Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Job Guarantee

Many Modern Monetary Theory scholars* advocate a Job Guarantee (JG). I like this idea.

*I am not a scholar of MMT. Any errors are my own.

As I understand it, the JG means that the government is the employer of last resort. Any adult citizen (or resident) can walk into the government job office and have a job by the next day. The job will pay a reasonable minimum wage and entail no long term commitment from the job seeker. The job might be matched to the seeker's skills, and common-skilled jobs would be available to anyone. These would still be jobs, and one must actually show up and do the work to get paid. The government pays the JG wages, creating money as needed (taxing it back out later if necessary).

The idea behind the JG is first that if non-disabled working age residents have an obligation to contribute to the social product, there is a corresponding social obligation to provide them a reasonable opportunity to do so.

Second, the JG acts as an automatic stabilizer. Automatic stabilizers avoid the lags inherent in more deliberate government stimulus. When there's a recession, people laid off will immediately seek JG jobs to pay their bills, automatically generating stimulus spending. When the economy recovers, people will eventually leave JG jobs for private-sector jobs, lowering government spending.

I don't think we need to choose between a) the Job Guarantee, b) organized, deliberate stimulus requiring permanent skilled employment, and c) a Universal Basic Income. Why not have all three as needed?

I don't think JG jobs need to be "make-work". They will probably be relatively low-quality jobs, since some (most?) JG jobs have to be available to people with only common skills. But the private sector has no small few shitty jobs, made worse by the fact that employers have little democratic oversight.

We could offer job training jobs: if we are low on welders, it is government money well spent to teach more people how to weld. It might even be a good idea to send some people to college as JG jobs. At the very least, there's always something that needs to be cleaned up, washed, or painted. There's no shortage of useful work to be done, even if it's not profitable.

Although there will probably be some people who can or want to contribute only the simplest, most common-skilled labor, we want to make sure that we don't have a permanent underclass of people fit only for JG jobs. We also want to ensure that JG workers are not oppressed or taken advantage of: by definition, JG workers would be people with relatively few outside options.

These requirements could be fulfilled mostly by prudent and transparent administration. Additionally, we can establish a JG union, so that JG workers can bargain collectively at least over working conditions. We can allow non-profit organizations to employ JG workers, with workers' wages paid for by the government. Non-profits would be required to be non-discriminatory, and we might restrict them to requiring only common skills. Allowing a range of non-profits would give JG workers some choices.

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