Virtually everyone says that the Obama Administration needs to create a huge stimulus package. Most of them think that it needs to be focused on public works. All very well and good, in my view.
But let’s not underestimate the political backlash that will inevitably follow. The source here comes from the man who should know: Harry Hopkins, who ran the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s. The WPA is the subject of a readable new book by Nick Taylor, who relates the following conversation:
Hopkins was on a train trip with Hallie Flanagan, one of the pioneers of American experimental theater, who eventually ran the WPA’s Federal Theater Project. Hopkins’ warnings are directed toward the theater, but they apply toward any works project:
Can you spend money? It’s not easy. You can’t care very much about what people are going to say, because when you’re handling other people’s money, whatever you do is always wrong. If you try to hold down wages, you’ll be accused of union-busting and grinding down the poor; if you try to pay a decent wage, you’ll be competing with private industry and pampering a lot of no-accounts; if you scrimp on production costs, they’ll say your shows are lousy; and if you spend enough to get a good show on, they’ll say you’re wasting the taxpayers’ money. Don’t forget that whatever happens, you’ll be wrong.
Whoever runs any public works program from the federal level had better be an excellent administrator, and have political nerves of steel. Even if any stimulus is run through state and local governments–especially if it is run through state and local governments–it will be a favorite topic every night on Fox News.