Civilian Climate Corps Would Expand Government When We Can Least Afford It

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My first post  in this series reviewed the history—and basic economics—of government works programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). My second post addressed the first argument given by advocates for a new CCC (refashioned as the Civilian Climate Corps): that it is important way to fight the increasingly dire effects of climate change. Now, I turn to the second justification for a new CCC: the mass unemployment caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

A recent letter signed by over 80 congressional Democrats argues that we need a new CCC because of the “intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic unemployment crisis” with the climate crisis. But the truth is that not only are government works programs ineffective at significantly reducing unemployment, their argument is wholly disconnected from what the labor market actually looks like in the U.S. today.

Contrary to the narrative regarding “mass unemployment,” the truth is that there is a major labor shortage. There are currently over 9 million unfilled jobs in the U.S., and businesses across the country are scrambling—including by raising wages and providing signing bonuses—to attract employees.

In fact, it is the government’s current intervention into the labor market, in the form of enhanced unemployment benefits, that is preventing many from returning to work. A recent survey revealed that at least 1.8 million people are currently refusing to go back to work because of these benefits. To advocate for a new CCC right now would be to further the government’s reach into the labor market, likely preventing it from thriving going into the future.

So, if a new CCC is not justified based on a “climate emergency” or “mass unemployment,” then why are some congressional Democrats be so adamant about procuring funding for one? As The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board explains, this is “part of their plan to expand government into every corner of American life.” The Journal’s editors further note, “It isn’t enough to lecture Americans about the supposed perils of climate change. Now they also want to tax you and other Americans to pay your children to spend years lecturing you.” In other words, they want to churn out the next generation of leftist activists on the taxpayer’s dime. It doesn’t necessarily matter if their justifications for a new CCC are sound if, at the end of the day, their goals are much broader.

Those broader goals have already hurt the average American in the form of inflation. Even though hourly earnings rose by 3.6 percent in June, that was offset by a 5.4 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index, which means the average worker had a 2 percent pay decrease.

In the end, calls to revive the CCC are not justified on the basis of historical fiction about Depression-era government works programs, our current “climate emergency,” or “mass unemployment” would simply expand government’s reach and influence at a time when the exact opposite is needed.