Let me say this as clearly and forcefully as I can: The federal government should be spending even more than it already is on roads and bridges and schools and parks and everything else we need. It should make up for cutbacks at the state level, and then some. This is the only way to put Americans back to work. We did it during the Depression. It was called the WPA.
Yes, I know. Our government is already deep in debt. But let me tell you something: When one out of six Americans is unemployed or underemployed, this is no time to worry about the debt [Robert Reich, "The Truth About Jobs That No One Wants to Tell You," Robert Reich's Blog, 2009.10.01].
But can we really get by with spending for the moment and not thinking about the future? What about our grandkids?
Reich is not just whistling happy tunes. Reich is pointedly mindful of future generations, and he offers an empirical example to show more spending could be the best thing we can do for them:
When I was a small boy my father told me that I and my kids and my grand-kids would be paying down the debt created by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression and World War II. I didn’t even know what a debt was, but it kept me up at night.
My father was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong about this. America paid down FDR’s debt in the 1950s, when Americans went back to work, when the economy was growing again, and when our incomes grew, too. We paid taxes, and in a few years that FDR debt had shrunk to almost nothing.
I know a trillion-dollar deficit is a big scary thing. It's easy to pin all your fears of that man in the White House on that one overwhelming number and the easy rallying cry of "What about our children?!" I'm even willing to entertain serious suggestions to eliminate the deficit and the debt by shutting down Medicare, Medicaid, and the military... which is what you'd have to do, for ten years, to pay off the national debt. (Feel free to peruse the federal budget and come up with your own debt-elimination strategy.) Who needs jobs and economic growth, right?
But if you accept the premise that economic recovery is essential to the fiscal viability of the government (not to mention pills for Grandma and bullets for G.I. Joe), you need to put down your signs, get on board with Reich, and let the government do what the private sector apparently cannot.