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?
I know this will seem unrealistic to U.S. readers, but let’s face it, the U.S. is a lost cause in the foreseeable future for any kind of progressive change. The U.S. will muddle through because its government, despite all the rhetoric, understands Keynesian macroeconomics better than most other governments around the world. But the U.S. government will simply ensure that the economy muddles through just well enough to prevent mass support for any kind of significant change, and there is very little support for progressive policies in the U.S. in any case.
For much of the rest of the world, however, where there are stronger traditions of egalitarianism and fraternity, I’m starting to think the Basic Income Guarantee is the approach that makes more sense and is most likely to gain widespread support, especially among the young. Maybe this is not the case in some English-speaking countries, but I suspect it is true at least of Europe.
If a Job Guarantee of the kind the Modern Monetary Theorists envisaged in which all kinds of activity, even leisure activities, were included under the umbrella of socially productive activities, and pay was minimum wage plus benefits, sure, that would be a terrific outcome. But it seems obvious to me that this is far from what would be implemented. We would get work for the dole or other forms of workfare. This would be a backward step from what we have now.
Strategically, if a Basic Income Guarantee were first introduced, it would still be possible to push for a Job Guarantee on the basis that anyone who wanted employment in the formal economy should be entitled to it, and the policy would be less vulnerable to attack from reactionary elements in society because of the existence of the Basic Income Guarantee.
I still favor the Job or Income Guarantee (JIG) in the medium term, because I think anyone who wants to compete for a share of whatever formal employment remains as mechanization progressively takes over production should be entitled to a fair shot at it. If there are going to be higher paying occupations, then as long as they remain there should be equal and open opportunity for people attempting to obtain them.
However, I think the order of conquest from the perspective of activism needs to be reversed. The Basic Income Guarantee actually strikes me as a more realistic political goal in Europe than a Job Guarantee, and if it was established in Europe its chances of spreading to other countries would increase. Once introduced, the risks associated with pushing for a Job Guarantee would be reduced.
I understand this is likely to be an unpopular post, but I don’t see the point of writing this blog if I don’t write what I really think. I acknowledge the strength of the Modern Monetary Theorists arguments in relation to inflation and the human costs of unemployment, but I don’t want to support something that seems highly likely to be turned into workfare by political enemies and result in a backward step in terms of broader social development.
I also think that a Basic Income Guarantee is viable, and even if inflation control would not be as tight as under the Job Guarantee, my honest reaction is, in the grander scheme of things, “so what?”