A Hamilton Project and the Victory Over Want
Remarks on the Hamilton Project by James Cumes
In the only event that might compare with the economic disaster that threatens us today – the Great Depression of the 1930s - the only course of action that proved successful in alleviating the miseries of the time consisted of public investment in infrastructure, housing, transport and communications, and other forms of public enterprise and amenities. Public investment directly and simultaneously stimulated both supply and demand. It provided employment in a wide variety of forms. It stimulated private investment, with a substantial multiplier effect throughout the economy. That experience of the 1930s provides a precedent for what we might do if, as seems highly likely, another severe economic and financial crisis, spreading from the United States throughout the world, strikes us in the months or years ahead.
To meet such a crisis through public investment, this time on a worldwide basis, would be particularly appropriate and beneficial in the light of the characteristics of the crisis. A key characteristic in the unfolding of that crisis is the way that the once magnificent productive power of the United States has drained away.
Thirty years ago, the United States was undoubtedly the greatest economic power in human history. It combined energy and inventiveness with skills of production, organisation and management that enabled it to produce more in greater quantity in shorter time than any society had ever done before. Mass production, know-how and can-do applied with special meaning to America and the American people.
The basic potential of the country and its remarkable people are still there. That potential has not been permanently “outsourced” or destroyed in the 21st century any more than it was in the 1930s – although it is clearly in a state of suspended animation. What we need is to restore the economic power of America and Americans by utilising the immense potential that is still there to satisfy the needs of their own national economy and to meet the needs of the global economy. We can do this in ways that will not only banish poverty from the planet but that will also enable us to begin tackling the problems of the global environment and the introduction of processes of peaceful change essential to longer-term human survival.
Apart from its humanitarian aspects, a program of this kind would be a global manifestation of the kind of public enterprise exemplified by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States during the Great Depression or the Marshall Plan after the Second World War. Both those enterprises helped the United States itself to recover and the Marshall Plan enabled others to recover and/or advance along with it. A global program of recovery now would be a challenge to investment, productivity and production that America can still – probably uniquely – meet. Despite the draining away of so much of its economic vigour in recent decades, the strength, versatility and creativity of the American economy and its people almost certainly could be revived now just as they were invigorated in such formidable measure in the Marshall Plan and other economic development programs during the quarter century immediately after the Second World War.
That is the essence of the way in which we should proceed. Some other projects are aiming in the same direction. The supporters of the Hamilton Project – resting on the “Pillars of Growth and Opportunity” - “believe that America's promise - that education and hard work can provide each individual with the opportunity to advance - is in jeopardy because our nation is neither paying its own way nor investing adequately in its future. The Project's economic strategy reflects a judgment that long-term prosperity is best achieved by making economic growth broad-based, by enhancing individual economic security, and by embracing a role for effective government in making needed public investments.” The Hamilton Project differs from the Victory Over Want (VOW) initiative outlined in the Annex in that it seems to be focussed more exclusively on the United States whereas VOW is essentially for the world economy and society as a whole – including the United States. The ideal would be to bring projects and proposals of these kinds together so that the effort to tackle poverty and achieve sustainable growth, equality of opportunity and peaceful change can be more effectively pursued.
Whether we will, in fact, be able to proceed in such orderly, rational ways is the crucial question. The present administration in Washington does not seem well designed or conditioned to adopt policies of this kind; and more than two years remain of that administration’s tenure.