12 October 2009

American-Made; Nick Taylor

American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work by Nick Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This extremely readable accounting of the WPA feels prescient. Yes, I know that jobs are a lagging indicator of recovery, but reading how Hoover kept insisting that we were in a recovery while the country clearly wasn't sounds similar to what we're hearing now. Not being an economist I'm not making any predictions, and we're clearly not in the same place now that we were in 1933, but still...

When FDR started to tackle the recovery, setting in place any number of government programs, it was simple necessity. What's not clear is whether he intended the scope to be as broad as it ended up being, or if Henry Hopkins' (leader of first the CWA and then the WPA) ambition was the reason that the program expanded the way it did. I knew that the WPA reached into almost every walk of life - from packhorse "bookmobiles" in Appalachia to road building to the arts - but I didn't know that New York's Laguardia Airport was a WPA project (ditto the Bay Bridge).

While we may not be in the same crisis we were in 70 years ago, reinstating some of these programs and allowing the recovery to "trickle up" is worth considering.

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