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Do We Need A “Federal Job Guarantee”?

Do We Need A “Federal Job Guarantee”?

WPA 2.0?

A group of academics has published an article in the socialist publication Jacobin in which they advocate for a “federal job guarantee.”  This proposal entails a guaranteed minimal income of $23,000 per year and “rising to a mean of $32,500” to people who do not have jobs.  This money would come, of course, from tax payers who do have jobs, most of whom can ill-afford the tax burden this “spread the wealth” scheme entails.

This idea has been batted around by socialists (and communists) for decades and is again rearing its ugly head.

Jacobin magazine—named for the blood-thirsty, failed French revolutionaries who slaughtered over 40,000 people in less than a year—is a publication devoted to socialist thought and celebrated by progressive outlets such as Vox.

Is it any wonder that this socialist publication would publish an article that articulates the idea of resurrecting some incarnation of FDR’s failed “Works Progress Administration” (WPA), a program that likely prolonged the Great Depression?

According to the authors of “Why We Need a Federal Job Guarantee,” a “federal job guarantee” would give “everyone a job”and is “the best way to democratize the economy and give workers leverage in the workplace.”

They write:

Universal basic income (UBI), an annual government-sponsored payment to all citizens, has been gaining traction across the American political landscape. Andy Stern, former Service Employees International Union president, believes the program will counteract the “acceleration of technology” that he thinks will likely create “work but not reliable jobs or incomes.” On the Right, the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray argues that we should replace the “entire bureaucratic apparatus of government social workers” with a UBI.

. . . .  The renewed attention makes sense: UBI would cover workers who, thanks to technological progress, have lost their jobs. One often-cited report tells us that 47 percent of all jobs are at risk of being automated. Yet existing social insurance programs are insufficient. The current array of programs — such as unemployment insurance, the earned income tax credit, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — help many Americans, but over forty-three million people still live below the poverty line. Children are among the most vulnerable, with nearly half living at or near poverty.

The UBI represents one way to fight increasing deprivation. But another potential intervention — the federal job guarantee (FJG) — might be a far more promising demand.

Following their introduction, the authors go on to list why this proposal is a good idea.  After noting that a federally-guaranteed (i.e tax payer funded) “salary” of $23,000 would mean “fewer poor Americans,” that workers are still needed for (presumably private sector) jobs that are not yet automated, and that this would lead to an “inclusive economy” where people (Harry Reid’s cowboy poets?) wouldn’t be left behind, the authors explain that a federal “works” program like that instituted during the Great Depression would be a boon to Americans who are looking for work.

They continue:

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were public employment programs designed to put Americans back to work after the national unemployment rate reached 25 percent. These programs, implemented under the Roosevelt administration, provided socially beneficial goods and services that benefited all Americans. Some of our national parks — Zion, Glacier, and Shenandoah — received substantial work contributions from employees of the federal jobs programs. The Blue Ridge Parkway was a federally funded and staffed infrastructure program.

A new federal job guarantee could undertake similarly bold and much-needed public-works projects.

Because the private market is not providing jobs, they argue, the federal government should invent occupations for them and then pay them with tax payer dollars.  Essentially, then, the federal government creates “work” for people who are otherwise unemployable and pays them a salary to do this “work.”

This idea includes not only a base salary but also health benefits and child care, benefits that a lot of the tax payers who would be footing the bill for this do not enjoy.

Each job offered under a federal employment assurance would be at a wage rate above the poverty threshold, and would include benefits like health insurance. A public sector job guarantee would establish a quality of work and the level of compensation offered for all jobs.

The program would be great for the country: It could meet a wide range of the nation’s physical and human infrastructure needs, ranging from the building and maintenance of roads, bridges and highways, to school upkeep and the provision of quality child care services. It would also function as an automatic stabilizer, a program that could expand with downturns of the economy and contract with upturns.

One of the authors of this article appeared on Tucker’s show and explained the proposal.


This plan is not intended to replace welfare, food stamps, etc.  It’s an add-on aimed at those who are unemployed and who want to work but can’t find a job.

The question, of course, is how much responsibility does the federal government have—should it have—over the lives of individual Americans?  Should the federal government create jobs and “works” programs for citizens at the expense of other citizens?


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“A group of academics” just the opener for look out the BS is about to start.

As they say in Star Trek … The Borg are always hiring.

Detroit ran out of (other people’s) money long before getting to this utopian level. Keep smoking that stuff and you’ll go blind.

Tucker Carlson agrees that “the market has failed” within seconds of this segment starting.


Naturally it doesn’t occur to these folks that the biggest reason that the private market isn’t providing enough jobs is, wait for it, government rules, regulations, restrictions and tax rates. But what the heck, lets do more of the same. It is bound to work this time.

military usually hiring…..

Wait a second, if you are unemployed and want to work you get $23,000 per year. If you are disabled or elderly and on SSI you likely get less than half that… So when people figure this out they would then claim they can work and want to work but can’t find work so they can double their income?

dmacleo, the military generally doesn’t want that kind of person. It has standards.

BTW, just what “jobs” would they be doing? And what happens if they don’t do the “job”? And why is an ex-SEIU official interested in this – does he see this as a way to unionize the unemployables?

    malclave in reply to rabidfox. | February 12, 2017 at 2:10 am

    ” BTW, just what “jobs” would they be doing?”

    A few years ago, after reading a news article, I emailed my senators and representative and offered to watch computer pornography for half of what they were paying people already.

    I guess I could go as low as $23K if I had to.

A guaranteed minimum income has one big advantage — it doesn’t need a bureaucracy to administer, so if it were to replace all other welfare programs, not only might it be cheaper, but even if it weren’t it would be a net benefit because we could close all those departments and agencies and offices that administer the current mess.

That’s why Milton Friedman suggested doing it as a negative income tax, administered by the same IRS that already does this work anyway. Set a tax threshold of, say, $50K, and for every dollar you earn over that you pay, say 35%, but for every dollar you earn under it you get, say, 60%. If you earn nothing you get a $30K “tax refund”, being the -60% tax on your $50K shortfall, from the same IRS that would have taken your money had you earned more than the threshold. No bureaucracy needed. and that’s all you get, because there aren’t any other programs.

    Tom Servo in reply to Milhouse. | February 12, 2017 at 12:09 am

    In discussions of this, people always seem to forget (unlike you, of course) that the idea is only plausible if it is a complete replacement for all other government payments – welfare, social security, disability, and so forth and so on. It doesn’t work as an “add-on” which is where Tucker’s guest went so wrong – it just is impossible to do without completely bankrupting the system. If you replace all other payments with this one payment, it could theoretically work, with a boost being provided by the elimination of all of the parts of the system needed to administer the various payment systems currently.

    The problem is that ordinary people would never stand for anything that simple. Everyone would see things like a healthy, 22 year old male, completely capable of work, getting the same payment as a crippled grandmother, or any other sympathetic class of person you want to name, and they would feel outrage. We’re internally programmed to feel that way, it can’t be helped, and for that reason this system would begin to break down the day it began.

    It might sound good, but it can’t be done.

    Bruce Hayden in reply to Milhouse. | February 12, 2017 at 9:07 am

    Someone had to up vote Milhouse here. Friedman’s point was that if you are going to provide welfare, you should do it the right way, taking advantage of economic reality, and killing two birds with one stone. Currently, our welfare system is horribly designed, with little incentive to work, an a lot of artificial minima that have to be overcome. Far better a system that pays a minimum living allotment, and a completely smooth, level, reward slope, so that each additional dollar earned is effectively taxed at the same rate. Far better than something cooked up by a fairly corrupt government employees union, as we have here.

    The problem is that we, as a society, need less and less work to support basic living. I think that we are facing a future where real jobs are going to be a privilege, and not a necessity to survive. We just don’t need every abled body adult working any more, so that we can all be fed, clothed, and housed. And, it is most likely just going to get worse.

      The reward slope doesn’t have to be level. Ideally it would be, but the problem is that this would require the zero threshold to be set absurdly high. Hence in my example I suggested a high tax rate below the threshold, dropping dramatically once over it. Also ideally there’d be a clawback at some point, but I can’t see that working in practise.

      As for technology making jobs obsolete, you’re forgetting the doctrine of comparative advantage. There’s always something someone is comparatively better at than anyone else.

One thing that bugs the holy heck out of me is the apples vs. oranges comparison done between ‘wages’ and ‘total compensation.’

Example: The Heritage foundation makes great hay out of declaring the ‘average’ earnings of a civil service employee top out at (insert outrageous number that changes with every publication). They do this by including *everything* that can be called earnings, from retirement expected to fudging a value for job security.

This UBI does none of that. They just mutter some number in the low 20k vicinity, plus little things like child care and health care before quickly rolling on to other benifits of this project in leasure, infastructure, and presumably the positive effect it would have on butterfly migrations.

Add up the numbers, and *just* to provide for a single person on New Welfare… Um, I mean Federal Jobs Guarantee, it would take a staggering amount of taxation on at least ten other people, more proably twenty. And when one of them drops out of the labor force because of the taxes…

Why can’t I just vote for ATMs to give me money?

StandingAthwartHistory | February 12, 2017 at 12:00 am

They still haven’t come up with any new ideas. As Kipling wrote:

“In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.” “

This is called “workfare” and if implemented its going to be about as popular as a chain gang or a stay at a gulag.

I want to say that I support piracy ( meaning the unauthorized copying of music,movies, books etc… ) but I really don’t. What I do is oppose efforts at curbing piracy.

The reason for this is basic. To use any of these resources, you have to at some point decrypt the work. For example, to listen to music the hardware has to convert it to it’s basic form, a bit of a wav file. You can bury that unencrypted form deep in the hardware, but it still has to be there. Which means that some creative person can get at it. Once a person, can get at it, thousands of copies can be made for a penny.

To prevent this, production of general purpose computers would have to be restricted, which would put bounds on the creation of new technologies. So maybe no new fitbits, navigation systems, improvements to pacemakers etc.

The point is this. The technology blows apart the economic models. How do we compensate the musicians, writers, actors etc?

What is more, everywhere that computers are, the thing they affect the most are the intermediaries. The businessman no longer has secretaries to write letters. He uses a word processor. An accounting firm no longer uses thousands of people to do calculation, they use spreadsheets.

The point is that to a large degree the law of scarcity is being blown apart. Our choice now is not between eating and not eating. It is between hamburger and filet mignon, and there are many people who are happy with the hamburger.

So the question is when unemployment reaches 50% ( reZl unemployment , including those that drop out )? UBI is supposed to be a part of that. Is it a good answer or the best? I don’t know but I think it is good to begin the discussion now before it slams down on us.

    ConradCA in reply to RodFC. | February 12, 2017 at 11:25 am

    There is no evidence that technology increases unemployment. It is government regulation, taxes and welfare that increases unemployment. Technology makes people more productive.

StandingAthwartHistory | February 12, 2017 at 8:35 am

Since Hazlitt’s “Economics In One Lesson” is available at many online bookstores and even for free in PDF (, I find the economic ignorance of such “academics” inexcusable.

Welfare by any other name is…

    Milhouse in reply to eamonkelly. | February 14, 2017 at 10:02 am

    I don’t think anyone’s pretending this isn’t welfare. The argument for it — at least the right-wing argument for it — is that it would replace every other welfare program, while doing less harm than any one of them and more good than the lot of them put together. If it didn’t replace all those programs but was instead put on top of them then of course it would be a disaster.

Do we need a Federal job guarntee? Not ‘No!’ but ‘ Hell NO!’

Federalism! Leave it to the states! I’d love to watch CA, NY, IL, WA, et al, go down in flames trying to support guaranteed incomes for all.

And as the embers of what once was America inevitably flickered out, the last remaining worker in the country unhitched himself from the federal wagon after pulling it 24 hrs per day, 7 days a week, for 60 years, at $2 billion per hour with a 100% non-refundable payroll tax in order to pay the other 350,000,000 lazy-ass m-er f-ers out there.

The FED job entitlement program used to be known as the CCC. Seems to me with the WALL needing building and Trumps promise to improve infrastructure and boarder security, there will be plenty of jobs to go round for any LIBS that want. Certainly, they don’t expect to be bureaucrats regulating everyone else’s lives?????

buckeyeminuteman | February 13, 2017 at 7:28 am

I suppose we’re going to pay for all those “salaries” with the $20T that we already don’t have…

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