I would say that in the area of economics I have only ever had three light-bulb moments: perceiving the source of surplus value (Marx); encountering the principle of effective demand (Kalecki, Keynes); and understanding the implications of monetary sovereignty (MMT). Each of these insights had a big impact on me and made sense of a lot of other things all at once.
The provision of a guaranteed income to every man, woman and child would give each individual a greater degree of independence and enhance real freedom. This would best be accomplished in combination with free universal access to various forms of real income, most notably decent housing, high-quality education, healthcare, and an expanded commons, including free internet access to all available written, musical, televisual and cinematic materials. The guarantee could take the form of a basic income, participation income, broadly defined job guarantee, or some combination (e.g. JIG).
I have suggested in recent posts that both freedom and equality would be promoted by ensuring that all individuals: (i) are guaranteed a job if they want one; and (ii) can opt out of paid employment if they wish. The first ideal would be met by a job guarantee and the second by an unconditional basic income scheme. Accordingly, I am in favor of a combined job or income guarantee in which all adult citizens are guaranteed a job and/or basic income as a matter of right. This raises questions about the implementation of such a policy.
A majority of my posts over the past couple of months have been concerned in one way or another with a possible transition to a freer and more equal society. This has been largely motivated by the diverse commentary of regular contributors, which is really helping to move my understanding forward. Although the connections between the various threads are quite clear in my own mind, and probably pretty clear to regular commentators, even some of the basic connections might be lost on occasional visitors. The purpose of this post is to summarize the major connections I perceive and my current position. There are disagreements on all these issues, and my own thinking is in flux as I continue to reflect on the various arguments being expressed. The quality of the commentary enhances the blog immeasurably. Thank you to all contributors.
I have been reflecting on the role an unconditional basic income could play in the transition to a freer and more equal society. One set of considerations concerns the viability of the policy. Would it be technically feasible? Would it destroy the currency? Another set of considerations concerns the beneficial dynamics the policy might be expected to set in motion. By liberating individuals from the fear of poverty, everybody would be freed to focus on the all-sided development of human capabilities.
An important aspect of a Basic Income Guarantee, whether implemented in isolation or alongside a Job Guarantee, is the freedom it would give all people to make ethical life choices if they were so inclined. In the absence of an unconditional basic income, anyone who lacks independent means is essentially compelled to seek employment on terms set by employers. Private-sector employers, in turn, cannot be concerned with ethics or morality to the extent that this compromises profit. To indulge in ethical behavior not dictated by law or profit considerations would only see the enterprise lose out to others willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead of the competition. The provision of an unconditional basic income to all would free people to take employment only when, in their view, it served a socially beneficial purpose. This alteration in relative bargaining power could then be expected to encourage more ethical behavior by employers to the extent that workers were attracted to more fulfilling and socially beneficial roles, even when at lower pay than the alternatives.
In much of Europe there has been high unemployment for a long time, since well before the onset of the present crisis. People are increasingly accustomed to its existence. That means they are also accustomed to a sizable proportion of society receiving an income disconnected from labor time. In many other countries there has been high unemployment at one time or another during the neo-liberal period. In upcoming decades, waves of mechanization are going to make it increasingly unnecessary for people to work full time or for everybody to participate in the labor force. In thinking about a progressive way forward, why try to swim against the tide with a Job Guarantee when the tide brings with it the necessary preconditions for a Basic Income Guarantee?
One type of objection to the Job or Income Guarantee (JIG) that has been expressed concerns its potential effects on the level of productive activity. In particular, there has been some concern that without a requirement of reciprocity, the JIG would enable some people to obtain an income without doing anything for society in return, and this would be unfair or at least perceived by many as unfair. My view is that the net effect of a JIG would be to promote socially productive activity, and that the extent of true free riding – in the sense of contributing nothing to society – is not likely to be significant.
There have been many interesting responses to my series of posts on the Job or Income Guarantee (JIG). It is clear to me that some of the objections reflect the different motives people might have for supporting a Job Guarantee (JG), a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) or a JIG. If the aim is to preserve capitalism – particularly, the wage labor relation – there is no doubt that a JG would be the preferred policy option, since it ties income to labor time even more closely than under the current system of unemployment benefits or insurance. If, instead, the aim is to move beyond the wage labor relation to an increasing separation of income and labor time, and an increasing freedom for individuals to pursue their own productive and leisure activities individually or in voluntary combination with others, a BIG or JIG will be preferred. The BIG would achieve the most sudden (though still minor) break from the wage labor relation, whereas a JIG would enable the separation of income and labor time to occur at the pace that most closely reflected individual choice.
I have received a barrage of correspondence (a short Email) asking where I stand in the debate over the Job Guarantee (JG). Although the answer may be clear to those who have taken the time to read all my posts on the topic, it is becoming almost a full-time job just keeping up with the various MMT blogs. I thought I would provide a brief summary of my position.