I was born in 1971, a few years after the first man landed on the moon and a few years before the last man left. Growing up at the tail-end of the era of bold initiatives, I sometimes feel a little nostalgia for governments that combatted big problems with big programs. From the moon landing to the interstate highway program to Nixon's visit to China, it seems that the government once sought big solutions, where it now seems to go for temporary fixes.
My favorite bold initiative is the New Deal. In 1933, attempting to combat the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted a collection of programs that were designed to direct money to poorer people. One of the ways that he did this was by creating huge infrastructure projects that employed millions of unskilled laborers. Although these programs lost relevance with the arrival of World War II, they continue to impact American society. For example, the Tennessee Valley Authority still provides electric power to the country, despite the occasional complaints that it's unconstitutional and numerous attempts to make the government sell it. Similarly, many New Deal constructions, including Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Massachusetts' Bourne Bridge, are used by millions of people each year.
While there are several reasons to criticize Roosevelt's labor programs, there is also no question that they helped get the country through a very rough time. Today, in the face of a looming recession and saddled with a crumbling infrastructure, it might be time for the country to consider a new New Deal. Barack Obama offered one possible solution last week when he unveiled his "National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank." Part of his economic recovery plan, the NIRB would invest $60 billion in repairs to America's transportation infrastructure. According to Obama, this would translate into trillions of dollars of infrastructure repairs and would create two million new jobs.
Opponents have criticized this idea for a variety of reasons, ranging from complaints that it will cost too much to arguments that it's "plagiarized" from a plan that Hilary Clinton proposed. Personally, I don't really care who came up with the plan, and it seems to me that rebuilding our transportation infrastructure will more than pay for itself with money poured back into the economy. What really interests me is that, for the first time in years, I'm seeing a bold solution to a major problem. I wonder if it will come to pass.