The Five Borough Report


Five Borough Report   June 2003


Imagining a New New Deal

Mike Wallace

What we should not be asking for – as victims – is for the national government to underwrite an ambitious program of improvements in New York City…What we should be doing is making common cause with the millions and millions of people all over the country who are hurting – some from fallout from September 11th, most from the arrival of hard times. 

We should immediately strike up alliances with other states and localities and together insist that the federal government – that is, us – should deploy its resources – that is, our tax dollars – to alleviate suffering and revitalize the economy.  We should launch a massive program to create and enhance the nation’s social capital – investing in people and resources in a way we haven’t done recently, but used to do brilliantly.  I’m talking about something far greater than the anemic “stimulus packages” that were discussed briefly.  What we need is a new New Deal.

Three accomplishments of that distant era seem particularly worthy of emulation: (i) the compassionate provision of relief, in the form of income and jobs, for victims of the amoral marketplace; (ii) An effort to jump-start the private economy with a jolt of government-underwritten demand; and (iii) the rehabilitation of the public sector, marshaling our resources to augment the nation’s social capital.

Let’s imagine what a new New Deal might look like.  Not a revival, but a twenty-first century version – bolder, smarter, more inclusive.  We should launch a Prometheus Project to eliminate remaining obstacles in the path of producing affordable, practicable replacements for fossil and nuclear fuels.  Massive resources should be pumped into dragging land transportation into the twenty-first century by underwriting silent, frictionless, high speed magnetic-levitation trains. Universal health care with a focus on public health has now become critical to national safety and economic recovery as well as social justice.

 The massive withdrawal from public housing since the seventies must be reversed.  And we need to reimpose government oversight of banking and commercial investment.  But the initiatives that seem most immediately relevant to Gotham’s current plight were the “alphabet” agencies – FERA, CWA, WPA, PWA – which channeled federal monies to states and localities, allowing them to hire the unemployed and put them to work providing public goods and services.

What’s appealing about the New Deal are its roots in our own city’s history, the range and scope of its ambition, its awareness of the interconnectedness of problems, and the inventiveness and durability of many of its solutions…It constitutes an inspirational chapter in our national narrative, one eminently worthy of revisiting as we chart our course in the years ahead

--Excerpted from A New New Deal for New York,                                                    Bell and Weiland, New York, 2002

June 2003

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