Friday, May 5, 2017

Farm-to-Market Roads, courtesy of the New Deal

Above: The description for this WPA photograph, ca. 1935-1943, reads: "Night shots of Farm-to-Market Road Proj. in Pottawattamie County [Iowa] - This project worked four, six-hour shifts a day in order to clear and grade as many miles as possible before the winter frost set in. Machinery was furnished by the county." Though the WPA sometimes discouraged the use of machinery--in order to employ the maximum number of unemployed men--various photographic records of the WPA show that there were also plenty of projects that did utilize machinery. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

During the New Deal, there were major initiatives to build Farm-to-Market roads. For example, by the middle of 1939, WPA workers had engaged in over 3,000 projects involving "Farm-to-market and other secondary road projects" (Report on Progress of the WPA Program, June 30, 1939 edition, p. 16). Also, before the WPA, workers in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration created 41,000 miles of new Farm-to-Market roads and repaired or improved another 194,000 miles (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the F.E.R.A.: April 1, 1934-July 1, 1935, 1936, p. 39). 

Farm-to-Market road projects were intended to (a) provide job opportunities for unemployed rural Americans, (b) help farmers get their produce and goods to market, and (c) get more nutritious food flowing to various parts of the country. In other words, the roads were intended not only to improve the economy, but also to quickly provide for the common good. New Deal policymakers thought this would be a great thing to do, especially since the U.S. Constitution both promotes and provides for the general welfare (preamble and Article I Section 8, respectively).

Above: A WPA poster promoting healthy eating. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Such a massive project as Farm-to-Market roads would be impossible to do today. You see, our public policy calculus is quite different now. Instead of looking to the Constitution for guidance, we more frequently look towards the super-wealthy for approval. Many Americans cast their sad, lazy eyes towards the billionaire class and ask: "Is this okay, sir? Is it okay if we do something for the common good?" And if someone like Charles Koch or Betsy DeVos says, "No, I want more money. Give me a tax break," then that's what we do. Make no mistake about it, over the past many decades we've subverted government (i.e., "We the People") to the will of the super-wealthy. This is why, for example, you see the White House administration now littered with sociopath billionaires and Goldman Sachs alumni. 

Hopefully--someday in the not-too-distant future--Americans will wake up, and stop lazily relying on millionaires and billionaires to manage and supervise their lives. I'm not holding my breath for this to happen... but I am hoping.

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