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Summer musings - Tom Purcell

Ah, summer is almost upon us. That causes me to think wistfully of how much better my life could be.

I am a writer, you see. I have been working hard to keep up with my corporate clients. With the economy as bad as it is, I am afraid to turn down any paying work.

My hard work has been cutting into my private writing time, however. It is much harder for me to find time to work on a book I've been struggling to complete -- 22 stories about growing up in the '60s and '70s.

I think the government should pay me to complete it.

During the Great Depression, you see, the government established the Works Progress Administration. The program hired nearly 8 million unemployed folks to build buildings, parks, bridges and roadways.

And it paid writers to write.

As part of the Federal Writers' Project, nearly 7,000 writers were hired to compile local histories, guidebooks, children's stories -- all kinds of things. The government edited and published the books.

Much to my disappointment, no similar program exists now -- but it should.

Our government has wasted some $20 billion interfering with a private auto company that is only going to go bankrupt anyway. We'll never get that money back.

Our government has spent billions more bailing out financial companies that made horrible decisions. We did so, we're told, because things would have been even worse if we'd done nothing.

Our esteemed leaders passed into law a "stimulus" program that squandered billions more on every pet project under the sun -- hardly any of them have anything to do with stimulating the economy.

Since the birds in Washington, D.C., aren't making any effort to stop wasting money, they might as well create another program to support writers and painters and other struggling artists.

Sure, I know what you're thinking: If someone wants to be a writer or painter, that is his business. An artist shouldn't expect his neighbor to fund his chosen profession.

I know, too, that the greatest writers this country has produced became great, in part, because they made their own way. O. Henry is one of my favorite writers. He worked odd jobs to pay the bills, and his experiences became the source of his most colorful stories.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I know that struggle is the foundation of great art -- that great writing comes from those who find a way, late at night or early in the morning before their day jobs, to find the time to write.

That is how I've been working on my book. But I'm tired of working so hard. I think the government should bail me out, too.

I propose that the government hire 100,000 writers at a salary of $100,000 each. Our package will include full benefits and the standard four weeks of paid vacation (hey, writers need a break, too).

Before you complain that my proposed salary is too high and my proposed program too costly, consider this: 100,000 writers times $100,000 in salary is only $10 billion.

That is such a small amount of money in these big-spending times, I am going to revise my figures. I suggest we hire 1 million writers to bump the program up to $100 billion per year -- still a drop in the bucket.

Think how much better our world will be if a million writers -- many of them now struggling in unpleasant, non-writing jobs -- are paid to write. Think of all the wonderful prose that will flood bookshelves, thanks in part to the government editors and government printing shops that will produce our works.

And if we produce too much prose for a hardworking America to ever get around to reading, I have a solution for that, too: We can put other people on the government payroll to read.

In any event, summer is almost upon us, and such are the thoughts that cause a writer to muse.

Tom Purcell, a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.