The New New Deal: A New WPA? A New PWA? Both?

In the Times today, Nick Taylor argues for the New Deal PWA, Harry Hopkins led model:

THE plan by Barack Obama to attack unemployment by putting people to work on roads, bridges, schools and new energy projects sounds like a version of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration. If Franklin D. Roosevelt is Mr. Obama’s model, and if the president-elect wants to avoid the disorganized hodgepodge that the financial bailout seems to be so far, then he should look to the structure created for the W.P.A. in 1935 to select the best plans for renovating the country’s outdated infrastructure.

It's an interesting take but not entirely uncontroversial historically. For example, the feud between Harold Ickes, Sr. and Hopkins may have been personal, but it was framed on the basis of policy differences. Here is a a discussion of some of them. It would be interesting to hear more from economists and historians on the relative merits of the Hopkins' WPA and the Ickes' PWA.

Speaking for me only

< Critiquing The Obama Administration | Illinois Governor Indicted For Trying To Sell Obama's Senate Seat >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Slightly OT: My Grandfather worked as a writer ... (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Robot Porter on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 08:09:49 AM EST
    for the WPA, and jumped from there to writing speeches for FDR and Truman.

    Thank you. WPA employed (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by oculus on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 10:27:18 AM EST
    a vast number of artistic people and, fortunately for us, much of their work remains for us to enjoy.  Pretty startling when you think about it.

    Rod Blagojevich, the Governor of Illinois has (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Angel on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 10:32:48 AM EST
    been arrested for trying to get money in exchange for the Senate seat appointment.  This is a very, very dirty deal and they have the goods on him - wiretaps, etc.  You can thank Patrick Fitzgerald.

    Ohmigod (none / 0) (#14)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 10:53:55 AM EST
    You're right, they have him dead to rights, and not just on this.  Apparently, they've been investigating him for over a year, and then the Senate stuff turned up on the wiretaps.

    There's also, ominously, someone referred to as "Candidate 5" in the paperwork whose aide offered him a flat-out $50,000 bribe for the appointment.

    Horrible.  What the heck happened to him?  And what is it about being governor of Illinois?


    Thank the lord (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by andgarden on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 10:58:17 AM EST
    they arrested him BEFORE he made an appointment.

    At least he didn't appoint himself or his wife. (none / 0) (#18)
    by Angel on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 11:05:43 AM EST
    Apparently he considered it (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by andgarden on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 11:09:57 AM EST
    The popular name for the WPA (1.00 / 1) (#3)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 08:49:26 AM EST
    was "We Piddle Around."

    That should tell you what the country thought of the program...

    And, not to be nasty to Robot Porter, by giving jobs to writers you can see the point of those use to manual labor and actually producing something.

    Piddling around? (5.00 / 3) (#5)
    by Robot Porter on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 09:19:24 AM EST
    The WPA built 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, and 651,000 mi (1,047,000 km) of road and the improvement of 800 airports.

    If that's piddling around, I like to see what you categorize as hard work.

    The Federal Writers Project was a small part of the WPA.  It only employed 6,600 people during its six year lifespan.  And they produced material.


    That is what it was called by millions (none / 0) (#24)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:02:54 PM EST
    And don't be so sensitive....

    My father went from a CCC camp to share cropping to being a Marine in WWII....

    You might say he also produced "material."


    You (none / 0) (#28)
    by cal1942 on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:28:51 PM EST
    know you're just flat out wrong.

    I know MANY people (sadly no longer with us) who worked on a variety of WPA projects from time to time in the 30s.  Not one of them said one disparaging word about the program, nor their friends and neighbors.  The WPA projects they worked on are still with us and still providing significant benefits. People understood and could see those benefits with their own eyes.

    Only a moron Republican would use your phrase.


    Name calling becomes (none / 0) (#30)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:41:40 PM EST
    you, proving again what Lenny Davis wrote:

    I came to believe that we liberals couldn't possibly be so intolerant and hateful, because our ideology was famous for ACLU-type commitments to free speech, dissent and, especially, tolerance for those who differed with us. And in recent years--with the deadly combination of sanctimony and vitriol displayed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michael Savage--I held on to the view that the left was inherently more tolerant and less hateful than the right.

    Now, in the closing days of the Lieberman primary campaign, I have reluctantly concluded that I was wrong. The far right does not have a monopoly on bigotry and hatred and sanctimony.

    Liberal McCarthyism"

    And the fact is you can't read. I didn't say the comment was by the employee, but in general usage by the employers... aka "tax payers."

    Have a nice day. You have learned something.


    No, Davis was referring to this: (none / 0) (#34)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 04:37:07 PM EST
    "Joe's on the Senate floor now and he's growing a beard. He has about a weeks growth on his face. . . . I hope he dyes his beard Blood red. It would be so appropriate" (by "ctkeith," posted on Daily Kos, July 11 and 12, 2005).

    * On "Lieberman vs. Murtha": "as everybody knows, jews ONLY care about the welfare of other jews; thanks ever so much for reminding everyone of this most salient fact, so that we might better ignore all that jewish propaganda [by Lieberman] about participating in the civil rights movement of the 60s and so on" (by "tomjones," posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2005).

    I wonder why you didn't provide a link?

    Please do, I write nothing I won't stand behind.


    ... ideology has been resoundingly rejected by the majority of Americans, and that it has been proven by the material evidence as a failure - a failure that was built on nothing more that the lies and delusions of doofuses and others willing to flush their ethics for a little dinero.

    But that's your cross to bear. You and yours had your chance. But your fellow Americans have told you in no uncertain terms that the anti-scientism and pro-19th C. style Colonialist aspirations of your compadres  (that's not a Murkan werd, btw, but I'm sure you can find it in a dictionary :) ) are not tolerable.

    No doubt, you're suffering from one of the five stages of grief. But cowboy up, PPJ! Y'alls got yer asses whooped. And you're just going to have to live with it.


    You haven't the vaguest idea what (none / 0) (#38)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 05:42:11 PM EST
    my "ideology" is and you make yourself look bad when you depend on such as DA for reference, or my politically incorrect comment about what the common man, not that very many who comment here would have the vaguest idea of what the common man in the south thought or said either then or now. Especially about WPA.

    Tell you what cookiebear, for every $20.00 you pledge to support TalkLeft I will link you a comment where I supported gay rights, gay marriage, national health care, women's rights, minority rights, reform of our drug laws.... on a 1 for 1 basis.

    Until then I suggest you hold your water instead of digging an ever deeper hole.

    BTW - I have been commenting here for almost 6 years. I mention that only to let you know that you have the opportunity to contribute a sizable amount of cash.

    Your turn. Now take your foot out of your mouth and try to sound intelligent.


    Gee DA (none / 0) (#40)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 06:26:08 PM EST
    I didn't realize I was so good.

    Yes, please, everyone read them!


    Yawn (none / 0) (#43)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 07:45:11 PM EST
    I think my rope a dope strategy has succeeded...

    See, I knew it was working (none / 0) (#45)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 10:11:36 PM EST
    keep punching... you'll show'em!

    "...I coulda been a champ..."


    that was a republican (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by cpinva on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 09:40:06 AM EST
    made name, not what the country as a whole thought of it.

    The popular name for the WPA was "We Piddle Around."

    my grandfather was employed by the WPA, building infrastructure for national and state parks in ny state. that infrastructure (roads, picnic shelters, hiking trails, bathrooms, camp sites, etc.) made those parks far more accessable than they had ever been, to the average citizen.

    that was just a small piece of the WPA's programs. they hired millions, paid them decent wages, which then went into the economy as purchases of food, housing, etc.

    this was part of the same program that brought electricity to the rural areas of the country, through the TVA.

    this just irked the republicans no end, because they weren't getting the money. watch it happen again, if obama institutes his planned "WPA-II" program.


    Nonsense (none / 0) (#26)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:16:01 PM EST
    I heard it all my young life.... And as a child there were no Repubs around....

    The comment had nothing to do with the projects, but rather what was viewed as the lack of work ethic of many of the employees, and the lack of supervision...

    Kinda reminds me of the bank bailout in that respect..

    I have never heard of WPA or the CCC being part of TVA. That's interesting.. Got a quick link?

    Remember. TVA built damns and a distribution system to deliver wholesale power to local utilities. It has never, to my knowledge, owned a local utility.

    There were many utility cooperatives ("Owned by Those We Serve") that provided electric and/or natural gas and/or telephone service. They were financed by the Rural Electric Administration (REA), now the RUS. Privately owned small companies were also financed based on community need.. These were called "Mas and Pas" and their collective pictures should be in the dictionary next to the word "service."

    The tax payer never lost a penny


    You're (none / 0) (#31)
    by cal1942 on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:42:20 PM EST
    so full of crap.  You've bought into every bit of swill put in front of you.

    I was born just as the Depression ended, when I was a kid my hometown was Republican dominated and I heard every crap remark you can imagine.

    But most people, even many Republicans, didn't knock the WPA. They were happy to benefit from the yield.

    To this day WPA projects are in use in my hometown.

    You might want to read a little closer the commenter NEVER said that the CCC or WPA was part of TVA.  The TVA was one of the whole of federal programs during that period.


    You're a troll, so who cares (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 10:48:08 AM EST
    what you think.

    But for others who might be reading without enough background infromation, one of the eventually economically invaluable things the writers project did was to produce hundreds of superb and detailed guidebooks for vacationers and tourists.  They're still fascinating reads, if you find them, filled with historical, geological, etc., information about many regions of the country.


    The thousands... (5.00 / 4) (#16)
    by desertswine on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 11:01:49 AM EST
    of incredible photos alone are a national historic treasure beyond value.

    Similarly in the folk music traditions, (5.00 / 3) (#22)
    by wurman on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 11:39:44 AM EST
    Burl Ives & Woody Guthrie (& some others), as part of the Fed. Music Project, went around the USA collecting & writing down a vast compilation of folk traditions in music.  The words, instrumentations, & sheet music are an absolutely priceless part of USA history.

    Then there was also the Civilian Conservation Corps, Tennessee Valley Authority, Rural Electrification Admin., & the Rural Utilities Service.  The latter 2 agencies may become of major importance, again, when "Pres." Obama decides to get high-speed internet services out to the hinterlands.

    It's hilarious to observe the "depressingly" stooopid comments of the rightwingnutz as these old ideas are dusted off & put on the table as solutions to the psychotic insanity of Bu$hInc.

    Go left, young man, go left.


    As usual (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by cal1942 on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:14:19 PM EST
    a typically stupid wise a$$ Republican remark. A phrase used by loser Republicans only.

    After all these decades this class of remark  identifies its user as the possessor of the  recessive Republican gene. The gene that profoundly reduces intellectual capability, causes general incompetence and an involuntary tendency to crap all over the carpet whenever put in charge.


    heh (none / 0) (#27)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:21:20 PM EST
    I find it amusing that I didn't condemn the program, just provided some historical correct information about what millions called the program.

    Tell me, when you have your head in the sand, what is sticking up in the air?

    And for the billionth (zillionth) time, I am not a Repub.

    And may I say that, using an expression well known to people in the TVA area.

    "The hit dog always yelps!"


    I'm (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by cal1942 on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:52:52 PM EST
    not from the TVA area and implying that I'm an a$$ is what I'd expect from someone who claims that most people of the time thought ill of the program.

    Older people in my area still point out a school, a classroom building, etc. from time to time and simply say the WPA built that.


    Huh? You brought the subject up (none / 0) (#39)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 06:05:14 PM EST
    and then you compalin?


    But it is what I expect.


    Reading too much into the parallels (none / 0) (#1)
    by koshembos on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 08:04:44 AM EST
    The comparison between Obama and FDR and also JFK is a result of unrealistic and premature attempts to elevate Obama to Democratic sainthood.

    As for WPA, about which I know little, one has to consider the alternatives a Democratic president has to resuscitate the economy: wait for massive small business growth, high unemployment payments, revive larger industries such as the auto industry or a WPA-like program that invests in the collapsing infrastructure and starts a non existing energy industry. Clearly, the only viable approach is a WPA-like approach.

    I generally agree with this on (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by dk on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 09:07:45 AM EST
    the Presidential comparison issue.  I think it can't be stressed enough that Obama is coming in at the Herbert Hoover moment.  My hypothesis is that the incoming administration is looking less at what FDR did, than at what Hoover could have done.  In other words, I think their goal will be finding a moderate Republican fix to a steep recession, rather than a Democratic fix to a depression.

    And thus ... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Robot Porter on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 09:23:07 AM EST
    may find themselves exactly where Herbert Hoover was.

    I'd love Obama to institute an WPA-like program.  But I think that's highly unlikley.


    Bingo. (none / 0) (#9)
    by dk on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 09:29:48 AM EST
    Parallels (none / 0) (#7)
    by CST on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 09:26:08 AM EST
    I think Obama is coming in at a time when he doesn't have a choice, he's only got two options as president - great or terrible.  At this point, OK means terrible since we are in quite a quagmire. The historical figures for a similar situation are Hoover and FDR.  I hope he picks FDR.

    Or as I would put it ... (none / 0) (#8)
    by Robot Porter on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 09:28:04 AM EST
    he can be a bold progressive president or a one-term president.

    Unfortunately, I don't think Obama sees it that way.


    I think he does (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by andgarden on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 11:09:33 AM EST
    He's not exactly batting away the New Deal comparisons.

    Clearly? (none / 0) (#23)
    by cal1942 on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 11:55:34 AM EST
    Not entirely clear.  Infrastrucure improvements are clearly beneficial and necessary but can't be the only activity to generate recovery.  Strengthening American industry would be a very strong component as well as investment in start-up industry.

    Recovery will fall far short if pursued on a narrow front.


    FLASH Non Topic Illinois Governor Arrested (none / 0) (#17)
    by Saul on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 11:04:42 AM EST
    for trying to sell Obama's senate seat to highest bidder

    Probably both...WPA and PWA (none / 0) (#21)
    by oldpro on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 11:35:01 AM EST
    ...the new 'welfare to work' probably through the states for immediate impact in rehabbing old infrastructure and grabbing the opportunity to invest in economic development of the near future with focus on, perhaps, expanding the energy grid.

    I agree, we need to hear more from economists and historians about how to apply lessons learned and hope that Obama has appointed some people capable of transcending ideology to actually solve problems.

    some more history (none / 0) (#29)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 12:32:43 PM EST
    Watching you folks get all stirred up over "We Piddle Around," I hope you don't swoon to find out what the great unwashed called the outside toilets built by WPA:

    These toilets received many names such as: Roosevelt Bungalows, Roosevelt Backhouse

    Interestingly enough the same people who snarked the WPA and Roosevelt voted for him by the millions.


    Wiki has some interesting info: (5.00 / 1) (#35)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 04:57:28 PM EST
    Criticism and favoritism
    Unlike the quite popular Civilian Conservation Corps, the WPA had numerous conservative critics.

    One of the principal criticisms leveled at the program was that it wasted federal dollars on projects that were not always needed or wanted.

    A relic of this criticism survives today in the form of a satirical observation that WPA workers were hired 'to rake leaves in the park.'

    White-collar WPA projects in particular were often singled out for their sometimes overtly left-wing social and political themes.

    One criticism of the allocation of WPA projects and funding was that they were often made for political considerations.

    Congressional leaders in favor with the Roosevelt administration, or who possessed considerable seniority and political power often helped decide which states and localities received the most funding.

    The most serious criticism was that Roosevelt was building a nationwide political machine with millions of workers.

    Some who were critical of the WPA referred to it as "We Poke Along," "We Piddle Along" or "We Putter Around."

    This is a sarcastic reference to WPA projects that sometimes slowed to a crawl, because foremen on a government project devised to maintain employment often had no incentive or ability to influence worker productivity by demotion or termination.

    This criticism was due in part to the WPA's early practice of basing wages on a "security wage," ensuring workers would be paid even if the project was delayed, improperly constructed, or incomplete.

    Other denigrating references to the WPA in popular culture include:

    A typical joke was repeated in Harper Lee's 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Bob Ewell, the resident slacker of Maycomb County, is described as "the only person fired from the WPA for laziness."

    Ex-Dodger and Giant pitcher Billy Loes, who was selected by the Mets in the 1961 expansion draft, was credited with this quotation: "The Mets is a good thing. They give everybody jobs. Just like the WPA."

    Careful, you are on sacred ground.... (none / 0) (#41)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Dec 09, 2008 at 06:28:48 PM EST
    Excellent link! (none / 0) (#47)
    by EL seattle on Wed Dec 10, 2008 at 08:01:56 AM EST
    There's a lot of fascinating real local detail in the Benton County information.  Such as:

    The men were put to work in Benton County building roads, bridges, public buildings and digging drainage ditches. The roads were build with picks, shovels and wheel barrows. The pay was .27¢ per hour or $2.16 per day. Many men had to walk three and a half miles to the job.

    Conditions were were very tough in 1935.


    Thank you (none / 0) (#48)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed Dec 10, 2008 at 09:51:24 AM EST
    Indeed. My grandfather lost his sawmill (business) in the run up to the crash. As now, construction led the way to the stock sell off. He survived by just logging and farming. There was always plenty to eat but there was nothing available for his sons besides CCC and after that share cropping. Few went "north" because the factories there were also in terrible shape.

    I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the rabid reaction of some of those on the Left to my small bit of historical information. But I think it shows how easy history can be rewritten to hide what people don't want to hear.