The Good Society 13.1 (2004) 49-61
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New Deal, New Development:
A Public Works Philosophy
Thomas W. Simon
The approach taken here may seem to have it backwards. The analysis begins with a problem (unemployment in Bosnia) that seems to have an obvious solution (jobs). It uses a historical precedent for solving the problem (the New Deal). Slowly, it draws a faint sketch of a theory (a public works philosophy). At last, it finds a place among other concepts (democracy, justice, welfare). The final conclusions emanating from the project point to the development of a political philosophy that places public welfare more at the center of contemporary political theory and interconnects it with current issues and policies.
The piecemeal approach contrasts sharply with the more holistic theories examined and proposed by Ross Zucker in Democratic Distributive Justice. Teachers and scholars owe Professor Zucker a considerable debt for an exhaustive survey of economic, political, and philosophical theories. Professor Zucker provides excellent detailed expositions of a wide array of theories. In fact, few works cover so many diverse theories so well. Zucker fearlessly takes on the theoretical giants. He meticulously pits his claims against the claims of others. Most often, he presents cogent criticisms of his opponent's theory and provides adequate defenses of his theory. In the end, he may not have established quite as much as he had wanted. The analysis offered here has milder ambitions. It seeks insights from a past model and rapprochement with other approaches.
A Story about Work. "So, what do you do for a living?" I asked the young Bosnian, from the small town of Konjic, who is escorting me to a meeting of the Institute for Strengthening Democracy. He laughs at my feeble attempt to carry on a conversation. Taken back, I thought I had violated a conversational taboo among Bosnian Muslims. When people from the United States are asked the same question, some of them might find the probe impolite; they might think that the question trespassed on a separate private sphere, considered off-limits in social chitchat. Other Americans might suspect a hidden agenda lurking beneath the question. They might sense a desire to demean housewives and others whose work somehow did not count. Still, my question to my guide seemed innocent enough. In almost any culture, the employment question would slip surreptitiously into a conversation after polite responses to "How are you?" Since I had never found the employment question greeted with laughter, I felt snubbed. As it turns out, my Bosnian host had the upper hand on politeness. His laugh helped to excuse my ignorance. He informed me, "Hardly anyone has a regular, normal job in Bosnia." My question might have been appropriate in a society where most workers are employed, but it fell flat when asked in a society where most individuals are unemployed.
Outside observers might occasionally notice, but they would never dwell upon a jobless rate that clouds over the lives of every Bosnian. Along with many development agents, I had overlooked a basic fact of everyday existence in Bosnia. Bosnia had few jobs to offer its citizens.
The high rate of official unemployment remains one of the biggest problems in Bosnia, despite the visible improvements achieved over the past six years in many different fields. According to entity statistical bureaus, the unemployment rate in the country has steadied at around 40 percent. In a modern world, 10 percent unemployment already indicates a serious problem while the 40 percent figure may sound like a terminal disease which affects all other aspects of life in such a country.1
The people of Bosnia may not have work, but they have democracy. Bosnia may not have a fully functioning infrastructure, but its citizens vote. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) consist of two States, the Bosnian-Croat Federation of BiH (The Federation) and the Republika Srpska (RS or the Serb Republic). The three ethnic groups (Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croats, and Eastern Orthodox Serbs) have guaranteed representation and veto power in the federal House...