A WPA for the 21st Century

President Obama said yesterday that he is willing to accept any idea as to how to pull the national car out of the economic ditch from Democrats, Independents and even Republicans. He said he would steal the idea and use it. Alright Mr. President, here is your idea to steal and run with.

22 million Americans are out of work. They are not just entry-level people. We have millions of white-collar college educated people in just about every area and people with technical educations who have been out of work for months. It is the biggest skilled labor pool that has been available to business since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. But corporate business in America is sitting on 1.8 trillion, perhaps close to 2 trillion dollars in cash and doing nothing with that resource. The last thing they appear to want to do is hire people and put them to work.

There needs to be a WPA, FDR-style for the 21st Century, but it ought to be modeled more on the World War II production programs that won a world war for us in the 1940’s. The President via executive order and the reconciliation process in Congress, in time of national emergency, allots two to three hundred billion dollars or more to start-up government for profit firms in a host of industries. He first brings in progressive minded retired CEO’s who are willing to serve their country much as the dollar-a-year men did for FDR during World War II. They hire human resource managers from around the country who are likely to be widely available in the pool of the unemployed, simply because corporations that are not hiring or who have fewer people to manage on their payrolls also do not need these human resource people who know how to get skilled people from all over the place and manage them. The start-up firms would be run by the government just the way dads teach their kids to ride a bicycle. Once the firm is up and running, the government lets it go and it is permitted to run with its success. Failed efforts are shut down, and resources of financial and human capital, and hardware are diverted to those firms achieving real success. This is much as West Point generals to be are taught that in any military campaign you reinforce success. When the firms are on their own, the employees buy back the firm from the government over a period of years, thereby returning to our government much of its initial investment.

Now the traditional corporate giants get into the act. Not willing to let new competition erode their markets, they get off their pile of cash and start doing a little hiring and expanding of their own. Any economist worth his or her salt knows that this is a demand driven economic depression. Getting millions into jobs created by both government start-up firms and private firms moving to meet the new competition puts money in people’s pockets and they spend it and create even more demand and the national car is finally hauled out of the economic ditch.

The government led effort is profit and private sector oriented. The managers and employees are not government bureaucrats but private sector experienced workers who know how to run a private business and work for one. We’ve just not had this big a skilled labor pool for seventy years, and it is standing idle. What a resource! It is there to use. As Lincoln said to General McClellan in 1862 in America’s Civil War, “If you have no plans to use the army I’d like to borrow it for a while.” Now the President can say to corporate America “if you have no plans to use our skilled labor pool I’d like to borrow them for a while.”

There needs to be the same urgency to act as displayed in the Great Depression and the Second World War on the part of the United States government and private business. The President should be willing to work late into the night for the next several months getting this up and running. He might just have a wedge issue here with voters the Republicans could not counter. What an October surprise this would make.

The time to act is now. This is a time of national emergency. Executive orders and going to the House and Senate leadership and using the reconciliation process to the full will be required. Our resurgent economic woes, and those of the world require bolder action than leaders in either party have been able or willing to offer. Sadly, the Republican Party can be counted on to obstruct this effort so it will have to come from the President and Democrats in Congress.

6 thoughts on “A WPA for the 21st Century

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