Should Progressives Fight for a Federal Jobs Guarantee or Universal Basic Income?
"What Sounds Better To You - Guaranteed Basic Income Or Federal Job Guarantee?". That's the headline that Yves Smith posted over at Naked Capitalism last week and it's a reprint of an article by Howie Klein that was originally published over at Down With Tyranny! and it's a take-off on a year old piece in Jacobin magazine, Why We Need a Federal Job Guarantee. And at the beginning you've got basically raw capitalism, an economic system where those with capital basically own the system. It's a neo-feudal system. It's a reinvention of a form of economics and politics that ruled Europe and Asia and South America for millennia.
And this is the modern version of it: at-will employment, the right to work for less states, the employer has all the power, the employee has no power. That's the starting point, and that's where we were when we started the Republic.
And then unions rose and workers demanded rights and citizens demanded regulations to protect themselves from being poisoned by big companies or being robbed by big companies, etc. And then we went from a raw capitalism to regulated capitalism, which seems like a good first step.
And now there's two steps beyond that. What do you do when capitalism itself starts to fail? At least in this context, the 'capitalism = jobs' formula.
Because what is happening increasingly in this era of monopoly or oligopoly - a small number of very large corporations owning everything from our media, to our food supply, to everything else - is that we're seeing this extraordinary concentration of power.
They're using that power to reduce our wages, reduce our benefits and make us all poorer so that the 1% can get richer. And that's exactly what's been going on ever since the Reagan presidency kicked off this process.
So what do you do about it? Well, there's a couple of solutions.
One that has come out of Europe is the Universal Basic Income (UBI): everybody gets a certain amount of money every year, say $10,000, whether they work or not, no matter what they do.
The problem with the UBI is that it is hard to understand and easy to attack. It doesn't make a good bumper sticker.
So what they're recommending is that instead of doing the UBI, we do what Franklin Roosevelt did in the 1930s which worked spectacularly well. It got us out of the Great Depression. And the way that he put it together was, as long as the federal unemployment rate was above 25 percent, the federal government offered and guaranteed jobs to people. We did it through all these acronym agencies: the WPA (the Works Progress Administration), the CCC (the Civilian Conservation Corps), the TVA (the Tennessee Valley Authority), on and on they went.
There were all these organizations that Roosevelt created, that were created as a result of the New Deal that were basically government jobs. And this is called a Federal Job Guarantee - an FJG - and there's a whole bunch of reasons why a federal job guarantee would be a good thing:
Number one, there would be fewer poor Americans. Why? Because the federal job would come with a reasonable wage and it would become the new wage floor. Howie Klein is suggesting that the federal job guarantee should be jobs that pay at least $23,000 a year rising to a median of $32,000 a year.
Federal jobs can provide socially useful goods and services. We need to rebuild our roads. We need to take care of our national parks. Our infrastructure is in shambles. These would be good jobs.
And it provides a social environment for people in the workplace.
It provides a wage floor.
It stabilizes our economy.
What's not to like about it?