The highly-estimable Steve Randy Waldmann hoists the banner of “employment for societal usefulness, not for profit”. Smart guy: Steve Randy Waldman: Smile

The highly-estimable Steve Randy Waldmann hoists the banner of “employment for societal usefulness, not for profit”. Smart guy: Steve Randy Waldman: Smile: “Pairing a UBI with a job guarantee would mitigate the risk that we neglect the broader project of integrating one another into a vibrant society…

…that we let a check in the mail substitute for human engagement. If we could get both a UBI and a JG, that’d be great. (Of course, if we did get both, we’d want the numbers to be different than either as a standalone.) However, I am not so worried about an embarrassment of riches. We’ll be fortunate to get one, either one, implemented well enough not to subvert its purpose. I see no reason not to advocate both. People make this stupid argument about how we have to choose where we want to “expend our political capital”…. But most of the time this quasi-material analogy is worse than dumb. Political capacity is much more like muscle than gold, the more you use it the more you have. Advocating for UBI and advocating for a job guarantee are complementary activities. Both push against the present, barbaric consensus, under which human sacrifice to a drunken god of business cycles and market forces is defended by the fearfully fortunate as a price that must be paid. The way we squander our political capacity is not by arguing for UBI when we should be arguing for JG or vice versa. It’s when we argue with one another about which we should argue for…. Much of the take-making on the subject of a job guarantee has been driven first and foremost by authors’ self-positioning as advocate or critic….

One of the things that I think is a mistake in the current job guarantee debate is a focus on productivity too narrowly defined…. In the hallowed private market, it is not uniformly the case that a need is identified and then the cog—um, I mean, the body—is hired to fill it. Successful firms define roles to make the most of unusually talented people they are fortunate to have. An increasing share of private work cannot be easily codified and Taylorized, but involves ongoing improvisation, collaboration, and negotiation…. A job guarantee that had an unlimited number of slots on a mid-20th Century assembly line producing valuable, salable widgets might be easy to defend as “productive”, but would be wasteful of worker talents and poor preparation for participation in the modern economy….

For a job guarantee program… success… shouldn’t… be a “market test”…. In much of the conversation about a job guarantee, advocates understandably work hard to argue that employment on the proposed terms can provide “real” value, and so emphasize activities whose importance and moral worth is difficult to deny…. In a job guarantee context, I don’t think we will get to keep the valuable but largely hidden eldercare if there are not also things whose social worth will be more contestable by naysayers and scolds but also visible and enjoyable to a broad base of voters and taxpayers. Wherever the job guarantee is, there should be festivals and block parties. There should be children’s theater in the park. There should be visible beautification, beyond just the cleaning of litter…. Should a locally administered, Federally funded job guarantee program come to exist, a litmus test for its success will be the reaction of localities. Usually, localities compete with one another to shed the unemployed…. The job guarantee will succeed only if officials who reverse that impulse, who welcome job guarantee workers (and the Federal money they bring), are rewarded at the voting booth for doing so…

May 4, 2018


Brad DeLong
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