Like anything else in life, ideas sometimes need to just grow up. I speak in the same way as if I were talking about wine. Ideas need to age and be raised or lowered by how they test against time.
Most of the ideas which defined this writer’s political outlook were acquired in the Sixties about the time of my passage into adulthood. Many of these notions were considered radical or on the edge at the time and now those same assumptions are considered politically correct and middle-of-the-road. They have become the ethical backbone of the Baby Boom. Ideas such as pacifism, and racial equality and gay rights and sexual equality, legal pot and organic food have all come to be accepted. For the most part my hippie ideas, while less than tactfully stated, proved to be right most of the time. But not all of the time. I have extended my mea culpas on several occasions for one of the mistakes I did make in the Sixties….my opposition to The Draft. The most misguided act of social protest in my career as a young activist was when I stood on the front steps of my college administration building and burned my draft card. I was young and ignorant and also under the direct political pressure of being in school on a student deferment. The draft was breathing down my new, pink neck under my new, long hair. To be sure, we were fighting an unjust war and I don’t apologize for resisting it but I chose the wrong battlefield. The idea of mandatory national service is a good one. We would show good sense as a society if we returned to it. Now would be a particularly good time to do this. With about a third of our capable working hands idled by unemployment and with infrastructure crumbling around our ears and vital, useful work begging to be done, it seems like the perfect time to match these two problems and transform them into mutual solutions. A National Work and Recovery Corps could be a bold step toward solving some of our economic and social problems.
During the absolute doldrums of the Great Depression one of the boldest and most significant things that FDR did as part of his sweeping New Deal reforms was to, by Executive Order, establish the CCC and the WPA. These programs were designed to immediately direct idle hands toward tasks that needed to be done for the pride or well-being of our country. They built bridges and sewers. They built and maintained our National Parks and monuments. They did things that needed to be done. These programs also threw a few dollars a month into the economies of thousands of strapped American households. Regardless of how often we hear the chant from the Right that the government doesn’t create jobs, FDR exposed that fallacy as the lie that it is. Of course the government can create jobs the same way that government creates money. And when the government decides to create jobs,, it can create a bunch of them and do it right away.
The authors of our Constitution provided clearly for the separation of Church and State. They did not provide for the separation of State and the Economy. Industry and government have traditionally worked hand in glove and we have traditionally been ruled by the steady, if greedy, hand of the oligarchy. This wasn’t all that bad because in the past at least the oligarchs have been people. Now the players in our oligarchy are not even people but organizations. Corporations are legal devices who petulantly insist on being treated as people. But they are not people. When you prick them, they do not bleed. When you pinch them, they do not wince. The only ethics they know are the ethics of the bottom line. This makes them largely indifferent to human needs and limitations and desires. What they care about is their own institutional survival and the profit they can make for their owners. They aren’t playing the same game as people are playing. That’s why they are bound to win. The highly organized and purposed organism will always take its place at the top of the food chain and become realized as a predatory beast, without conscience or remorse. Marx was exactly right when he observed that laissez faire always leads to an oligarchy where the owners of the means of production, given time, will inevitably own everything. When this happens, it’s like an economic Ice Age. All of the funds are frozen at the very top of the world. Everybody suffers. What we need is a more temperate climate where the money is warm and flowing and spread over wide areas and is touched by many hands. We suffer our current financial crises not because of lack of wealth but due to lack of Activity.
Henry Ford created the 20th Century Middle Class not by inventing the production line, but by inventing the idea that it didn’t matter how many millions of cars he could make unless there were also that many consumers who could afford to own them. So, he adopted a 5 dollar a day minimum wage. He wanted to assure that his workers could afford to buy the product that they helped to make. But the mega-corporations of today don’t have any heart. At least the tycoons of yesteryear had the basic human sympathy to realize that in some way all of humanity is connected. We depend on each other. Corporations don’t get this.
That’s one reason why it is a very legitimate function of government to keep the money flowing and in a liquid state and not frozen in the hands of a very few. By means of taxation and spending on public works and services and infrastructure, the government re-distributes the wealth. This is a good thing, like spreading manure in a field. It enriches all involved.
The Poet’s Eye would love to see our President take the same type of bold step as FDR took with the New Deal works programs. I invite Mr. Obama to establish a National Works Program. He should do it in the same way that FDR brought the WPA into being and Kennedy established the Peace Corps, by Executive Order. Let Congress catch up in ninety days. Take the bold step, Mr. President! Give us a National Works Army. Hire anybody who wants to work. Pay them enough to drive a Ford and raise a family; give them healthcare. Let’s re-distribute some wealth, Mr. President, and don’t be shy about it.
For less than a couple hundred billion dollars, we could create six million jobs. These would be jobs with an average of thirty thousand per year working to improve our country and the wealth and happiness of our citizens. Give it a sexy name like AmeriCorps or Big Job Brigade and a hot, smart logo. Make it proud as the Marines. It would cut unemployment in half.
Yes, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse
I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat, and my asthma’s getting worse
Yes, think of my career, my sweetheart dear, and my poor old invalid aunt
Besides, I ain’t no fool, I’m a-goin’ to school
And I’m working in a DEE-fense plant++ Phil Oachs