Friday, September 19, 2014

The Reverse New Deal: Republican hypocrisy on unemployment rears its ugly head again

Above: WPA workers installing a sewer line in Maryland, 1937. New Deal policymakers--in collaboration with local governments and communities--did not spend their days thinking of new ways to insult the jobless. Nor did they wait for billionaire messiahs or free market fairy dust to create jobs. Instead, they grabbed the bull by the horns and created jobs themselves. What resulted was the greatest period of infrastructure improvement in American history. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

On Thursday, September 18, Speaker of the House John Boehner scolded jobless Americans: "this idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, I really don't have to work. I don't really want to do this. I think I'd rather just sit around. This is a very sick idea for our country." Boehner's comments were made to the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that caters to millionaires & billionaires who are hungry for the message that less fortunate Americans are surely lazy, unskilled, and probably immoral.

Yet, back on August 8th, Boehner expressed his displeasure with President Obama's record on job creation (see "Do Your Job, Mr. President").

This right-wing hypocrisy has been on full display for the past 5-6 years. When scolding Obama, right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers say "He's ruining the economy! Where are the jobs??" But when they turn their wrath towards the unemployed, they say "Get off the couch, there's plenty of jobs out there!!" 

Even worse than the hypocritical nature of this right-wing strategy, is that it surely makes life harder for jobless Americans. Some percentage of employers are going to internalize this "unemployed-are-lazy" message and refuse to hire them. And, indeed, empirical studies have shown that jobless Americans face significant hiring discrimination (see, e.g., "Companies won’t even look at resumes of the long-term unemployed"). 

During the New Deal, policymakers created millions of public job opportunities in the WPA, CCC, NYA, CWA, etc. What resulted was the greatest period of infrastructure improvement in American history. And we're still enjoying & utilizing thousands of New Deal sites, structures, and works of art today (see, e.g., the Living New Deal). Indeed, so successful was the WPA that even limited-government icon Ronald Reagan praised it in his autobiography.

Unfortunately, most Americans are not familiar with New Deal history. So, as Corporate America (a) refuses to give raises to workers, (b) constantly looks for ways to replace Americans with machines or foreign workers, and (c) engages in wide-scale corruption and fraud, millions will continue to point their fingers at the unemployed and say, "See, it's their fault!! They're lazy!!" 

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal.

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