Garrison Keillor: Put them to work.

April 6, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More

Garrison Keillor, not known for his conservatism, wonders why the government is not putting people to work:

It’s the conservative in me that wishes we had an old-fashioned government jobs program, such as FDR’s Works Progress Administration, which hired unemployed people to work to build roads, libraries, public toilets, hiking trails, tens of thousands of small useful projects. (When my dad saw the initials WPA on the cornerstone of a building, he said it stood for “We Poke Along,” but he could afford to be disdainful since he’d been hired after high school by his uncle Lew to pump gas at Lew’s Pure Oil station.) My inner conservative thinks unemployment is wasteful and damaging to the spirit — 15 million unemployed, many more underemployed — a disaster, a blight upon the land. Intolerable. Work is redemptive.

I often wonder why we are paying out unemployment benefits without asking recipients to do something in return. There a lot of work that the government needs done; can’t some of this work be done in return for unemployment benefits?  How about cleaning up vacant lots and parks?  How about tutoring children how to read? How about helping the military with some of the non-combat related tasks that it needs to get done domestically?

I realize that many jobs are specialized, and that you can’t just throw anyone into many types of jobs, especially for short periods of a few weeks or months.   And I despise the idea of make-work, forcing people do things that aren’t productive in return for a check.  But can’t the taxpayers get something in return for some of those unemployment benefits, at least in some cities, some of the time?  I do agree with Keillor that at least some kinds of work can be redemptive–and most adults I know are out there dragging themselves out of their cozy houses to do some sort of work.  I don’t think of meaningful work as punishment, but perhaps that’s where I differ with those who think that Keillor’s idea is cruel.

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Category: Economy, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Isn't it remarkable how things once considered radical are now "conservative", even among otherwise really bright, well-informed people?

    FDR was considered a far Lefty for all these programs. They were opposed by business for reasons of so-called anti-competitiveness, which stance had led today to the almost draconian contractor system we presently "enjoy." It was argued by some that putting the unemployed to work in return for subsidies created a new underclass of near-slaves for the government to do with what it wanted. It's considered in other quarters a violation of civil rights—being employed in such ways would limit the time a person has to seek other, private employment. But mostly it is argued that the government should not become a "business" employing people to do things private firms can do.

    The conservative complains that people who do not work should not get money, but then they enforce a system where it is impossible for anyone getting government money to work for it.

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