Two months ago, LGM commenters routinely talked about my demand for federally guaranteed employment as a pie-in-the-sky impossibility. Today, it’s becoming a position that any Democratic candidate must adopt to compete in the primaries.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has a big idea: give 15 local areas federal money so they can guarantee all their residents a job.
The Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act, announced by Booker on Friday, would establish a three-year pilot program in which the Department of Labor would select up to 15 local areas (defined in the bill as any political subdivision of a state, like a city or a county, or a group of cities and counties) and offer that area funding so that every adult living there is guaranteed a job paying at least $15 an hour (or the prevailing wage for the job in question, whichever’s higher) and offering paid family/sick leave and health benefits.
The idea of a government job guarantee ensuring all adults who want employment get it has a long history in American politics, but it has gained popularity as the Democratic Party has sought to embrace bigger and more ambitious economic policies in the wake of the 2016 election.
Booker’s plan is essentially a pilot version of a proposal from Duke’s Mark Paul and William Darity, Jr. and the New School’s Darrick Hamilton, economists who have, together and individually, advocated a job guarantee for years, well before the current surge in enthusiasm. Most recently, Paul, Darity, and Hamilton wrote up their proposal for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a highly influential left-of-center think tank, in a clear sign the idea was gaining traction. Booker’s bill is an even bigger step forward.
“The federal jobs guarantee is an idea that demands to be taken seriously,” Booker said in a statement. “Creating an employment guarantee would give all Americans a shot at a day’s work and, by introducing competition into the labor market, raise wages and improve benefits for all workers.”
This follows up on Kirsten Gillibrand announcing her support for a federal job guarantee a couple of weeks ago. Bernie Sanders will be on this soon and I expect Warren will as well. I like the pilot project aspect of Booker’s plan and think it’s the kind of experimentation we need to see.
As I have stated repeatedly, while cash transfers to people is a policy to support, Universal Basic Income as a solution to job issues is not going to work as a policy and it is an absurdity in terms of meeting working people’s values. I am routinely amazed how quickly its supporters move to “We need to teach people to work less” as an argument in favor of it. Not only is this unrealistic, this is the precise type of social engineering telling working class people what to do that the left criticizes about neoliberals who tell people to move or get job retraining to deal with economic changes. What happened to asking workers what they want and honoring working class cultures? UBI as a solution is an intellectual exercise that very quickly requires workers to adopt not just the policies but the values of its progenitors. And good luck with that! Why not tell working class people not to eat potato chips or drink while we are at it! The solution to crappy jobs is to make work better and more dignified. Now, it’s not as if UBI and a job guarantee are completely incompatible. There are many ways to combine them in useful ways. When I have these conversations, I am again amazed at how often people say “Well, what about disabled people!?!” as if this is scoring some sort of point. Obviously, any society where we have a universal job guarantee is also going to have the robust safety net to create cash transfers for those who can’t work. But the point-scoring aspect of these conversations shows just how much this is an intellectual exercise confirming the beliefs about work by those who want to eliminate it to free the proletariat or something.
My point here is that a universal job guarantee is going to have much greater political appeal than UBI. It not only honors work cultures, it reinforces American values around work that defined the welfare state. Like it or not, these are real. As a leftist anti-utopian, I prefer to develop policies that work within the context of the lived experiences of people, not engage in thinking about alternative universes, long a black hole for leftist thinkers. This may also be why I hate science fiction and fantasy literature; nothing could be more interesting than the world in which we live. Anyway, the political appeal of a federal job guarantee is very real and that’s why everyone who wants the Democratic nomination is going to support some form of it by 2020.
Now, if you had told me in 2016 that this would become embraced by even someone with a questionable past on workers’ issues such as Booker, I would have said you were off your rocker. We are in April 2018. What are the policies Democratic candidates are going to have to commit to by January 2020 to separate themselves from each other and win the nomination? It’s going to be an interesting thing to watch. The party isn’t shifting left. It’s sprinting left. And it goes to show what the left taking over the Democratic Party can do, as opposed to engaging in worthless and counterproductive third party campaigns, not to mention people wasting their time on arid voting reforms based on abstract notions of democracy instead of just turning the institutions we already have into advocates for justice.
And if Booker comes out in opposition to ketchup, we will know he is an LGM reader.