Can The Federal Government Create Jobs?

English: "Works Progress Administration P...
English: “Works Progress Administration Project 1937” sign on the City Hall in Stewartville, Minnesota. Design is public domain work of the United States federal government. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the presidential debate, jobs were a key issue in both the platforms of both candidates. With the economy still in slow recovery, that is indeed understandable. However, what I do want to take a moment out to speak on is the idea that the government cannot create jobs. Mitt Romney in one of his retorts stated vehemently that the government cannot create jobs, only the private sector can. How a man can run for president on his record of being a job creator and simultaneously believe that the federal government can’t create jobs is a confusing outlook that makes little sense. But, lets leave that contradiction to the side for now.

What is the elephant in the room is that it is completely inaccurate to keep stating this line. The federal government can create jobs. That is precisely what it did during the Great Depression. In a tweet I posted last night, I mentioned the WPA program. The acronym stands for the Works Progress Administration, which was carried out by an executive order to deal directly with the massive unemployment of the 1930’s. This program put millions of people to work. Roads were built, bridges were repaired, and vital records were made. Need we be reminded of the work done by the WPA to interview the former enslaved through the Federal Writers Project?

There is a good documentary on the efforts of the WPA and the FWP The Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story. Mitt Romney, and President Obama who subtly agreed with the assertion by stating his belief in the free market are both wrong on this. This talking point plays well within the confines of a free market based political agenda, but  it is historically inaccurate. If both candidates were to say that they are unwilling to pursue a public works policy, that is one thing. To say it is not possible, when it was done 8 decades ago is flatly false.

To those of you who will say to this post that those were different times and that this wont work now, answer me this. How is it that an American government in the first half of the 20th century can do this, and our early 21st century American government cant? There is a chasm of difference between being unable to do something, and being unwilling to.

-Marc W. Polite

Had to put on the Historian Hat


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