Lessons from the WPA

Yes, the government can and did create jobs. There’s a lot to read, but I wanted to highlight this part:

Roosevelt was not a progressive. He ran on a balanced budget platform, and initially attempted to fulfill his campaign promise of reducing the federal budget by slashing military spending from $752 million in 1932 to $531 million in 1934, including a 40% reduction in spending for veteran’s benefits which eliminated the pensions of half-a-million veterans and widows and reduced the benefits for those remaining on the rolls. As well, federal spending on research and education was slashed and salaries of federal employees were reduced. Such programs were reversed after 1935. And one might recall that Roosevelt attempted to return to a balanced budget program in 1937, just as the economy appeared to be slowly recovering. The result was a renewed depression that began in the fall of that year and ran through 1938.

Thus, the Roosevelt Administration was forced into progressive activism because of massive—and organized—popular discontent based mainly in working class and small farmer organizations. The union movement was rejuvenated through the formation of the CIO, farmers organized to prevent the forced sales of their properties (and this often included the threat of armed action), rent strikes were rampant, etc. Chicago, New York, other cities saw massive demonstrations. “Riots” shook the Kentucky coal fields. One must remember that the communist party was large (as these parties go), active, and popular. The specter of revolution was in the air and some politicians responded. Hamilton Fish Jr. instructed his fellow Congressmen, “(i)f we don’t give (security) under the existing system, the people will change the system. Make no mistake about that.”

4 thoughts on “Lessons from the WPA

  1. The writer is correct, the WPA didn’t improve the economy in a dramatic way, not on its own. I like the quotation from John Maynard Keynes, from the early years of the Depression: “As soon as we have a new atmosphere of doing things, instead of one of smothering negation, everybody’s brains will get busy, and there will be masses of claimants for attention, the precise character of which it would be impossible to specify beforehand.”

    Unfortunately, the difference between then and now is that FDR was a leader, which means, in part, that he made people believe he was really making an effort to change things. He made mistakes, but he never seemed cowed or indifferent, as opposed to the floundering phony we’re stuck with today.

  2. odd man out, “floundering phony” that’s pretty harsh my friend. Believe this, Obama is doing the ‘best’ that he can. Roosevelt was sent in by the oligarchy (1%), a group that he was very much a part of, to save Capitalism. He failed. The only reason that Capitalism was eventually saved was because billion$ were spent on World War II. Anybody can start a war which kills millions of people and shifts massive amounts of wealth from one group to another. That’s not leadership. That’s what Roosevelt did and he was no leader. Obama refuses to play the oligarchy’s (1%) warmongering game. And quite frankly he doesn’t really give a damn if Capitalism survives or not. That is what makes him a leader. He’s fighting against the tide and taking the road less traveled. (If you’d like some proof of that it can be provided.)

  3. I guess you and I have read very different accounts of the New Deal and the role Roosevelt played in making it possible, and different accounts of Roosevelt the man. The FDR I know about, through stories from my parents and grandparents as well as the history books, fought passionately to improve the well-being of the poor and jobless. As president, Obama couldn’t even articulate genuine concern for the jobless, let alone fight the tyranny of big banks (as FDR did) or make a strong effort to create jobs programs. Obama floundered from the beginning, caving to every Republican demand, because he thought that was the strategy most likely to get him re-elected. His presidency has been demoralizing. The idea that he refuses to play “the war-mongering game” is absurd. He is every bit as hawkish as Dubya, and just as intent on destroying our civil liberties.

  4. Obama is not the Messiah nor is he the King. He doesn’t get to issue edicts which carry the force of law and must be obeyed or you’ll find yourself imprisoned or dead. There are 535 separate power centers in our Congress that Obama must deal with. Each of them owes something to the military industrial complex, the health care industry, Big oil, the Banksters, and so on. In order to downsize the military, for example, Obama must do battle with the military industrial complex, the Generals and Admirals in the military, every Congressperson with a dog in the fight, etc. Money talks. Big money shouts. If Obama were the Emperor he could order the military to shrink itself. The military would then follow his order or hire someone(s) to splatter his brains all over the windshield of his presidential limousine as it traveled through Dallas. Obama is doing the ‘best’ he can.

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