Friday, October 19, 2012

Part III: Fieldwork

When doing the kind of fieldwork that I chose to do, there are certain stupid questions that I had to ask. The major one was: did you find the money useful? 

But wait, let me back up. I selected a number of businesses and institutions to interview about the grants they received from the stimulus act. Some never got back to me so my selection was more limited than I'd like. The two businesses I'm going to talk about are Ausland Builders INC. and Alchemy Construction. I wish I had gotten more variety but at least this way I'll be dealing with similar situations. There’s always the possibility of radically different interpretations (C&C Ch 3) but hopefully both the positive and negative comments will be based on a similar outlook which in this case is about what’s good for the business.

Ausland Builders (though they're located in Oregon) did some work in Humboldt County for the Forest Service. The grant they received was $ 1,015,649. I spoke with a representative of the company who said that the government hired them to add a second floor to a local Forest Service building. Up in Oregon, they were able to install a new heating system for the Three Rivers Elementary School and for the local high school (the buildings were heated using old fashioned and expensive oil, now they're heated through the use of wood pellets which is saving the school a lot of money). The representative said the project was very successful though getting paid was a bit of a headache since the state government was hard to work with. 

Alchemy Construction also praised the grant her company received ($348,618). The representative I spoke to was named Amy and she was very enthusiastic about the positive experience she had working for the government. Her company was hired to build "a large solar electric center" at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Loleta. The building's hot water is now heated through solar power. They also built housing for the Refuge workers. In addition to this project, her company also upgraded a heating system for another building but the conversation moved on before I could clarify where exactly this project was located. 

Amy further elaborated that because they were working for the government, they got to pay their employees more due to the government issuing them a Payment & Performance bond. She ended the interview saying she'd love to work for the government again. Apparently she didn't have the payment problem that the other construction company had. While these kinds of projects can sometimes yield poor results or even be fundamentally wrongheaded (Moodle: Week 5: NPR “Brazilian Tribes Say Dam Threatens Way of Life), almost all of the projects of the Recovery Act have survived peer review (click around if you're skeptical). 

When I asked each of the representatives whether or not they found the money useful, there was a pause before they responded in the affirmative. I realized I had asked a stupid question but it was a stupid question that needed to be asked. It's easy to criticize the stimulus when you're just reading numbers on a screen but when you're a direct beneficiary of it and you see what the money is going towards, your perspective is bound to change ( unless you're Paul Ryan). Economies like ours typically deal with more abstract concepts (ex: stocks) rather than material goods (Moodle: Week 4: Economic Anthropology video). It's easy to forget that a complex "economic stimulus package" put together on the other side of the country will translate into jobs and services in our own neighborhoods. For many people, the stimulus package was just $787 billion being added to the deficit. I'm not saying that people who are against the stimulus or any other social program for that matter are all stupid or apathetic to other people's suffering. But I am sure that if more people could see the good that government can do, they wouldn't be so quick to condemn programs like the Recovery Act. But I'll save my wrap up for my final post.