Economics

"Great Achievements in American Socialism"

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Marine Air Terminal

I yield to no man in my love for LaGuardia's Marine Air Terminal. A few years back, when I was flying frequently between New York and D.C., the Delta shuttle offered "youth" tickets. For less than $50 a pop, I not only got to NYC toot sweet, I also had the great luck of skipping over the main terminals at hellish LaGuardia, in favor of breezing though this lovely freestanding Deco-filled structure which catered exclusively to the Shuttle set.

However, contra an article/slide show in today's Salon, this does not mean that socialism is a good idea.

The slide show's author, Mark Schone, offers "two dozen excellent things the federal government bought with your money" as a kind of visual quasi-defense of "red, white, and blue 'socialism'" of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Works Progress Administration. Exhibiting these aesthetically-pleasing edifices is supposed to help cast a rosy (pinko?) glow on some of President Obama's plans.

But the squabble over the New Deal isn't whether the WPA made some nice buildings—Schone's selections certainly are lovely, and I always enjoy a nice slide show. It's about the what that money could have been doing instead. In the absence of a WPA, Astoria would still have pools, Oregon would have hotels ("lodges," even), Oakland would still have a courthouse, and Louisiana State would certainly still have a football stadium. Fresno would have its auditoriums, Salmon, Idaho, its city hall. They might have been built later, people might have made do with less glamorous facilities during the 1930s. But all the money that went to stonework and gilding might have done more good if it had been left in taxpayers pockets. Someone would probably even have snapped some photos of gaunt women without government dollars. 

The first iteration of the Baseball Hall of Fame is also on Schone's list. Perhaps that is supposed to make us feel better about the Mob Museum?

NEXT: A Whiff of Grape

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  1. Isn’t “I yield to no man” what Red Sonja used to say?

  2. Hey, maybe they should show a picture of six million dead baby pigs. Right next to a picture of a starving depression-era family. Complete with shoes that had taped up holes in them, and flour sacks that were fashioned into britches.

  3. I loved Red Sonja as a kid! The production quality of that movie…astounding.

    Also, I predict the arrival of joe in 5, 4, 3, 2…

  4. Some other shovel-ready projects the Feds might want to consider.

  5. The only criteria for being in the slideshow seems to be that “some federal government money was spent on the project” so if you left the cool modernist/deco 1930s you could find plenty of ugly,shoddy and wasteful government funded projects as counter-examples.

    I do love the Blue Ridge Parkway.They won’t be doing anything like that again.I own some real, original FSA photos and they are among my favorite possessions.

  6. “…tell the crew at Mount Rushmore to be extra careful about Pres. Obama’s ears!”

    DAR – I’d be okay with that if they chiseled Obama out of Roosevelt.

  7. I was expecting this article to be completely blank. What a let-down.

  8. Yes, let’s waste money in some cool way. Send some guys to Triton, or something like that, skipping ahead and laughing at other countries not foolish enough to waste that much money on a stunt.

    In the alternative, let’s develop cheap access to space and take over the solar system, laughing at other countries as we join the Federation and leave them out.

    I oppose spending government money on such things, too, but they beat throwing it into a bunch of government employees’ hands or dumping it into a hole in Boston or something.

  9. The Salmon City Hall is art deco? It looked closer to Bauhaus.

  10. Sure were a lot of projects in NY and CA.

  11. But all the money that went to stonework and gilding might have done more good if it had been left in taxpayers pockets.

    What money? Those taxpayers didn’t have that money in their pockets while those projects were being carried out. The government produced that money out of thin air.

    So, what would all of those people who fed their families (and the grocer’s family, and the truck driver’s family, and the farmer’s family) have done instead?

  12. The government produced that money out of thin air.

    Okay, Im hoping this was bogo-joe, or you have stated one of the stupidest things I have ever heard.

  13. Triton or total conquest of the solar system? The former gives us that quick hit, but the latter gives us cachet with the rest of galactic civilization. When asked the name of our planet when we join whatever the galaxy’s governing body is called, we can just say “America, Bitch.”

  14. Mark Schone is a huge tofu and soymilk consumer.

  15. Poor Red Sonja, never had a clue…

  16. So, what would all of those people who fed their families (and the grocer’s family, and the truck driver’s family, and the farmer’s family) have done instead?

    Died. Like every other person who has ever been unemployed, they would have starved and died.

    I cannot believe how hartless the Libertarians here are.

  17. Like every other person who has ever been unemployed, they would have starved and died.

    Shit. I’m unemployed. I should get to work on my will. Who wants my piano?

  18. robc,

    The government didn’t engage in deficit spending to fund those public works projects?

    It paid for them by collecting taxes?

    I’ve got a crazy idea: when you read something from me, and it isn’t immediately apparent to you what a mean, spend, oh, a second and a half thinking about it.

  19. “Died. Like every other person who has ever been unemployed, they would have starved and died.”

    Donner, party of 33? Donner, party of 33?

  20. OK, is TofuSushi really Reinmoose? Good stuff today.

  21. “Died. Like every other person who has ever been unemployed, they would have starved and died.”

    Maybe they could have been employed by the manufacturers of smartass.

    Oh, wait: smartass is utterly without value, so they would have starved anyway.

  22. Hartless libertarian, don’t worry, they only starve and die when there is not enough welfare. Better go stand in a line and be happy that ‘bama is here to save you.

    And Joe is right. No taxes were ever used to pay for WPA. They just printed money and it never had to be paid back because it was brand new printed money backed by freshly minted gold and silver.

  23. I just wish ‘bama could mint gold and silver out of thin air like FDR did. There must be racism in the roots of the gold standard.

  24. Wow.

    Now I’ve said the debt was never repaid.

    Are my arguments really so imposing that you need to make up more palatable ones to argue against?

    Apparently so.

  25. Oh, no, apparently, I’ve said the FDR didn’t borrow, but minted coinage.

    LOL @ the twit.

  26. What money? Those taxpayers didn’t have that money in their pockets while those projects were being carried out.

    The unemployment rate was about 25% in 1933. High yes, but that means that more than half of the people did have money. Of course, they may not have been interested in investing in infrastructure if they had to pay inflated prices for such goods as pork, beef, and cotton.

  27. Jo, say it is not so! First you convince me that all of that stuff was paid for with money printed out of thin air, now you are saying what? Are you now saying it was eventually paid for with taxes?

    Drink your soymilk and explain all of this when you feel better.

  28. joe,


    So, what would all of those people who fed their families (and the grocer’s family, and the truck driver’s family, and the farmer’s family) have done instead?

    Oh, probably what they did in the during the 9 depressions that preceded the “Great Depression”. The 1929 depression didn’t turn “Great” until governments individually tried micromanaged the entire planetary economy at a time when the most advanced computer technology was a slide rule.

    People were hurting no doubt but they weren’t actually starving. Indeed, the standard of living continued to increase throughout the great depression it merely did so at a crawling pace compared to the previous 50 years of explosive growth. Indeed, the only time that the American standard of living decreased was between 1973 and 1982 during the “Great” inflation, wage and price controls and the energy crisis.

    You need to do some personal research and let go of the leftist hagiography of the 1930’s.

  29. Shannon Love, stop picking on Joe until he finishes his soymilk and tofu pizza.

  30. Oh, wait: smartass is utterly without value, so they would have starved anyway.

    Hey, then why does Bill Maher have a job?

  31. “LOL @ the twit.”

    Out of the bowels of babes…

  32. “Hey, then why does Bill Maher have a job?”

    Because he’s sucked 300 miles of dick.

  33. On another note, I do find it interesting the people like great public buildings built largely for aesthetics but hate similar structures created by private individuals. If the government builds a utilitary building out of fine wood and granite its a wonderful testiment to the spirit of human cooperation. If a private entity does the same thing its an affront to all things good and descent.

    In reality, both are instances of conspicuous consumption intended to raise the status of the builder. A waste is a waste.

  34. Hey, then why does Bill Maher have a job?

    I noticed that he looks like he is losing weight.

  35. For a truly socialistic space program, I think we need one of those giant edifices that glorifies the state and minimizes the individual. Clearly a space elevator would serve that purpose best. A space elevator housed in a 100-mile tall statue of Obama (with a tether from his head to the counter-mass somewhere up in geosynchronous orbit). Full of baracky goodness.

  36. In the alternative, let’s develop cheap access to space and take over the solar system, laughing at other countries as we join the Federation and leave them out.

    Join the Federation?!? Are you nuts? Fuck that shit. I’m joining The Culture.

  37. It must take someone incredibly secure in the factual and theoretical underpinnings of his beliefs to be driven to trolling and ridicule, without the slightest effort to rebut any points, when exposed to an alternate viewpoint.

    Ho ho ho, tofu and soy milk! I get it: I’m a hippie! Ho ho ho, very good sir, I clearly must be mistaken about the effect of fiscal policy in the 30s.

  38. People were hurting no doubt but they weren’t actually starving. Indeed, the standard of living continued to increase throughout the great depression it merely did so at a crawling pace compared to the previous 50 years of explosive growth. Indeed, the only time that the American standard of living decreased was between 1973 and 1982 during the “Great” inflation, wage and price controls and the energy crisis.

    What of the many millions who were left unemployed, underemployed, and poor at the same time though? It is very possible to have a rising average while the fortunes of many decline drastically or stagnate. That is actually a common pattern in nations with great disparities of wealth – aka shitholes.

  39. I use “Federation” generically. Please read it to mean whatever functionally equivalent galactic organization you prefer–the Hegemony, the Borg, CHOAM, the League of Planets with Naughty Nuns, the Foundation, whatever.

  40. People were hurting no doubt but they weren’t actually starving.

    Imagine if I’d written this statement to argue that a set of government policies that left a wide swath of the population poor was not so bad. But, apparently, “people were hurting but they weren’t actually starving” is an appropriate sentiment to rebut the notion that economic pain caused by a bad economy is acceptable.

  41. “I clearly must be mistaken about the effect of fiscal policy in the 30s.”

    I disagree. Please tell us all about the effect of fiscal policy in the 30s. Thanks in advance!

  42. “On another note, I do find it interesting the people like great public buildings built largely for aesthetics but hate similar structures created by private individuals.”

    Seriously? Like what? This is not a challenge, I have just honestly never heard anyone demonstrate a distaste for aesthetic projects because they are private yet approve of similar projects because they are public.

  43. I know your type, ProL. You want to join the Alliance and live on a central planet.

  44. Oh, shut up. I’ll give socialism you can eat, Hostess Twinkies, saved by strong-arming by Sen. Chuck Schumer. Absent Sen. Chuck, Twinkies would have died, and me with them.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/business/06twinkies.html?_r=1

    Somewhere, Elvis is applauding.

  45. “It rocked.”

    Can you cite examples?

  46. It must take someone incredibly secure in the factual and theoretical underpinnings of his beliefs to be driven to trolling and ridicule, without the slightest effort to rebut any points, when exposed to an alternate viewpoint.

    Ridicule the brilliant notion that the New Deal was paid for with printed money and no taxes were involved? No, not me, I would never do such a thing.

    This is really messing with my meditation time.

  47. People were hurting and starving under Stalin so FDR was much better in comparison.

  48. FDR was a lot better than Hitler too.

  49. Of course, as everyone knows, it wasn’t the New Deal programs which lifted us out of the depression it was WWII. It was no wishy-washy brand of Keynesian pseudo-socialism which saved us, but rather good ole’ fashioned Marxism.

    In 1942 the US switched to a war time command economy characterized by extensive rationing of basic commodities and extremely intrusive government control over the operations of key industries. Where Keynes’ had once modestly suggested that we might employ people to dig holes and then fill them back up again, the massive public works program which really saved us consisted in our building very expensive machinery to be deposited on the floor of the Pacific, left to burn in the fields of France, and rust in some lonely depot in England or Germany.

    Just think of it. All of those vast arrays of industrial and economic inputs which were somehow organized by bureaucrats into what was, at that time, the single most massive surge in industrial capacity ever witnessed anywhere in the world.

    Personally, I prefer the Fifties; a return to what was fundamentally a market economy, but, thanks to the GI Bill, softened by what was the most generous social welfare system in our nation’s history. POh! And don’t forget: the largest peacetime public works programs we would ever implement.

  50. “FDR was a lot better than Hitler too.”

    Not true.

  51. Ridicule the brilliant notion that the New Deal was paid for with printed money and no taxes were involved?

    No matter how many times I reread the thread, I still can’t find me making either of those points.

    Must be a monitor problem.

    Oh, well, just as long as there are a lot of comments about me, it’s all good.

  52. Eva,

    Yes, FDR was better than my boss, Stalin and Hitler too.

  53. joe | February 6, 2009, 2:03pm | #

    But all the money that went to stonework and gilding might have done more good if it had been left in taxpayers pockets.

    What money? Those taxpayers didn’t have that money in their pockets while those projects were being carried out. The government produced that money out of thin air.

  54. Hey, the Soviet Union may have been philosophically bankrupt, but what fantastic posters! So I guess that justifies the whole thing.

    There are some buildings in LA, government-built in the late 50’s / early 60’s that are so ugly they actually become magnificent in a way.

    A friend of mine said “it takes a certain genius to be wrong ALL of the time.” I think that applies here. The government does occasionally do something that avoids negative value. It just does it expensively, slowly, and for people who don’t want it. But they’re not so perfect that they can always get it dead wrong. They sure keep on trying, though.

    Now, if we follow the logic of the author, shouldn’t nice ante-bellum mansions vindicate slavery, racial supremacy, and generations of rape? I think I’ll stick with the “sometimes a building is just a building” point of view.

  55. It’s bad form around here to point out the uncapitalized one’s own words to him, mostly because it never does any good, anyway.

  56. What money? Those taxpayers didn’t have that money in their pockets while those projects were being carried out. The government produced that money out of thin air.

    Can somebody find the quote where I said the government neither borrowed nor printed money? I keep looking for it, and I can’t find it.

    Nope, not here.

    Anyone? Little help?

  57. OK, I just misunderstood what you were saying.

    Moving on, I have a substantive point to make.

  58. Spoofing is not very nice, you know.

  59. Can somebody find the quote where I said the government neither borrowed nor printed money? I keep looking for it, and I can’t find it.

    Wasn’t the thin air comment a response to this: But all the money that went to stonework and gilding might have done more good if it had been left in taxpayers pockets.

  60. Oh, I get it now. You weren’t saying it wasn’t borrowed; you were talking about it being borrowed, and not being collected in taxes, so the point about it being diverted from other uses during the depression didn’t apply.

    Man, I wish I’d just asked you to clarify earlier. I totally misunderstood the point you were making.

  61. I used to think that WWII was a stimulative “public works program,” but I heard a counterargument that was very convincing. If people are having to ration goods (or die) in the service of an incomprehensibly costly war, what stimulus is really happening?

    The New Deal was the main means of kickstarting the prosperity in the mid-20th century.

    Now that we’ve experienced a couple decades of deliberate undermining of New Deal programs, we see where we are. Back to the 1920s.

  62. And another really sad thing about this recession? The endless folk music has already started. God at this point I’ll take whatever dumb-assed stimulus package Obama has to offer it if stops people from playing the folk guitar.

  63. Socialism, although not perfect, is pretty great. If done properly it is better than a properly ran democracy. As it is our democracy is A huge load of crap that really is a farce to the American people.

  64. Just to go all Godwin, I would note that during the 1930s the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany built lots of beautiful buildings. The Chancery building in Berlin was an amazing feat of engineering and aesthetically quite impressive (before it was leveled). Similarly Moscow State University is a wonderful looking building. Of course, I don’t think the building projects of either regime are any sort of defense of said regimes.

  65. joe, the issue is that money which the government borrows and prints also eventually comes out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

  66. Nigel Watt,

    Well, more to the point, debt has to be paid for in one way or another, and while debt by itself isn’t a bad thing, there are opportunity costs associated with debt and that is something that a lot of folks who believe in the sorts of government spending done in the 1930s tend to give short shrift to or simply avoid talking about altogether. This is even the case if we are simply talking about the interest associated with that debt.

  67. Spoofing is not very nice, you know.

    Spooging, on the other hand . . . .

  68. Let’s face it. The New Deal ended the depression in a short medium real goddam long period of time.

    FDR was a GOD!

  69. Spooging, on the other hand . . . . I was wondering if you saw that. Best RC’s Law ever. And I credited you!

    Nigel,

    THAT – unlike what came before – is indeed the issue: time-shifting. The government is basically loaning money to the economy, which it will then collect later, to pay off its own debts.

    I’d argue that the time-shifting of those dollars, even if we postulate a 0 or even slightly negative rate of return, can be worthwhile.

    First of all, in order to avoid inflation and unsustainable rates of growth, the fed deliberately cools off the economy during good times, lowering growth below its potential, anyway. When we’re talking about the economy running so hot that the government is turning a surplus, we’re there. So, are we really giving up any growth by paying back that debt out of tax receipts, just because it has a choke effect that we’d be deliberately bringing about anyway?

    Second, just as the last bite of Kung-Pao chicken when you’re already full doesn’t do as much good at that same bite when you’re hungry, so does spending money do more good (both on the individual and societal levels) during rough times than good. It’s worth it to, say, drive down unemployment from 9% to 8% in the midst of a depression, even at the cost of higher unemployment during the boom times, if “higher unemployment during the boom times” means that the labor market is just a little tight instead of being in serious shortage.

  70. Oh, wait: smartass is utterly without value, so they would have starved anyway.

    Hey, then why does Bill Maher have a job?

    Maher also supplies dumbass, which is apparently highly valued in some sectors.

  71. Can I argue that the Egyptian pyramids are evidence in favor of slavery?

  72. It’s been my understanding that the design of the Chicago Park District’s old administrative headquarters was heavily influenced by the architecture of fascist Italy. It probably isn’t an ideal example to use in pimping the merits of socialism to the American public.

  73. The pyramids weren’t built by slaves. That’s a total myth propagated by anti-ancient Egyptian propagators. Read.

  74. Since we’re having the Great Depression go around again, I’ll throw in my 2 cents.

    The best argument against the efficacy of the great depression was that cutting deficit spending in 1937 resulted in an economic decline.

    This seriously undermines arguments for it’s efficacy based on a Keynesian framework, in which breaking the downward spiral by returning aggregate demand to equilibrium levels should mean that you can withdraw the deficit spending and the economy will resume normal growth.

    If the economy tanks after the spending is withdrawn it means that either the stimulus failed to break the self-reenforcing negative trend, which is the whole point of doing it, or that AD was being raised above the long run equilibrium, in which case equilibrium will ultimately be restored by the errosion of long run aggregate supply, which is your stagflation scenario.

  75. MattXIV,

    There is a lot of debate about what caused the 1937-1938 recession; I’m more inclined to believe that it was the Fed’s decision to raise the reserve rate of banks that was its primary cause. That sucked up lending that would have otherwise occurred. Then again, that power had been given to the Fed in I think 1936 by FDR and the U.S. Congress.

  76. THE URKOBOLD WAS ALIVE DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION, LIVING IN OBSCENE WEALTH IN HYANNIS. THE GREAT DEPRESSION WAS CAUSED BY EGYPTIAN SLAVES.

  77. joe,

    First all, your argument is suffused with a lot of monetarism, and I would note that the early Keynesians essentially ignored monetarism. Indeed, Keysenians these days owe much of what they think not to Keynes, but to Milton Friedman, you know, that bane of modern liberals.

    Secondly, the reason why inflation targeting is done is take discretion away from the central banks, and that’s why we avoid phrases like “cooling down,” etc., because that is not what modern central banks do. What modern central banks in engage is inflation targeting, which is a far less ambitious idea than trying to “fine tune” the economy in the way that old school central banks used to think of the matter.

    As for the spending side of the matter, there is no conclusive evidence that spending leads to lower unemployment and all the other things that Keynsenians (old school or otherwise) claim is the case. I guess that makes me a slightly brackish freshwater guy, but so be it.

  78. Something occurred to me as I was getting ready to head out to dinner; namely that we’re on our second or third “consensus” amongst the majority of Keynesians. I think that is useful to think about no matter where one falls on the whole Treasury View to Keynesian spectrum.

  79. I see that the Urkobold mocks my comment about Egyptian slaves. Okay, then, guess I should move on.

    Keynes thought that the government should enslave large populations and employ them in big public works projects. Not pyramids, mind you, but big constructions. Like, say, the Colossus at Rhodes.

  80. Seward,

    Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that the cause of the 1937 dip was uncontroversial – I should specified that I was assuming it for arugment’s sake in order to point out the internal inconsistency of the explaination that people like Dean Baker are using.

  81. Waldo:

    Admit it you really aRE hUGO cHAVEZ.

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