By Richard Franklin
In grade school we were taught that the “New Deal” and the public works programs of FDR saved the country from The Great Depression brought on by the thumb-twiddling Calvin Coolidge, who in retrospect looks like a model of true American small government advocacy.
As time goes on and we are able to separate the triumphalism surrounding the success of our country in the second part of the “Great War” or what is known as World War II from the concurrent end of the depression, we see that perhaps there were more chefs in the kitchen than just FDR.
The initial economic success from 1933-37 of the New Deal began to slide and reverse in 1938 as the country entered a recession once the stimulative effect of government jobs receded. Fortunately, in a strange use of the word “fortunate,” the world was plunged again into total war as the corpse of German hypernationalism stirred from its shallow grave to run amok once again, bringing along gruesome friends in fascist Italy and imperial Japan.
Once most of industrial Europe and the struggling Pacific Rim was devastated, the only manufacturing giant left intact and actually functioning at war-induced overdrive was America’s.
Jobs program didn’t work for USSR
This illustration of tragic human destiny fattening a wartime victor is the more appropriate view of post-war prosperity in America. The world’s dominant middle class was not created, as is credulously believed by many grownup schoolchildren, by the genius and optimism of FDR, but was the victor’s spoil won in a conflict that killed millions and displaced work and wealth.
Remember the fear in this nation when the imported Japanese car first arrived in numbers, and the new state of competition with China and Germany in the world market. This is merely the return to normalcy in world economics. The Soviet Union, also a victor in World War II, managed to sink to obscure obsolescence, however, in the aftermath. If the availability of public works programs is the salvation of an economy, why did this behemoth of working people and land sputter to bankruptcy?
Governments do war, bridges
The answer is that governments don’t exist to give people jobs. It has been said that government does for us what we cannot do on our own. During the war, we could not build an atom bomb, we could not decide who should be in the front lines of a beach assault, we could not call our neighbor to report for the draft. Later, we could not get to the moon with the help of a church bible study group, or build satellites and launch them from the Kiwanis club lounge.
On the other hand, the government can only produce things in certain circumstances. There will never be another Golden Gate bridge because now the government thinks it is producing jobs, not things.
Any businessman knows that producing value produces jobs — not the other way around.
The absurdity of the modern conceit is illustrated if you think of the most successful government program ever — the war effort in World War II — and consider it a jobs program. This presupposition mean that the war should have been prolonged to keep those soldiers and riveters at work. The space program produced the moon landing. Done. The war effort won the war. Done.
How to turn telecom industry into a jobs program
Turning economic sectors into government jobs programs is a setup for failure.
➤ The jobs mentality has degraded the U.S. military into a social mobility program for entrance to the vaunted middle class and made it more costly.
➤ Vague green energy research is seen as stoking job production, dooming that industry to failure in the face of harsh fiscal and physical reality.
➤ The jobs mentality affects municipal broadband projects that rely on the notion of the “underserved” population as a justification for giving government the control of a prosperous economic sector.
Google puts EPB model on defensive
Zooming in from the world stage, and forward from the turbulent 20th century to the 21st, we focus on Chattanooga’s EPB.
The EPB formed the world’s fastest intranet when it wired its entire city with fiber optic broadband door to door on a municipal bond and buckets of federal stimulus money. This ballyhooed 1 Gig service is only subscribed to by a handful of customers who are either ignorant of how much bandwidth is actually useful. It’s as if one built a teleporter to get a cup of coffee from a neighbor’s house when one could simply have trotted over and walked through the front door. Chattanooga’s telecom marvel is an expensive piece of digital architecture that has a no real world application and no existing demand. The applications for which it is touted could be done via dialup.
They are probably just not very vigilant when it comes to service for their dollar and are throwing money away on hyperbole. It is telling that over 200,000 other customers are happy with the level of service and price they get from private companies who didn’t think it was cost effective or (horror) profitable to run champagne service at a McDonald’s.
And now, Kansas City, courtesy of a private company named Google has just acquired the same sort of infrastructure without the tax and rate burden the denizens of Chattanooga have been saddled with to receive government-provided adult entertainment. The difference is, Google charges a fraction, and a small one at that, for the service Chattanooga citizens are obligated by law to pay for now that they have communally put themselves via their utility board on the line.
What to do?
Chattanooga has committed the equivalent of the 800-dollar toilet seat error that was attributed to the Pentagon’s purchasing agents years ago. There is a reason that markets are turbulent. Bad decisions have economic consequences. Innovation is not a powerpoint presentation, but a phenomena that occurs despite our plans.
Governments should allow innovation to occur, not pretend to be the creators, incubators, storerooms or cisterns of innovation that they perversely imagine themselves in grandiose lack of self-awareness to be.
Shermans outflank German Tigers
Engineers have a lot of pithy sayings. One that applies here is “Don’t pave the cow path.”
In World War II the Sherman tank was known by friend and foe alike as The Ronson because it exploded so easily. The Ronson cigarette lighter was made famous by the ad slogan, “lights first time, every time.” The Germans mocked the tank as inferior to their manifold creations of field armor, namely the Panther and Tiger.
The harsh laws of economics beat the blitzkrieg, where the machinist and capitalist beat the government engineer and design bureau hands down on the field of battle. The little Shermans literally swarmed over the front in 1945, defeating much better designed German tanks by surrounding them in battle. It was the might of economic availability and production that destroyed a highly centralized German administration.
The Gig City, that Tiger tank of self-promotion piloted by a municipal government, is about to confront a swarm of municipalities that get the same thing a lot cheaper by letting the industry fight it out instead.
Richard Franklin writes for http://bureaucalypse.org.