The Jobs Guarantee, “Make-Work,” and FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

One of the talking points deployed against a Jobs Guarantee[1] is “make-work.”[2] (I’m not proffering a complete sentence because deployment, in form of a jerking knee, is so fast that complete sentence cannot be emitted in time). This makes me crazy, because I was taught about FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) back in grade school, and while the CCC was not “A job for everyone who wants one,” the work the millions employed by CCC did was most definitely not “make-work.” So in this post, I want to take a quick look at the CCC, because not all readers may be familiar with it, and then take a quick look at what a modern CCC might do. (In other words, I’m recapturing a little history here — even perhaps doing a little bit of a rant — not doing serious policy analysis.)

Let’s start with a photograph of a Vermont park picnic shelter built by the CCC. From Northern Woodlands:

The two Vermont park administrators[3] who observed the shelter write:

“It’s a truss structure with purlins, as well,” said John Medose, looking up at the rafters of the Osmore Pond picnic shelter in Vermont’s Groton State Forest. “The purlins – long beams paralleling the ridgepole – provide an extra layer of support. Most buildings have just one type of support, not two.”

Civilian Conservation Corps structures were built to last,” added Craig Whipple. “Contemporary builders always remark how strong they are.”

No crapification, then, as we might expect from a “make-work” project. More:

Back at Osmore Pond, Whipple and Medose remarked at the craftsmanship of the picnic shelter. The logs are notched and carefully fitted together at the corners of the building. Two-thirds of the structure is open-sided with railings; a stone fireplace and chimney stand at one end. A third of the building is enclosed and used for restrooms. The concrete floors were poured by CCC workers (and have since been restored by the State). The picnic tables inside include four made by the CCC, with a design distinct from the modern tables nearby. The Corps followed plans provided by the National Park Service, but with a different foreman for each crew, each building is a little different. “CCC architecture is now the brand for Vermont’s State Parks,” said Whipple. “It’s quality, solid in appearance and structure, and built to last. We’re trying to replicate it in new construction….As we rehab park infrastructure, we’re taking extreme care of CCC-built structures. We work closely with the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation. These structures are used today by hundreds of thousands of people.”

Since (as we shall see), the CCC operated on an enormous scale, I could probably just stop right here on the stupid “make-work” point.[4] But before moving on to the CCC, I want to make one additional point: The dignity of labor, which I really believe in. It’s not just a hackneyed phrase. There is dignity in the work of creating of a shelter that’s “built to last,” and that is “used today by hundreds of thousands of people.” The work may not require credentials, and maybe the people who do it aren’t “smart,” but there’s dignity in the work all the same. To me, work is about “the augmentation of the complexity and intensity of the field of intelligent life,” as Ursula LeGuin puts it, although there are times when the confusion of “work” and “job” make the augmentation problematic.[5] These are my joules, as Cornelia Africana, mother of the Gracchi brothers, did not quite say.

And now to the CCC itself. (The most amazing factoid I found was that the CCC planted 3 billion trees, as part of its reforestation project. “Make-work” my sweet Aunt Fanny.) From the CCC Legacy Site:

President Roosevelt promised if granted emergency powers he would have 250,000 men in camps by the end of July, 1933. The speed with which the plan moved through proposal, authorization, implementation and operation was a miracle of cooperation among all branches and agencies of the federal government. It was a mobilization of men, material and transportation on a scale never before known in time of peace. From FDR’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, to the induction of the first enrollee on April 7, only 37 days had elapsed.

Here I pause to contrast the speed and effectiveness of FDR’s administration to the sad farce of the Obama administration’s response to the Great Recession, let alone the Trump administration’s infrastructure omnishambles. More:

The administration of the CCC was unprecedented. Executive Order 6101 dated April 5, 1933, authorized the program, appointed Robert Fechner as director and established an Advisory Council. Representatives of the Secretaries of War, Labor, Agriculture and Interior served on the Council for the duration of the program.

All four agencies performed minor miracles in coordination with the national Director of ECW, Robert Fechner, a union vice-president, personally picked and appointed by FDR. There was no book of rules. There were none. Never before had there been an organization like the CCC. It was an experiment in top level management designed to prevent red tape from strangling the newborn effort. Fechner, and later James J. McEntee, would have their differences with the Council, but unquestionably, each contributed greatly to the success of the CCC.

Logistics was an immediate problem. The bulk of young unemployed youth was concentrated in the East while most of the work projects were in the West[6]. The Army was the only department capable of merging the two and they quickly developed new plans to meet the challenge of managing this peacetime mission. The Army mobilized the nation’s transportation system, and moved thousands of enrollees from induction centers to working camps. It used regular and reserve officers, together with regulars of the Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy to temporarily command companies.

The Army was not the only organization to evoke extraordinary efforts to meet the demands of this emergency. The Departments of Agriculture and Interior were responsible for planning and organizing work to be performed in every state of the union. The Department of Labor was responsible for the selection and enrollment through state and local relief offices.

Again, one pauses to admire the ability of government to act in the public interest, way back in frontier days. (Reminds me of how LBJ’s administration rolled out Medicare in a year, back in the days of steam-driven, punchcard-controlled computation). From Robert Fechner, “My Hopes for the CCC,” 1939:

Altogether, some 4,500 CCC camps of 200 men each have been established in national, state and private forests, on the public domain and on wildlife refuges in various parts of the country. At the present time more than 1,500 camps, including those on Indian reservations and in Alaska, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hawaii, are in operation. Out of these camps each day go some 300,000 enrollees to plant trees, build truck trails, erect fire detection towers, lay telephone lines, improve grazing conditions in national forests and on the public domain, rehabilitate reclamation projects in the west and drainage ditches on farm lands, build check dams and plant quick growing trees and vegetation to protect private farm lands from soil wastage, to conserve water and prevent floods, to conduct campaigns against the white pine blister rust, the gypsy moth, bark beetles and rodents, to improve living conditions for wildlife [“Make-work.” Faaaugh!] and to do a host of other jobs related in a greater or lesser degree to the national task of conserving and rebuilding America’s natural resources wealth.

In other words, the CCC operated at scale. Are the JG’s detractors really saying that today’s political economy is unable to operate at the same scale, or to deliver equivalent results? Fechner summarized the CCC’s goals as follows:

In reviewing the past five years of the Corps, and looking into its future, it is well to recall its original purpose and scope. The original CCC Act of March 31, 1933, sets up pretty clearly the two main purposes of the Corps, unemployment relief and “restoration of the country’s depleted natural resources.” Later wording amplifies the first statement and refers to “forestation” of federal and state “lands suitable for timber production, protection or prevention of forest fires, floods and soil erosion, insect and fungous attacks, and the construction, maintenance and repair of paths, trails and fire lanes within national forests and parks.”

And here is today’s equivalent of Fechner’s purpose and scope. Partially quoting from Wray, et al., “Public Service Employment: A Path to Full Employment.” to make the parallel between their JG and the CCC crystal clear:

We propose a revival of FDR’s Tree Army and the creation of a 21st century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that creates PSE [Public Service Employment] jobs in every community. Since all communities have acute environmental needs, the camp-based CCC model from the New Deal era [see above] is not what we propose. Instead, jobs will be created where the workers live. The Community Jobs Banks will include a list of monitoring, rehabilitation, and public investment programs. The jobs will tackle: soil erosion; flood control; environmental surveys; species monitoring; park maintenance and renewal; removal of invasive species; sustainable agriculture practices to address the “food desert” problem in the United States; support for local fisheries; Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs); community and rooftop gardens; tree planting; fire and other disaster prevention measures; weatherization of homes; and composting.

Let me single out just one of the possibilities listed: “species monitoring.” From Nature:

The global biodiversity crisis has driven the development of increasingly sophisticated databases, such as the Living Planet Index1 and the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species, which require reliable baseline information on species, habitats and population trends. Although monitoring data are of increasing value to conservation managers, population and status assessments are currently limited by the lack of data, resulting in poor evidence for conservation practitioners.

A Jobs Guarantee program could provide that data. (When you think for a minute, it’s absurd that we have enormous “Big Data” projects focused on the minutiae of people’s Facebook clicks, and no equivalent projects for the natural world!) “Make-work,” forsooth!


[1] ]L. Randall Wray, Flavia Dantas, Scott Fullwiler, Pavlina R. Tcherneva,

and Stephanie A. Kelton, “Public Service Employment: A Path to Full Employment,” Levy Institute, April 2018 (PDF):

The authors propose the creation of a Public Service Employment (PSE) program that would offer a job at a living wage to all who are ready and willing to work. Federally funded but with a decentralized administration, the PSE program would pay $15 per hour and offer a basic package of benefits. This report simulates the economic impact over a ten-year period of implementing the PSE program beginning in 2018Q1.

Unemployment, hidden and official, with all of its attendant social harms, is a policy choice. The results in this report lend more weight to the argument that it is a policy choice we need no longer tolerate. True full employment is both achievable and sustainable.

Dunno about “Public Service Employment” (PSE) rebranding; it reminds me of the permathread on “single payer” vs. #MedicareForAll. That said, this is a lengthy worked proposal, well worth a read if you have the time.

[2] The Economist, “Make work can’t work. “Matt Bruenig, “Some Notes on Federal Job Guarantee Proposals.” Weirdly, Bruenig throws out “ecological restoration” as “too vague to assess,” which would, I suppose, apply to the CCC’s goal of “reforestation.” Annie Lowry, “A Promise So Big, Democrats Aren’t Sure How to Keep It,” The Atlantic. “[A] jobs guarantee would mean the government hiring tens of thousands of bureaucrats to locate make-work.” David Graeber has a perspective much like Lowry’s, except it’s the bureaucrats who do the make-work:

Both the focus on overhead and “Force us to do it if we are” comes, I imagine, from Graeber’s anarchist perspective. At some point in the future, when humans give work instead of being rented (or sold) to do it, Graeber’s perspective will be relevant.

[3] Not all administrators are bad!

[4] Speaking of shelters, there are between 200,000 and 500,000 homeless people in the United States. We could just build them houses.

[5] It’s almost as if something was holding back people’s ability to work productively.

[6] Current Jobs Guarantee programs, including that by Wray, et al. in footnote [1], envision JG (PSE) work being done locally. There are advantages to the CCC’s approach. From the National Park Service:

Many CCC enrollees were relocated to camps at a considerable distance from their homes. Regardless of their regional and ethnic background, enrollees experienced considerable change. New attitudes, values, and beliefs emerged and were carried back to their home towns. Some enrollees never returned to their home towns; rather, they selected a community of new residence near their forest camp.

Communities near CCC camps, of course, received new cultural stimulus from the “immigration” process. Many communities were resistant to this program, whereas others welcomed it. The financial profit realized by these communities was often significant, not only because of monthly spending by enrollees, but also CCC hiring of local labor for camp construction.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Tomonthebeach

    Alas, what has been kicked around in DC for a decade is just that – “Make Work.” With Trump’s successful demoralization of the civil service in every agency, it is rather clear that he could not lead a thirsty donkey to water. Thus, make-work programs are all we can hope for without a change of leadership. Even if Congress goes progressive, Congress is not the branch of government to animate the under-employed and restore an infrastructure in deep decay.

    1. jsn

      By all means we must make do with the government we have, how can that possibly change?

    2. dcblogger

      Given the success of Berniecrats in their primaries, and given that Trump will be crushed this November in a blue tsunami, I would hardly say that Trump has been successful in anything.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      I have camped in CCC built campsites all across the Southwest and picnic-ed in Vermont at CCC picnic tables under CCC awnings. But the CCC was then and the jobs program would be now. Now ‘we’ are keen to dismantle Social Security, further minimize unemployment insurance and privatize institutions like the U.S. Postal Service. So forgive me if I am very pessimistic about what kind of jobs programs this President, this Congress, and this Supreme Court might create or allow to exist. FDR had a true mandate Tramp can’t claim. This Congress passes no bill that benefits anyone without the money to draft and pay for the content of that bill. If through some mysterious conjunction of the planets a decent jobs program were crafted, funded, and made actual — how long would the Supreme Court stand for that clear affront to their ‘understanding’ of the Constitution. Don’t forget how unhelpful the Supreme Court was to FDR. And seriously, how likely is it that the kind of management thinking we enjoy in today’s business world and government world — not that there is all that great a difference between them — allow quality construction built-to-last with trusses that include “an extra layer of support.” That’s no way to cut costs!

      Here are some ideas for a Neoliberal inspired jobs program [grudgingly allowing non-Market solutions to a problem as a sop to bleeding hearts]:
      The guaranteed jobs program could be tied with the work for Medicaid and work for welfare programs. We could eliminate welfare such as it is and as we knew it. We could house the homeless at the work camps where they work for the jobs program on projects far far away. Maybe the jobs program could be made partially self-supporting by contracting out the surplus labor in the work camp after a project is done. Cadres of more skilled workers could be used to replace union labor on as many government projects as possible and contracted out in their slack times. We could send press gangs into the streets to impress unemployed youth into a special jobs program. When Scrooge asks, “Are there no workhouses?” we’d be able to say, “Why yes there are.” And “Let me remind you of General Yamashita’s motto: be happy in your work.”

      1. jrs

        a bad job program becomes a workhouse. Besides do we really want a job guarantee to replace unemployment, what if a person doesn’t want a job guarantee job but wants a little money to tide them over until they find another job (ie the very purpose of unemployment), shouldn’t we still have this or is the plan to get rid of it? Yes not everyone can find another job and that could use a job guarantee, but what about what really is just unemployment between jobs?

        Because afterall FDR did not just expand job programs he expanded basic income (for some – social security etc.).

      2. nihil obstet

        We don’t have to wait to see what can be made of the dignity of labor issue. Remember Mitt Romney? Sure it costs more to make poor mothers work, but it gives them the dignity of work.

        The basic problem with JG arguments that I see is that it identifies “work” with “job”. The answer is usually that we’ll turn all the work that we want to do into jobs. I think welfare is already problematic for the penny ante control over recipients’ lives; turning parenthood into a job would make the control far more invasive and insulting. Dignity lies in control.

      3. kramer

        You write as if there are actual people who expect this administration to enact a job gaurantee. I don’t think the JG proponents expect anything good out of this administration or congress. However, they do hope that the next financial crash comes with a change of government as happened in ’08. When that crash comes hopefully the new government (unlike in ’08) will have some progressive solutions. To get there we have set the expectations now.

    4. Freethinker

      With the very recent efforts by Prez Trump, via Exec Order 13836, 13837, and 13839, to seriously erode due process rights and working conditions for federal employees, it is likely that a FG program created via his Exec Order would serve as a means to hire terminated and laid-off federal employees at the reduced compensation levels of $15/hour with “basic” benefits. Administering Social Security and Medicare benefits, fighting fires, providing VA care, enforcing environmental regulations, etc are hardly the stuff of “Make Work.”

  2. flora

    Thanks for this. Not only employment in the CCC for conservation work; also the Works Progress Administration (WPA) employing millions for construction. These were not public/private partnerships. This was straight up govt spending for public goods. From Wikipedia:
    Almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency. The WPA’s initial appropriation in 1935 was for $4.9 billion (about 6.7 percent of the 1935 GDP).

    Some of the famous contructions:

    1. beth

      I watched a documentary last week that I found in my library. It’s entitled, The Civilian Conservation Corp, 333.72097 C582, put out by PBS in 2010 by WGBH Boston.

      I hope some of you can find it in your libraries.

        1. beth

          Yes, Hotflash, you found it. It is the first one in your list. You will enjoy it. I am recuperating from an illness so I won’t say more.

    2. sleepy

      I had an elderly Arkansas uncle–born 1910–who used to take me up in the Ozark National Forest in the 1960s for deer hunting, fishing, and camping in the Blanchard Springs area. He would always point out structures that “the CCC boys” built, as he affectionately called them, having been a CCC boy himself, though down in Louisiana. Of course those structures are all over the nation on federal lands.

      Too bad that sort of public good is forgotten as a public good since most campgrounds on federal land are now privatized. Jobs guarantee–make those places public again and hire folks to work in those campgrounds as public employees and throw out the private lessees. I’ve got a few bad experiences with those folks in the Colorado backcountry.

    3. Jeff W

      I’m glad you mentioned the WPA. One historian said, around the time the WPA was dissolved:

      An enumeration of all the projects undertaken and completed by the WPA during its lifetime would include almost every type of work imaginable…from the construction of highways to the extermination of rats; from the building of stadiums to the stuffing of birds; from the improvement of airplane landing fields to the making of Braille books; from the building of over a million of the now famous privies to the playing of the world’s greatest symphonies.

      Some of those projects fell under the auspices of the WPA’s Federal Project Number One, a federal umbrella project aimed at the nation’s artists, actors, writers, and musicians, which included the Federal Art Project, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Music Project, the Federal Writers’ Project and the Historical Records Survey.

      Among many other things, the Federal Art Project produced murals, many of which are in post offices, and posters; the Federal Theatre Project created over 900 theater productions (not including radio productions) with about 55,000 performances, almost two-thirds of which were presented free of charge; the Federal Music Project offered thousands of outdoor music concerts; the Federal Writers Project created the American Guide series, guides to all-then 48 states; and the Historical Records Survey located and catalogued historical records. Those who benefited from these New Deal arts programs include many names we would recognize: John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright (Federal Writers Project); Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollack (Federal Arts Project); and Arthur Miller, Orson Welles and John Houseman (Federal Theatre Project).

      These projects not only provided work, they enriched and entertained the larger population, carried a powerful message of civic uplift, and, in many instances, continue to enrich us today.

    4. rd

      Anybody in NYS who uses state parks, uses CCC-constructed infrastructure.

      Our parks would be nothing but a short stroll in the woods without the great facilities they built. I hope the workers and their families were able to come back to the parks after WW II and enjoy the facilities.

      Anybody who has spent time in these parks would never use the words “make work” for what was accomplished. Many structures were built using labor-intensive means instead of trying to use heavy equipment. As a result, great trails etc. were built in difficult-to-access locations because they had manpower available that would not be available in normal times. So in some instances, we actually got better infrastructure than we would normally get.

    5. redleg

      I’ve had the honor of working on the durable results of many WPA projects- sewers, roads, water tanks, bridges, etc. They all shared one feature: superb quality.
      For example, one was a 48″ cast iron vertical sewer shaft surrounded by a 6 ft thick hexagon of gloriously strong concrete with landscaping boulders as aggregate. Engineers estimate was 4 days of demolition to cut off the top 20 ft (for a light rail line), but it took 12 days in some of the worst H2S I have ever seen. For the laypeople out there, H2S should dissolve the concrete and make it easier to demolish. Nope.
      Another was a downtown street that was replaced after 75 years of use. Concrete construction in 1937, one asphalt overlay (1987) and unfortunately replaced in 2002. A gas main was going to be installed under half of the street, and the city engineer decided to replace it all, since the new street wouldn’t be as good as the old. Not a typo.

      Many sewers and water mains built by the WPA (surveyed using WPA survey monuments, another major benefit of WPA) had a design life of 75 years, which meant that the 2008 crash was the perfect time to devote resources to replacing/rehabbing them (w/ 50yr design life modern construction). But that has yet to happen on a significant scale.

  3. Wukchumni

    The CCC has always fascinated me, and here and around the environs of Sequoia NP, there were 8 or 9 CCC camps, and I walk on trails they built, occasionally go to the bathroom in toilets they constructed, and wonder how much more life the concrete they poured in a place such as Potwisha campground, will stay intact and be viable, now 82 years later. In fact i’m typing very close to Mineral King road, which the CCC camp @ Cain’s Flat 15 miles down the road, did extensive reworking and widening of, in the 1930’s.

    Not generally well known, but the first enlistees in the CCC were WW1 vets, who threatened to do Bonus Army March #2, so FDR made sure that never happened.

    I’d really hoped that the Great Spelunker would reinstitute some variant of the CCC, but he didn’t do bupkis.

    The new CCC would look a bit different than the old model though, as there was but one camp for women (The Susan B. Anthony barracks-ugh) and fairly strict age restrictions, and i’m not sure, but think it was an all Caucasian gig. Oh, and of the $30 pay one received per month, $25 of it went home to your family.

    Of the many books i’ve read on the CCC, “Roosevelt’s Forest Army” is my favorite tome.

    1. redleg

      The concrete mix for roads used in the 1930s took a week or two to cure. Nowadays if it takes longer than a day (in many cases hours) to cure it isn’t approved for use.
      Materials and labor were cheap, but the quality of both were top tier.

  4. allan

    Dow JG 36,000: long, long ago (2013), even CEA chair Kevin Hassett was in favor of a JG,
    or at least a robust jobs program.

    … But also, when you look at the negative effects of long-term unemployment, they just get disconnected, and we have a hard time reconnecting them. These are folks who are going to be a serious spending challenge for government throughout their lives. They explain our disability insurance statistics, for example.

    If somebody’s 40 years old, and not employed for 25 years, that costs governments lots of money, and if we think rationally about reducing spending, maybe it’s worth it to pay for their first year at a private employer. Direct hiring, or a direct subsidy for hiring, could save taxpayers a fortune. And it could save a life. …


  5. skippy

    All the positions Graeber highlights in his photo are – corporate management – makework [tm] jobs and if he has any issues with Government following suit, one only needs to remember the day that some thought it should be run as a business.

    1. redleg

      Judging by that image, Graeber has never worked heavy construction.
      I see two 49ers, two teamsters, three laborers, a forman, an engineer, and an inspector, and I bet I could identify which is which in the photo.

  6. Wukchumni


    I’m 2,999,999,914 trees shy of the 3 billion trees the CCC planted, in terms of individual performance, and am continually amazed they planted so many.

  7. Wukchumni

    A couple of weeks ago we camped overnight @ a national forest campground in between Kings Canyon NP and Sequoia NP, named Big Meadows (and indeed they were, beautiful place) and the paved road into the place goes on for about 10 miles with numerous bridges over creeks, etc.

    Nobody in their right mind would build a road such as this one today, as it only leads to primitive camp sites, with ZERO retail establishments.

    Couldn’t tell you when the road was built, but it reeks of the 30’s, and possibly constructed by CCC crews, who knows?

    All these years later, it’s still performing admirably.

    1. sd

      Actually, there are private lands up there including a cattle ranch and a luxury camp. Funny stories about something large outside that goes moo…

  8. JBird


    These are my joules, as Cornelia Africana, mother of the Gracchi brothers, did not quite say.

    Didn’t the reformist Gracchi brothers, along with many of their supporters, lose and be murdered? This might be a jinxed post.


    Reminds me of how LBJ’s administration rolled out Medicare in a year, back in the days of steam-driven, punchcard-controlled computation

    Whatever LBJ’s many flaws were, he wanted Medicare to work, and to work for the needy, not have it be profitable.


    Speaking of shelters, there are between 200,000 and 500,000 homeless people in the United States. We could just build them houses.

    Seen #2. Whinging, not solving mind you, on identity politics, the gunz, even serious problems like climate change, are more financially and politically profitable than the hordes of sick, hungry, emotionally beaten, and abandoned homeless I have to go by. If I did not have to see so many waste people, for human waste is what they are in our beloved America, I might take what our beloved political and social betters say as something other than lies.

    More people die from hopelessness every year than from the terrorists, or the gunz, or the gangs but what is profitable to pretend concern on?

      1. JBird

        It is a good one. Power/Energy/Drive=Gracchi Brothers/Mother’s Children/Jewels. There just ain’t enough history nerds around here.

    1. Oregoncharles

      We don’t need to “build them houses;” there are considerably more empty houses than homeless people, so we could just use eminent domain to put the two together.

      Richmond, CA proposed to do just that, but the banks threatened a capital strike in the town, so they had to back off.

    2. Skip Intro

      And it’s not like there wasn’t a pretty serious corporate coup conspiracy against FDR, prevented, I have read, by the mutiny of Gen. Smedley Butler, the plotters’ chosen war-hero prop.

  9. Alternate Delegate

    My local CCC camp memorial is practically a religious monument to me.

    This, however, does not blind me to the fact that That Was Then and This Is Now. Even though a Jobs Guarantee *could* be used for good, that does not mean it *will* be used for good.

    What *will* happen is much worse than make-work: it is surveillance work. These jobs will involve spying on fellow citizens. Because that is the easy and obvious outcome of where we are Today.

    In contrast, there is no such way to pervert Universal Basic Income, which is the correct building block for an automated future, where the vital questions have nothing to do with productivity, but everything to do with how we share resources. That is the way of thinking that starts with UBI.

    1. Isotope_C14

      I’m fascinated why “The New Human Rights Movement” isn’t a best-seller and why everyone is trying to plug the holes in a failed system. Market based economics is horribly inefficient and incredibly backward.

      UBI has merit, FJG has some merit, though I think less. I can’t abide the idea of Schumer or McConnell sitting on the board of the “Congressional Job Planning Committee” (I’m sure you can imagine what hellscape the jobs these two would come up with).

      If we skip all the band-aids and go to a resource based planned economy, ala Peter Joseph’s collection of ideas, we could do much better.

  10. anon y'mouse

    major conceptual issue (perhaps more ideological) behind this reason for “make work” being cast out of everyone’s mouths is this:

    most people who are employed in intellectual, analytical or bureaucratic work, who usually have some kind if college, if not advanced degrees, truly believe that those of us who do not, or who did not manage to go to or finish college, or did not manage to find decent work after, are defective somehow. inferior. poor enough specimens that all we can handle is make-work.

    it’s the same kind of thing that makes people believe in the mythical “skills shortage”. what you really need to do is initial work confronting the ingrained ideas of “meritocracy” and Just World Theory.

  11. cocomaan

    Are the JG’s detractors really saying that today’s political economy is unable to operate at the same scale, or to deliver equivalent results?

    If I was feeling argumentative, yes, I’d say that.

    Our country is mired in insane zoning, health, environmental, and other kinds of codes for building structures. Are the structures that the CCC built up to 2018 code? I honestly don’t know, but my suspicion is that they aren’t. The CCC bridge in Wissahickon Gorge in Philly probably isn’t up to code. It’s entirely stone.

    We’re prisoners to our litigious legal system.

    A job guarantee would only work with tort and jurisprudence reform. Which is something NC just did in another post about Kennedy’s spot, Marbury v Madison, etc.

    The other issue is that we have pipelines and other conduits, electrical, water, etc, crisscrossing the country. That just wasn’t there back in the day.

    I’m not saying I don’t believe JG is a good idea, I just think that our society has made such enormous efforts to ruin the contents of people’s creativity that we can’t escape it without a real rethinking.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Marbury v Madison, etc.

      That’s the one where the Supreme Court, like Napoleon, crowned itself, right?

      I don’t see in the Constitution where the Supreme Court has the final word on anything. The Norms Fairy might not like giving that idea a rethink, but needs must….

      1. Oregoncharles

        Who then will enforce the Constitution? The other branches aren’t exactly disinterested, and are certainly trending toward autocracy.

        Marbury v Madison was indeed a usurpation, but it was excepted because it filled a logical hole in the Constitution. There has to be a Constitutional Court, or something to that effect, or it’s a dead letter. (I wonder if the founders actually meant it to be unenforceable? They were still around when Marbury went down, so presumably would have screamed bloody murder if it violated their conceptions.)

        Which is not to say the present arrangement is a good one, just that it was better than nothing.

        1. Deadl E. Cheese

          To defeat the increasing autocracy of Congress and the President, we must put our faith in the even more autocratic SCOTUS.

      2. Alternate Delegate

        Judges can be impeached by legislators, and I believe they can be directly impeached for their rulings. The same is not true in reverse, judges can’t attack legislators directly, due to the “speech and debate” clause. That leaves judges taking it upon themselves to review legislation

        Balance then requires legislators to review judges for their rulings.

        The House can regularly pass bills declaring such-and-such a ruling to have been a “high crime” and that the Justices voting in favor are thereby impeached (and, when convicted by the Senate, removed from office.)

        This is an enumerated power of the legislature, and judicial review can’t touch it. Since these are not criminal penalties, there’s no ex post facto or bill of attainder objection.

        Impeach away!

    1. relstprof

      “Well now I’m stuck in committee
      And I sit here and wait
      While a few key congressmen
      Discuss and debate
      Whether they should
      Let me be a law

      Oh how I hope and pray that they will
      But today I am still just a bill…”

  12. Chauncey Gardiner

    Thank you for this post, Lambert. Lost history indeed. My father worked in seasonal CCC white pine blister rust control camps for timber conservation in national forests in the state of Idaho during the Great Depression of the 1930s, which doubled as a source of manpower for other projects including forest fire control where he said three men lost their lives. Although he was from a small farm in the area, he spoke of young men also coming from large eastern cities to work in the camps, many of whom had never worked in such a physically demanding environment or job. He said that the work they did resulted in measurable improvements in reducing the amount of timber lost to the fungus, although he also said that the scope of the problem sometimes seemed beyond their capacity to address. It was clearly a formative experience in his life, and work that he viewed as productive.

  13. Plenue

    I remain convinced that Graeber has somehow conflated useless waste positions (which definitely do exist; NC writes regularly about MBA administrative bloat) with the concept of creating jobs for anyone who needs one. In his mind anything created by a JG will be either a BS bureaucratic job (though I get the sense that to Graber essentially all bureaucracy is BS), or will be of the mundane ‘painting rocks white’ variety.

    By the way, even if his dire predictions were true, it still wouldn’t be an argument for a UBI over a JG. Graeber is firmly in the school of thought that if we just give people money they’ll flourish and everyone will be creative and contribute some meaningful cultural or intellectual achievement. As far as I know he’s never engaged with the fact that real world evidence just doesn’t support that position.

    1. Isotope_C14

      “they’ll flourish and everyone will be creative and contribute some meaningful cultural or intellectual achievement.”

      Can’t people just live, or make their local neighborhood happy?

      Why does everyone have to live up to other people’s idea of “achievement”.

      Can we not have this paternalistic value judgement on what arguably is the only life a person has?

      The Protestant work ethic is so 1745.

  14. ChrisAtRU

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! There are no valid reasons prohibiting the US from reintroducing programs like these!

    1. Iguanabowtie

      When i try to go into neoliberal mode, here’s what I come up with:
      -in one swoop this eliminates the reserve army of the unemployed. Wage push inflation takes off, unless the JG workers are producing enough goods&services to offset increased demand. (Ie, not planting trees)
      -this is different than the QE & equivalents we’ve had for 40 yrs; printing money into a big bank’s account doesn’t effect prices the same way as printing it into workers’ pockets as the former is ultimately hoarded & little is spent into the bricks & mortar economy.
      -ultimately inflation is a tax on fiat hoards and no one wants to be stck with the hot potato once yields go noticibly negative, so all the spare cash tries to buy real assets at the same time. That’s where the hyperinflation comes from: trillion dollar corporate stashes hoovering up gold, real estate, small businesses etc as the fiat bubble pops.
      -so basically, we can’t have nice things because even modest reforms like a JG will blow up the economy. We either go whole hog with jubilees and nationalizations, or keep on kicking the can with bailouts & austerity. (The latter, of course, being astrategy with an expiry date)

  15. Scott1

    Lambert has drawn for his direction from at least two of the best Economists of our age. Randall Wray & Stephanie Kelton are not just economists but also financial engineers.
    There are two types of financial engineers. Since Clinton the ascendent financial engineers have been of the Meyer Lansky mobster sort whose work was made legal under Clinton.

    Look at Warren Mosler! He has flat out become an engineer in his own right with the building of his ferry.

    Because Economics & financial engineering is dependent on currency and political decisions he has gone so far as to run for elective office, now running for Governor of the US Virgin Islands. In this way he becomes a Petroski sort of Civil Financial Engineer. I expect great things from him.
    I see him smiling in all the photographs. Engineering is fun.


  16. HotFlash

    Another New Deal project that was dismissed as ‘make-work’ at the time was the Resettlement Administration. They built new communities for displaced Dust Bowl farmer and hired photographers such as Dorothea Lange, filmakers, and ethnomusicologists such as Sidney Robertson Cowell to tell their stories and preserve their songs.

    The Tennessee Valley Authority brought electricity and flood control throughout the Tennessee Valley watershed. The first chairman was Arthur E. Morgan — interesting guy — , and, although it has strayed (IMHO) a long was from its former ideals, it is still the largest publicly owned electric producer in the US.

  17. Marie Parham

    Both my maternal grandparents worked for the WPA. The impact of those years is still felt by my family today. My grandmother deepened relationships with people in the community through the food preservation courses she gave. One of the closest friends she made sold my mother the lot next to her house. The family home of my childhood was built on that lot. The neighbor’s daughters became my mothers friends. I was shaped by these relationships. Last week I finally joined the DSA at the age of 64. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seemed to be proposing policies that saved a previous generation of my family. The part the WPA played in building community should not be overlooked.

  18. nihil obstet

    I am a huge fan of the WPA arts projects. I grew up going to the WPA constructed post office in my town and going to the mailboxes under the WPA financed mural on the end wall. Not only were writers, artists, and musicians developed and supported, but we ended up with absolutely priceless oral histories and geographic descriptions that would have been lost without the programs.

    The 1930s New Deal programs were exceptional. Why haven’t we had anything comparable since? Those were exceptional times. The country’s economy had collapsed, and people were afraid. FDR’s speech on fear was addressing a real problem. There was sufficient support for massive projects, requiring all levels of skills and across all kinds of fields of endeavor.

    We would do well to argue for good projects with outcomes more than “we’ll put people to work temporarily until they can get a job in the private sector again. There’s lots they could do. It’s like the CCC — they can build great park shelters, which will lead them to a good career. They can look after the elderly and the children.” Right now, the job guarantee argument is all over the map, with everything from making it simple workfare to replace unemployment insurance to giving everybody a job crafted especially to their own interest.

    A JG is a huge improvement over what we have now, but without more vision than I’m seeing in arguing for it, it will largely be make-work, and it could very well become punitive (see Medicaid — efforts to impose work requirements)

  19. DJG

    Yes, work gives dignity. (A major theme of Hannah Arendt, by the way.) How have we come to this? I ask rhetorically, given that jobs have been taylorized into meaningless motions in the padded veal fattening pens.

    Also, the CCC was a nutrition program. Have you ever seen the menus offered to the young men who were working for the CCC? (And the workforce was almost all young men, but we can modernize and lift that limitation.)

    Further, as many have commented above, the work they did is of the highest quality. The influence on our sense of design goes on. The photos of the lodges built in the national parks show us vernacular architecture of unmatched quality.

    If anything, the capture of the federal and state governments by so-called private enterprise, which is mainly privateering, has led us to an almost unprecedent minginess and shabbiness: An empire built of tottering pre-fab windows and doorknobs that fall off. It would be comic except that our medical devices are now built the same way, and our foodstores are filled with food that lacks dignity.

  20. HotFlash

    Just finished watching Trail of History, a modern film about the CCC and similar programs in North Carolina by PBS Charlotte. The park ranger narrator is so proud of what he does that he nearly breaks into tears at the end. And I am finishing up WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION PROMOTIONAL FILM W.P.A. GREAT DEPRESSION 42214, a period piece which I heartily recommend to Prof Graeber. Then I’m going to have some supper, and after that I will watch Built To Last: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota.

    I can certainly understand Prof Graeber’s misgivings and share them. It seems there is nothing that we can’t crapify these days, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Thank you, Lambert, for bringing up this fascinating subject. Like you, I’d learned a bit in school, and had visited a few places that were CCC or WPA projects, but i had no idea how mjch of what I consider “America” wasn’t there until FDR’s New Deal. If only there was a leader of such vision today…

  21. Douglas Gunwaldsen

    Here’s a link to an interactive map of CCC projects which you can get lost for hours exploring: the map

  22. JBird

    So the agreement here is that a modern CCC is a very good idea, but that it is likely to be crapified. Just how do we have the former without the latter?

    1. Big River Bandido

      Passing a law creating a new CCC would not happen without a Congress made up of people who would support such an idea. Assuming they’re willing to enact it in the first place, it is logical to assume they would support it once they enact it.

      Certainly neither one is going to happen with the Democrats we have.

  23. TroyMcClure

    I think sometimes when democrats finger wag Bernie and the emerging socialist left they really have someone like Graeber in mind as their target of scolding. He is so flippant about these matters as to truly deserve the democrat party faithful’s scorn they wrongly heap on us.

    1. Plenue

      The Democrats can’t afford to draw attention to Graeber. It’s not a very big step from his book on debt to MMT, and that’s something Dems simply can’t allow. As ridiculous and prone to strawmanning as he is on the issue of a JG (not to mention the cringe factor when he’s waxing poetic about black bloc. I’ve had some direct interactions with him over the internet; he comes across as something of a rabid clown), I still consider Debt: The First 5, 000 Years to be one of the most important books on my shelf.

      1. skippy


        For myself I find it the same old drama wrt men of faith throughout history. Some can and do separate this over arching bias when observing and then deliberating on reality. Sadly I don’t think that holds in this particular case, especially having been one of the first to bring Graebers works to this blog, and in conjunction with Philip P. During the ensuing timeline, discussing this with others, the one thing many agreed on was Debt The First 5000 Years was intellectually sound without any heavy ideological overtones. Which I find curious considering his views on AET et al libertarians and works with like minded.

        I don’t know what it is, so Spencer and Hayek whilst one moves on in years it seems.

    2. nihil obstet

      How quickly and thoroughly we distance ourselves from anyone criticized by our betters. Where Graeber, or anyone else, is wrong, by all means point out his errors. But I don’t like how quickly he is denigrated here. He’s done some outstanding work — Debt, his role in designing and organizing the Occupy movement, which made his formulation of the 99% an active means of addressing inequality. Remember how utterly absent that was prior to Occupy? Loyalty to our allies may not be an overriding virtue, but it is a virtue.

      1. skippy

        I think the issue is allowing grand theory’s to cloud ones thinking about policy’s which might provide concrete benefit to the majority. What if FDR had thought some of his policy’s were not – ideologically pure – enough to satisfy some irretrievable stake in the ground.

        It starts looking like the fundamentalist Ancap or AET camps dogma with attendant rhetorical prose about concepts outside their metaphysical view of reality.

        My drama is the well spring of concepts like UBI and its broader socioeconomic – political ramifications, UBI is just a part of a larger whole, I consider the whole. For instance the automation fait accompli argument so we need a UBI to buy the stuff we need from its increasingly monolithic monopoly producers. What could be more neoliberal I ask.

      2. redleg

        Graeber is a brilliant thinker and author, but sometimes he’s full of BS because it’s not his job, just like most people are when they pontificate on topics in which they have no practical experience.
        For example- see the above attempt at wordplay. I am not a comedic author and it shows.

  24. The Rev Kev

    Even down here I have heard a lot about the works of the WPA. And there is no reason why it could not be repeated. Replanting forests, tearing down derelict houses, rebuilding country roads – the work is certainly all out there and there are tens of millions that would be willing to do that work.
    I do not think that money is a problem. Several weeks ago the Pentagon was given over $60 billion which they did not even ask for. The Pentagon had to ask for extra time to find ways to spend that money. It was more than the Russian military budget. And yet it was passed by both parties without opposition.
    But the real problem would be one of execution and you can bet Silicon Valley would want to put their noses into that trough for the money as well as Wall Street until any money allocated would be eaten up in overhead and management. Reminds me of that “Yes Minister” episode where there was a new hospital opened with 500 staff but no resources left to have any patients. The writers only found out later that there were at least 6 hospitals just like the one that they wrote about-

    By the way – can anybody recommend good books on the CCC and WPA?

  25. polecat

    Not to dismiss the good the WPA & the CCC did to help people build life-skills, and a healthy work ethic, but I think many young folk today, simply would flunk out at doing hard, laborous work …. and you can’t assume they would HAVE the necessary rudimentary skills with regard to actual tool use and basic measuring/layout .. especially in today’s modern period of state-enabled education disfunction. Plus, anyone with an addiction to the plethora of portable electronics/I-sh!t will be hard pressed to adequately follow through on the task at hand, without the constant need to check their emails, twitter accounts, faceplant, etc. etc..
    In a nutshell, ‘work’ for many, I think, is perceived as passive, and/or seen as an intermediary, and certainly NOT active, as in ‘hands-on physical toil ! Hard physical exertion does not compute !
    I would include many of both the lower-class and the average middle-class college-attending cohort in this uh .. demographic.

    1. RiverboatGrambler

      Worthless millennial here, I’ll see your generational stereotypes and raise you my own anecdotal experience. I grew up helping to stack wood for my family’s woodstove, I’ve held a job painting houses, and I currently ride my bike up hills all day as a delivery guy. Plenty of young people work in landscaping and construction.

      The idea that the CCC wouldn’t work because Kids Today can’t look away from their phones seems like baseless generational sniping. Young people are hurting for steady work just like many Boomers.

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        One of the nice things about “the dignity of labor” is that all generations can play.

        Incidentally, all the young people I personally know work very hard, and with fewer opportunities and more stress than I had, “when I was their age.”

      2. jrs

        illegals work in landscape and construction (and some legal immigrants too but almost no employer would ask). Young is probably still desirable .

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > illegals

          The contrast between “illegals” and “employer” is telling. Aren’t employers who hire illegal immigrants just as much “illegals” as the immigrants?

          1. JBird

            Of course, but as we know, what is important is not what is legal, or just, and certainly not Godly (good), but it is your money, which cleanses you of all your illegalities.

      3. Adam1

        It’s a disease that infects many older adults. As a 47 year old Gen-Xer, I received my fair share of “slacker”, “lazy”, “your generation doesn’t know what work is” comments as a teen/young adult. I frequently hear the same thinks said about Millennials and I have to shake my head.

        I’ve got 2 younger siblings who are millennials (25 and 28); I know many of their millennial friends; and I’ve had several millennials work for me over the past few years. In zero cases do I know of any slackers, even though many would self-admit to being tied to their phones.

        Younger people tend to look at the world from their own world perspective, and older people sometime struggle to relate to the world that way and since they can’t relate they default to viewing the youth as “failed” in some way. Just remember this when you’re own kids some day seem to be acting like “slackers” of their generation ;)

    2. JCC

      The problem is that many of the younger people today (the 16 year olds to the 30 year olds primarily, I think) don’t have the opportunities to learn the rudimentary skills. I think most would jump on it in a heartbeat.

      I know that if something like this existed when I temporarily dropped out of college at the age of 19, I would have been all over it. I have a few co-workers with lost kids right now and I’m sure, knowing them as I do, that more than one of them would do the same (if for no other reason than to get away from their parents :-)

      It would sure beat the heck out of joining the military, which a few of them aren’t eligible for anyway since they haven’t finished High School.

      1. Wukchumni

        If you’re around 20 and want to do seasonal CCC type work, while camping in the back of beyond all summer, everything supplied by mule train weekly as far as food goes, in the higher climes of the High Sierra?

        Apply for a job on the trail crew in one of many of our National Parks, particularly here in Sequoia-Kings, which is renowned for their trail crews. Much of the work you’ll be doing wouldn’t be out of place in the 19th century, and after you’ve been at a number of seasons, they’ll send you to Blast School, where you’ll learn how to blow up shit, rock & timber usually.

        I think pay is around $12 an hour, and there ain’t no place to spend it, ha!

  26. VietnamVet

    Thanks. Growing up in Seattle, we used CCC facilities and roads when camping in the woods. This is an example of the change in thinking brought by neo-liberalism. The poor are obvious losers who don’t deserve better because they don’t earn it. Government is inherently wasteful. This ideology allows private-public partnerships such as Charter Schools, Lexus Lanes and the Forever Wars to rip taxpayers off. Besides, if there was real full employment, the Oligarchs would have their offshore stored wealth diminished by inflation. Since they own the government, they can’t let that happen.

  27. Altandmain

    If you think about it, the US military may very well be the biggest make work project out there.

    It is huge, and while some scientific research has led to gains in the civilian world, has made the world a less secure place overall. That’s because of the real intent, which is to enrich the defence industry, which is really an offense industry. As far as scientific research, it would be a lot more productive to make those investments in the civilian world.

    Ultimately the reason why the term make work even exists is because the conservative movement is ideologically against the idea of anything that makes the lives of the common citizen better or gives them more bargaining power against employers.

    1. Jim Thomson

      This has been exactly my thought for many years.
      It is also a form of elite plundering of the public purse on a grand scale.

    2. Summer

      “the conservative movement is ideologically against the idea of anything that makes the lives of the common citizen better or gives them more bargaining power against employers.”

      The government is ideologically against it. There hasn’t been a time in this country that looked after the common citizen. It’s not required of the constitution. They couldn’t even get it in there or it wouldn’t be up for debate. If it was constitutionally required, it wouldn’t be up for debate.

  28. AbateMagicThinking but Not Money

    Altandmain and military make-work:

    Looking from the outside, the position of young under-skilled, under-employed males in the US is very much the same as in the UK. The military is a very good option with added legitimacy to boot. It has always been thus. However the UK does not have veterans hospitals in the same manner as the US – instead there is the National Health Service to fall back on.

    Tip for those who have health cares: Now that US females can join the military everyone should join up and get the benefit of those veteran’s hospital’s which will be so much better when they are all privatized. (I see this as an adoption of a form of the Israeli model – to which the US government of every stripe is “well-aligned” with. I foresee a corporate name-change as the nation refocuses – the UKA – the United Kibbutzim of America*).


    *Grovel says that the Kibbutz were/are socialist so it ain’t gonna happen and anyway it would look too much like wag-the-dog.

  29. Oregoncharles

    I’ve also experienced extremely impressive CCC work; a picnic structure in Brown County Park in Indiana, and, even more, Timberline Lodge, a ski resort on Mt. Hood that is a masterpiece. For one thing, it’s full of art and crafts from the period.

    That said, a caveat: the extreme quality of these structures is precisely because they were trying to “make” as much work as they could. They had the integrity to do it right, and we benefit to this day. And of course, the CCC was not the only program. For instance, there were whole programs for arts and crafts – some of our greatest documentary photography came out of those “make work” programs.

    Further, there were at least 2 public works programs: WPA and PWA. It’s been a long time since I took American history, but IIRC, one of those had a good reputation for building things like Hoover Dam, and the other had a reputation for throwing excessive numbers of people at minor projects. OTOH, it’s possible my teacher, a stereotypical rock-ribbed New Englander, was rather conservative.

    Who just brought up the botched attempts at infrastructure by Obama and Trump? Not a very good sign for a contemporary project.

    1. JCC

      Here’s a link to one of PWA’s minor projects. Still in use today (I drove my first car in the parking lot here at the age of 6 sitting on my Uncle’s lap… what a guy!)

      PWA did a lot of minor projects like annexes to High Schools and City Halls, true, but they did them all over the country and they are still in use.

      On a hill above the Stadium is Newtown Battlefield park, a CCC project mentioned in the NY State link earlier by rd.

  30. Nell

    The ‘make work’ criticism makes me chuckle in light of recent research by Graeber pointing to the proliferation of bullshit jobs in the private (and public) sector. Millions of us are already being paid for ‘make work’. JG by definition creates jobs for public purpose – the opposite of the current proliferation of flunkies, goons, duct-tapers, box-tickers and task masters.

  31. QuarterBack

    Thanks for the post Lambert. My Grandfather and his brother were employed by the CCC and helped build the Hoover Dam (definitely not a ‘make work’ project). He always talked about his time with the CCC fondly. He said that he and his brother were young and basically destitute and uneducated at the time, and the work, structure, income, and sense of purpose were pivotal towards their personal growth. My Grandfather went on to serve as a Marine on the Pacific front of WWII and later became a USMC Drill Instructor and eventually retired as a Railroad Conductor.

    I spent some time myself on long term unemployment during the downturn after a September 11th. I would have welcomed the opportunity to work CCC then. I fully support programs like CCC to perform badly needed public works and infrastructure projects that provide employment to willing and able citizens. I can say too that being able to work and contribute is just as important to emotional and spiritual wellbeing as it is to financial.

  32. Splashoil

    My father worked in the CCC. Later he enlisted and was sent to Adak in the Aleution Islands.
    My grandmother had a bust of FDR in the parlor. Thanks for this.

  33. Wukchumni

    If you haven’t read your state’s WPA guide, from circa 1938 or so, they’re so much fun, a travelogue that goes through every tom, dick & harry town of the era, and chock full of historical info, a portion of which has been forgotten four score later.

  34. Daniel A Lynch

    Before I disagree with much of what Lambert said, let me say that I support a permanent CCC — not as a JG, which the CCC never was, but as a summer work program for young people. They need the jobs and there is SOME work — not an infinite amount of work, but some work — that needs to be done, like maintaining hiking trails on public lands (alternatively we could provide adequate funding for the Forest Service, BLM, etc. to maintain trails using either permanent staff or temporary summer employees, no new government bureaucracy required, and that makes more sense to me).
    Re: planting trees. For the most part, trees do not need to be planted after a fire or after logging. Mother nature has been re-seeding itself for millions of years. Re-planting is already done (by private contractors) after logging when the forester deems it necessary, but most of the time it’s not necessary since mother nature will replant itself without human intervention. Rather, the main purpose of replanting IS TO ENCOURAGE GROWTH OF A PARTICULAR SPECIES THAT IS COMMERCIALLY DESIRABLE. In other words, replanting creates a tree farm to make the timber industry happy, instead of a natural forest (or a natural clearing) that makes Mother Nature happy. So it’s not environmentally necessary or desirable to plant trees.
    The CCC was also involved in fighting wildfires. That is yet another subsidy to the timber industry. Mother Nature does not need anyone to fight wildfire, in fact, wildfire is natural and healthy (tho the climate change that is driving some wildfires is not natural or healthy). LET IT BURN.
    Re: species monitoring. Mother Nature got along just fine for millions of years without species monitoring. Like so many other CCC proposals, the underlying philosophy seems to be that Mother Nature needs to be “managed” by humans. Not only does Mother Nature not need humans to manage it, humans are the problem, not the solution. The JG proposals are being written by urban yuppies who can’t carry on an intelligent conversation about the outdoors.
    And in fact, most of the original CCC projects, consisting of various developments on public lands, were bad for the environment and should not be done today, the exception being maintaining hiking trails. Most of the other New Deal projects, like building roads and dams, were also bad for the environment and should not be done today.
    Lambert fails to make his case. JG advocates have no new ideas, they merely repeat fuzzy talking points.

    1. Wukchumni

      Some of what the CCC did required regular maintenance, and WW2 essentially was the death knell for the program, and one of the CCC projects here in Sequoia NP, was to build trails to all Sequoia groves, and many trails were built, and then there was nobody to maintain them, and if you give a trail in the Sierra Nevada 10 years, it’ll return to how it looked pretty much everything overgrown, nothing man made showing aside from rockwork, etc., and even that gets covered up.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I believe your first point is that there is only some work that needs to be done and the Parks Service should do most if not all of that work. And your assertion of “no new government bureaucracy required” suggests a misunderstanding about how Federal Organizations work. If you hand a new mission or expand and fund the existing mission of a government agency it must create new bureaucracy to manage execution of that mission unless you’re thinking of a very small mission and a very small program. A growing problem with too many existing government agencies is their tendency to create empire and budget lines along with the new management bureaucracy. I believe programs like the CCC were created to deal with the immediate problems of that time. They originated from emergency measures initiated, intended, and constructed to be temporary and light weight for just until better times or other exigencies made them unnecessary.

      Your quibbles about planting trees, fighting wildfires, species monitoring, and developing public land, offered in the post as possible work for a new CCC suggest a strain of romantic absolutisim in your beliefs about Mother Nature. Humans have impacted and worked to manage Mother Nature from the time we became sentient, some time in the last 100,000 years. We are not the only species that affects the environment or works to manage and control their living environment or affects that environment through their actions — just one of the most successful at it, at least for the short term. Consider the oxygen we breath which is a waste product from metabolic processes of green plants, or the construction projects of ants and termites, or beavers. We are part of Nature. Managing Nature is a two-edged sword which contains within it an implied requirement to manage the impacts humankind has upon Nature. There are almost 8 billion humans and we are at a juncture where our failure to better manage Mother Nature and ourselves could mean the end of our kind.

    3. juliania

      If projects such as tree planting are not desirable, are you saying the national parks planted by the CCC were bad for the environment? We need trees, any trees!

      Unfortunately, Mother Nature does need a helping hand, even if such projects to a large extent must supplement what she does naturally. To my mind there would definitely be alternative energy projects suitable to our current state of scientific know-how – I would love some CCC folk to slap solar panels onto my western sloping roof, for instance, or even to undertake to just plain re-tar and stucco my old house. C’mon, CCC, I’ve got work for ya! And we’ve got mountains here sitting baldnaked since the fires early this century. I sure would love to hear something was being done up there rather than just leaving it to Mother Nature to erode away as is currently happening.

      And how about training crews to assist in the inevitable environmental disasters that are predicted to come with climate change? Sure, take stock of what is practical in this day and age of changing environmental pressures, but for crying out loud, this needs a government program – let the people work!

      Thank you, Lambert, very much. Loved your factory experience!

      1. JTMcPhee

        Not to worry about disaster response to climate change — our Imperial military is all over that, plans have been made, and contractors and consultants and engineering and construction and war-toy makers all have a place:, and related and updated material. Here’s one more recent bit of strategizing, full of the jargon that can help intuit the mindset of our rulers: And of course, since it is a “thing” that brings indreased power and funding and responsibility, there’s tons more of strategic guidance and orders and simulations and all that serious jazz.

        1. juliania

          Well yes, and I thought that the military response in hurricane disasters was appropriate use of their abilities, far better than deploying them overseas to make war. When Iraq was invaded, there used to be advocates for US presence there that spoke of the improvements they were undertaking, and I’m sure there was some of that though by and large we wrecked that country, at a huge expense in lives and local treasure.

          As I understand it, we have to thank the military for our internet conversations. Would that their accomplishments were always so beneficial. By and large, though, not.

  35. Daniel A Lynch

    Re: funding “studies” like species monitoring.
    For the most part these studies do no “need” to be done, other than as an educational experience for the participants. To the extent that studies do need to be done — which is highly questionable — it would make far more sense to me to provide grants for college students to do summer projects related to their major, rather than having some CCC / JG flunkie do them.
    There used to be many Federal grants available for grad student research, but those grants seem to have dried up and now colleges have to beg for corporate grants, instead. So yes, let’s bring back Federal grants for college student research. That would create jobs and do a few useful things, tho it would not be a JG.

    1. HotFlash

      Don’t know if you have noticed it, but we are losing species at a great rate, and introduced species are taking over in areas where “Mother Natures” never put them, for instance the Asian Long-horned beetle, the emerald ash borer, and acres upon acres of mono-cropped corn, soy and wheat. If we are going to begin to repair or even slightly ameliorate the damage we as a species have done to the environment, a good way to start is by cataloging it.

      As to forest fires being a good thing, how do you know that? Perhaps the new-improved knowledge comes from 50+ years of environmental sciences? Well, science is based on (wait for it) *rigorous observation*. Such as, but not limited to, species monitoring. We have learned better, what makes you think that work projects now would not use the best available and suitable science and technology?

    2. redleg

      My daily workload is trying to extrapolate 10 or 20 years of data into predictions for 100+ years into the future. More long term data on essentially everything is necessary to figure out the environmental impact of decisions we make today (or made years ago).
      I work in water, so changes in water supply/quality affect every living thing on the planet, and there isn’t enough information to support our observations and predictions in the face of big money interests who don’t like what those observations mean to their revenue stream. Taleb’s concept of rule by the least intolerant minority applies without long term data, the collection of which is the first thing cut in a budget crisis.

  36. Procopius

    The speed with which the plan moved through proposal, authorization, implementation and operation was a miracle of cooperation among all branches and agencies of the federal government. It was a mobilization of men, material and transportation on a scale never before known in time of peace.

    I have to follow this up with my favorite historic example – the Civil Works Administration, which quickly followed the CCC. FDR gave the job to Harry Hopkins, who believed mere “welfare” was degrading and would eventually destroy any man (common wisdom was that all breadwinners were men), because the dignity from doing a job of work was essential to human beings. Anyway, on November 15, 1933, he announced his goal of the employment of four million by December 15. To quote Schlesinger, “Hopkins had no planning staff, no shelf of light public works, no formulated program. CWA jobs, moreover, had to be easy to learn and short in duration; winter weather limited the type of project available; necessary tools were in short supply. Yet Hopkins, always at his best when confronted by impossibilities, allowed nothing to get in the way of rapid expansion.” To cut it short, he missed his December deadline, having only 2,610,451 on the CWA rolls, but by the middle of January he was well over the 4,000,000 mark. An achievement far exceeding the mobilization of the armed forces the The Great War. Of course, FDR had an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress, while Obama did not even have enough to overcome a filibuster in the Senate except for a few days in 2009. The story of the CCC is a burning reminder of the damage the Republicans have inflicted on the country since 1980, but I suspect their policies are going to end in an economic collapse even worse than 1930, and people will finally come to their senses.

  37. Wukchumni

    In the USA the CCC camps were heralded and the most popular of FDR’s New Deal programs…

    While in Canada, their variant was something called “Relief Camps” which were awful from a pay standpoint (20 cents a day) and were more like a way for the government to get rid of unemployed men clogging up the cities, and hide them away in forest somewhere.

    You never heard of stuff like this going on in the CCC…

    Grievances about the camp system were numerous, from the poor quality food, the lack of leisure facilities (bathrooms and showers), and that the men were only paid twenty cents per day. Consequently, the RCWU’s numbers quickly swelled.

    To me, the risk would be with our current government, that we would do something much more similar to Canadian efforts in the 1930’s, a gulag-lite, if you will.

  38. Susan the other

    Wow Lambert. Gave me the chills – and it’s 90 in here. “It’s almost as if something was holding back people’s ability to work productively.” I’m beginning to understand how words are defined by a synonym that makes sense and also by a second word that doesn’t – in fact an antonym that itself has a conflicted definition. Makes for a confusing dictionary.

  39. ewmayer

    Thanks for this, Lambert – it is illustrative of our national degradation to contrast the role of the armed services in the New Deal to now, when the MIC is quite literally the largest and ‘most effective’ federal jobs program.

  40. Summer

    I understand the JG intentions are good.

    But I’m picturing this government, the one we have, not the ideal on paper, rounding people up for “work camps” for the corporations we have, not any ideals there either.

    1. pricklyone

      I understand this concern. However, since there is no legislation in the works, all we can debate about is the theoretical.
      The JG as envisioned originally by MMT advocates, was to be a VOLUNTARY program, only. “Anyone who needs a job, can get one.” No rounding up of anyone for any work camps or forced labor…These discussions have a way of morphing into “schemes” (A.K.A strawmen) which can be criticized on their imaginary faults. The original idea was not ‘workfare’, but ’employer of last resort.’
      At least the way I remember it from back then…

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