Sunday, January 22, 2012

The New Deal revisited II

More highlights from New Deal or Raw Deal:

Resettlement Administration

Established in April 1935, the Resettlement Administration (RA) was tasked with the relocation of struggling farmers into communities planned by the federal government. The head of the RA was Rexford Tugwell, a former professor of economics at Columbia. As Folsom states:
The visionary Tugwell was skeptical of capitalism and even the ownership of private property. "I personally have long been convinced that the outright ownership of farms ought to be greatly restricted," Tugwell explained. "My own view," Tugwell added, is "that under intelligent state control it should be possible to a planned flexibility into the congestion and rigidity of our outdated economic system." Tugwell was anxious to head the RA and begin his experiment in planned societies. With a staff of 13,000 and a massive $250 million to spend, Tugwell made plans for resettling thousands of tenants and marginal farmers into new model communities. 
The result was a disaster. "It was all done awkwardly and wastefully," Tugwell later confessed about the work of the RA. Even Roosevelt himself conceded, "I don't think we have a leg to stand on," when confronted with the high cost of the model towns Tugwell was building. Drawing model communities on paper was one thing, but it was another thing to relocate tenant farmers into affordable houses far away in real towns with functioning services. 
One of Tugwell's model communities was Arthurdale in West Virginia. A major problem there was that the ready-made houses could not fit their foundations. Once that problem was solved, the planner discovered that most residents, people from poor backgrounds, could not afford to live there. That protest became a common one in model communities all over the nation. Finding meaningful and profitable work for unskilled laborers was another recurring complaint. 
What that meant was that sometimes the RA had communities built, but not residents either willing or able to move in. An example of this was Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska spelled backward), a "dream city" of thirty-eight green-shuttered houses, each on seven acres of land twenty miles west of Omaha on the Platte River. The problem was that no one wanted to move in. Nearby farmer Henry C. Glissmann observed this project and drew this conclusion: "I predict that in time these homes will all be abandoned and stand as a gruesome monument to government's inefficiency and folly in festering a movement that to a practical mind has the earmarks of failure from the start."
Glissmann is my great-grandmother's brother, so it seems that skepticism of government runs in the family.

Wikipedia, meanwhile, has the following to say about the RA:
Some of the RA's activities dealt with land conservation and rural aid, but the construction of new suburban satellite cities was the most prominent. In her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, author Jane Jacobs critically quotes Tugswell on the program: "My idea is to go just outside centers of population, pick up cheap land, build a whole community and entice people into it. Then go back into the cities and tear down whole slums and make parks of them." Three "Greenbelt" towns were completed before the Supreme Court found the program unconstitutional in Franklin Township v. Tugwell.
Tugwell ended up resigning from his position in 1936 in the face of widespread criticism of his management of the agency.

Works Progress Administration

Established with the aim of providing jobs constructing public works for the unemployed, Folsom levels two main criticism against the WPA. First, from a theoretical perspective, it's difficult to assess whether the WPA actually created more jobs than would otherwise be the case had the money used to fund the program been left in the pockets of the taxpayers. Every dollar taxed away was one less dollar to be spent on products and services that provide employment and money for charitable relief.

The other main criticism was usage of the program as political patronage:
...The evidence indicates that politics often was the key variable in distributing WPA jobs. Gavin Wright, an economic historian, did a state-by-state analysis of New Deal spending. He noted that safe Democrat states, especially those in the South, received fewer WPA dollars than richer battleground states in the North and West. Since southern states had more poverty than northern states, that meant that WPA jobs often went to the states that needed them the least. 
An example of this shift of WPA funds from poorer to richer states is in the wages paid from North to South. The WPA hourly pay scale for skilled workers ranged from 31 cents an hour in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, to $2.25 an hour in New Jersey. New Jersey, unlike those southern states, was a swing state, and Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City had been the key for Roosevelt narrowly carrying the state in 1932. As president, therefore, Roosevelt allowed all WPA jobs in New Jersey to be cleared through Hague. According to Lyle Dorsett, who has studied the Hague machine in detail, "Concrete evidence shows that from the outset of the New Deal, Frank Hague was in complete control of all patronage in the state."  
And Roosevelt poured patronage into New Jersey in the form of massive public works (Hague owned a construction company), which included almost 100,000 WPA jobs annually during the 1930s and the highest rate of pay in the nation for these skilled jobs. One minor drawback to the high pay was that WPA workers in New Jersey had to "tithe" 3 percent of their salaries to the Democrat Party at election time. One WPA director in New Jersey -- a corrupt but candid man -- answered his office phone, "Democratic headquarters!"
This and other criticisms of the WPA are noted by wikipedia.

Certainly seems to be plenty out there about the New Deal that differs from what many of us were taught in school!

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