Monday, November 24, 2008

WPA Blues

So it sounds like we're going to be piddling around again. Barack Obama has proposed a jobs program to repair infrastructure that could employ up to 2.5 million Americans by 2011. It's the WPA all over again.

The WPA and similar New Deal programs were everywhere and you still see evidence of the work that was done today. Walk down the steps at Minnehaha Falls and you'll still see evidence of the work that the WPA did there. The picture I've posted is of the Outagamie County Courthouse back home in Appleton, an FDR-era structure that is one of the finest examples of Stalinist architecture that you'll ever see, with the extra special irony of a larger-than-life sized bust of Senator Joseph McCarthy inside the building.
And that is only one of the many ironies of the WPA and similar New Deal-era programs. The problem with them was pretty simple - they didn't really work because they unsurprisingly misallocated the time and talents of the participants. And by tying up so many workers for so long, they simply prolonged the Depression. WPA had its hands in just about everything -- including the "Voodoo Macbeth" that a very young Orson Welles staged as part of the Federal Theater Project.
The people who participated in the WPA tended to be ambivalent about it. Besides the efforts of Welles and others involved in the various arts programs that the WPA sponsored, the organization itself brought on some interesting art of its own, including the WPA Blues written by Casey Bill Weldon, in which the protagonist worries that in the name of progress, that the WPA is going to tear down his domicile:
Everybody's working in this town and it's worrying me night and day
Everybody's working in this town and it's worrying me night and day
If that mean working too, have to work for the WPA

Well well the landlord come this morning and he knocked on my door
He asked me if I was going to pay my rent no more
He said you have to move if you can't pay
And then he turned and he walked slowly away

So I have to try find me some other place to stay
That housewrecking crew's coming from the WPA
We're going to learn a lot more about what the president-elect has planned in the coming weeks. I don't think it's necessary to man the ramparts -- it's possible that my friend Rich's theory is correct and that Obama is more of a centrist than he might have appeared to be. But that's the problem with a guy who is still tabula rasa for most people. And we don't know if the housewrecking crew's coming from the WPA.

1 comment:

dmarks said...

I'm all for infrastructure improvements, but if the SEIU has its way, the main purpose will be to make that union even richer while hardly anything gets fixed or done.