A Modest Proposal for Dealing with Unemployed Writers…


In this week’s New Republic, Mark I. Pinsky suggests that Barack Obama bail out laid-off journalists with a modern version of the Federal Writers Project — the program launched by FDR to provide jobs to more than 6,000 out-of-work creative types in the late ’30s. The emphasis was on documentation; writers worked on everything from state travel guides to slave narratives. Pinksy points out that many of the people involved the first time around became some of the biggest names in the American cannon — John Steinbeck, John Cheever, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, and Richard Wright — and used FWP funding to research the works that made them famous.

Not to pull an Ariana Huffington, but this could be the first silver lining to come out of the economic disaster we’re in. Yes, we realize that out of work writers only make up a small portion of the population. Yes, as Andrew Sullivan points out, the idea of the government having an economic stake in what creative works are produced is problematic and ignores that fact that many of these jobs are never coming back. Yes, we’ve obviously got a skewed viewpoint on the situation.

But doesn’t the idea of reading the next Invisible Man or Travels With Charley: In Search of America get you at least a little excited?

Not so fast, says Paul Greenberg, in a hilarious essay that will appear in this week’s Book Review. There are way too many of us writers (approximately 185,000 people by his count) for it to work. He suggests looking at another of FDR’s programs instead — the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which was founded to deal with the overcapacity of farms and produce. Eliminate half of all writers, paying them the equivalent of two year’s salary to get out of the game.

And then he takes his idea even further (and funnier): “…since $400,000, according to the National Endowment for the Arts, is about what an average writer earns in a decade — more than enough time to find a better job. If we multiply $400,000 times 92,500 — half of the 185,000 Americans the N.E.A. identifies as “authors and writers” — we get a total bailout cost of $37 billion. That’s about half of what the government paid for the first installment of the A.I.G. rescue. Should you still find that number too big to swallow, let me ask point blank: Whom would you rather bail out, a writer or an insurance executive?”

And then further. But we won’t spoil the whole thing — read it here.

He might be on to something. We’d start with “retiring” this film critic.