Thomas Cromwell on Jobs – a Message for Today

Thomas Cromwell on Jobs – a Message for Today

By Carl Bloice
Black Commentator Editorial Board
Septembr 20, 2012

Some good ideas endure for centuries. In her superb
new historical novel, Bring Up the Bodies,
shortlisted last week for the Man Booker prize,
Hilary Mantel has Thomas Cromwell musing about
how “. England needs better roads, and bridges
that don’t collapse.” The narrator says the aide to
Henry VIII “is preparing a bill for Parliament to give
employment to men without work, to get them
waged and out mending the roads, making the
harbors, building walls against the Emperor or any
other opportunists. We could pay them, he
calculated, if we levied an income tax on the rich;
we could provide shelter, doctors if they need them,
their subsistence; we would all have the fruits of
their work, and their employment would keep them
from becoming bawds or pickpockets or highway
robbers, all of which men do if they see no other way
to eat.”

Investing in the green economy is about three times
more efficient in terms of creating jobs

The book, a follow-up to the highly acclaimed Wolf
Hall: A Novel, is set in the 1500s. Yet, the political
and economic prescription Mantel has the wily
Cromwell contemplating for England at the time
could, indeed should, be in the minds of the people
in power today as they confront what the New York
Times last week called “the grim reality” of current

As for the madams and thieves parts, it’s as true
today as it was back then. Aside from the mandatory
rhetoric about law and order, after the riots in the
Old Country last year, thoughtful observers at the
time recognized the relationship between mass
joblessness and social stability, something we in
this country usually evade talking about in public.

Be that as it may, as Cromwell mused, the
government can create jobs. The Kensayans
amongst us are quick to point out that the U.S.
economy is in crisis because people are not
spending enough money on goods and services,
either because they don’t have much or they fear
they could suddenly join the ranks of the already
unemployed. Yet our economic pundits grow quite
timid when it comes to the question of putting more
money in peoples’ pockets by putting more of them
to work.

The standard, pretty much bipartisan, mantra these
days is that jobs only come from the private sector,
and the Republicans say these “job creators” should
be rewarded for doing so, in advance, with tax
breaks. The problem is they are not creating jobs,
and show little inclination to do so. Corporate
profits are up, the stock market is booming and
unemployment and underemployment remain at
disturbingly high levels.

Much of the infrastructure repair and renovation
can and must be undertaken by the government

I have only to walk out of my house at mid-day to
encounter young people who would take jobs if they
were available. And not just dropouts, but
secondary and university graduates as well. Yet
their immediate plight and the longer-term
implications for society – particularly for young
people in African American and Latino communities
– go pretty much unexamined, sometimes even on
the political Left.

It may be, as some of the assumed experts say, that
increasing the number of workers with post-high
school education and the importation of more
foreign workers with advance training is the answer
to unemployment. I have my doubts. But in any
case that’s going to take some time, and in the
meantime there are over 20 million people in this
county looking for work who can’t get hired.

“They say the integrity of a nation’s infrastructure is
a direct reflection of its overall moral, social,
economic, and political health,” Ethan A. Huff, staff
writer, for NuturalNews, wrote August 9. “If this is
true, then the United States is in some very serious
trouble, as the American Society of Civil Engineers
(ASCE), America’s oldest national engineering
society, has given a near-failing grade to almost
every national infrastructure category in its most
recent Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.”

“All those stories that have emerged in recent years
about bridges collapsing, roads failing, and dams
and levees beginning to crumble are apparently not
mere flukes,” wrote Huff. “To the contrary, many of
the nation’s bridges, dams, water treatment plants,
power generation facilities, roadways, levees,
railways, parks, transit systems, and schools are in
very serious disrepair — and unless tax dollars are
diverted from filling the pockets of fat cats to
actually maintaining the means through which we
all live, the entire nation will literally crumble into

Huff writes that according to the ASCE’s

“There are not enough roads, and too many of them
are falling apart. America’s decaying roadway
systems are one of the most obvious infrastructure
failures, as nearly every single American uses them
on a daily basis.


“One in four American bridges is structurally
deficient or functionally obsolete”


“many of them are on the brink of becoming
structurally unsound, or of completely collapsing.

According to Huff, we need to spend about $17
billion just to “adequately retrofit the nation’s
bridges and make them safe for travel and use.”

What to do about it all?

There are over 20 million people in this county
looking for work who can’t get hired

Mantel’s Cromwell had a good idea in 1535 but in
today’s political climate the idea that the
government could go a long way toward solving two
problems – joblessness and disintegrating
infrastructure – at times seem to be the prescription
that dare not speak its name. It wasn’t mentioned at
the Democratic National Convention and the
message from the Republicans seems to be that the
roads and bridges that allow workers to get their
jobs, and products to get to market, somehow
magically build themselves.

Much of the infrastructure repair and renovation
can and must be undertaken by the government
itself. The country would benefit greatly from a
version of the Works Projects Administration (WPA)
instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt that
helped alleviate unemployment during the Great
Depression of the 1930s. Much of it can be
accomplished through government programs that
facilitate private sector development. What is needed
is a policy and plan to do so.

Building and upgrading highways, bridges, tunnels,
levees, waterways and the like are essential
elements of a country’s infrastructure just as they
were in 1530 England. In 2012, energy efficiency,
internet communication, and high speed
transportation are equally important. I was
reminded of this the other day when a report
appeared that the area right around where I live –
one of the most prosperous and populous areas,
with tens of thousands of people and many
businesses, lacks wired broadband services. The
number of people in the nation without such access
is said to be nearly 19 million. As the year began the
US ranked 23rd in the world in access, with less
than third of our population on broadband

Appearing on the Real News Network August 24,
Robert Pollin, professor of economics and co-
director of the Political Economy Research Institute
and author of Back to Full Employment said, “the
reason why the green economy is such an
outstanding model in terms of moving forward is
that, in my view, it combines two things. Number
one, obviously, it addresses the problem of climate
change. It addresses the issue of having to
dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions over
the next 20 years. The other thing is that in the
process of transforming the economy it relies much
more heavily on efficiency and renewable energy,
you also will create millions of jobs.”

“The reason you create millions of jobs is that
investing in the green economy is about three times
more efficient in terms of creating jobs,” continued
Pollin. “It creates three times more jobs per dollar of
expenditure than retaining our existing fossil fuel
economy structure. Again, that is in the book. The
green economy will create about 17 jobs per $1
million of expenditure, the fossil fuel economy about
five – in my view it’s the combination of the two
things that it’ll help us solve the climate change
crisis, and as a result will also be a major engine of
job creation.”

“Millions of American workers badly need jobs, and
the owners of many thousands of commercial
buildings badly need `green retrofitting’ to improve
their energy efficiency and thus cut operational
costs while simultaneously helping clean up the
environment” writes commentator Dick Meister.
“The conclusion should be obvious: Let the
retrofitting begin, for the benefit of everyone – those
who need the work, the employers who want it done,
and the rest of us, who would benefit greatly from

Meister, a San Francisco-based columnist who has
covered labor and politics for more than a half-
century, took notice of a recent report from the
National Employment Law Project (NELP) that called
green retrofitting “a powerful job creation tool.”

“As the NELP report said, `Estimates show that a mix
of tax credits, new building code requirements and
loans for commercial energy efficiency upgrades
would create upwards of 160,000 new jobs,’ possibly
hundreds of thousands more, over the next year,”
Meister writes. “That certainly would significantly
lower the high unemployment rate that has plagued
the country for far too long, encourage investment
and otherwise jolt the lagging economy.”

Construction workers have been hit particularly
hard by unemployment, and it is they who have the
skills and knowledge “that could be put to work
cutting greenhouse gas omissions and making our
cities cleaner and more efficient places to live,”
noted Christine Owens, NELP’s executive director.

Simply providing jobs would not be enough. NELP
argues that government policy makers supporting
green retrofitting and the jobs it creates should
make certain they are “good jobs with strong
workplace standards and fair pay and job security.”
That’s an absolute necessity if jobs in the retrofit
industry are to be truly sustainable. At a minimum,
that would call for providing workers increased pay
and better chances of being promoted to higher-
paying jobs.

Meister calls particular attention to what can be
done at the municipal level. Noting that Los Angeles,
Seattle and Milwaukee ” have developed programs
which have won the support of workers,
environmentalists and commercial building owners,
in large part by backing retrofitting projects that,
while creating jobs, also help owners cut their costs
and increase their income.

“It’s now time for other cities nationwide to take
action,” writes Meister. “There’s no legitimate reason
for inaction. We have a great need to modernize and
expand our infrastructure, diminish environmental
pollution and provide work for the jobless. We have
shown it can be done. So let’s do it!”

Thoughtful observers at the time recognized the
relationship between mass joblessness and social

Former President Bill Clinton is promising that
President Obama has big, bold plans for dealing
with the infrastructure and joblessness. And, in his
convention nominating acceptance speech, the
President referred to “the kind of bold, persistent
experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued
during the only crisis worse than this one.” A
moderate step in that direction is contained in the
Administration’s proposed American Jobs Act, but
Congress has never taken it up seriously and we’ve
heard little about it since it was introduced a year

“We cannot afford to fall behind the rest of the world
in terms of our infrastructure development, but
that’s exactly what we are doing,” economist Mark
Thoma, a columnist at The Fiscal Times writes. “At a
time when interest rates are as low as we are likely
to see, when labor and other costs are minimal due
to lack of demand during the downturn, and when
the need is so high, why aren’t we making a massive
investment in infrastructure, which is ultimately an
investment in our future? There are many, many
public investments we could make where the
benefits surely exceed the costs – these are things
the private sector won’t do on its own even though
they are highly valuable to society – so what are we
waiting for?”]
_________________ Editorial Board member
and Columnist, Carl Bloice, is a writer in San
Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating
Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a
healthcare union.


About leftmargin

Journalist and Columnist View all posts by leftmargin

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