Guaranteed jobs for all? Be skeptical
Two ideas have emerged among the energized socialist wing of the Democratic Party in response to inequality, wage stagnation, poverty and unemployment. One is a federal guarantee of a job, while the other is a pledge for each person to receive a minimum cash payment from the government, an idea known as universal basic income. Socialist candidates such as New York City’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is running for the U.S. House, have emphasized the job guarantees in their platforms, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has endorsed it as well. Meanwhile, basic income remains largely confined to internet discussion circles and the pronouncements of a few tech-industry leaders.
So job guarantees it is. If Democrats take power, and if socialists continue to increase their influence within the Democratic Party, there now seems to be a good chance that the job guarantee, or something like it, will become official policy within the next decade or two.
This could be a good thing, for several reasons. A job guarantee would reduce poverty and inequality, and would function as an automatic stabilizer in recessions. It would offer a sense of dignity to people who believe that work is a measure of their worth. It could raise the productivity of the economy, by preventing people’s job skills from decaying over long periods of unemployment. And since unlike cash transfers government jobs would produce some useful goods and services — fixing infrastructure, cleaning up cities, and taking care of the elderly and disabled — the true cost of the program would be less than the actual outlays. Economists Mark Paul, William Darity Jr. and Darrick Hamilton explain the appeal of a job guarantee in a recent report for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
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