Friday, September 24, 2010

Big Wheel Keep On Turnin'

The annual fair is going on at the fairgrounds in Deming, just south of the country club and down a road that staggers past a few trailers and a couple of empty warehouses. The children at my school have been looking forward to it all week. As an added bonus, the school district takes the Friday off as a "fair day," and as I look out the window this morning without having to prepare a day's lessons I think it is a fair day indeed.

The Spruce Street demolition and rebuilding passed our home. It was a bit of a nuisance, and the house shook enough to lodge some new, fairly minor cracks in a few walls and the living room ceiling. The thick slab that had been laid down in the 1950's was torn up, as two engineers of my acquaintance shook their heads in sadness. There was no need, they said. They could have resurfaced and been good for another generation.

The new sidewalks look beautiful. Many of the neighborhood sidewalks, those that actually exist, are in pretty bad shape. Many bear the imprint of the Public Works Administation and years of construction dating to the FDR Administration. Now, a new public works project funded by the state is pouring new sidewalks on Spruce Street. But who is getting the work, how many people are being employed, and are any of them local?

At a candidates' forum preceding our last mayoral election, I asked candidates for mayor if they would back a local sidewalk project, employing local people (we have very high unemployment here) and buying materials locally (we have concrete plants in Luna County that surely could use business). Two of the three candidates hemmed and hawed and seemed unprepared. The incumbent mayor (who was re-elected) told me that laws interfered with keeping it local. Government would be required to call for bids, and could not exert a preference for local contractors, local employees, or local materials. In other words, the city would have to choose the most "competitive" bid, the cheapest price, even if the winning contractor is a corporation based in El Paso, trucking in equipment and materials and workers from Texas. All while unemployed men in Deming looked on, wishing they had jobs.

Michael Yates, a retired economist traveling the United States and blogging his observations here, has been driving past a lot of highway work (and seeing signs like the one above). He writes, "On a long stretch of Interstate 90 in Western Montana, we kept being forced into one lane by construction barrels. We didn’t lay eyes on a single worker. What is more, the money the government has spent, on highways and nearly everything else, has gone to private sector business firms. Public works projects like those so common during the Great Depression (whose benefits are still being enjoyed by the public) are nowhere to be found."

And then this (emphasis is the author's):

The ethic of the government’s recovery program is one in which the working class is seen partly as a victim and partly to blame for its own sorry state. Enough help will be given to keep people from exploding but not so much that ordinary folks might begin to think that they have rights. The bankers and the great Wall Street capitalists have rights; the rest of us have to fend for ourselves. At the beginning of the last post, there is a photo of a sign in the window of a Portland dry-cleaner. It reads: “If you are unemployed and need an outfit cleaned for an interview, we will clean it for FREE.” Note the word “need.” Human beings have needs: for food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, comfort in old age, and many more. It should be the duty of a society to do the best it can to see to it that these needs are met. The greedy, swinish lords of finance have enough money to meet their needs and then some. Yet President Obama has seen fit to shower still more money upon them, while pretty much ignoring the basic needs of the people. Now his popularity is swooning, while the rich are turning against him because he wants to put in place extremely mild constraints on their “right” to steal our money. I wonder if he ever thinks that he would have been in a lot stronger position now if he had worried less about those at the top of the heap amd more about the needs of those who produce the nation’s goods and services.

Are we doing our best? That is the question. We get pulled into stupid debates about "right" versus "left" people, and whether a public sector can do anything to help human beings without being called names like "socialist." As Yates laments, there is no mass social movement asking why the state lavishes disproportional assistance to those who already wield so much privilege and luxury.

Who are we for? Are we doing our best?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We have unfortunately entered a period where people think if any government entity spends more than it should, then that entity is wasting money. Yes, maybe going outside of Deming for labour and supplies will save a few bucks, but at the expense of local workers and local businesses.

Maybe it's time we start thinking of spending a few extra dollars to keep all the dollars locally.