Megan McArdle at The Atlantic scrutinizes Harold Meyerson's assessment of the prospect of a modern-day Works Progress Administration ("Work History"): "Meyerson identifies a lot of the procedural barriers that I frequently talk about -- the bidding and environmental safeguards that make federal projects very slow to get off the ground. But perhaps unsurprisingly, he doesn't really explore a huge barrier to a WPA-type jobs program: public sector unions. They are not going to let you hire a bunch of cheap workers and run crews without civil service protections. There's something ironic in the fact that the legacy of the New Deal is the inability to reproduce it. On the other hand, it's not so necessary, either. People are richer now, and though it isn't perfect, our financial regulation is better. We're not at much risk of people starving to death. So there's no urgent need to create low-skilled jobs for them to fill."
Duncan Black, blogging at Eschaton, argues that environmental reports and other red tape need not get in the way of putting Americans to work: "There are plenty of on-the-shelf projects that could have happened if the money showed up. Philadelphia's local transit authority has plenty -- not new supertrains, just years of deferred maintenance projects (stations, bridges) -- as does the local water authority. Philadelphia did get some stimulus money for projects, of course, but it could have gotten more. Maybe the money can't get out the door quite as fast as we would like, but it can get out there fast enough."
Meanwhile, reader Jackson K. Putnam, professor emeritus of history at the California State University, Fullerton, sees the barrier to rapid job creation as a political one: "Meyerson thoughtfully compares President Obama's response to the current unemployment problem with Franklin D. Roosevelt's WPA but omits a crucial difference: Roosevelt faced virtually no opposition from Republicans. When Roosevelt took office in 1934, Democrats held 59 Senate seats and over three fourths of the House. The next two elections only increased this majority; by 1938 Democrats held 76 seats in the Senate and all but 88 in the House. By the time the GOP began to make ground in Congress again, the New Deal was over. Obama, needless to say, confronts a far less patient public and a far more ruthless and obstructive Republican Party."
NOT BUILT IN A DAY
Responding to Robert Johnson's roadmap (in "Reform and its Obstacles") of what financial-reform legislation ***
needs to do, Mike Konczal at Rortybomb gauges the likelihood of passing such stringent regulation measures: "Will there be a cultural change, either on the regulatory side or the Wall Street side? Definitely not for the second, and we'll see on the first. And will this simply [mean] returning to the financial sector of 2005-2007 with some additional regulatory powers? I certainly hope not, but we'll see. Here's what I tell myself: it took 30 years to take apart the fragile financial regulations and norms the New Deal and the mid-century crew put together to create a financial sector that works to build a broad-based prosperity for everyone. We aren't going to rebuild that overnight."
From the Executive Editor
A poll in the wake of the Gulf oil spill reported that Americans now consider the environment a more important concern than the economy. But many of the big challenges we face are at the intersection of the environment, health, and economics. Heather Rogers, the author of this issue's cover story and a first-time contributor to the Prospect, has made it her specialty to reveal how complex those intersections can be. She points out that the dream of a revolution in food -- a shift toward fresh, local, organic ingredients that are affordable to a majority of Americans -- cannot be achieved without a much bigger revolution in the economics of agriculture, one that the administration is not close to considering.
Returning to these pages after almost four years, ***
Stephen Kinzer, a former correspondent for The New York Times, sketches a surprising future for the United States in the Middle East, one in which our key partners will be Turkey and a changed or changing Iran. Given his deep immersion in the recent history of both countries, Kinzer makes a persuasive case.
Also in this issue, Nancy Scola, a frequent contributor to our website on issues of technology politics, profiles one of the leading activists in the movement for greater transparency in government, Carl Malamud, and his idiosyncratic quest to become the nation's public printer.
In our special report this month, we look at a simple idea that could have broad consequences in improving education: setting a goal that all children should be able to read by third grade. With the assistance of consulting editor Sara Mead, our authors consider the best ways to achieve that goal of early literacy and find that it's more than just about teaching reading. Literacy is connected to health and well-being from birth to age 5, to play and social development, and to improving low-performing urban schools.
-- Mark Schmitt