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.
Tschäff Reisberg made a pertinent comment that touches on some of these considerations. His comment provides a useful context for illustrating some of the differences in motivation people may have for supporting the alternative policy options. I suspect many hold a position closer to Tschäff’s than my own.
He starts by asking:
Why would anyone pick the BIG over the JG?
Judging by the rest of Tschäff’s comment, I am guessing that he means this question the other way round. That is, why would anyone choose to participate in the JG if they could just opt for a BIG instead?
The idea of the JIG is that people can choose the BIG if they prefer more free time to shape their own activities, but can instead opt for the JG if they prefer the external motivation of the wage labor relation and/or they feel participation in the JG will better serve them in finding higher paid work back in the regular economy.
Wouldn’t the JG people resent the BIG people? … Why should some have to pick up trash every day when they could be Facebooking at home and making the same?
It is not obvious to me that people on the BIG would choose to Facebook all day at the expense of other productive or leisure activities they might prefer to undertake.
But, in any case, there would be nothing preventing people in the JG from making the same choice and opting for the BIG, so there is not really much basis for their resentment. If they chose the JG, presumably it would be because they preferred it to the BIG.
Even so, many people (including JG workers) undoubtedly would continue to resent others after the introduction of a JIG, just as they resent others now. These are the kinds of attitudes that will need to change over time if, thanks to continuing mechanization and productivity improvements, we are ever going to make the transition to a society in which people can increasingly opt for free time.
It may be that people don’t want to make this transition. Perhaps they prefer to keep income tied to the wage labor relation no matter how dramatically material living standards rise or how great the potential for freer lives becomes. I considered how this would be possible in Implications of a Purely Mechanized Economy. There is nothing inevitable about a transition to a freer society. In the worst case, the reverse development could occur, in which we descend into some kind of surveillance state wage-slave hell. That is a social choice and ultimately up to all of us, though some more than others unless we act collectively to bring about progressive changes beneficial to everyone, not just a small elite. Clearly, if no widespread support develops for a JIG, it won’t happen.
Tschäff then raises another potential political obstacle:
Also you’ll lose conservative support for the JG if you say it’s optional. They like the idea of people contributing to society in order to get something from society, not handouts.
Needless to say, if this view dominates, there will be no JIG.
If by conservatives Tschäff is referring to reactionaries – the kind of people who objected to the abolition of child labor or slavery in the past – I don’t consider their views to be a significant consideration in determining where we should be heading as a society. Reactionaries of this type have opposed most social progress that has ever occurred in the history of humanity. This issue will be no different. If a JIG or something similar ends up being adopted some time in the future, it will be in spite of the concerted efforts of reactionaries to stand in its way.
But if by conservatives Tschäff has in mind people taking more socially concerned positions, it is not clear to me that they would be opposed to a JIG once it is understood that unemployment is a government policy choice. Some conservatives might object on the basis Tschäff suggests, but conservatives who value freedom might find the individual choice offered by a JIG appealing. For religious conservatives, there might be some attraction as well. Matt Franko has drawn some interesting connections in this regard. It’s hard for me to say how conservatives would react considering they are not a homogeneous group.
JG most work isn’t going to be fun, and it certainly will come with a social stigma associated with govt support.
Dismissing work as “not fun” does not really reflect the motivations of most people who want to feel they are contributing in a positive way to society. At the moment, many don’t feel they are contributing meaningfully to social well-being unless they have employment in the formal economy. This is clear from the vast evidence in psychology, sociology and other disciplines of the human costs of unemployment. Currently, there is not enough appreciation of all the socially productive activity that occurs on a non-monetary basis outside the market economy. There is also a lack of appreciation of the potential for much more socially productive activity to occur in this way.
In any case, from my perspective, if a JIG was introduced and most people did happen to opt for the BIG, that would actually be a good thing, not a cause for concern. It would mean that more people had reached a stage where they felt able to make use of their own time, both productively and in leisure, without submitting to the external motivation of the wage labor relation.
The motive for including the JG as an option in the JIG was not because I considered that a preferable option for people to take. If anything, the opposite is the case, since the aim is to enable a transition to a freer society. Rather, the JG was included as an option to ensure that no one was compelled, against their will, to take free time when they still desired the external motivation of the wage labor relation.
Hopefully it is clear that I am not questioning the relevance of Tschäff’s arguments. I think they may very well reflect the current social mood and level of consciousness. But since my motive is to break down those objections to freedom over time, I prefer a policy such as the JIG that would work in that direction, as opposed to the JG in isolation, which on this point (but not on most other points) is actually a backward step from the inhumane policies we have at the moment.