Surprising source offers appealing way to add jobs

Paul O’Neill, former chairman of Alcoa, was Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002. His credentials as a Republican conservative could hardly be more impressive.
That makes Mr. O’Neill’s proposal for a modern version of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration even more appealing.
FDR put men to work in the Great Depression building things such as the big community building in Riverside Park. Mr. O’Neill wants to give today’s unemployed men jobs tearing things down.
In response to President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday in which he pleaded for “demonstrably good ideas” to create more jobs, O’Neill said:
“ ... Cities and towns across the country are the default owners of hundreds of thousands of abandoned and derelict single-family houses, apartment buildings and factories. These places are a blight on our communities.
“The federal government should reimburse cities and towns who hire people from the unemployment rolls to tear down these structures, clean up the properties and, if there is no immediate buyer for them, to turn them into green spaces.
“Not only will this create jobs, it will also provide lasting economic value as the properties get placed back on the tax rolls. And the program would give clear evidence that the taxpayers’ (borrowed) dollars are producing a tangible public benefit. To encourage participation, Washington might consider giving cities and towns a 25 percent bonus — beyond reimbursing them for what they spend on reclamation. We could get such a program running by early next year, and it could run through, say, mid-2011.”
Good thinking. Iola could use a million or so of Mr. O’Neill’s new-style WPA dollars and could put salvage crews to work next week with them. As the former Secretary said, cleaning up America’s towns and cities would not only create jobs now but would also stimulate tomorrow’s economy. Every abandoned house or business building removed clears the way for new construction which becomes more economically feasible because the expensive clearing work has already been done.
If the O’Neill plan includes government purchase of the land and a program to make that land available in exchange for a promise to build on it, the stimulus effect would be even greater.
Just to make the right side of the aisle feel better, the legislation should bear Mr. O’Neill’s name and make no reference to FDR, the New Deal, the WPA or socialism.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.