What Real Stimulus Looks Like

As my Delta flight flew over eastern Washington the other day, I looked down and saw a familiar sight. It was a long, narrow body of water, with a stark, linear feature at the end of it. It was Lake Roosevelt, impounded by the Grand Coulee Dam, of which I wrote last year.

From 36,000 feet, Grand Coulee Dam sure looked small. But it’s the largest man-made structure in North America. It’s three times the height of Niagara Falls. It’s larger than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. It has enough steel in it (9 million tons) to build about 225 World War II-era battleships, at 40,000 tons each. Today, it’s rated at about 6.8 gigawatts of electrical power, or the equivalent of about seven large nuclear power plants.

Grand Coulee was built in the 1930s as a government ‘stimulus’ project. This was back in the good old days when the government knew how to ‘do stimulus.’ Y’know, build big dams. Kick-start the steel and cement industry. Employ tens of thousands of skilled workers. Do some heroic engineering and create an energy project that will benefit the nation for decades into the future.

No, Grand Coulee by itself didn’t solve the issues of the Great Depression. But it sure did come in handy when it started spinning power in 1942, just as the U.S. entered into fighting World War II. One lesson is that if you dream big dreams, you never know what will come out on the other side.