In our present-day societies, which neglect to guarantee either full employment or an unconditional income, unemployment benefits are a necessary safety net. Having evolved an economic system in which most of us must offer to work for a wage or salary to get by, majorities routinely vote for politicians who promise to make this impossible for a sizable portion of the workforce at any given time. Despite the current necessity for unemployment benefits, prevailing attitudes toward the policy seem largely hostile. Opposition does not solely – or even mainly – come from the powerful and wealthy. Many members of the working class (who, at least until recently, have deluded themselves into imagining they are “middle class”) appear to be hostile to benefit payments as well. They are hostile, that is, until they themselves need them, in which case their new-found altruism lasts for about as long as their jobless episode. A recent study* indicating that winning the lottery significantly influences winners’ political views, with one-fifth converting to conservatism pronto, may partly explain the prevalence of what is clearly intended to be self-interested behavior. The operative word is “intended”. Such people are trying to look out for number one, yet are mostly too clueless even to pull that off.
Two policy proposals receiving increasing attention are the job guarantee (JG) and basic income guarantee (BIG). The first would provide everyone of working age with the option of a guaranteed job. The second would introduce an unconditional income payment. To be clear, I would support either of these as standalone programs, whichever happened to be on the policy agenda. Nevertheless, I think there are a few reasons to prefer a combined policy that integrates elements (perhaps all positive elements) of both programs. In its leanest form, a ‘job or income guarantee’ (JIG) could provide everyone with the option of accepting a job-guarantee position or, by opting out of the labor force, a means-tested but otherwise unconditional income payment. In expansive form, a JIG could provide a universal and unconditional basic income as well as the option of a guaranteed job for anyone who wanted one. Other intermediate variations on the theme would, of course, also be possible. The expansive form would be ideal, but even the lean version seems to offer some advantages over a standalone JG or BIG.