Bon anniversaire, Mademoiselle Liberté, et reste la très bienvenue

125 years old, still young and still hot. I love her.  I love where she stands, I love her crown of radiant wisdom and her torch and her book of laws, I love Miss Lazarus’ poem, I love that she’s an excellent sculpture on her own terms.  I love that you can buy bronze paperweights of her, and that she’s so familiar she can figure in cartoons and movies, in parts or in whole. I love that we fixed her up for another century (Bartholdi did a good job, but he (and Eiffel) didn’t know enough about electrolytic corrosion when you rivet copper onto a steel frame). I love the French for thinking the American experiment was their project, too.

Among the liberties she recalls today is freedom from broken bodies, ruined lungs, blindness, and the poverty industrial disability used to assure.  Here is where she was made: a filthy, smoky hell worse than any of Piranesi’s dungeons: not a pair of goggles or steel-toed shoes in sight, and just walking across the floor could break your leg. Every breath put asbestos in your lungs. Imagine the noise: this was a metalsmithing factory with everyone banging on sheet metal with a hammer.  Going up on the scaffold? Safety harness…what are you talking about?  Just try not to break any equipment when you land; you, we can replace tomorrow.

That’s where everything was made back then.  When she was restored in 1986, things were very different: for example, the workers had protection from Eiffel’s asbestos .  Save a thought for OSHA, child labor laws, Social Security Disability insurance, and the unions who made it safe to go to work in the morning and make stuff for us.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

5 thoughts on “Bon anniversaire, Mademoiselle Liberté, et reste la très bienvenue”

  1. “I love the French for thinking the American experiment was their project, too.”

    Well, Bartholdi had to come up with a new rationale and source of funding for his statue when Egypt couldn’t come up with the loot to buy it.

  2. Not all great ideas appear in their optimal form, or motivation, the first time out of the box

  3. Great post, Michael. I’m old enough to have made four Atlantic crossings by ocean liner. Liberty is impressive enough when viewed from the ferry, but to see her from shipboard as you return home after a long absence abroad is a whole ‘nother experience.

    1. I believe it. Just seeing it looking back over your left shoulder driving out of the city on the Holland spur of the Turnpike is cool enough. And to think about what that statue meant, and the multiple layers of immigrants who have come and gone through New York City over the years, occupying one area or another and then moving on as they moved up and out, and leaving it to another group to try their luck. Much of that history is ugly and dirty (Triangle Shirtwaist, 4000 people per tenement block, etc. etc.), but much of it is inspiring and noble in its way (the Lower East Side of Manhattan has been at various times Dutch, Irish, German/Polish, Hungarian, Italian, Jewish, Hispanic, Asian, and more). It’s a palimpsest as rich as most any in the world, and forged in just a few centuries.

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