Government involvement in the U.S. economy is controversial in this country, which prides itself in its capitalist economy.
Our government, however, has introduced programs that many deem bordering on socialism. For some even today, Social Security is considered foreign to our economy because it smacks of socialism – and other social programs could be added to such a list – for instance, universal health care.
The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was a bipartisan bill that provided a range of benefits to servicemen after World War ll. It is commonly known as the GI Bill and it ended in 1956.
I was one of the fortunate veterans able to take advantage of that program. (In fact, a provision of the law made it possible for people like me to request that the draft board move my name to the head of the list and induct me ahead of others. As the program was soon to be terminated, I made such a request and, in December of 1955 — just months ahead of the program’s termination — I was drafted.)
This program made all the difference in the world for me. It enabled me to secure several academic degrees and experience the world in ways simply impossible without it. It was an imaginative program and is credited with contributing to the significant success of the U.S. economy in the post-WWII world.
Even though the program came to an end in 1956, it has been followed by other government programs that benefit persons doing this type of service.
Another government program that I was acquainted with as a child was the Works Progress Administration, or the WPA as it was generally referred to. It was “… an American New Deal agency, employing millions of job-seeking (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including construction of public buildings and roads … more than a million km of streets and over 10,000 bridges, in addition to many airports and much housing. The largest single project of the WPA was the Tennessee Valley Authority.” Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA employed 8.5 million people.
The WPA is not to be confused with the Public Works Administration (PWA) which was also part of the New Deal of 1933. It was a large-scale public works construction agency that contracted with private construction firms that did the actual work.
The PWA built such projects as airports, large electricity-generating dams, major warships for the Navy and bridges, as well as 70% of the new schools and one-third of the hospitals built in 1933-1939.”
My father was a clear advocate of the New Deal, and I can remember family trips to the south where we would visit Tennessee Valley Authority dams constructed by the WPA such as the Norris Dam.
On the other hand, it is also clear in my mind that the New Deal was perceived by some as a form of socialism. One such example is the use of the WPA initials to stand for “We piddle around” (we loaf when we should work). Another similar use of initial follows the ad for Philip Morris cigarettes – LSMFT – “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” The initials were subverted to stand for “Look Sucker My Fourth Term.” This, of course was directed at President Franklin Delano Roosevelt while he was running for his fourth term and often criticized for his socialist leanings.
All of this is my effort to call attention to the extremely difficult place our country is in and the difficult times ahead. Does the WPA make any sense?
One thing that might shed a bit of light on this is the benefits that the city of Wilmington and Clinton County received from the WPA around 1940. At the north west corner of Sugartree and Spring imprinted in the sidewalk is “19 WPA 40” (see photo).
To this one project completed by the WPA, dozens of others in the city and county could be added … Food for thought? I think so!
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.