Is a new New Deal possible?
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
With COVID-19 closing businesses across the U.S., the buying power of jobless workers is plunging. A parallel is the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, spearheaded the New Deal. A series of programs, it expanded the federal government’s role in the economy to boost weak demand and revive commerce.
Is a new New Deal a possibility, and if so, what would it look like? We turn to Richard Walker, an author, director of the Living New Deal Project and professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley. “A new New Deal is possible,” he told MultiBriefs in an email. “If only there were the political will to do it.”
Political will can drive politicians to make policy that their constituents seek. We see that dynamic, for example, underway with frontline healthcare workers in the National Organizing Committee/National Nurses United union rallying for funding to buy them personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid contracting COVID-19 from patients. The second phase of the Paycheck Protection Program that President Trump signed April 24 features $75 billion for hospitals.
What would be the best New Deal programs to bring back in 2020 with large parts of the economy closed and jobless workers at home? “The easiest thing to replicate would be new versions of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) to create employment,” according to Walker.
No small part of the current U.S. infrastructure comes from CCC and WPA workers’ efforts. Physical distancing of course would be central to a New Deal 2.0 to slow the spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, hiring health policy experts to guide such efforts would be central, economic stimulus for Main Street.
“A Public Health Corps could mobilize the jobless to go help in hospitals, rest homes and clinics,” Walker said, “plus federal intervention to assure sufficient production of PPE — which is more like World War II than the New Deal.”
Quillan Robinson is the government affairs director of the American Conservation Coalition. “We support the Great American Outdoors Act,” he told MultiBriefs by phone, “for positive employment and environment outcomes.” The GAOA creates a National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund. It would support delayed maintenance projects on federal lands.
The New Deal did more than boost employment. “It bailed out the states and cities bankrupted by the costs of relief,” according to Walker.
Contrast that example with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) recent statement that cash-strapped state and municipal governments should declare bankruptcy.
In terms of fiscal policy, the New Deal sparked other policy changes. “It raised taxes on the rich,” Walker said. Political will would be a factor in replicating that approach to the current economic crisis, sure to generate dissent from corporations and the well off. President Roosevelt convinced corporations and the wealthy to pay higher taxes to fund programs such as Social Security and unemployment insurance. Americans rely on both programs today, now so more than ever.
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