Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why We Need A New Deal Museum (part 3 of 10): Because the Koch brothers are spending millions trying to discredit the New Deal

(With PWA funds and WPA labor, the New Deal repaired or improved hundreds of national defense facilities across the nation, including (above) the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. We can be pretty confident that the Koch brothers will never mention this, but a New Deal Museum would. Photo by Brent McKee.)

The Koch brothers are spreading a message to America's youth that the New Deal was a harmful expansion of government and that it did not pull us out of the Great Depression. And while the New Deal was certainly not perfect, we can be sure that the Koch brothers are pushing the idea that it was a complete failure, by cherry-picking the negatives and brushing aside the positives--positives that included:

(a) Large gains in GDP and lower unemployment rates: In the New York Times, in 2011, economist Christina Romer pointed out that "From 1933 to 1937, real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of almost 10 percent, and unemployment fell from 25 percent to 14." To see these large GDP gains (and to compare them to subsequent periods in U.S. history) see the Excel spreadsheet, "Percent change from preceding period," from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, here.

(b) Laying the foundation for victory & prosperity: New Deal infrastructure investment helped strengthen America during the Depression, during World War II, and after the war. For example, WPA workers built, repaired, or improved 650,000 miles of roadway. Dr. Alexander J. Field, of Santa Clara University, points out that there was "a lag between the surge in vehicle production in the 1920s and the catch up in infrastructure," and that, thanks in part to "projects administered by the Public Works Administration...and the Works Progress Administration," America "built its first national road network" (A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth, p. 72, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011). 

(c) Improvements in national health: "Comparing historical data across states, we estimate that every $100 in New Deal spending per capita was associated with a decline in pneumonia deaths of 18 per 100,000 people; a reduction in infant deaths of 18 per 1,000 live births; and a drop in suicides of 4 per 100,000 people" (David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, "How Austerity Kills," New York Times, May 12, 2013, authors of the book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills).

(When the "Captains of Industry" turned their backs on American workers during the Great Depression, the WPA hired 8.5 million of them to create things that we still use today, for example, water lines. A woman who grew up during the Great Depression said, "With my family, we would have starved to death, because we had no other way to make any money. The New Deal for us, the WPA in particular, was just a lifesaver for us. Most of our neighbors felt that way" (The Dust Bowl, a documentary by Ken Burns, 2012). Are these types of stories included in the Koch-funded lesson plans being pushed on our youth today? I seriously doubt it. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)  

We can also be pretty sure that the Kochs aren't interested in a fair and balanced treatment of the New Deal because Charles Koch, in the Wall Street Journal, wrote, "Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty..." This is the typical sales pitch of those who don't like the New Deal and are trying to convince Americans that things like the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and the ability to negotiate for higher wages are actually bad for them (and this sales pitch, by the way, has worked quite well, as evidenced by the fact that many middle and lower-income groups have continuously voted against their own interests, and thereby allowed their wages to become stagnant for decades as super-wealthy Americans have vacuumed up more and more wealth).   

And make no mistake about it, the Kochs are spreading their anti-New Deal, anti-government message far across the land. They've donated tens of millions of dollars to many institutions of higher learning: Arizona State University, Clemson University, George Mason University, Kansas State University, MIT, NYU, Ohio State University, West Virginia University, to name just a very few.

Also, just in case you might think that these donations are simply benign little gifts from the heart, realize that they sometimes come with strings attached, such as, oh, I don't know, influence over faculty selection (see, e.g., "Koch Foundation to College: We’ll Give You Millions—if You Teach Our Libertarian Ideology," The Center for Public Integrity, The Daily Beast, September 12, 2014).

And, just in case you might think that the Kochs are limiting themselves to college minds, consider the stories "Inside The Koch-Backed History Lessons North Carolina Wants To Teach High School Students" (ThinkProgress, December 14, 2014) and "Koch High: How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students" (Huffington Post, July 16, 2014). Pretty soon, the Kochs will be visiting a kindergarten near you, warning your 5-year-olds about the grave evils of Social Security, "Don't let grandma take your stuff!"

A large New Deal museum would go a long way towards countering the Koch brothers' paranoid, billionaire-slanted history "lessons." A large New Deal museum would have the nation's ear and the nation would, in turn, have the truth. Such a museum would highlight the successes, and the failures, of the New Deal, and not skew history with an eye towards lowering taxes for the privileged few or deregulating industries that have extensive histories of pollution and fraud. Because, let's face it, all this anti-New Deal nonsense is really about turning us away from a nation of We the People, and brainwashing us towards a nation of We the Billionaires.

We need a New Deal museum to counter the lies and omissions of those trying to manipulate our children, teens, and young adults with simplistic messages that all boil down to "billionaires are good, government is bad, don't complain about your pathetic wages."

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