A Big Puzzle: Obama's Failure to Invoke/Follow Harry Hopkins' WPA and the CCC. Why?

06/07/2010 09:43 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Perhaps some of you can help me on this. I wrote ( "Middle Class Bailout: Celebrating Harry Hopkins' 120th Birthday With 4 Million Jobs by August 17th", March 11, 2010 ) that the President should celebrate Harry Hopkins' birthday on August 17th by announcing the hiring of the 4 millionth worker under a new Works Progress Administration, with projects modernized for the new economy. Fixing and building roads, bridges, dams, and rail as did Hopkins. Laying fiberoptic cable to rural areas, retrofitting buildings, helping mobile teams to deliver health care in underserved rural and urban communities, upgrading the electric grid, planting trees on denuded mountains, and on and on and on.

The Gulf Crisis provides an additional, tragic, opportunity to enlist America's might to repair, to cleanse, to detoxify, to restore marine life and coastal human, plant and animal life to a vibrant ecosystem. Several (see, e.g., for Secretary of Labor Robert Reich's article: "Green Jobs Proposal: Put the Young and Unemployed to Work Cleaning BP's Mess, and Send the Bill to BP", June 7, 2010) have proposed to resurrect a Civilian Conservation Corps to do this, sending the full bill to BP. First choice would go to Gulf residents, but youth from around the country, scientists, engineers, out-of-work executives, would all be enlisted to define, properly manage, and execute the rescue.

Harry Hopkins hired 4 million American workers in 4 months into the Works Progress Administration. They built and repaired 200 swimming pools, 3700 playgrounds, 40,000 schools, 250,000 miles of road and 12 million feet of sewage pipe. Hiring 4 million workers today would cut unemployment by 25-50% depending on which numbers one uses to characterize the extent of today's problem. Most importantly, it would get people out of the "never-going-to-work-again" cycle that most threatens our long-term economic future.

How to pay for it? If, as Reich suggests, BP should pay for its toxic mess, it seems logical that Wall Street should pay for the mess it caused the economy. One way to do this is a "FAT" tax, i.e., a tax on financial transactions. This tax would have the added virtue of raising the cost of the lightning trades done by computer -- that have no societal value whatsoever -- to grab fleeting imbalances between bids and offers. The major Wall Street firms would pay most of the tax. To protect Ma & Pa investor, the FAT tax could be rebated for the first $100,000 of trading in a given year.

On the politics of this, let the Republicans try to filibuster it. Let them, in the presence of the daily-feed of oil spewing from the Gulf, rail against "government" takeovers. Let Michelle Bachmann decry the "education" camps. Let them defend Wall Street again, against the unemployed, and against repairing America's neglected infrastructure.

We should welcome that fight.

This is the President's chance to rally public outrage to get our Gulf treated for its injuries, to help the economy recover and to do America's unfinished business from a decade of deliberate neglect.

I do not understand why the President did not act before. Do you? I would like not to believe that he was fooled by the "strength" of the Tea Party movement (it's a permanent small minority), or Michael Brown's election, or cowed by the inevitable Republican rhetoric.

It is even more puzzling that he does not act now. Why?