Why The Idea of A “Federal Job Guarantee” Should Finally Die

Nathan DuPhene
6/19/2017

In my quest to build support for Universal Basic Income (UBI), some of the biggest opposition & confusion I’ve encountered has come not from right wing conservatives, or right wing libertarians, whom may seem the most natural opponents of “free money,” but from fellow liberals & progressives. The arguments come in several flavors. Perceived or real right-wing opposition to the idea of UBI. Claims that there “could never be enough tax revenue” to fund the program. Insistence that state social workers, rules, and means testing are essential because “poor people need more than monetary help.” Then there’s the ever present, “why would we give free money to the middle/upper class? That takes money away from helping the poor!”

The last argument is put forth by the most die-hard socialists, progressives or liberals and often out-of-touch policy wonks, who insist that a “Job Guarantee” is far superior to UBI. Their reasons include helping the poor, with a “hand up, not a handout,” and avoiding the ultimate bogeyman, so-called “free riders” who “only take” from society and give nothing back. The reasoning goes that a Job Guarantee is the only thing that “those right wingers and conservatives” will ever accept, “because a Job Guarantee promotes hard work” they finish. Now look, I’m not arguing against the value of work. I can agree that hard work is important. My twofold contention is that one, the value work is a cultural issue, not a problem to be solved by government manipulation of the economy. Second, there is a lot of unpaid work done by parents, caretakers, and volunteers that would be better supported by UBI, not  JG.

The failures with the “explicit” policy of Job Guarantee are manifold and numerous, no matter how the program is structured, what it’s goals are, what it’s funding source is, and what kind of oversight is implemented. That’s because of what we’re asking of the program. To create an explicit guarantee of a job for anyone in America, no matter where someone lives, their age or health status; skills or abilities, is a massive and complicated undertaking, simply due to the scope and demands of the stated policy. In areas with low consumer demand due to generational poverty, economists like Jared Bernstein have suggested a JG program would pay up to 90% of the wages of private sector workers, simply to get people into a job. Other ideas for jobs include New Deal programs like WPA, to help beleaguered cities rebuild roads, parks, bridges, and other programs to fund arts, music, and other culture. The claim is that “being productive” by working will not only make the program popular with right wingers, but will also give it’s participants a sense of accomplishment. Far better than “sitting on the couch, playing video games” which is the perception of the dystopian “free rider” world that UBI will inevitably produce.

Where do we start? First, we have to frame the argument. Proponents of a JG state that the explicit nature of the job guarantee, along with that guarantee being implemented anywhere in America, for any person from any background or skillset, are all positive aspects of the policy. They say that UBI will force some people to move out of economically depressed areas, and that unskilled or disabled people might not find jobs without an explicit guarantee. Many people reading this, who understand free market economics, already understand where I am going with this argument. The perceived strengths of JG ultimately turn into some of it’s biggest flaws. Who controls the money for the JG, and decides how it gets distributed? Who figures out what an ideal job for any given participant is? Do we prioritize public infrastructure projects over private companies? What happens if there are people who can’t do construction work in a job market with little or no private industry? Do we pay 90% of the wages for 10 employees to do the amount of work that could be accomplished by 1 or 2 people? One of the complaints of the Soviet system was that, while people were glad to have a job & paycheck, it didn’t make sense to sit around doing nothing half or more of the day. You may as well just give people the free money without making them show up to do nothing. And this program is supposed to be *more* popular with conservatives and right wingers?

Basic Income, on the other hand, is much more simple, by design, as it requires no oversight, administration, supervision, or fraud prevention, all of which are needed for our current welfare state, and most of which (and more) is needed for a Job Guarantee. Under the 21st Century Bill of Rights, the Basic Income Administration (BIA) could wire $1,000 per month to every American’s Post Office Bank account (which could route it to any other bank as well), for almost zero administration cost. While there will obviously be costs associated with maintaining the Federal Computer Database and the National Free Federal ID program, those programs are not part of UBI, they exist in order to give voting rights and proper ID to all Americans. Because new voters are automatically registered, and dead people are automatically removed from the Federal database (as “living” status at least) UBI will never have to have fraud protection. Anyone who’s ID is authorized to receive UBI will get it. Those who are not, will not get a payment.

Why not both JG and UBI? My point is that Basic Income plus Infrastructure spending,  plus food, medical, and housing stipends for the bottom 30% of households will create the conditions for an *implicit* job guarantee. Simply stopping the resource drain of poverty (See 14 Outrageous Consequences of Basic Income) combined with rising consumer demand equals millions of new jobs. Rebuilding the power grid alone is going to produce many $100k per year electrical jobs. Those will produce millions of “runoff” jobs all over the country. America is already in a labor shortage. Increasing baseload economic stimulus with sovereign money (Debt Free Treasury Dollars) will produce more work than Americans can even do. We will be begging for immigrants and robots to come help.  Let’s get on the same page – UBI along with needed domestic stimulus spending gets everyone a job while avoiding the hassle of another government program!

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Progressive Rebel

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