Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Old water lines are bursting across America and hurting small businesses. Why has our small-business-loving Congress failed to create a new WPA?

(WPA poster, by artist Vera Bock, created in New York, 1936. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

As anyone who follows news and politics can tell you, it's a right of passage for political candidates to profess their unwavering love for "small business." Like "job creators" and "Obama is a Marxist," a phrase along the lines of "I'm looking out for small business" is a must.

But are politicians really looking out for small business? Or are they more concerned with lowering tax rates and repealing pollution-curbing regulations for political sugar daddies like the Koch brothers? Because, right now, aging infrastructure is damaging small businesses all across the nation and many politicians, especially right-wing politicians in Congress, aren't lifting a finger to help.

The past few days provide some good examples.

In Yakima, Washinton, a pipe that was almost 100-years-old broke over the weekend and harmed local businesses. A man who saw his store sustain $20,000 in damage said, "Businesses are dealing with tough situations anyway in this economic climate. Having this added to it, it just adds more pressure." 

In Bellevue, Washington, an old pipe broke yesterday and caused several businesses to flood, lose their water supply, and close early.

A nearly 100-year-old pipe in Los Angeles broke yesterday, and it was reported that "Business owners in the area were dumbfounded. At the Bombay Grill the owners says 'Here we go again!' Same thing at the corner donut shop, a nail salon and the Subway. The last two closed down early. No business."

Our political "leaders" in Congress could create a new WPA (or, at they very least, increase funding for existing mechanisms) to improve our deteriorating infrastructure-- instead of blabbering on about how they're madly in love with small business--but action takes a lot of effort, whereas empty political rhetoric requires very little. And so, as the senior national correspondent for Time magazine points out, "no matter how much Republicans say they care about infrastructure, they’re not going to accept any infrastructure proposals that come from President Barack Obama...Republicans say nice things about infrastructure but haven’t shown any interest in paying for it. As a result, the nation has failed to take advantage of historically low interest rates to invest more in our overcrowded airports, outdated railways and flimsy bridges." (Also see "Senate GOP blocks $60B Obama infrastructure plan")

(A presentation I made about WPA infrastructure work during the 1930s and 40s. Includes narration, music, and historic photos & film.)

During the 1930s and 40s, New Deal policymakers invested heavily in American infrastructure--and the investment paid off. After World War II, the economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports. Heck, even Ronald Reagan loved the WPA, praising it in his autobiography. But today, the situation is quite different. Infrastructure spending is now cartoonishly likened to "socialism!!" and "out-of-control, big government spending!!" Today, it seems, only Lenin would have the audacity to replace a 100-year-old pipe.


  1. Hi Brent. Good article. I'm back from a 135 mile trip where I photographed a very large bridge in Ventura California that had been financed under the National Industrial Recovery Act. One of many road projects in California that were launched under the Haydn Cartwright Act. I could go on endlessly about the short sightedness and religious belief in the Market that infects almost everyone in the political parties. However, things weren't always as rosy as you paint it, just by listening to FDR's 1st inaugural address where he very sharply goes after the speculative insanity of the Coolidge/Hoover years (or better, the Andrew Mellon years), or in the speech by the mayor of Youngstown Ohio Joseph Heffernan, during the Hoover presidency to describe both the conditions of life for the average person, and the willfull blindness of the business community and politicians then "We are still as stupidly devoted as ever to the philosophy of laissez-faire..." In one of Richards post on the LND site about this same theme, I joked that if he was serious about taking it on, all he had to do was go over to Evans Hall at UC Berkeley and denounce the Economics department. Having had some experience talking to legislators on the issue of Capital Budgeting and the American System of Political Economy that FDR adopted in his use of the reformed Reconstruction Finance Corporation as a type of national bank to get the credit out for all the construction, it will inevitably run up against the moronic whiny refrain "but where are we going to get the money from?" For those legislators that have fought for Glass Steagall banking regulation (of which there are 4 bills in Congress) as a good first step in draining the swamp of Wall Street corruption, they've all run into the thug nature of the banksters and the White House on their behalf, and they've all capitulated.

    1. Thanks for your comment Drew. Yes, the "where-are-we-going-to-get-the-money-from?" cry is especially humorous when one reads how the Forbes 400 recently added $270 billion to their already-bloated wealth, and how the U.S. loses about $300 billion per year to things like offshore bank accounts that cater to the rich. Hmmmm, well, there's two possible sources of funding right there.

  2. Honestly, if the standards of the 1933 Bank Act (Glass-Steagal) were passed as law and rigorously applied, pretty much 95 to 98% of all that "wealth" would evaporate into nothing. As you pointed out, the Republicans have made an art form out of twisting a pretty good barnburner of a speech by Harry Hopkins, taking a few words out of it "We're going to tax and tax and spend and spend!", and branding Democrats forever with "tax and spend" boogieman. On a humorous note, FDR joked that he had taken up the banner of Abe Lincoln since the Republican Party had long ago ditched the old Alexander Hamilton principle of National Banking, protective tariffs, and internal improvements that could be brought about again by any President with the guts to risk assassination from the Wall Street & London crowd that almost murdered FDR in 1933. Federal credit (as the Constitution states!) was the method by which FDR got as much built as he did. Wall Streets mouthpieces in the Free Market un-think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the predecessor that was part of the attempt to run a military coup against FDR, have been brainwashing everyone by equating a Constitutional principle with Communism, religious worship of money, and the old Ayn Rand principle of "GREED IS GOOD! ALTRUISM IS EVIL!!"

    1. Couldn't agree more. A lot of people, it seems, have bought into the idea of an anti-social society. So, as I frequently ask in my blog, can it be any surprise that the nation has seen a spike in suicides? We're caring less and less about one another, and then expecting good results to come from that type of thinking.