I think I’m gonna buy President Obama a calendar. Not because I think he is a busy guy that needs the organizational help that only a planner can bring. I’d like him to look up in the corner. The one that says it’s 2010. Maybe he already knows this, but you can’t tell by the way he’s governing. More often than not it seems like he thinks it’s 1935.
This week President Obama announced another Federal program to try and create jobs that will help the U.S. economy climb out of its current rut. Basically, $50 billion dollars will be spent in the first phase of a new public works program to repair runways, roads and railways. It’s straight out of the WPA playbook that was largely credited with allowing many Americans to ride out the Depression by providing labor for large scale infrastructure projects.
I have a few problems with the logic behind this program, the least of which at this point is that it is unfunded and further increases our national debt.
First of all, its was neither the WPA nor any other Roosevelt program that pulled the U.S. out of the Depression. It was World War II. So unless the other half of Obama’s plan is escalating the war in Afghanistan, he has actually just proposed a bandage. Something to keep people quiet until the “invisible hand” that governs capitalism kicks back in. Based on the mood of the people I talk to, it would appear voters want something that will end the recession and improve incomes, not a short term bridge to prosperity. What I don’t hear is a lot of people asking to spend more time barely getting by.
A second problem I have with the Obama approach is that the face of our workforce has changed dramatically since 1935. I guess these jobs will be fine if you are young, healthy and, most probably, male. You’ll also probably find it easier to accept these jobs if your most marketable skill is physical labor. But what do you do if you are a 58 year old woman? Or a 28 year old in a wheelchair? Or, heaven forbid, an electrical engineer? We have spent the last quarter century diversifying our workforce and learning high value skills and that’s what he has to offer? Asphalt? Really? What he ought to do is offer up jobs shoveling free cow manure for fertilizer, because he seems to be creating a pretty endless supply.
The final problem I have with the newest Stimulus project is that it seems to apply the same kind of magical thinking that many new managers succumb to. It’s trying to apply the “two birds with one stone” theory to justifying your projects. In his speech, Obama mixed the idea of job creation with the worthy goal of improving eroding infrastructure. Forget killing two birds with one stone. Based on recent execution, the Federal Government would have trouble killing one bird with two stones.
If your idea is a good one, you don’t need 20 reasons why. If you are trying to create jobs, present a plan to create jobs. If you want to improve roads, then get the bulldozers going. But don’t try to convince us you can do both of these competently at the same time. “But wait! There’s more!” won’t work any better in the history books than it did in ads in the back of comic books. Mr. President.
If we accept the idea that the Federal government has some role in managing the nation’s economy, I’d at least like to ask the administration to propose projects that impact a broader part of the population. For instance, a fraction of $50 billion is a heck of a lot of daycare – a need that is felt by employees across all sectors of the economy. And we have an awful lot of young teachers who can’t find work. We might not be able to provide full time classroom opportunities, as many experienced teachers can’t yet envision a retirement in which ends meet. Even part time work would help these new educators pick up valuable experience before they are able to land a full time job. But in a country where we offer up our Presidency as an on-the-job training program, this might be asking a bit much.
When the electorate sent President Obama to Washington, it was on a platform that promised change and that things would be different in the future. Given this, why does he seem so determined to delve only into the policies of the past. We need something new. Something different. Something uniquely American. And I don’t want to to have to wait for a bigger war to bail us out. I really hope that’s not where we are headed. Because in the book Obama seems to be reading, that’s the next chapter.