Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A foreign “Boondoggle,” when we could have had a new WPA

(WPA workers on a bridge project)

Recent reports and developments are calling into question how much we’ve accomplished in Iraq over the past nine years. According to Huffington Post reporters Joshua Hersh and Chris Spurlock, “$800 billion was spent on the mission overall, a boondoggle that left more than 4,000 American service members dead, 32,000 more wounded, and an authoritarian government in place that is little better -- and possibly, owing to its closer ties to Iran, worse -- than the one that was taken out.” For $800 billion dollars we have “… chaos and impoverishment, hundreds of thousands of citizens dead and millions more displaced, and a vicious sectarianism that still threatens to rip the country apart at the seams.”

(See Iraq War Cost $800 Billion, And What Do We Have To Show For It?)

According to a recent Gallup Poll, most Americans view the Iraq War as a mistake and, interestingly, older Americans are more likely to disapprove of the Iraq War.

 (WPA workers on a road project)

In any event, as we’ve been spending eight hundred thousand million dollars in Iraq, we’ve done very little on the domestic front to address our unemployment and infrastructure problems. There are about 27 million Americans who would like a full-time job but can’t find one (see http://www.njfac.org/); a problem Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has called “a waste of human and economic potential.” Further, the just-released 2013 Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers shows little improvement in the quality of our bridges, dams, roads, schools, etc., from 2009—giving the country a D+. Meanwhile, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis) is peddling a budget that cuts spending on American infrastructure (see, e.g., here), and Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have created a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans (see here).  

For eight hundred thousand million dollars we could have (easily) created a new WPA and CCC. This would have provided opportunities for millions of unemployed Americans to return to the job market, and improved the nation’s transportation, utility, and environmental systems.

Why didn’t we?

(A WPA-built school; still used today)

Ronald Reagan wrote, “The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR’s alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other projects…it gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it.” (From his autobiography, "Ronald Reagan: An American Life," 1990)

(Black & white images courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Color photo by Brent McKee. Image of WPA sign courtesy of the National Archives

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