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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Robert Reich: Don't Worry, Be Happy... and Bring Back the WPA

Those of you conservatives who just woke up from eight years of Bush-induced deficit-opposition deficit disorder (and those rare birds among you who consistently criticize deficits even when there aren't Dems in the White House) should read Robert Reich's call for more, not less, federal spending:

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.


  1. The good part about the late 40's and early 50's was that most of Europe and the Asian Pacific needed to be rebuilt. It helps economic development to have wars, but only on other nations.

    This recession is caused by borrowed money, a loss of manufacturing jobs to communist nations, and an influx of foreign goods.

    It will take a decade to turn it around. Our Nation needs to require China to take as many goods home with them as they drop off. We need an influx of immigrants to replace our older workforce and to also pay into the tax system so SS and Medicare don't disappear. We need to reduce our military presence in the Middle East and require the Saudi King to provide securtiy for his own oil he needs to market.

  2. How does he come up with 1 out of 6 being unemployed, when 15 Million out of 250 million are unemployed. Either way it is very tough out there, but people need to work with real numbers if we're going to address issues.

    WPA was very successful, and if you want to still admire their work, walk along N. Egan Avenue sidewalks (600 Block) and notice the 1940 WPA date stamped in the yet-perfect concrete sidewalks.

  3. Reich explains that, Rod: he notes that unemployment numbers ignore the even bigger numbers of folks who've given up and left the workforce. Reich is not one to make numbers up.

    Thad: increased U.S. manufacturing, increased exports, and increased buying by China, Germany, and other countries is exactly what President Obama and the G20 leaders agreed to work on. And I'm all for opening our doors to immigrants who want to make the American dream their own. But can you sell increaed immigration and decreased military ivnestment in the Middle East to the members of your own party?

    I'm getting curious, Thad: maybe the best place for you to challenge Herseth Sandlin is as a Democrat running against her in the primary. What do you think?

  4. So the standard of living will probably go down in the US. Must that be the worst thing? Do we really need 4,000 square feet houses and 3 car garages? We are so desperate to be rich and stay on top. It's sickening really. We need a better balance with the rest of the world, and certainly not dependence on China. Some people detest thinking of themselves as world citizens, but we don't have a choice in the matter.

  5. Every day, I run into some amazing thing that the WPA or CCC did. I don't understand why we don't ALWAYS have such a program going on. Also, if there was a TigerBeat magazine featuring posters of policy wonks, I'd buy it and put Robert Reich on my wall. Dreamy!

  6. John, I could live with a long-term decrease in GDP that would cut out a lot of the wasteful consumption from our economy. That would be hard medicine for an economy dependent on ever-increasing (consumption of increasingly unnecessary goods and services. But a lot of people arguing against Reich's point are trying to have it both ways: they want continued economic growth, but they say deficit spending is bad, when Reich makes clear that deficit spending is the only way to kick the economy back into gear. Reich understands how things work—he's definitely worth a poster on Kelsey's wall! (He also has a beard—my kind of guy!)

  7. Robert Reich Poster...only as a dart board. What we did during the depression only prolonged it. I do not mean the deficit spending of the time in itself as the cause, I only mean pointing to policies of the FDR administration as a way to fix a depression is delusional. We recovered and grew the economy out of debt in spite of the New Deal.
    In addition the stimulus spending we are doing now would be damage we could recover from if this was 1940. In 2009, as Reich mentions, we have big hammers in the form of Social Security, Medicare, and Military Spending, that will swallow ever larger parts of the budget until the break it. We cannot grow ourselves out of those problems and until they are fixed, talk about a new WPA is whistling past the graveyard.

  8. Wishful conservative thinkers like Roger keep missing Reich's point: What prolonged the Depression was FDR's regression in his second term to exactly the sort of spending cuts that Roger wants. Reich has consistently said we need to avoid that error and pour on more government spending to juice the economy until the private sector is able to do so. But some conservatives cling to misinformation to preserve their failing ideology....

  9. The rest of the world had a depression at the same time as the united states but were through it in about three years while we continued to suffer until WWII. It makes no sense to argue that a strategy was working for years until that strategy changed; when the rest of the world was out of depression in HALF the time he was using that 'working' strategy.

    Its nice how Cory encourages us to use links to back what we say, but fails to read them before dismissing them with name-calling. 'cling to misinformation to preserve their failing ideology' without pointing out a single incorrect argument I made has the feel of the political equivalent of 'I know you are but what am I'


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