Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Lessons of the WPA and the Great Depression

One of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Administration's schemes to get our country back on track in the midst of the Great Depression was the WPA or Work Progress Administration. Basically, it was a big, government welfare program to get people working on selected infrastructure, arts/media, and other social programs. Thousands of unskilled and unemployed workers were taken off the streets and given jobs on public works projects. Many of these projects took 2 or 4 times longer to be completed because of "slackers" (people knowing that they were just getting a guaranteed government pay check) and because they didn't have the true skills to get the jobs done. There was a widespread joke in America that "WPA" actually meant "Workers (just) Putting Around".

The government also funded film making and a continuation of the arts and drama; as if those items would really help this country get back on its feet. If you watch old movies from the 1930's and early 1940's (as shown on Turner Classic Movies), you will still see the WPA insignia/symbol being displayed on the credits for those movies. Like every other government program, it was political payback, cronyism, and political loyalties that got all the funding for the WPA projects.

If you listen to a lot of Democrats, like Barack Obama, it is public works and infrastructure rebuilding that will get this country going again. Often, they will point back to FDR's WPA as the mechanism for pulling this country out of its economic morass. However, the WPA didn't actually pull this country out of anything. To think this was the case is to literally rewrite history and not understand the economics of that time. WPA just put a lot of people on government welfare under the guise of working. It just burned through tax money and didn't really grow our economy. It was World War II and workers like Rosie the Riveter who were put to work by a wartime economy and were appropriately trained and utilized by major corporations like Chrysler, General Motors, Remington, McDonald Douglas, etc. that brought true economic recovery. There was no true unemployment reversal that could be attributable to the WPA before the war. The marjority of those employed by the WPA in public works went elsewhere as a result of the war and leading up to the program being dissolved in 1943. Unemployment in America was still around 14% just before the war. During the war, unemployment fell under 2 percent as America was near fully mobilized for the war effort. After the war, it moved up to a more normal rate of 6 percent by 1949. There wasn't a return to pre-depression GNP (Gross National Product - see note below) until 1946; a year after the war ended. We had 17 years of economic doldrums from 1929 to 1946. It wasn't public works or arts that got this country going. It was World War II and corporations hiring and training people for our war effort that was responsible. Maybe the Democrats should "completely" follow history have another World War to get us out of the next depression?

You should think about the realities of the WPA when Barack Obama talks about spending billions on wind, solar, and infrastructure projects and how that will falsely create 5 million new jobs. Also, think about the true recovery from the Great Depression when you hear of his plans to hamper our large corporations and small businesses with excessive regulation and new taxation. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just think Obama has his priorities all back-assward! Again, he is being the socalist and not the capitalist.

Note: Today, we measure this country's economic output in what is called the GDP or Gross Domestic Product Report. Back then, that measurement was calculated differently, using the GNP or Gross National Product. The change was made due to the fact that most of our products were being imported and not domestically produced.

Also note: This blog entry was accidentally published when it was still in draft form with some significant errors in GNP during the depression.

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