Tag Archives: FDR

Blast From The Past Makes Me Happy!!

On family excursions into nature–admittedly, not my strong suit, but hey! grandkids–I became aware of the lasting contributions of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corp. That program not only offered employment to some three million Americans who had found themselves out of work during the Depression—it also built lasting improvements to the nation’s parks, roads and forests.

Workers enrolled in the CCC planted more than three billion trees. They paved 125,000 miles of highways, and built  3,000 fire lookouts.. Trails and structures from the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Coast Trail to the Smokey Mountains remain in use today.

According to The Guardian, Joe Biden has taken a leaf from the CCC–one of FDR’s most popular and successful efforts.

As part his recent climate policy spree, Biden announced the establishment of a “Civilian Climate Corps Initiative” that could harness the energy of the very generation that must face – and solve – the climate crisis by putting them to work in well-paying conservation jobs.

After Biden’s omnibus executive order, the heads of the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and other departments have 90 days to present their plan to “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers”, a step toward fulfilling Biden’s promise to get the US on track to conserve 30% of lands and oceans by 2030.

This is exactly the sort of effort we need right now. Not only will this Civilian Climate Corp provide gainful and undeniably useful job opportunities at a time when the economy is reeling from COVID, not only will it provide training to young people who participate, not only will it be an important part of America’s response to climate change, but it will offer the demonstrable benefits that attend national public service programs.

This is far removed from “make work” programs. This CCC will work on projects that are clearly and substantively important. The article quotes Mary Ellen Sprenkel, head of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, for the range of issues such a Corp can address:

Far beyond just planting trees, a new conservation corps could pour money into tackling a bevy of other environmental problems, too. According to Biden’s website, projects will include working to mitigate wildfire risks, protect watershed health, and improve outdoor recreation access. Sprenkel thinks the effort could also include more activities at the community level, like urban agriculture projects and work retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient. And as Sprenkel pointed out, the federal government owns and manages thousands of buildings that need help to become more energy-efficient. The buildings “could even become sources of renewable energy generation with solar or wind power installations”, she added.

This reconstituted and reimagined CCC can and should provide apprenticeships and on-the-job education equipping participants for long-term employment. But even more important, at a time when Americans live in very different realities and occupy informational and residential “bubbles,” it will provide the democratic benefits offered by public service programs by bringing young people from widely different backgrounds together.

Back in 2014, I advocated for a new GI Bill that would require young people to enroll in a year of civil service between high school and college or trade school. Among the many benefits of such service would be an appreciation for the role of government; another benefit would be the experience of working with Americans from diverse backgrounds and communities. The original CCC was segregated by race and gender–realities that detracted from its otherwise positive influence. Biden’s CCC, to the contrary, would build non-corporeal bridges along with the physical ones–and it would do so at a time when the bonds of citizenship have become deeply frayed.

My youngest grandson is currently taking a year with Americorp, and as I watch his progress, I can attest to the maturation and  flourishing–and cross-cultural understanding– that occurs in such programs.

I say three cheers for the three Cs!

 

Wisdom from FDR: The Sunday Sermon

The other day, I came across a quotation from a State of the Union given by FDR, expressing a basic truth that is too often obscured in today’s highly moralistic political discourse.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

A very similar thesis was at the heart of Nobel prizewinner Amartya Sen’s important book, Development as Freedom. Development, for Sen,” is the process of expanding human freedom.”  Sen argued that true freedom — ”substantive freedom” is his term — requires ”economic facilities,” ”social opportunities” and ”protective security,” thus government should not only provide social security, but should be prepared to be the employer of last resort.

Roosevelt’s point was practical: desperate people are ripe pickings for demagogues; they are the raw material of revolutions and social unrest. Sen’s argument was more basic; it was a consideration of the nature of freedom. His conclusion: a person whose every waking moment is spent ensuring simple survival is not free in any human sense of that word. She is certainly not free to develop her talents or pursue her dreams.

For both reasons then, prudential and humanitarian, it behooves a good society to provide its citizens with at least a minimal level of sustenance.

Aristotle defined a good society as one that promotes human flourishing, and no one can flourish if every waking moment is devoted to subsistence. The trick is finding the sweet spot between empowering people and creating dependency. In the U.S., we have historically frowned on assisting the poor, concerned that a too-generous social safety net would create a dependent underclass. (Our disinclination to help impoverished folks also reflects the Calvinist assumption that poverty is evidence of divine disapproval–that being poor somehow reflects moral deficiency.)

Ironically, despite America’s public celebration of self-sufficiency, capitalism and markets, our government blithely subsidizes all manner of private-sector business enterprises, privileging the well-connected and tilting the playing field with abandon–and creating considerable dependency in the process.

I’ve never understood why welfare for the rich is less morally suspect than welfare for the poor.

In that same State of the Union message, FDR outlined what he called a second Bill of Rights, one that would include the right to “a useful and remunerative job;”  the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; the right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; the right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; the right of every family to a decent home; the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; and the right to a good education.

We’re no closer to realizing those goals than we were when FDR delivered his speech; if anything, we’re farther from them, thanks in no small measure to a small group of smug, self-righteous and highly subsidized “captains of industry” who have purchased our political system–and who can count on the millions of us who won’t vote on Tuesday.