The cliff jumper was Senator Esposito from California. He argued that if we were going to make recipients of government assistance work for it then so should those on unemployment assistance work for it.
The opposition lashed back, arguing that this defeated the purpose of unemployment insurance, which was to allow the unemployed to survive while they search for another job. Support was lacking for a bill that seemed to penalize someone solely for the misfortune of having been laid off. The plan would not only hamper the job search of the unemployed but the job filling of the employers. Public backlash stopped the bill.
Jefferson sighed with relief but though Senator Esposito was rebuffed, he was not defeated. A few tweaks to the proposal, some rebranding of the bill and some time to let the furor pass and he was ready to try again. He called to see if I would still support him. I was lukewarm on the idea. Esposito was sorry to hear that, but not sorry enough to rethink his position.
Esposito’s Productive Citizen Bill: Everyone would be a productive member of society. That was the price for living in free country. You would be given six months of unemployment assistance while you looked for a new job. After six months if you hadn’t found a job, you had two options. You could simply choose to no longer receive unemployment assistance. Or you could continue to receive assistance and the government would find you a job. Everyone would work.
It could be compared fairly or unfairly to the PWA (Public Works Administration) of FDR and the New Deal. Esposito explained it as “a preemptive strike to a looming economic downturn by maximizing the workforce and maximizing the usefulness of federal tax monies.” And if it would not diminish the size of the welfare state and habitual dependence on government aid, it would at least get something in return. If the people wanted the government to be more accountable for the way they spent taxpayer money then the government would make the recipients of government aid more accountable. You had to go full circle. Esposito was appealing to those who wanted the government to be fiscally responsible and beneficent as well.
Esposito presented it as a logical extension of Jefferson’s personal accountability principal: from the people to the government and back to the people. Jefferson again felt painted into a corner by his own arguments. He argued for compromise, if only for a loosening of the guidelines. Jefferson pointed to the lack of support in the polls. The people did not want this.
But for Esposito compromise wasn’t necessary. He was emboldened by the simple power of his logic. This was for the greater good. He would commit political suicide if necessary. He had found the votes to pass the bill. Jefferson could veto it. It was possible the veto would hold. But Esposito was confident Jefferson would not veto it.
The bill passed. The act itself was more than a 1,000 pages long. Six month limits were placed on benefits. After that you worked for benefits. The limits were retroactive. Immediately tens of thousands of people were expected to go to work. To deal with this, the Productive Citizen Administration created a new department to coordinate the efforts of putting people to work.
The initial idea was to implement a bureaucracy similar to The Contract’s. The Contract’s structure was unfortunately limited mostly to community service efforts. The PCA needed to create constructive and productive jobs. The legislation had the foresight, buried in its 1,000 pages, to allocate the capital needed for large scale projects. But what projects?
Tens of thousands of people spread across the country with diverse skill sets. In small towns, in big cities. In prosperous regions, in hard hit regions. Who was to be put to work where and on what? Esposito formed a committee to identify the best projects.
In the meantime, what few openings that existed in the community service projects of The Contract were filled. Everyone else on the unemployment roll was giving a reprieve.
The committee to create projects was made up of CEOs of major corporations, governors, economic advisors and labor specialists. The first thing they did was break the task set before them into two parts: the projects and the skills.
What projects to choose quickly became an ideological battle: were these projects for the greater good like public works projects, (the Hoover Dam or the Federal Highway system), public service projects (forest rangers, community policing, daycare centers) or production efforts (making park benches, highway signs)?
Or were these projects to be more like new companies providing goods for sale? These companies could create goods with a competitive advantage. Or companies that could sell goods directly to the government and have an immediate and committed buyer. Would products be limited as so not to compete with current domestic production?
The second step was to identify who had what skills and where they were and then match that against the project list.
The Presidential Committee on Production came out with recommendations.
Public Works Project #1: Build four new high tech gasoline refining plants in key regions. One thousand qualified employees needed per site, plus professional and technical staff. Qualified workers would be relocated to government provided work camps near the construction sites.
Public Works Project #2: Major flood protection and lock upgrades along the Mississippi from St. Paul to New Orleans. Five thousand workers needed, plus professional and technical staff. Qualified employees would be relocated to four work camps along the river at St. Paul, Des Moines, Memphis and New Orleans.
Other minor public works projects finished the public works list. Then came the public service projects.
The biggest project was to provide free public daycare in the top 100 metropolitan areas. No relocations needed. Plus more other minor public service projects.
The committee also established quasi-private companies to create goods for the federal government, like the Public Service Uniform Company. The company would provide uniforms to everyone performing public service. They would be manufactured for safety and durability and relieve financial burden on employees. Ten manufacturing facilities to be opened in key geographic regions. Three hundred workers per plant, plus professional and technical staff. Workers would be relocated to government-provided work camps.
Then there were the Tier Two Projects: projects that didn’t have enough skilled employees to perform the necessary work. Regional Training centers would be opened to train selected employees in the necessary skills to begin Tier Two Projects. The first Tier Two Project was Street Cleaning Equipment Company. Manufacturing plant to be opened in Tennessee. Training center would be opening while construction of plant occurred. Four hundred workers. Workers would be relocated to government work camps. Other Tier Two projects would be named later.
The case was made that this would be a huge economic boon. Unemployed people would be put to work. Thousands of civil servants would be needed to administer the PCA. Unemployment would drop to historic lows. Funds previously spent on unemployment would now have production attached to them. Society as a whole would be more efficient and productive. The USA would be more competitive in the world economy.
And yes, as unemployment dropped confidence in the economy began to increase and the economy began to grow again. Happy Days were here again.