Sunday, August 7, 2016
(A WPA-created Lycemeter. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.)
In 2012, when the recession was still in full force (for the middle-class and poor), Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the nation's long-term unemployment was causing "enormous suffering and a waste of human talent." This is interesting, because the description for the photograph above (1938) reads, "Lycemeter Demonstration exhibited at the Department of Agriculture [in Washington, DC]. This Lycemeter was invented by a WPA worker employed on a soil conservation project and is a device for measuring the infiltration and run-off of water in different types of soil." I'm not sure how much of an impact this particular Lycemeter had on our scientific knowledge and practice (for example, was this the first Lycemeter ever invented, or just an improved model?); but I do see that Lycemeters are still in use today.
This Lycemeter was not the only innovation of the WPA and other work-relief programs of the New Deal. For example, methods & standards for surveying, forestry, day care, and school lunch programs were also developed and improved thanks to the work-relief experience.
Currently, there are nearly 20 million Americans who are un- and under-employed. How many of them have great ideas, but no means to pursue them? Well, we'll probably never know because, instead of being offered WPA-type jobs, they've been reduced to political punching bags for Republicans, who have never wasted an opportunity to call them "parasites," "takers," and "lazy good-for-nothings."
As Bernanke said, "a waste of human talent."