Above: a ghoulish of aspect -- and dying -- Citizen Hopkins and of course, the Vozhd himself.
Lots of kindly folks with long deep hearts and a smattering of economic good sense
like putting themselves to sleep at night fantasizing about WPA II...
... That Roosevelt-era gimmick where Uncle Sugar puts millions on the federal payroll doing good public deeds for chump change -- kind of a liberal gulag day-camp gig tricked out with various solemn claims to lasting value and thriving virtue.
Now Harry Hopkins, the father of the WPA, is a real honest-to-Marx hero of mine, and despite the facts, I wish he, like that other great Harry, Harry Dexter White, had really in fact have been one of Stalin's robots. But alas, such poetry is all too sentimental for Mother Clio.
Hero or not, though, we don't need no more lousy make-work projects, despite what such recently revered authorities as the late Hy Minsky claim. And thank our class stars we don't.
(Here's another snap of Harry H in a fine hat, looking more as I like to recall him.)
And here's the other Harry, obviously ready to subvert jolly J Alfred Keynes, lord Ha-Ha, and his utterly sublime draft of a postwar international economic architecture:
These WPA multiple wet dreams, if any of 'em were ever to actually climb out of their local dream factory, and into the mainstream of American work life... it would prove to be, yes, just as awful as high school -- a sweatbox imposed by minimum security and financial desperation -- an American floating opera as labor gulag -- a workhouse without walls.
Honest toil? Maybe. Even kinda useful work? Maybe. But not an honest job; not a job mediated by the Tartarish market mechanisms. A job neither good and well paying enough to suck in private sector workers with an existing private sector gainful employment,
nor a job able to excite the fury of our private sector chiefs of production.
Those glorious WPA jobs of pwog memory and myth were little more in ultimate motivation then confected Calvinic chores for idle hands, punishment for preterition at the hiring office of Limited Liability Inc., doing good by pouring concrete and sweat -- and, I hasten to add, quite unlike the work of the anagrammatic PWA, brainchild of that tightassed fatfaced thumbtack of a man Harold Ickes, which produced objects of a bygone glory and a splendor for ever and a day.
The WPA was not convict labor -- not literally, at least -- but neither is 11th-grade French homework. A WPA job for almost ever would end up as generally popular as forty years of high school; and throughout it would remain in essence Cain's curse, stigmatized labor.
Think about it: you yourself wouldn't "resort" to that type of job setting unless you don't have any choice, right?
The notion is that by this means we can set up a receptacle that can fill up higher and higher when there aren't enough Mcjobs, no matter how many missing Mcjobs we need.
But why bother with this crap slide when we can in a perfectly straightforward way use macro policy to induce as many Mcjobs as we need, and have 'em all be more or less self-sustaining?
Take, for example, noted plagiary and cave wizard Hy Minsky, the Howard Zinn of macro. He includes a recipe for make-work in his recipe for perpetual stability: Uncle as employer of last resort. He wanted a Fed for the broken jobsters, like the Fed we already have for broken bankers.
But in this new context, with the society we've got out here, that's a nasty hellfirish concept. If Uncle becomes employer of last resort, by definition we end up with a 6th army of losers at a siege of Stalingrad job site, chopping wood and clearing brush at some deeply discounted wage.
Uncle, if he paid a decent wage, would in a stroke become the keeper of the job vortex. Given a choice, who would work for a corporation if the same work at the same pay
were offered by a sunny side of Uncle Sam? Think the dynamics of this through to its "stable equilibrium": either this WPA evolves into a living job hell or it gets its neck broke just like Ickes' WPA got it's neck broke.
You can only be a last-resort employer at a penalty wage rate, right? So now imagine the effect of implementing such a pit of bottomless capacity on long-term private sector wages.
It could easily become a diabolical form of wage suppression; and, horror of horrors, Hy Minsky himself prolly figured all this out right down to the exact penny!
Now Hy, of course, Gandalfian type that he was, liked to call his employer of last resort a yellow brick road to lasting "inflation control" -- which comes to the same thing, doesn't it?
(Hy was obsessed with chronic inflation of the kind sponataneously generated by credit and fiscal deficit macro policies, and social-democratic counter-cyclical policies. His implicit motto: "Death to transfer systems!")
But even if you worry about unwanted uncontrolled inflation(*), you don't need to undermine the job market to cure it. There's no reason forcing you to create a perpetual class of dole-underpaid underclass workers. If inflation is the concern, you need to take it on at the source where pricing decisions are made -- i.e. at the corporate level. You need to construct a system-wide mechanism able to thwart these unwanted uncontrolled anarchic bursts of inflation by... by... wait for it...
... Imposing a markup cap-and-trade warrant system(**)!
Oh dear, there's so much room for digression here, but blogs call us to end the huffing and puffing more or less as quickly as possible. The point is simple:
if in the end we want to maximize value added and wages per hour, maximize job participation rates and minimize job hours per week/year/career, then setting up a nonstop WPA is just effectively a way to absorb an oversupply of job hours by setting up sweatful local purgatories, and as a result, over time, hold down the entire wage structure of our corporate sector by stabilizing any level of stag in the corporate job market deemed most profitable.
Instead of heating up the job markets by heating up effective demand, we follow Hyman and simply sop up the unemployed with a public make-work program -- all the unemployed, that is, who are willing to face this Nurse Ratched and her gauntlet.
What, in the long run, is that gonna do? Among other things, keep the corporate job market slack while keeping goo-goos contented that all souls are fast at work, and God's will is done on earth. With last-resort employer Uncle Sam in place, there's no more need to pump up demand.
"Why Paine," you say -- "Paine, you arrogant shallow twit! We could employ 10 million folks today, right this second, greening up our production platforms, our infrastructure, our apartment complexes..."
I agree. But that kinda work is PWA work, not WPA work: projects long premeditated and planned, slowly implemented and paid for at honest union wages, not some fly-by-night rocks-into-pebbles act, not some red-white-and-blue prison without barbed wire. Not some take-it-or-leave-it Mother Hubbard ration station.
(*) Accelerating inflation can indeed be the outcome of a Wild Bill Vickrey final solution to job scarcity, if you cure our ills by using giant fiscal deficits backed by bank credit to drive us to hyperemployment. You need something to backstop bosses that is, in fact, a serious threat of bankruptcy in the final analysis.
(**) Now of course that will lead at some point to a nice toe-to-toe class-on-class slugfest over "shares" of value added; but that too is another story.