Friday, October 30, 2015

Elizabeth Warren, Puerto Rico, and the New Deal


Above: In this video clip, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the few members of Congress who is not a Wall Street marionette, scolds vulture funds and the U.S. Treasury for not doing more to help the citizens of Puerto Rico during their financial crisis. She points out that vulture funds "want Puerto Rico to raise taxes, cut health care, fire teachers, cut pensions, sell off $4 billion worth of government buildings, privatize public ports, close neighborhood schools and cut support for the University of Puerto Rico, all so these vulture funds can squeeze out more profit." YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gHYsZ87h7s&feature=youtu.be.

The case of Puerto Rico is an extreme case of what is happening all around the world - economies, elections, public policies, courts, and just about every facet of life are being rigged to benefit the wealthy few. Is it any wonder that the American middle-class is shrinking, the number of homeless children has reached a record high, and there will be no Social Security cost-of-living increase... as super-wealthy Americans keep getting richer and richer? Millionaires & billionaires want millions & billions more, everyone else be damned. They seem to be collectively say: "To Hell with workers, to Hell with children, and to Hell with senior citizens... we want more mansions and private islands!"

Instead of grinding Puerto Ricans into the ground, as many wealthy investors want to do today (while they simultaneously use Puerto Rico as a tax haven, by the way), New Deal policymakers tried the exact opposite, as I recently highlighted on the Living New Deal:

"the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) provided funding for new schools, new hospitals, new infrastructure, and public works jobs for the unemployed. Later, the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA) did the same, and for a longer period of time. Meanwhile, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) hired thousands of Puerto Rican men to plant trees, reduce erosion, and build fish hatcheries. The National Youth Administration (NYA) helped hundreds of young men and women complete their high school and college education. The Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) put many thousands to work building roads, improving airports, and bolstering national defense. In 1936, the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation provided Puerto Ricans with 970 tons of flour, 440 tons of rolled oats, 25 tons of dried beans, 105 tons of onions, 90 tons of dried peas, and 150 tons of dried prunes. During fiscal year 1940 it provided about 428 tons of food to school lunch programs, feeding tens of thousands of children."

Above: A new hospital in Puerto Rico, ca. 1934, built with funds from the New Deal's Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Instead of cutting back on medical services for Puerto Ricans, as the vulture funds want to do, New Deal policymakers enhanced medical services. Today, many of the people who sit in offices all day long shifting money around (as opposed to actually creating things) have no clue or concern about the misery they inflict on others. They only think in terms of self-enrichment: The next deal to make, the next trick to try, the next scam to sell, the next politician to buy. Image from a FERA report.

As opposed to Wall Street-imposed austerity, New Deal efforts actually worked. For example, a scholar at the City University of New York recently concluded that the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration "made lasting contributions to local social and economic life" and that "PRRA public works projects made concrete contributions to the physical security of millions of Puerto Ricans through the construction of hurricane-proof houses, schools, hospitals, roads, sewers, waterworks, and rural electrification networks."

But we won't create a New Deal for Puerto Ricans today, will we? Heck, we won't even grant them the same bankruptcy protections enjoyed by the states - we'd rather let them be eaten alive by the vulture funds. What about a bailout? You know, like the fraudulent banks got? Nope, we're not going to do that for them either. Our treatment (or rather, neglect) of Puerto Rico is just par for the course in this, the "Golden Era of White Collar Crime." But remember, don't complain... that would be class warfare!

(To see a variety of ways that austerity is disproportionately impacting the middle-class & poor of Puerto Rico, see "How Austerity Is Making It Harder And Harder To Get Educated In Puerto Rico," ThinkProgress, August 19, 2015.)

Above: New school construction in Puerto Rico, ca 1934, with funds from the New Deal's Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Instead of closing schools, laying off teachers, and selling off public buildings to sate the greed of wealthy investors, New Deal policymakers built more schools, hired more teachers, and constructed more public buildings. That's the difference between many of today's financiers and the New Deal policymakers of yesteryear. The former are frequently destroyers, and the latter were builders - builders of infrastructure, builders of men & women, and builders of hope. Image from FERA report.

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