridges, the electrical grid, water supply and sanitation systems continue to break down and rust away for lack of maintenance, the only way money seems to get spent in the US is on the war machine. The message is clear: if you don't want to lose your house, join the military. If you don't want to be foreclosed on, join the military. If you want a good job, join the military. Or else sit on your duff and collect unemployment. The US political system would rather have you sit on your duff and collect unemployment than for you to go to work and collect a paycheck directly from the government because that would be SOCIALISM. And it's important that socialism should be avoided at all costs, unless it's military related socialism, and that includes putting people to work doing socially useful tasks. I hate to think that today's conservatives are to the right of Adolf Hitler, but Hitler built the Autobahn, a huge non-military social program. Today's conservatives would raise Holy Hell if Obama proposed a social program on the order of the Autobahn or even on the order of the interstate highway system that Eisenhauer oversaw. And Obama's health care reform proposals were to the right of Richard Nixon's, and yet they accuse him of being a socialist.
Obama has promised 4 million jobs in two years. Hell, FDR accomplished that in four months. And he did it by employing workers directly by the Federal government. There was also a project that involved a public-private partnership otherwise known as government subcontracting. This program, the Public Works Administration or PWA, was headed up by Harold Ickes Sr. It got off the ground slowly compared to the CWA because it tackled unemployment indirectly by spending money largely through private contractors. The following explains why:
The PWA's poor performance relative to the CWA was more than just a matter of being ruled by the wrong Harry. Structurally, the CWA was much better able than the PWA to mobilize quickly because it could avoid the cumbersome process of putting contracts out to bid and all the other obstacles to swift action that arise with public-private partnerships. (Government by contract was popular then, and remains so today, because it allows a politician to create the semblance of government action without expanding the government work force. It also caters to the public's belief that the private sector is more capable, an illusion punctured by recent scandals surrounding Blackwater and other U.S. contractors in Iraq.) Hopkins enjoyed immediate carte blanche to apply directly the apparatus of the federal government. He shifted staff from the federal relief program he'd headed up, seized tools and equipment from Army warehouses, and cut checks through the Veterans Administration's vast disbursement system. The CWA laid 12 million feet of sewer pipe and built or made substantial improvements to 255,000 miles of roads, 40,000 schools, 3,700 playgrounds, and nearly 1,000 airports (not to mention 250,000 outhouses still badly needed in rural America). Most of the jobs involved manual labor, to which most of the population, having been raised on the farm, was far more accustomed than it would be today. But the CWA also provided considerable white-collar work, employing, among others, statisticians, bookbinders, architects, 50,000 teachers, and 3,000 writers and artists. ("Hell, they've got to eat like other people," Hopkins noted matter-of-factly.) This was achieved with a remarkable minimum of overhead. Of the nearly $1 billion—the equivalent today of nearly $16 billion—that Hopkins spent during the CWA's five-month existence, 80 percent went directly into workers' pockets and thence stimulated the economy by going into the cash registers of grocers and shop owners. Most of the rest went to equipment costs. Less than 2 percent paid for administration.
Obama's jobs program proposals should take a page out of FDR's book. There are basically two types. 1) Direct government employment such as the WPA and CWA; 2) Government subcontracting for specific peaceful purposes. While it should be easy for the government to set up a WPA style program to put young men, who have a 25% unemployment rate, to work, more expertise is required to build and repair infrastructure. That's where the subcontracting part comes in. This is the same basic approach that is currently used for most military procurement - subcontracting. Most of the money goes out the door to defense contractors rather than being spent directly by the government. Bush Jr tried to privatize the military even more by hiring subcontractors to replace regular troops. Republican philosophy is to privatize the whole damn military-industrial complex so that no one is directly employed by the Federal government and private contractors, who are only in it for the money, will be able to maximize profits. In their philosophy the government would just become one giant contractor subcontracting out all government functions to private subcontractors. But if money went out the door to subcontractors to rebuild infrastructure, that would be socialism. So what do we call it when all government monies go to military related subcontractors? Corporatism? Fascism? National Security Socialism? Or Naseism for short?
It is only failed ideology that prevents Obama from the kind of jobs creation programs that FDR undertook and that I'm advocating here. Instead the Republicans will just say no to any Congressional legislation that would create civilian jobs programs, whether that approach is direct or indirect jobs creation. Their only approach is to give tax cuts to the rich and to expand the military. But didn't FDR and Harry Hopkins create their jobs programs totally within the executive branch without Congressional approval? Yes they did! Why can't Obama do the same?
The answer is he could if he wanted to and he better get with it if he really wants to do something to benefit the legions of unemployed young men, both black and white. Something needs to be done except to exhort everyone to get a college education. Someone needs to realize that the jobs aren't coming back in sufficient numbers to get the unemployment rate down to an acceptable level. It's been government policy for 30 years under Republican administrations - and I include Clinton's in that - to assist corporations to outsource jobs. There is a direct correlation between unemployment today and outsourcing. That's why the government has to be the employer of last resort. Otherwise, it's consigning a vast number of young men and women, but especially men, to lives of crime or homelessness or prison inmatehood. The lower classes of society are never going to go to college so, if the only answer is that everyone has to go to college to escape a life of crime or poverty, if there is no provision of jobs for them, then inmate populations, criminal gangs and homeless populations will swell. And the private sector is phiosophically opposed to the creation of high wage jobs when it can improve profits by creating low wage jobs abroad.
It's disheartening to think that a Democratic President cannot raise the example of FDR and exhort Americans to support him in creating jobs directly through the executive branch as FDR did. As much as Americans are concerned about jobs, I don't think they'll complain if they see them created overnight as FDR and Harry Hopkins did. Will Americans that have newly created jobs accuse Obama of socialism? I don't think so. Let the Republicans complain as they undoubtedly will, but at least Obama will have something to show for it besides a 10% unemployment rate which everyone predicts will last through 2010. And this will doom Democratic election prospects this year.
So Obama should take a bold step and overcome his centrism, timidity and fear of Republican disapproval. He doesn't have to worry about garnering 60 votes in the Senate if he would just use his executive powers to create jobs directly for the American people.