Life Advice for the Aspiring Young Academic Economist

You may not have realized it at the time, but that youthful decision to enroll in a doctoral program paved the way for what now threatens to be a lifetime of teaching courses at $2-3k a pop, tutoring out of a car (for quick escape from parking inspectors), grading papers in the campus library (until moved along), feeding at soup kitchens (so long as appropriately attired), fraternizing in parks (and other open spaces) and sleeping on footpaths or church steps when city law permits (which is occasionally). All that, and more, while kowtowing to your tenured seniors, the social products of a bygone era who are paid ten times as much as you and are certainly ten times more important.

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OMG Another Hiatus

Admittedly recent posting inactivity here at heteconomist has given a fair impression of a blogger on holiday, but that was just by accident. There was always the thought that a post might appear some day. Now it is time for an actual hiatus, the third in the blog’s checkered history. Posting activity will ease back to zero (though never to less than zero) for “a while”. Thanks go, as always, to the magnificent commenters, especially the prized regulars. Your services to humanity have been monumental. (Monumental as in “great in importance or extent”, not “what a monumental balls up”.) This notification was withheld for as long as decency could allow in polite circles, but eventually a silence becomes too awkward, a pause too pregnant, and “somebody” cracks under the pressure.

Increased Unemployment Benefits Can Be a Win Win

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.

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Some Reasons for Guaranteeing Both an Income and Job

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.

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Introduction to the Sectoral Financial Balances Model

A recent post introduced the income-expenditure model, a staple of introductory courses in macroeconomics. In this post, a closely related model of the sectoral financial balances is considered at a similarly introductory level. The ‘sectoral financial balances model’, or ‘SFB model’ for short, has been discussed in the blogosphere by a number of Modern Monetary Theorists, including Bill Mitchell, Robert Parenteau, Eric Tymoigne, Daniel Conceicao and Scott Fullwiler, prompted by a post of Paul Krugman’s which contained a useful diagram. Analysis of the sectoral financial balances proved insightful in understanding both the lead up to the global financial crisis and its aftermath. This claim will be substantiated once the basic model has been outlined.

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Unearned Income and its Distribution

In any society, there will be real output (real income) and real wealth that is not produced solely by humans. Some real income is due to the contribution of nature – land, natural resources, beneficial weather patterns, animals and so on. Some real income is produced by machines, robots and other means of production that were created by prior applications of labor in combination with nature. In any given accounting period, this real income is ‘unearned’ in the sense that it is not due to human effort exerted within the period. Much of it currently flows to industrial capitalists and rentiers on the basis of property ownership rather than productive contribution. Over time, the real productive contribution of means of production can be expected to rise, due to technical progress. In this post, a framework is tentatively suggested for thinking about the distribution of unearned income, both at a point in time and as it grows over time.

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Approaches to the Reduction of Aggregate Labor Time

Technology has reached the point where nobody should be compelled to spend most of their waking hours working in dangerous, menial or otherwise unpleasant jobs (‘bad jobs’, for short). It is increasingly possible to mechanize most menial and repetitive tasks. But of the bad jobs that continue for a time, there remains the question of how best to share the burden they impose. Even with better jobs, there is the potential to reduce standard working hours and create more free time for those who want it. Here, too, there is the question of how to manage such an overall reduction in working hours. Since some people will desire to maintain or increase their current working hours, ideally there should be latitude for them to do so, just as there should be latitude for others, so inclined, to shorten their labor-time commitment. In this post, three alternative approaches to the problem are briefly considered. They can be labeled ‘universal job sharing’, ‘optional job sharing’ and ‘job or income guarantee’.

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