Monday, February 22, 2016

The New York Times on the Civil Works Administration: A "door into a new kind of civilization"

(CWA laborers working on an athletic field in Dayton, Ohio, 1934. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library & Museum and the New Deal Network.)

In 1934, when the editors of the New York Times reviewed a book about the Civil Works Administration (a New Deal program that offered job opportunities to the unemployed) they wrote that the CWA was a "policy and program wholly new in all the history of civilization... here has been a drafting of wealth that, instead of going up in smoke and death and destruction, was poured into the service of the country, saving life and health, hope and spirit, and creating instead of destroying..." They described the book as a "door into a new kind of civilization" ("A Vivid Record of CWA Construction," New York Times, September 2, 1934, reviewing the book America Fights the Depression: A Photographic Record of the Civil Works Administration).
Unfortunately, that "new kind of civilization" did not last very long. After the New Deal era, it slowly withered away. Today, most people have never even heard of the CWA, the NYA, or the WPA, let alone taken their lessons to heart. Instead of a new civilization, we poison millions of children with lead-contaminated water from old & filthy pipes; test for lead in ways that mask the true extent of the problem; and then collectively roll our eyes, shrug our shoulders, and say, "Who cares, it would cost too much money to replace those pipes anyway." Instead of hiring the unemployed, we insult them. Meanwhile, our Congress--completely oblivious to crumbling roads, bridges, and dams--spends $8 million per hour on perpetual war. 
And so, as we drive "the global surge in militarization," arming both our allies and our enemies, and as we neglect infrastructure needs, we can only weep for what could have been... had we remembered the work programs--and the spirit--of the New Deal.

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