Monday, November 21, 2011

Can we do anything to improve the job and economy situation?

I made some comments in several forums today that got me to thinking about how to get unemployed people back to work.  If we can get the unemployment rate down, I believe that the economy will improve; investors will have more confidence, buyers will spend more, people will be able to buy houses, and the republicans will get richer (really, no matter what happens to the economy, they will get richer).

The main problem I see with unemployment is that as an entitlement program it gives away money, but there is no other gain from it.  By this I mean that the person receiving it does not gain any new tangible knowledge, skills, or abilities.  All of the entitlement programs should be restructured so that the person benefits in some other way than just receiving a pay check.  Additionally, if the country could benefit in some way while disbursing the money, we would all be better off.

In the 1930s FDR started several programs to ease the US out of the great depression, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA later re-designated as Works Projects Admin).  Both of these programs used unemployed, unskilled labor to improve the infrastructure of the country.

The CCC was primarily responsible for the conservation and development of natural resources, which included such things as: bridges, fire towers, and buildings in national forest areas; irrigation, drainage, dams, and other flood control measures; planting trees, collecting seeds, working in nurseries, and related forestry work, building and maintaining camps and picnic areas, clearing areas, developing and maintaining lakes and ponds; and miscellaneous work such as surveying, large scale mosquito control, and emergency relief.  As many as 2.5 million men took advantage of this program over about nine years.  The WPA made use of another roughly 3 million people over some 8 years on basic infrastructure improvements such as roads, bridges, parks, and dams.  Altogether these two programs employed more than 5 million people that would otherwise been on what we would today call welfare.  That 5 M people represented approximately 4.5% of the 1935 US population.  In 2011 the total unemployed number is around 13 million or about 4.4% of the population.  If we ran similar, proportionally sized projects now, we could give jobs to all of the unemployed and satisfy important national needs.

The question becomes: what projects should we tackle? 

One possibility, right out of the 1930s, that would surely help both the newly employed and others, is dam and levee construction and/or maintenance.  All along the Mississippi river and its feeder rivers are miles of damaged or broken levees.  We have seen in the last few years what the failure of these river control measures can mean to those who live in the flood paths.  Homes and farms destroyed, cities ravaged by the water, and lives lost when the levees break.

Another suggestion is repair of the 50+ year old interstate highway system.

A third is fire prevention in the national forests by clearing brush, creating new fire roads, even reforestation of recently burned areas.

I slightly over 20 minutes I have come up with three possible uses for millions of unemployed people.  How many other possibilities are there?

This kind of work would seem to be a much more valuable stimulus both to the individuals and to the country, than just giving people money and saying “keep looking for work”.

I leave you with a few quotes by FDR – a man and president that lived through the worst times that our country has ever seen, and brought us out of it.

--“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.

--“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

--“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

--“True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

--“There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and the wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of the great human principle.”

--“To the Congress:

Unhappy events abroad have re-taught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people.

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.

The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.

Both lessons hit home.

Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.

This concentration is seriously impairing the economic effectiveness of private enterprise as a way of providing employment for labor and capital and as a way of assuring a more equitable distribution of income and earnings among the people of the nation as a whole.”

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