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"Our greatest primary task is to put people to work."
September 8, 2009 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Bridge to Somewhere: Lessons from the New Deal, an American RadioWorks documentary, chronicles Roosevelt's recovery-through-work programs (the CCC, the WPA, and the PWA) and their lasting impact on America's infrastructure. Rich with oral histories and actualities.
posted by Miko (18 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"It's worth noting that during the Great Depression, America elects FDR and continues to elect him, while Germany gets Hitler," Smith says. Smith points out that in other parts of the world, and at other times in history, economic troubles have led people "to turn to extreme solutions. This was a possibility in the United States, and the New Deal did a great deal of work to keep this from happening. It's always hard to measure things by what didn't happen ... but this should be counted in the New Deal's favor on the balance sheet of history."

The UK got Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin and I'm not ashamed that I had to look those two guys up. So some people continued to elect completely boring and forgettable leaders.

Anyway, the CCC and the PWA built stuff that people continue to use to this day. Excellent doc.
posted by GuyZero at 11:06 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh, I was just thinking about the need for an American Works Project last night.

In The Whelk's Imaginary Perfect America, a more decentralized AWP does everything from small-scale farming in urban areas to bridge building. This is its theme.
posted by The Whelk at 11:17 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The WPA commissioned stuff that I still get enjoyment out of. The WPA archival project hosted on the LoC's website provided four pieces of artwork that hang on my wall right now. I love the WPA, and think it was one of the best things that this country's ever done.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 11:23 AM on September 8, 2009


I can't really check these links in any real depth right now, so excuse me if I'm about to ask questions they answer.

I recall hearing in high school that what really got us out of the Great Depression was WWII. is this at all correct? is it too facile and shallow an answer? not complete enough? through the years, I've come to see war as a tremendously, and unfortunately, profitable industry for governments like ours, and that has only affirmed my suspicion that maybe what I learned in high school was at least partially correct.

It has, frankly, made me pretty damn cynical. and I suspect that cynicism comes with some not-terribly-accurate ideas about The New Deal and world war ii's impact on America. so, any clarification and information would be appreciated.
posted by shmegegge at 11:29 AM on September 8, 2009


The New Deal did a lot to helpput Americans back to work. There was a recession that came though and so those on thje right maintain that it was WWII that actually got us out of the recession. In large measure, that is true. What they don;'t tell you though, or accept, is that the war itself forced our nation to go on a huge spending spree--it was needed but it was also the Keynes notion of massive infusion of govt money into the economy, so in a sense though the war helped it was because we had to do the opposite of what (even back then) the conservatives wanted.

Since, the conservatives have tried tyo dismantle all that FDR did. They have managed, wilth help from the Dems, to get rid of regulations that would have safeguarded the current economic mess by the banks and lending insitutions. They want to dump both Social Security (privatize it) and Medicare...But so far the public demands that this be kept.\

FDR the opposite from Obama in this respect: one rose to fame, wealth, from ordinary beginnings and now wants to help those not so fortunate; the other (FDR) rose aboive his class (wealth, privilege) and wanted to help those not so fortunate.
posted by Postroad at 11:53 AM on September 8, 2009


I've often thought our current round of stimulus work could use a little more focus on 21st century infrastructure. (i.e. fiber to the door)
posted by entropicamericana at 11:59 AM on September 8, 2009


The current round of stimulus work could use a little more focus on ART DECO AWESOMENESS. How hard are a few chrome flourishes here and there?
posted by GuyZero at 12:07 PM on September 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


What they don;'t tell you though, or accept, is that the war itself forced our nation to go on a huge spending spree--it was needed but it was also the Keynes notion of massive infusion of govt money into the economy, so in a sense though the war helped it was because we had to do the opposite of what (even back then) the conservatives wanted.

The war helped not because of the spending, but because after there war there was virtually no industrial competition for the US anywhere. There was a whole destroyed world that needed infrastructure, industrial goods and consumer goods, and no one to supply them but the US. That's how the war got us out of a recession. Had this not been the case, the US would have been saddled with a war debt that it likely could not pay.

Since, the conservatives have tried tyo dismantle all that FDR did. They have managed, wilth help from the Dems, to get rid of regulations that would have safeguarded the current economic mess by the banks and lending insitutions. They want to dump both Social Security (privatize it) and Medicare...But so far the public demands that this be kept.\


Yes, the public demands that they be kept. But the public, as has been demonstrated very clearly in the last two years, knows absolutely nothing about economics, government finance, or personal finance. But that should surprise anyone.


Seriously, other than finance, legal services and real estate, what the hell does America export that anyone buys? How do you expect the government to collect enough in taxes to pay for all social security, medicare, national health plan, etc., when virtually none of what any of us buys is made here.

Think about it - we needed a world war to pull us out of a depression at a time when we were actually manufacturing things like radios, cars, etc.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:09 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The real problem is that the New Deal was a major shock to the system: from a GDP perspective, we've had comparatively larger programs in place for decades, so there's less shock in slight expansions like the current stimulus.

Personally, I'd like to see us spend a trillion dollars or so rebuilding infrastructre, starting with schools, police stations, hospitals, and bridges. Forget the high tech: there's profit to be made there so the private sector will handle it. Let's get physical and structural. Let's do the boring stuff that needs doing.

Also, I think a great salve to possible inflationary effects would be universal health care. So long as we're spit-balling.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:17 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


America still makes movies, music, weaponry, cars, drugs, chemicals, medical devices, computers, heavy machinery, ships, airplanes, and on and on. We're still 25% of the entire world's manufacturing (though we used to be more, to be sure), and we're still 25% of the world's economy, so it's not that out of whack. We used to utterly dominate, but we're still pulling our own weight manufacturing-wise.
posted by jamstigator at 12:36 PM on September 8, 2009


My favourite WPA project
posted by Artw at 12:40 PM on September 8, 2009


Great subject. The WPA, et al, has always fascinated me, especially Federal No. 1. I don't know everything about the initiative, but I recently saw something on a female, African-American FedOne artist named Thelma Johnson Streat. She worked closely with Diego Rivera (who also painted under, and possibly inspired, FedOne) and was the first African American lady to have her work acquired by MoMa.

What a great opportunity for this wonderful artist (and many others) who might not have otherwise risen to the consciousness of the almighty art world.

Bonus: nerdy art talk.

(Also, my graphic design friends always joke around that, worst case scenario, they'll "get to" re-tile the NYC subways.)
posted by functionequalsform at 12:45 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seriously, other than finance, legal services and real estate, what the hell does America export that anyone buys? How do you expect the government to collect enough in taxes to pay for all social security, medicare, national health plan, etc., when virtually none of what any of us buys is made here.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:09 PM on September 8


Wow. Just because our manufacturing base has shrunk dramatically does not mean it has disappeared altogether. The United States still manufactures and exports many, many goods from guns to meat to chemicals to airplanes to movies. A trade deficit does not mean an absence of trade, and this is an embarrassing revelation on your part.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:32 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


there's profit to be made there so the private sector will handle it.

A good observation, and an interesting one. I've recently had an interesting window into the world of distance learning. The major companies that provide videoconferencing technology (and it's very sexy) make bundles of loot in the corporate world, from people who pay top dollar. However, they're hot on making inroads into the public school systems and museums, science centers, and universities. This is good business for them, as they sell their equipment and train a few generations of users to recognize their brand. But who pays? They're working hard to capture federal money for this, much of it from the stimulus' channel of funds toward high-tech jobs and 21st-century learning. I attended one daylong workshop on leveraging federal, state, and municipal gifts and grants toward the purchase of videoconferencing technology. It's interesting; from one point of view, it's a win-win - companies make money, students get access to nifty technology and learning opportunities. But from another, it's a diversion of public dollars into an already wealthy industry, with the public being asked to bear the full cost.
posted by Miko at 1:40 PM on September 8, 2009


Great subject. The WPA, et al, has always fascinated me, especially Federal No. 1. I don't know everything about the initiative, but I recently saw something on a female, African-American FedOne artist named Thelma Johnson Streat. She worked closely with Diego Rivera (who also painted under, and possibly inspired, FedOne) and was the first African American lady to have her work acquired by MoMa.

If you dig stories related to Federal No. 1, you need to see the film CRADLE WILL ROCK at some point. It's Tim Robbins' fictionalized account of my favorite theatrical story, ever ever evereverever -- the story of the premiere of the musical The Cradle Will Rock. Robbins also touches on Diego Rivera's mural in Rockefeller Center and some more of the Federal Theater Project activities.

It's amazing how well some of the FTP works have held up. They used to produce what they called "Living Newspapers"-- full-length "documentaries" of sorts, full-on plays about different newsworthy topics. The government loved it at first, because they were using casts of dozens just like they were supposed to -- but then they found that these "living newspapers" were about things like "why do utility companies have monopolies in small towns and why are they trying to stop the TVA from operating?" Or "why is it a problem what Mussolini is doing in Ethiopia?" (Think like Michael Moore, only way more entertaining.)

A theater company I work with sometimes revived one of their living-newspaper works last fall, and I remember sitting there thinking, "holy hell, I actually understand how the utility business is structured now."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


what really got us out of the Great Depression was WWII

For example: the United Kingdom spent every penny we had buying US goods* in World War II, helping grow the US economy. So much so that you had to institute the Marshall Plan to give some of the cash back so we could keep buying stuff from you! We just finished paying this back a couple of years ago. So WWII was a fairly big stimulus (and we lost an Empire...)

* Well, weapons. You wouldn't sell us machine tools, which we could use to make our own. I like that kind of attitude - I guess you remembered our doing that to you in the 1770s and decided it was payback time!
posted by alasdair at 3:49 PM on September 8, 2009


Hmmm... does anyone see an eerie parallel between the Marshall Plan and Chinese purchase of US bonds? "Here's some money: buy some more of our stuff!"
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:05 PM on September 8, 2009


Way I heard it was that after the war, Received Wisdom was that the world would go straight back into depression. Which was one reason for the GI bill - keep all those Best Years Of Our Lives guys from flooding the limited job market. (It was also responsible for the hold over of depression policies that limited one job per family, a thing that was standard into the fifties. )
posted by IndigoJones at 4:50 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


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