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?


Hephaestus's picture
Hephaestus 5 years 21 weeks ago

It is likeable for certain!

UBI is very unlikely to attract anyone in US... too radical by far!

God would not look too well on a person receiving UBI and consider the concept a sin

Thom... your great ideas (gilded from past observations) will gain no traction... sadly!

Now... right will twist your veiwpoint then state the feckless deserve their fate and should die

And, as usual, argue who will pay?

When they will never, ever spend all their money in a lifetime even if they live to excess grossness

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 5 years 21 weeks ago

Reply to Diane Cha Ching : In answer to your question from yesterday's blog,..... The employee displaying unusually high on the job skills and productivity should be promoted to a postion of higher pay and responsibility. Duh!

Now answer my question: I've actually witnessed this in a nonunion workplace. A low level sales person like you got married to the company president's niece, a week later he was promoted to the vice president postion... over many far more qualified candidates. Do you think this was an example of workplace fairness? Who do the more qualified candidates take their labor complaint to?

I might add that a few months after promotion to the vice president position, the former lower middle class sales person bought a mansion right next to the company president's mansion...yep!

Howard Laverne Stewart's picture
Howard Laverne ... 5 years 21 weeks ago

We should try all of these ideas, subsidize companies that are coops, (employee owned and managed), create tax incentives to bring jobs home, infrastructure, and create and subsidize a Think tank Department for Job Creation.

The QE program should have bailed out the Middle Class US Taxpayer instead of Bank Barons.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 5 years 21 weeks ago

Concentration of wealth equals concentration of power, which is why we need good "representative" government to protect "we the people" from abuse and manipulation at the piggish hands of "we the fascists."

May I add another federal jobs potential: Switching over to medicare for all would open up many federal medical administration jobs for those already working in the health insurance field in the for profit sector. This time around those same workers will have higher pay and better benefits including a pension....and I'm sure they won't miss the CEO making multi millions off the sweat their backs.

Howard Laverne Stewart's picture
Howard Laverne ... 5 years 21 weeks ago

Cleaning up the super fund sites would create a lot of jobs.

Serenader 5 years 21 weeks ago

UBI is simplest, cleanest, most elegant answer. Maybe more important, it's the most liberating of human possibilities. Not hard to understand at all. Specially makes sense considering future technological curve. Guaranteed jobs is old school, backwards thinking. I say, don't be stifled by fear. Embrace emancipatory thinking. Believe in humans.

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 5 years 21 weeks ago

Many of our more fortunate are oddly uninformed or misinformed about our poverty crisis. This isn't a terribly complicated issue. Not everyone can work (health, circumstances), and jobs are not available for all. The US began shipping out jobs in the 1980s, ended actual welfare aid in the 1990s -- lost over 5 million manufacturing jobs alone since 2000. The last I heard, there were 7 jobs for every 10 jobless people who still have the means to pursue one. Once you no longer have a home address, phone, etc., you're out. You can't get a job. Seriously, what do people think happens to all those who are left behind, with no means of providing for themselves?

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 5 years 21 weeks ago

When was the last time you heard even liberals call for restoring the basic human rights (UN's UDHR) of food and shelter to our very poor? The US went in the exact opposite direction, ending actual welfare aid, disappearing our truly poor from the media/public discussion. Consider that the overall life expectancy of the US poor already fell below that of every developed nation, and liberal media no longer even acknowledge the existence of anyone worse off than minimum wage workers.

logdog's picture
logdog 5 years 21 weeks ago

This isn't an answer to your question directly and it will shed some light on it from the perspective of a small business man. One of my best friends in college was the eldest son in a logging family in SW Washington. Joe and I had a lot in common and in one of our many conversations we drifted to how we hire people for our businesses which are not the same, but have many similarities and parallel operations requiring the same skills. Joe shared his perspective on how he does or does not hire someone. He said, Mark, if a guy comes to me and asks, "Hey, Joe, do you have a job?" Joe said he always has the same answer to this question, "Nope, I don't have any jobs." The Joe said, "But if a guy comes to me and asks, "Hey, Joe, do you have any work?", he said my answer is always the same, "You bet. I got work for you." Joe said, "You see, if a guy is looking for a job, he's really looking for a pay check and not to work, but if a guy want to know if I have work, I'll make something up if I have to because he knows that he wants to work and he is there to produce something, where I will make some money and I can then pay him. That guy knows why he's there." I never forgot that. So, back to your question, I think that we need to go deeper than whether or not we give someone a UBI or a job. We need to educate our population about the fact that they have to be willing to work, to produce something, to create, prior to getting paid. I think it is a disservice to people where they don't have to be aware that they have to provide something before they receive something. I know there are mitigating factors that would need to be factored in to the equations. But it does come back to what you have always said about the macro economics in this country and it needs to be applied to this conversation at the micro economic level; "Production always precedes profit." You have to make something to sell before you can profit. To this conversation, I think that the individual needs to be very well connected to the fact that he or she needs to work (production) before they receive a pay check (profit from their labors). Again, I realize this is a first take at the topic, but it would help put pride and a sense of accomplishment back into the lives of the people. Yes, the government should make it a priority to create jobs, but it is also incumbent upon the population to know that they are expected to work to earn their keep. There is a real sense of ownership for people when see this in their lives.

This is why I always appreciated the Mexican laborers. They always, always knew that their only stock in trade was a good day's labor and that they had to produce something. If they didn't produce, there were always 3 or 4 other people waiting in line who would give it a good day's effort. Please don't mistake me saying this to support the idea that Mexican laborers should be treated poorly and under paid. I had a Mexican family that worked with me for 16 years and I always went out of my way to make sure that their lives were working if I could because without them, I was nothing. I am a very strong liberal that came from an Eisenhower Republican family. If you read the 1956 Republican Party Platform you'll know what I started with as a baseline and then built upon. Our country really could work and work well. We simply need to educate or reeducate ourselves in how we can have it work for all of us.

Legend 5 years 21 weeks ago

Start the CCC over again. The lowest of the lowest can help pick up litter, clean sidewalks, Remove graffiti, etc. We can add Maintenance people to the National Parks and National Forests. The best solution to welfare is a job. You will always have a hard time selling something for nothing in America. The youth of today need to be educated to the fact that AI is coming and will take a lot of jobs away. They need education to get a job.

I am currently in Brazil. Drove through Rio. We are total amatuers when it comes to Graffiti. They are creative here. Fortunately I get out of Rio and down the coast ASAP.

Dianereynolds's picture
Dianereynolds 5 years 21 weeks ago

@#9 Great post logdog

Thanks Thom for one of your more outlandish topics. Drifting off into communism now are we?

Why should anyone have to deal with the stress of going to work. Let's follow the Thom Hartmann rule and everyone quit working altogether. It is mostly an unpleasant task anyway and everyone in the "community" should have the option of thumbing their obamaphones and watching RT on their government provided cable television while rolling a joint waiting for the welfare check to be electronically transferred into their bank account.

Hey, FREE SHIT FOR EVERYBODY!! What could go wrong?

@road runner,

In every union and every union shop I have ever been involved with, the contracted pay of all the union members was controlled by seniority not performance, and it was forbidden for an employer to raise the pay of a single employee over any of the other union members based of merit. In fact, the employer was not even allowed to choose which route a union driver (teamsters) was allowed to drive and if another member of that union wanted to take a particular route from one of his fellow workers with lesser seniority, the employer had to comply with that demand even if the end customer requested a driver because of his/her/alphabet's skill or personality.

As far as you losing a position that you thought you were more qualified, sucks to be you. Life’s a bitch, quit, get another job, and send flowers to the new bosses daughter/son/alphabet.

Gotta love leftie/socialists, they provide sooo much entertainment. It is truly another Christmas morning.

jefflisse's picture
jefflisse 5 years 21 weeks ago


Well Diane... if the teamsters is the extent of your "union involvment"? then obviously you have very little experience with unions. Contrary to all the neocon, right wing rhetoric... All unions are not created equal.

The majority of unions are under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO or the CTW. But that doesnt make them all the same. They all have different contract agreements. Different constitutions and different by-laws. And then theres public sector unions and private sector unions. The rules by which any given union operates, varies greatly from each other...

I've been a member of a building trades (carpenters 344) union for over 35 years. And we have elections, where we (the members) elect our officers. Our contracts are negotiated (in good faith) with the union contractors of our jurisdiction every four years. While yes, there is set scales to our wages (apprentice, journyman, sub foreman, foreman), and while yes, we are not all created equal, there is absolutely no "seniority" in the building trades... Your usually the first layed off if you dont "pull your weight" on the jobsite! Its not first hired-last fired...NEVER!

Thanks to our Koch- whore govenor here in Wisconsin... We're on a race to the bottom. With his Act 10 legislation that was passed in 2011... all but destroying ( firefighters and law enforcment is exempt) the public employees unions. They could no longer collectively bargain contracts with the state... But he didnt stop there, in 2015 Wisconsins "right to work" laws where passed. Or should l say: "right to work for less"... But he didnt stop there, in 2015 he (him and the illegaly redistricted Wisconsin republican legistature) repealed provisions of Wisconsins Prevailing wage laws. now they're working on repealing all of WI. Prevaiing laws. A RACE TO THE BOTTOM!

I'm really not going to blame the dismantling and distruction of organized labor on any one party...right or left. In the last fourty years they've both legislated and done disastrous things to this countries manufacturing base... And in turn, they've both done dsastrous things to this countries organized labor!

In 1980 one in four workers in this country was a member of "organized labor", Now, it's less than one in ten...

jefflisse's picture
jefflisse 5 years 21 weeks ago

Of course... In 1980 this country actully made things. we where the largest manufacturer of goods the world has ever seen. Now... we're the largest importer of goods the world has ever seen. In 1980, the largest private sector employer in this country was auto manufacturing, And the employees were mostly ( UAW) organized labor.

Now... the biggest private sector employer in this country is Walmart...

deepspace's picture
deepspace 5 years 21 weeks ago

Thanks, jefflisse, for giving Diane a proper education about how unions are not all the same but nonetheless are essential for a generally happier and more productive workforce.

Logdog #9. Relating personal stories as anecdotal "evidence" of a wider truth reveals more about you than it does about some general axiom to do with demand-side economics and the labor market. For instance, is your friend "Joe" running a welfare program, a private business, an ideological propaganda unit, or an armchair psychobabble service?

Evidently Joe hires on the basis of semantics rather than on the needs of his business. By reading way too much into the psychology of some hapless, no doubt desperate, unemployed victim of our dog-eat-dog system (who, c'mon, is simply seeking employment) on the sole basis of which word happens to be uttered in place of the word "employment," your friend is expressing the contents of a very shallow mind infused with false notions and narrow-minded attitudes. And by extension, so are you.

If word got around about Joe as a biased doctrinaire and amateurish psychologist, and say fifty "job" seekers showed up at his office looking for "work," does that mean he would then hire all of them? No, of course not! If he is in fact an actual businessman, as you purport, he would only hire as many as he actually needs to fulfill the mandatory duties that his business requires. So what the hell are you even talking about? Should the state "Job Service" also change its title to match Joe's (and your?) personal tastes and obviously skewed sensibilities?

And as far as hiring the most qualified person to do a particular job, what if that prospective employee stupidly chose the word "job" rather than "work" when relating his qualifications to Joe? Would big boss man therefore pass up that person for a less qualified one, just to fulfill his arbitrary need to appear ideologically consistent and less of a hypocrite? No, as a real businessman, he would choose the former over the latter, wouldn't he ...shouldn't he? If the employee doesn't "work" out, then fire him or her. What's the problem?

(BTW, Diane #11, no union in the country would prevent that from happening. Most only require that the allegations against an employee be demonstrated during a proper investigation, so that a biased employer, such as Joe, can't just fire someone on an unfounded whim -- like if he happened to use the "wrong" semantics in the boss's presence.

During the normal 90-day trial period before full union representation is achieved, employers don't even need to conduct the investigation, as long as they are in compliance with state and federal laws governing hiring and firing practices. Employers have numerous rights under the law to ensure stability and a friendly business climate. Shouldn't employees also enjoy some rights and stability, as the other side of the equation that calculates into a healthy economy?)

The demand for labor is in direct correlation with the demand for products and/or services. And the demand for products and services is in direct correlation to how much money potential customers have in their pockets. For that reason, Thom is 100% historically accurate when he states that Franklin Roosevelt's public works programs is largely responsible for helping citizens reconnect with private enterprise by giving them a decent paycheck (for which "job" seekers worked very hard, by the way, to rebuild our then crumbling infrastructure).

That and WWII -- the largest "guvmut" jobs program ever! -- is what brought America out of the "Republican Great Depression" and led to the largest and strongest middle class in the history of civilization. Business men and women should get down on their knees and thank their God for FDR and his liberal (common sense) policies that elevated the American worker to a revered status, unlike Hoover's (and Trump's) race to the bottom.

Your final misleading (and quite disgusting) paragraph, which not-so-subtly is playing whole groups of people off one another, brings to mind another one of Thom's axioms, which has been proven so true over the decades: "We don't have an illegal immigrant problem as much as we have an illegal employer problem." To give you the benefit of the doubt, your readers should assume that you meant documented "Mexican laborers." Otherwise, you should be sweltering in one of Joe Arpaio's tent-city concentration camps and wearing pink underwear along with all the other slave-labor, authoritarian bosses who undermine unions (read American families) every chance they get.

"We simply need to educate or reeducate ourselves in how we can have it work for all of us." Perhaps we also need to "reeducate" ourselves in what it actually means to be a liberal in this modern age of economic, political, and ideological mission creep.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 5 years 21 weeks ago

As usual you're wrong Cha Ching! I've been a member of a very large union for over two decades now and any employee that shows the desire to move up through the ranks can do so freely with education and experience. Seniority comes into play with lateral movement, but seldom creates conflict.

BTW: Have you or logdog ever read Grapes of Wrath???? just wondering..LMAO.

deepspace's picture
deepspace 5 years 21 weeks ago

2950-10K. Excellent comeback to Diane's complete nonsense.

Furthermore, contrary to right-wing spin, nearly all (something like 95%) of the eligible workforce in America, rich and poor, (excluding students, military personnel, early retirees, the physically and mentally unfit, etc.) actually work, or are actively seeking work, either for themselves or for outside employers -- that is, unless the country is in the depths of yet another cyclical Republican recession/depression, which is the direct result of insufficiently regulated crony-capitalism/billionaire greed, not the least of which is the post-Reagan, widespread, long-term, unpatriotic off-shoring of good-paying manufacturing jobs.

Zeke Krahlin's picture
Zeke Krahlin 5 years 21 weeks ago

Nailed it, DHBranski!

Hephaestus's picture
Hephaestus 5 years 21 weeks ago

Dane is a bot... with experimental AI thrown in from the right hand side

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