Friday, July 25, 2008

Tough times call for a new New Deal

LAS CRUCES — Bank failures and runs on banks. Daring bank robberies. Crop failures. A plummeting stock market. Massive mortgage foreclosures.
It’s time for a new New Deal based on American creativity.
Last year, I spent a fascinating couple of hours at the New Mexico State University Museum, listening to people who had survived the Great Depression. Many who had weathered those changing times gathered, along with their kids and granddads, and brought items and stories from the late 1920s and ’30s to share in an exhibition.
And some of us talked then, about a sense of déjà vu, seeing signs and portents eerily reminiscent of those tough times … the collapsing currency and economy and so many ominous developments people of my Baby Boomer generation and beyond have been assured couldn’t happen again, with safeguards now in place.
This summer, instead of the Dust Bowl, we’ve had floods in the Midwest and fires in California, devastating blows to the breadbasket and produce centers of America, with food supplies already decimated by diversion of grains and products once used for low-cost food at home and abroad, to make into ethanol to fuel the global oil demand.
Times are tough and scary. Those of us who were not alive then but are paying attention now, can see there are some strong parallels between the dark days of the Great Depression and present times.
So it makes sense that some of the solutions back then could help us now.
What we need is a new New Deal (NND).
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) that built so much of our nation’s infrastructure could be resurrected to help us get ourselves out of some of the messes we’re in, by putting people to work rebuilding the now-crumbling infrastructure built by the first WPA.
This time around, we could apply advanced technology and as many green principles as possible. And rather than relying on dams for so much, we could design plans and projects that take advantage of nonpolluting forms of energy, including solar and geothermal and maybe even come up with some new kinds of wind power and other new systems that don’t kill so many critters or blight the landscape.
We could retool plants and retrain unemployed auto industry workers to create a new transportation infrastructure, too, devising cross-country rail systems and fuel-efficient, non-polluting mass transit systems in large and small communities that could make us a model for the rest of the world — instead of the embarrassing gas-guzzling laggards we are today.
I think we could bring lots of NND perks down to individual levels, too. Americans have always been great adapters and innovators. With what we learn, and a commitment to the Depression-era values to re-use, use up, recycle and make do, and enlist the talents of youth and artists, we could change our nation and the world within a decade.
With a fraction of the R&D money now invested in developing new oil resources, I’ll bet we could come up with all kinds of devices to retrofit existing vehicles and make them more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly.
We could put millions back to work in jobs with interesting and sustainable futures.
Active and passive solar and other green energy systems applied on a municipal level could offer economies of scale and innovations we could use in our homes. And we could finance these systems the way we buy cars now, with the important difference that our home solar systems would eventually pay for themselves and maybe even give energy back to the grid, instead of depleting and polluting.
We could start the ball rolling with some tax incentives that reward smart, green strategies.
We might have to give up a few things, like some hardened attitudes about disposable, greedy lifestyles. We might want to follow President Eisenhower’s mid-20th century advice and rethink the whole military-industrial complex model.
We might decide it’s time to invest our resources, minds and hearts in education and the future, in creative construction instead of destruction.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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