Thomas Frank on the Government as Job Creator

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Harper’s columnist Thomas Frank looks back at the federal government work programs introduced during the Great Depression, which each generated millions of jobs. Frank sees the success of these programs as the foundation of the country’s recovery from the current economic recession, and argues that the responsibility to create jobs belongs not just to the private sector but to the government. His latest Easy Chair column on the subject appears in the December issue of Harper’s magazine.


Thomas Frank

Comments [28]

A few more WPA ideas for Mr. Frank from an American Patriot

Here are some additional ways to help
based on your "Bust up the Capital Strike,
Create a WPA" approach.

1) Consider hiring a parent to teach their
one or two of their kids as a full time job.
Pay the same as it costs to teach a kid
in the school system (> $18,000 in NY area). Hold parent responsible for results.
When parent(s) have a secure job
and are lifted out of poverty by this program, kids will learn better.

2) Make sure we have the same vacation time as India at least! (We have less).
Germany has 5-6 weeks guarranteed per year. 1 week of increased vacation for all
equals more than 1 % reduced unemployment (and increases spending).
The 40 hour work week (back when it still existed) was a great boone to our economy.

3) Most of our competitors offer a free
or very inexpensive university education to all who have the ability and desire. This would be a particularly good investment if internet technology and video lectures and FAQs could be used to leverage the best teachers/lecturers at a very low price.

4) Don't let them get away with looting the
country. Consider :

Sarbanes-Oxley versus the heads of major banks for not reporting the
massive benefits from (recently disclosed)
$7.77 TRILLION in zero interest loans from the Fed Reserve.

RICO versus ongoing pattern of fraudulent
foreclosures against those banks responsible.

Make sure the next generation of hucksters think twice before trying to
steal the U.S. treasury and rob from millions of Americans.

Dec. 07 2011 11:47 PM
Elijah McDougal from Mount Vernon, NY

Thomas Frank: "I am not one of those people who believe there really is any debt crisis." Enough said. The guy is an idiot.

Dec. 07 2011 04:44 PM
John A.

I was left having to listen to 50% of this segment away from the computer. The (R) strategy of 'pinning' the (D) budget 'to the wall' will be long remembered. Thank-you and TIA for the download.

Dec. 07 2011 01:37 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

um...had to look up the definition of orc...

Dec. 07 2011 01:12 PM
Richard from levittown NY

Fewer and fewer of us remain who remember the depression and WWII
Soon it will be just distant observations from journalists and historians who are devoid of
personal knowledge of those profound changes in our culture and life. I spent my childhood growing up in the depression and in adolescent years in WWII. Government was always a major part of hope for a future, not a giant monster about to destroy life. Citizenship was not just a vague concept, it was a guidepost for most of us.

Dec. 07 2011 12:37 PM

Thomas Frank has some important things wrong about Clinton. For one thing, at the start of the Clinton administration, we had the dot-com bubble. Then toward the end, we had the beginning of the housing bubble.

Clinton, with Robert Rubin and others, was a hardcore deregulator. He helped deregulate banking, which led to extraoardinary gains in the short term but gave us the disaster we have now.

Clinton is not all that different from Bush in financial policy.

Dec. 07 2011 12:37 PM
markbnj from www.

PS: my top 10 list to get us out of this crisis includes:
(see original and linky version here) )

A Massive Reconstruction (infrastructure) rebuilding project to repair the "Eisenhower Highway" system (and also make it TRANSIT and FREIGHT Friendly).
A Massive Job Training Program to ensure full employment and the ability for workers to work for an honest dollar, and learn a trade that will keep them employed.
A new, "Living Wage", not to be confused with today's minimum wage (which may be renamed as an "introductory" or "entry level" wage.
A new federally paid system of day care starting at six months, to make our nation more competitive by enhancing education as well as making our society more competitive.
Ensure EVERY American has Health Insurance that is NOT tied to an employer. Phase in over X years (to over-ride opposition from the insurance lobby). Eventually becomes a 2-3 plan duopoly, overseen by the government.
Just like the "Manhattan Project" that built the Atomic bomb, we need a new, massive ENERGY project (as our New president) stated that will eliminate our country's dependence on OIL within 10 years.
Tax reform. Start Here: I call this the Millionaire's Minimum Tax. Make over 1 million in GROSS income last year (individuals OR corporations!) You pay a MINIMUM of 1%.
Mandatory Job Training/Conscription/Community Service (whatever we call it EVERYONE will do it, either in Military or NON-Military options!
Lobbying Reform. Need to eliminate pay to play.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission to uncover fraud, lies, and dishonesty in our society.

This is most of it. Some things like education go across project lines.
Education starts at pre-school, and will continue through to high school, and an introduction to the new national training/conscription programs. These programs will be designed to help with job training in someone's chosen field.

Dec. 07 2011 12:36 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

We could reduce unemployment the way Germany and the USSR did, by putting people into concentration and work camps. We could re-institute the draft and put millions of young people into the military and pay them cigarettes and beer. There are ways that governments can radically reduce unemployment figures. Work camps and a large draft are just two that come to mind from the past.

Dec. 07 2011 12:34 PM
Daivd Zarko from Scranton PA

Taxing those making more than $1M a year won't affect job growth, because you're taxing personal not corporate income. If a CEO is taxes 5% or 50% it doesn't affect his/her ability to hire via the company. The argument is false.

Dec. 07 2011 12:34 PM
tina from queens, ny

I just heard you talking about eliminating child labor laws. I think they should not be eliminated but upadated to 2012. I have two 12 y.o. boys that want to work on their spare time and nobody would have them because of the chilld labor law. Instead they spend hours on the x-box. To my amazement, they told me they would choose earning money to playing x-box, as addictive as it is

Dec. 07 2011 12:33 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Well to these modern Republicans, Reagan would be a downright Commie, by their standards!

Dec. 07 2011 12:32 PM
John from Fanwood, NJ

You're talking about Keynsean economics which I learned in a survey course 40 years ago. During a downturn the government has to spend to revive the economy. The right denies this works, so maybe they slept through Eco 101!

Dec. 07 2011 12:31 PM
markbnj from www.

Jeez, louise.

I mentioned .. a WPA sized recovery project, depression 2.0 and a 10 step program to take us out this depression over 3 years ago in my blog

I am glad SOMEONE with a readership is at least starting to do something about this.

and I also said (in 2007) that we'd only seen 25% of the financial crisis (just like an iceberg has only 25% above the water)...

thanks for discsusing this

PS: Impatient: thanks for getting rid of glass-stegal, you can see how well that worked for our large banks...

Dec. 07 2011 12:30 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Shouldn't speaker Boehner be considered a traitor to the country at this point?

I think all of his obstruction to doing ANYTHING to help come up with solutions to the current crisis JUST to get a Republican in the office of the presidency while the country continues to falter and the middle class continues to suffer is treasonous, quite frankly.

Dec. 07 2011 12:29 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Both the US and German economic "stimuli" had failed by 1938 The Germans cooked the books to make it look like Hitler had created all these jobs with public works and rearmament, but we now know that the economics of Germany in '38 were in fact no better than in '28, except on paper. Same with the FDR administration, The truth is, WWII destroyed the German economy and built up the US economy, and the post WWII boom was based on (a) that our competition was knocked out, and (b) cheap oil, especially as Arab oil fields came online.

Dec. 07 2011 12:28 PM
David from Greenpoint

In July, 2007 I discovered a serious lack of work ethic by DOT (Department of Transportation) employees who were repaving my street. DOT contract workers, with their supervisors present, did not cover the storm drains during both the removal and subsequent resurfacing with hot asphalt. The asphalt paver machine let hot asphalt fall directly into the storm drains.
Recently, I spoke to a DOT employee who had just parked his official van near a storm drain close to my home. I showed him the drain that had been filled with asphalt. I explained what I had witnessed in 2007, and that I had become irritated by the shoddy work. I began taking time to examine storm drains in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, finding many still being filled with asphalt in 2011. The employee to whom I was speaking told me that his job was bridges and tunnels. However, he admitted knowing about the practice, since he had to remove asphalt from the drains in his district, as well as having witnessed this careless work on our highways. Nonetheless, he was unable to do anything about correcting it because it was the hiring process of the DOT to employ whichever cheap inexperienced manual laborer available. Why have we neglected to consider quality of work paid by our taxes?

Dec. 07 2011 12:26 PM
john from office

@ Mark

I love the quote!

Dec. 07 2011 12:26 PM

True or false: If business thinks it can make more money by creating a job, no amount of regulation will stop it - and conversely, if business doesn't need another employee, no amount of incentives will make a new job

Dec. 07 2011 12:25 PM
John from Fanwood, NJ

Please ask Mr. Frank why Mitch McConnel and Speaker Bahner's letter warning Ben Bernanke not to do anything to improve the economy before the 2012 election got so little press. This was a stunning request.

Dec. 07 2011 12:25 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The harsh reality that no one, especially politicians, will ever tell the American people, is that the US standard of living was built on unsustainable debt and that when 50 million or more Americans move down the economic ladder, by moving back into tenements and tiny apartments again, and accept half the standard of living they believe they are automatically entitled to, will employment recover.
And that goes for Europe too. The rise of Asia has changed EVERYTHING. The days of living high on the hog of fat debt are over! But no politician can dare say that.

Dec. 07 2011 12:22 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Mark

That is a great quote! I love it!
It has the virtue of being true as well as being funny.

Dec. 07 2011 12:21 PM

Bill Clinton was (and is) and Barack Obama is a member of the deregulation cult. And not just on financial policy. Obama is poor on the environment. He has completely foresworn holding Americans accountable for crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc.

Dec. 07 2011 12:21 PM

What about the government hiring scientist and others to find create alternate sources of energy so that we don't have to see more coal mining accidents and oil spills? Also, to the commenter, impatient, Look at what corporations do when they are left unchecked; Nestle, DuPont, So many of the Banks ... do some research and decide if you want to live in a world where corporations can pollute, poison and rob to whatever extent they desire.

Dec. 07 2011 12:18 PM
Joe from nearby

They are not "job creators".....

...........They're "job cremators."

Dec. 07 2011 12:18 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

No, the phrase "job creator" in Republican parlance, simply means "the wealthy."

Job creators will always try to create jobs, because that's the essence of what they do, as long as they have access to capital.

The wealthy simply try to hold on to and shelter their net worth.

The republicans lately, prefer the latter.

Dec. 07 2011 12:16 PM
Mark from Maplewood NJ

Discussing "Atlas Shrugged" always reminds me of this quote (can't remember who coined it) -

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

Dec. 07 2011 12:14 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Impatient

Well since every other media source gives plenty of time to that idiotic Ayn Randian Republican view that all government is evil and less is better, etc, etc (you know, the stupid right wing viewpoint that is KILLING this country) I applaud WNYC for focusing some time on the other viewpoint!

Kudos WNYC!

Dec. 07 2011 12:13 PM

Just wondering when WNYC will have the segment about how less government is good. Tomorrow's program maybe? Great, looking forward to it.

Dec. 07 2011 12:08 PM

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