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The Seminal Watercooler: Stimulus can be more than just jobs

Economic stimulus is or should be about jobs, no question. But the things those jobs create can sometimes be lasting, historic, or even artistically and culturally influential – not necessarily the things that come to mind when you talk about government work.

It’s well known that the New Deal – the stimulus by which all future American stimulus projects will be measured – put artists to work creating art, but we shouldn’t forget that laborers often created art themselves, as Red, Green, and Blue points out in the example of Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater in Colorado:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s so-called, “Alphabet Agencies”, like the Civil Works Administration, Public Works Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Works Progress Administration gave new strength to America’s infrastructure and put Americans back to work during the Great Depression.

The New Deal in Colorado is strong because the state got more per-capita federal dollars than any other except Washington. It ranked 10th among the 48 states in actual New Deal dollars spent. Among those projects was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, tucked in the foothills just west of Denver, where those first schists of sandstone poke out of the earth signaling the beginning of the Rocky Mountains.

From 1936 to 1941 CCC and WPA workers put in long hours at the Red Rocks project in Morrison. Laboring in hot, dry, windy and rainy conditions, the men earned about $35 a month, $25 of which they had to send home to their parents. The work was not glamorous at Red Rocks, or most anywhere else the hard labor brought the men. But it was steady, and workers felt a strong sense of pride that they were part of something that was much larger than themselves.

FDR’s New Deal projects employed a Keynesian approach to stimulating the economy. The New Deal stimulated the economy by getting money in the hands of people who would spend it — lots of people. But the CCC did so much more, it ultimately created opportunities for generations of people to interact with wide open spaces and the natural environment.

Red Rocks is a lasting artistic legacy, created by hand from New Deal dollars. I wonder what kinds of lasting, culturally significant things our current stimulus is creating right now. Got any ideas?

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Jason Rosenbaum

Jason Rosenbaum

Writer, musician, activist. Currently consulting for Bill Halter for U.S. Senate and a fellow at the New Organizing Institute.