President Obama Should Offer #OccupyWallStreet Jobs

In 1933, President Roosevelt launched the Civilian Conservation Corps and put the unemployed to work.  President Obama should take his lead.

A statue and historical Marker commemorating the Civilian Conservation Corps workers at Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin

For 9 years, from 1933 to 1942, the federal government employed millions of American men who were rendered jobless by the Great Depression.  At the time, the CCC consisted of young, unmarried men who were put to work on a wide range of conservation projects across the country.  In 1933, Roosevelt proposed the following

I propose to create a civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment, and confining itself to forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects. I call your attention to the fact that this type of work is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss, but also as a means of creating future national wealth.

The work was broken down into ten broad classifications:

  1. Structural Improvements: bridges, fire lookout towers, service buildings;
  2. Transportation: truck trails, minor roads, foot trails and airport landing fields;
  3. Erosion Control: check dams, terracing and vegetable covering;
  4. Flood Control: irrigation, drainage, dams, ditching, channel work, riprapping;
  5. Forest Culture: planting trees and shrubs, timber stand improvement, seed collection, nursery work;
  6. Forest Protection: fire prevention, fire pre-suppression, fire fighting, insect and disease control;
  7. Landscape and Recreation: public camp and picnic ground development, lake and pond site clearing and development;
  8. Range: stock driveways, elimination of predatory animals;
  9. Wildlife: stream improvement, fish stocking, food and cover planting;
  10. Miscellaneous: emergency work, surveys, mosquito control.

While these may seem quaint by today’s standards, the plan represented a significant shift in economic thinking.  Prior to FDR, the belief that the economy would regulate itself back to equilibrium was doctrine.  FDR realized that the country could not return to normal in any meaningful way without the government stepping in to be the spender of last resort.  So the CCC was born to serve as a mechanism to move money back through the economy and, in exchange, the nation received useful labor.

Today, millions are idled by the economic downturn.  President Obama continues to propose solutions that are too small, too timid, too Republican.  His bitter hope that the modern TeaOP will accept his watered down, limp proposals leaves America wanting

What our nation needs now is contrast.  There needs to be an obvious choice between the regressive policies of the TeaOP and the progressive policies of the Democratic Party.  Americans want to see that President Obama has a bold vision to pull the nation out of the doldrums.  The President needs to propose a massive program to employ the idle labor that our nation is wasting through idleness.

Wasted labor is the worst kind of wasted resource because, unlike other resources, it cannot be conserved and stored for later use.  A lost hour of labor is lost forever.  You can pile up steel, wood, rubber or other natural resources for a time when the economy turns around.  But you cannot store labor.  You must use it when it’s available.  As FDR so astutely observed,

To those who say that our expenditures for Public Works and other means for recovery are a waste that we cannot afford, I answer that no country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order. Some people try to tell me that we must make up our minds that for the future we shall permanently have millions of unemployed just as other countries have had them for over a decade. What may be necessary for those countries is not my responsibility to determine. But as for this country, I stand or fall by my refusal to accept as a necessary condition of our future a permanent army of unemployed. On the contrary, we must make it a national principle that we will not tolerate a large army of unemployed and that we will arrange our national economy to end our present unemployment as soon as we can and then to take wise measures against its return. I do not want to think that it is the destiny of any American to remain permanently on relief rolls.

The men and women of the Occupy movement aren’t asking for anything more than this.  They want to be employed.  They want to provide for their families.  They want their piece of the American Dream.  They want fairness and justice.  They want to feel like Americans again.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

A new CCC designed to employ these talented and educated masses of citizens would usher in a new era of prosperity for America.  Send these people out to the schools and to the small towns of America to educate and enlighten a populace beaten down by the harshness of our economic circumstance.  Employ them to work in our parks and in our public lands, repairing and rebuilding our infrastructure.  Give them employment, give them dignity, help them help themselves.

The citizens engaged in the Occupy Movement aren’t frothing Marxists and Anarchists seeking to overthrow the social and economic order of the nation.  No, quite the opposite in fact.  They want to be part of America.  They want the opportunities that all American’s believe is their birthright.  Not a hand-out but a hand-up.

I call on President Obama to demonstrate to the American people that the Democratic party stands for something.  It stands for the dignity of labor, it stand for people and it stands against the reckless policies of the Republican party that have led us to this dark place.  That it stands with American citizens and not American corporations.

I call on President Obama to lead us out of the shadows of inequality and poverty and into the sunlit uplands of prosperity where all Americans are truly equal.


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