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A New Civilian Conservation Corps

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A New Civilian Conservation Corps

I have spent the last few days visiting the Grand Canyon with my family, and I am inspired — inspired by the natural beauty; inspired by the power of the earth’s geology; inspired, most of all, by the positive role government can play in domestic economic and social development. If you have been to the Grand Canyon you know what I mean. The trails, the roads, the protected areas, and the basic viewing sights were all created by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s and 1940s. The entire facility is managed — with remarkable efficiency and high quality — by the National Park Service.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the first major New Deal programs created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 to provide work for unemployed young people around the country. In Arizona and every other state millions of young people worked over the next decade to build roads and other public facilities that supported long-term economic growth across the nation. Just look around. The facilities around the Grand Canyon are only one example. Almost every town and county still benefits from infrastructure built by government employees during this period.

Unfortunately, in our era of “small government” much of this New Deal infrastructure is crumbling and our economy is suffering. The Grand Canyon is a notable exception only because of the leadership of the National Park Service — yes, another government agency. If the free market had been given carte blanche in the Grand Canyon, it would probably look more like a suburban strip mall today than the beautiful and accessible public sight for 5 million annual international visitors.

The Grand Canyon proves the limits of the free market and the need for effective government investment and regulation, especially for the protection of basic public goods. All of the major industrial societies of the world have invested billions of dollars (and Euros) in domestic “stimuli” over the last couple of years, but where is the new Civilian Conservations Corps? Where has the money gone?

I am skeptical of government investments in large cumbersome bureaucracies with little direct connection to the average citizen. My skepticism extends toward large banks, corporations, non-governmental agencies, and even universities. Stimulus money is much better spent, on the model of the New Deal, for programs that directly mobilize and support young people who are idealistic, energetic, and committed to making a difference in the world. That was the Civilian Conservation Corps model — small bureaucracy, direct appeal to young people in search of opportunity, and investment in tangible public goods.

The Civilian Conservation Corps is a model that we should re-create today. Our best young citizens will sign up in large numbers. The costs would be a fraction of any new stimulus money. Most of all, the reawakening of public spirit will be contagious. We need a new Civilian Conservation Corps now more than ever before!

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs


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1 Comment

  1. Onlooker April 1, 2010

    While I agree, it is possible that the CCC does exist in a slightly different format than in the New Deal Era:

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