WPA for Today!

As Bill Maher said a little while back, “Our shit is dingy.”

He was referring to the dilapidated state of America’s infrastructure, and who could disagree with him? According to infrastructurereportcard.org , the U.S. received a D in its last infrastructure assessment. And the more you look, the worse the situation gets.

Yea, we're in great shape.

Digging a little deeper, the Pew Research Center discovered that more than ¼ of our nation’s bridges are in dire need of repair or carrying more traffic than they were designed to support.

And if you live by a dam, you might want to consider buying a sturdy, inflatable raft. Again, according to Pew, “The number of dams that could fail has grown 134% since 1999 to 3,346, and more than 1,300 of those are “high-hazard,” meaning their collapse would threaten lives…More than a third of dam failures or near failures since 1874 have happened in the last decade.

That mentioned, I have a suggestion : why don’t we bring back the Works Progress Administration (WPA)? Don’t know what the WPA was? Fear not, I’ll tell you all about it…okay, I’ll give you links and quote from credible sources, but I played a hand in your education, too!

A Brief History Lesson

The WPA began in 1935, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Besides moxie and elbow grease, the WPA used the skills of “more than 8,500,000 different persons on 1,410,000 individual projects, and had spent about $11 billion.” Workers built roads, hospitals, bridges, parks and airports, etc., etc., etc…

But they didn’t just build, they also improved. Additionally, the WPA benefited communities everywhere by providing books to rural areas, running nursery schools and even dabbling in archaeology (look here).

Sounds good, right? Well, if you were a Republican you would have scowled at the very thought of such progress. And much like conservatives today, the Depression-era GOP said projects like these were socialist. Agree or disagree on your own, but, for the sake of fairness, I must admit that the WPA wasn’t perfect.

Okay, Let’s Learn from Our Mistakes

I see the hammer, but where's the sickle, you dirty Commie!?!

As EH.net points out, the WPA had its flaws. 1) It didn’t end the Depression, and it didn’t help much in regards to the unemployment percentages;2) wages differed from state-to-state, and more work was done in areas where FDR wasn’t a locked in favorite; 3) the WPA may have hindered the recovery process.

Now, those aren’t facts but merely opinions as to why the WPA didn’t work. If you’re skeptical about the WPA and want to here more, I suggest you click on the link above. Personally, I agree but mostly disagree with that article, but I’m not going to get into it too much because this piece is already longer than it should be. I just wanted to show that the WPA wasn’t blemish-free, like every other endeavor in American history.

I will say this, however, in defense of the WPA. Say what you will about corruption and the ills of big government (if that’s your thing), but the numbers don’t lie. Again, 8.5 million unemployed Americans were able to get a steady paycheck, and 1.4 projects—including the Timberline Lodge (i.e., the hotel from “the Shining”) and LaGuardia Airport—were constructed. Saying it bluntly, people didn’t have to starve (and they didn’t just get a “free lunch” either) and tangible progress was made.

But, in starting up another WPA, we should naturally take precautionary measures to insure that the same terrible mistakes aren’t made twice. I’m talking about taking the politics out of the equation (as best as we can, anyways). As the WPA would be a federal project, we could simply ignore state boundaries and set up a bi-partisan commission to assess which areas of the country need the most relief. It’s as easy as making a list, with the worst coming in at #1.

Funding Progress

So how do I propose to fund the WPA without adding to our national deficit? I think we should finance it by taking the funds out of something that’s grown freakishly large in the past decade: the military. Think of it as replacing some of our national defense for a national offense. Let me explain.

Yes, our military budget has DOUBLED in the past decade.

Take a second look at that graph. Moving on…

In 2011, we’re planning on forking over $738 billion, or about 20 percent of our entire budget, towards defense. What’s more, we spend more on defense than any other country in the world…A LOT more. China, who has the second largest defense budget, spends about 1/6 on its military. Oh yea, and then there’s this.

So what should we cut in the defense? Well, I’m no expert when it comes to accounting, but from a logical standpoint, does our military need to take up 29 million acres of land (which is larger than the state of Ohio)? I mean, why do we have four air force bases in Germany ? I think we could stand to lose a few bases around the world, unless I’m unaware of the rise of a Fourth Reich.

Just Think of the Possibilities!!!

So there it is. That’s why I think we should restart the WPA, and (bare-bones) how we can do it. Obviously, the first thing the new WPA would take care of is the “dingy” infrastructure, but after that, who knows? There is certainly plenty of work to go around. There’s wind and solar farms to construct, technology to be implemented, ghost towns—like Gary, IN and Flint, MI—to be reimagined and, altogether, a country to be led in the right direction.

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