Austerity proponents should adopt a Job Guarantee

If anybody knows David Cameron’s mobile phone number give him a call and tell him that as he scorches the British economy (more bad news about consumer sentiment yesterday) he should also introduce a Job Guarantee as a way of using the workers he declares irrelevant more productively. A Job Guarantee is the perfect accompaniment to a full-blown fiscal austerity program and will not compromise any ideological beliefs except those that say that some people should be unemployed. But how could I advocate this? Doesn’t the Job Guarantee require a demand expansion? Isn’t that the whole point of it? Answer: no! Recommendation: Austerity proponents should adopt a Job Guarantee. Am I mad? Answer: probably but read on …

I remember I was giving a paper in New York in November 1998 at a workshop organised at the New School on employment guarantees. My paper subsequently came out in a book but you can read a Working Paper version – The Job Guarantee Model and the NAIRU – for free if you are interested.

Among the audience was the venerated Harvard economist James Duesenberry who had pioneered the relative income hypothesis as an explanation for consumption. His work riled the likes of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school who considered it to be more like soft sociology and psychology. As a consequence he was a somewhat disregarded. I always had a lot of time for Duesenberry’s work when I was a student. It was clear he was more rounded in perspective than the narrow Chicago ideologues who thought everything was a “free market” or wanting to be. Here is an interesting New York Times article (June 9, 2005) – The Mysterious Disappearance of James Duesenberry – about his work.

During the question time after my paper Duesenberry asked me the following question (not verbatim but from my recall): Why won’t the Job Guarantee be inflationary given that the NAIBER will probably be above the current NAIRU because aggregate demand will be higher?

The NAIBER was a term I invented – Non-Accelerating-Inflation-Buffer-Employment-Rate – to summarise the inflation control mechanism built into the Job Guarantee model. I thought it sounded friendlier than NAIRU (“neighbours” are usually nice you nurture the borders!) whereas the NAIRU (Non-Accelerating-Inflation-Rate-of-Unemployment) sounded harsh and was an construction of mainstream ideology – aiming to suppress workers’ rights etc – anyway.

The Buffer Employment ratio (BER) is the proportion of the labour force employed in the Job Guarantee. I will come back to that soon.

But it was a great question from James Duesenberry (and I felt very honoured that he took my work seriously) – because the question goes to the heart of the difference between unemployment buffer stock mechanisms to maintain price stability (the NAIRU approach) and employment buffer stock systems (the Job Guarantee).

My answer is that the NAIBER would certainly be lower than the NAIRU but that it would also provide a greater inflation restraint. I will come back to that too soon.

Somewhat later (between 2003 and 2005), Randy Wray and I became entangled in an academic dispute with a so-called progressive English economist Malcolm Sawyer who had written a negative piece on the Job Guarantee – Sawyer, M. (2003), ‘Employer of last resort: could it deliver full employment and price stability?,’ Journal of Economic Issues, 37(4), 881-908. If you have access to JSTOR you can get this article HERE.

This led to a reply from Randy and me – ‘In Defense of Employer of Last Resort: A Response to Malcolm Sawyer’, Journal of Economic Issues, 39(1), 235-244. The JSTOR reference is HERE. You can read an earlier Working Paper version of our paper for free if you are interested. The final published paper is largely based on this version.

Sawyer’s paper was written while he was on study leave in Australia part of which he spent as a guest at my own university. I was personally annoyed (too strong a word for it but ok!) that he didn’t raise the issues that he covered in the paper while he was in my company, preferring to write half-cocked accounts of my work and send it into the published sphere. But that is a minor issue – just one of courtesy really.

More significant, and related was that Sawyer presented an exposition of the “Job Guarantee” based on the way it had been represented by our critics rather than relying on the primary sources – our written (and well published) work. We noted in our reply:

As a result, many of his critiques remain underdeveloped and vague … many of the arguments are related to expositions of ELR that we would not endorse. Indeed, he has relied to an alarming degree on critics of ELR … for statements of the principles of ELR – reflecting a less than satisfactory approach to what we consider to be appropriate scholarship.

The term employer of last resort (ELR) is interchangeable with the term buffer stock employment (BSE) and Job Guarantee (JG). The latter two descriptions of the approach to full employment are found in the work of Mitchell whereas the ELR terminology is used by Wray.

In our reply we used the term ELR as the unifying terminology because it is the main term used by Sawyer. The MMT academic group has now agreed (by usage) to unify and use the term Job Guarantee, which I think is less confusing. I never liked the term ELR because it has connotations with the central bank’s capacity as a Lender of Last Resort and I thought the responsibility that governments have to provide jobs for anyone who cannot find one is of a different qualitative level than the relations between the central bank and the commercial banks. The provision of jobs is much more than a financial transaction.

Anyway, when you are mounting an academic critique of someone’s ideas it is imperative that you do not rely on secondary sources (particularly hostile secondary accounts) to represent the ideas you are addressing. It is very poor academic practice. I noted in my Letter to Paul Krugman that he was also guilty of that sort of unsatisfactory representation.

In my next letter to another US academic colleague – coming Friday I think – that sort of mis-representation was stark. Their universities should sack them for poor scholarship. Guess who?

Anyway, back to the theme.

Aggregate Demand, Employment, and Inflation

It is very important to understand the macroeconomics of the Job Guarantee program. I read lots of comments on my blog that suggest that these points are not well entrenched in the discussion. So to avoid responding comment-by-comment which is difficult (time) I thought I would write this blog.

To set the pigeons flying – here is a proposition. David Cameron (UK Prime Minister) should immediately implement a Job Guarantee as part of his austerity campaign to cut aggregate demand. He can still pursue the ridiculously harsh fiscal retrenchment to satisfy his ideological fantasies but would get “loose” full employment at the same time.

What? You cannot have a Job Guarantee without expanding aggregate demand. Duesenberry’s question resonates here! Wrong, the introduction of a Job Guarantee does not imply an aggregate demand expansion. Which is not the same thing as saying that an aggregate demand expansion is not desirable in some situation that you would seek to introduce a Job Guarantee.

Malcolm Sawyer wrongly (and repeatedly) claimed that the Job Guarantee increases employment by raising aggregate demand. This is a common error in comprehension (perhaps in the way we explain it!).

The proposition then follows that whatever beneficial results might be achieved by Job Guarantee could just as well be achieved by raising general government spending, lowering taxes, or ‘dropping money from helicopters’.

Sawyer clearly favoured increasing the dole (unemployment benefits) over the development of an Job Guarantee program because he claimed that the Job Guarantee isn’t much more than another name for unemployment.

We need to understand the macroeconomics of the Job Guarantee – aggregate demand effects, aggregate employment and unemployment, and inflation – before we start criticising it – especially when you base that criticism of the work of others who themselves demonstrate they don’t understand the underlying monetary principles involved.

It is easy to dispense with the claim that Job Guarantee is simply a form of Keynesian pump-priming.

A Job Guarantee program offers a basic wage (including a benefits package – sickness and holiday pay, superannuation, child care subsidies etc) to anyone ready and willing to work. It guarantees ‘full employment’ in the sense that anyone who is ready and willing to work at the program compensation rate will be able to obtain a job.

The nominal wage is fixed at some socially-sustainable level although it is subject to erosion in real terms in times of inflation. It is not unlike any nominal aggregate in this respect. It would be periodically (annually) increased to reflect national productivity gains in the economy. Productivity growth provides the room for non-inflation real wage gains. I am very aware of the tricky issues involved in measuring national productivity and applying such measures to individual wage setting across sectors. I did a lot of work in the 1980s for the government of the day on those issues while they were designing and running an incomes policy. But that is a topic for another blog though.

It is important to realise that the Job Guarantee “hires off the bottom” – that means it doesn’t compete with bids for labour from other sectors – there is no bid for unemployed labour. So the Job Guarantee does not in the hiring stage set of an inflationary spiral. Rather, by hiring at a fixed nominal wage it provides the inflation anchor.

The Job Guarantee is thus a buffer stock program – the buffer being employment rather than in the case of the current orthodoxy – the NAIRU – where unemployment is the buffer stock used to moderate prices. In the Job Guarantee, when the private sector downsizes in recession, workers who lose their jobs can find employment in Job Guarantee; in an expansion, workers are hired out of the buffer stock ‘pool’ by the growing private sector.

The size of the buffer stock pool is thus related to the performance of the private sector, plus the employment by the non-Job Guarantee government sector.

When aggregate demand is high, the size of the Job Guarantee pool is relatively small; when aggregate demand is low, the size of the pool is larger. However, with the Job Guarantee program in place, “full employment” – anyone who is ready and willing to work at the program compensation rate will be able to obtain a job – is maintained no matter what the level of aggregate demand happens to be.

Hence by advice to David Cameron – have your cake and eat it mate! Introduce a Job Guarantee immediately – you can keep cutting to your heart’s content – you will also have a huge workforce (much more productive than otherwise) to put to use in community development, personal care services, environmental care etc. Win-win!

While I am being flippant (note Americans!) – this point is not without significance. The Job Guarantee does not have to imply a big government footprint. You can cut the hell out of public services if you like and still have a Job Guarantee as a preferable way of dealing with the mess you create by pursuing fiscal austerity.

The Job Guarantee is not a “left-wing” “socialist” construct no matter the political preferences of those who have developed it over time.

The point is that the Job Guarantee creates a “loose” full employment a term which has relevance when we address its price stability properties. Indeed, government “demand management” (fiscal and monetary policy) can manipulate the size of the Job Guarantee pool through counter-cyclical pump-priming.

Malcolm Sawyer chose to misrepresent this when he claimed (2003: page 884) that the:

ELR scheme seeks to remove demand-deficient unemployment through the provision of required aggregate demand, albeit that this demand is focused on ELR jobs.

This would be a common perception. If mass unemployment is the manifestation of deficient aggregate demand then a job creation program that reduces the unemployment must do it via a resolution of that demand deficiency – that is, by stimulating aggregate demand.

The logic sounds intuitive but is in fact wrong.

The Job Guarantee does not maintain “full employment” by pumping aggregate demand (spending). One could envision a government policy that deflated aggregate demand (by raising taxes and cutting spending) – the David Cameron Austerity program! – even as it phased-in the Job Guarantee to achieve full employment.

Now before you wonder if I am supporting fiscal austerity at a time when there is mass unemployment let me say that I do not recommend such a policy. In general, I would like to see the Job Guarantee introduced and operating as a very small steady-state employment pool inclusive to the most disadvantaged workers in the labour force. At times, as private spending fluctuates the pool would expand but I think it would be a waste to unnecessarily create a large Job Guarantee pool to satisfy ideological views about the size of government.

I am personally in favour of large government focused on education, health, personal care and environmental care services with a major de-emphasis on military and policy spending. But that is not a view that is compulsory to have in order to support the view that an employment buffer stock (the Job Guarantee) is the best approach to price stability.

The point is that those like Malcolm Sawyer who claim that the Job Guarantee works via pump-priming have fundamentally misunderstood the operation of the Job Guarantee program.

Critics then rightly argue that Job Guarantee workers will need some capital and materials, and some supervision and other office/management support. Hence, total Job Guarantee spending will be higher than the sum of wages spent on Job Guarantee workers. For this reason, aggregate demand will increase by more than the Job Guarantee wage bill, and this will fuel additional inflationary pressures.

This was the point that James Duesenberry made although he was not a critic of the idea. The NAIRU after all is defined conceptually as a “level of demand” where inflation is stable (although the demand level is implied).

So if the Job Guarantee workers are receiving higher wages than the income support payment associated with unemployment (which would be desirable) and these “extra” costs are required to put the workers into action, then won’t aggregate demand rise?

First, the implementation of Job Guarantee would allow some reduction of current spending (resources currently absorbed in running unemployment programs would be shifted to the employment program). An entire industry within and outside of government has grown to manage the persistently high unemployment that nations have endured over the last three decades or more.

Some of that industry would be redirected (the bureaucracy) to manage the Job Guarantee and some of the private activity (case management under privatised labour market services) which is largely parasitic would vanish (good riddance!).

Second, if there is a net spending increase that would otherwise lead to excessive aggregate demand – measured against the inflation constraint which is the real capacity of the economy to continue to respond to nominal demand impulses with extra output – then the government can raise taxes or cut non-Job Guarantee spending to achieve the desired level of aggregate demand.

Hence, there need not be any increase to aggregate demand upon implementation of the Job Guarantee program if such is not desired.

The reality is that in times of mass unemployment – economies are usually a significant distance (measured by idle capacity) from the inflation constraint and so this issue would not arise. But in saying that we are conceptually separating the introduction of the Job Guarantee from demand expansion. They are separate policy choices and one the former not imply the latter.

Please read my blog – What causes mass unemployment? – for more discussion on this point.

So the Job Guarantee isn’t Keynesian pump-priming? Answer: definitely not.

The Job Guarantee policy differs from the Keynesian pump-priming favored by Malcolm Sawyer and most progressives because it represents the minimum stimulus (the cost of hiring unemployed workers) to achieve full employment, rather than relying on market spending and multipliers.

The Job Guarantee policy also provides an inherent inflation anchor missing in the generalised Keynesian approach. Sawyer’s misunderstanding in this respect has probably led to his confusion on the issue of inflation. Implementation of a Job Guarantee program can be undertaken while pursuing deflationary fiscal contraction, or while pursuing inflationary pump-priming.

Hence, unlike conventional “Keynesian” policy, full employment can be achieved without the inflationary pressures that might arise from demand stimulus.

So while Sawyer and others always fear that demand stimulus necessarily generates inflationary pressures this cannot be a relevant discussion in relation to the Job Guarantee proposal. The Job Guarantee achieves full employment without regard to the level of aggregate demand and whatever pressures on price levels that result from effective demand.

The relevant question is whether the Job Guarantee, itself, has unambiguous impacts on price levels or rates of change apart from the issue of aggregate demand.

The main principle is simple: a buffer stock sets a floor price and cannot pressure prices that are above the floor. Setting of the compensation floor can cause one-off changes, if, for example, it is set above the lowest prevailing wage (perhaps the legislated minimum wage).

However, it could also cause one-off wage and price decreases if it replaces a higher minimum wage and “welfare” package.

In general, I advocate setting the Job Guarantee wage at the a realistic minimum wage (not a poverty wage) so that the workers and their families can enjoy an socially inclusive life with income security. If that wage is above the current minimum private wage then that just indicates that the private firms should not be in business offering below the socially acceptable wage levels.

Many people worry that the Job Guarantee compensation package would be more appealing than the benefits now received by the jobless (unemployment compensation, welfare, Medicaid, and so on). Hence, once Job Guarantee is implemented, workers will become more belligerent, demanding higher wages in non-Job Guarantee jobs because if they were fired they would then receive the preferred Job Guarantee compensation and not the ‘jobless compensation’ they would have received previously.

This is a fair point, relying on the assumption that workers could be indifferent between working for compensation and being idle and collecting hand-outs of similar value.

There is evidence that suggest that people prefer work over ‘leisure’ even at the same rate of compensation. In any case, even if the Job Guarantee compensation is set substantially higher than the current welfare support levels, this would only cause a one-off adjustment of non-Job Guarantee labor compensation to restore indifference. That is not inflation as normally defined.

Malcolm Sawyer and others use the ugly old NAIRU argument that should unemployment fall below some natural level, inflation will accelerate. He claims that the NAIRU under Job Guarantee (which I renamed as the NAIBER as above) could be higher than the current NAIRU.

Sawyer wrongly attributes this to the higher level of aggregate demand that he believes would be maintained with Job Guarantee in place. But, of-course, aggregate demand might be lower with Job Guarantee – or higher.

Is the NAIBER higher than the NAIRU? The question has its roots in the belief that a particular level of demand slack curbs the inflationary process in a NAIRU-world.

As I have outlined here, the Job Guarantee can be implemented without raising aggregate demand. However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Job Guarantee is added to the current expenditure system, holding taxes and non-Job Guarantee public spending constant.

In that case, the introduction of a Job Guarantee does increase aggregate demand – probably with a multiplier effect above the level of spending on the Job Guarantee program.

I wrote a paper in 1998 – The Job Guarantee Model and the NAIRU – free version HERE – which showed that a macroeconomic system with an embedded Job Guarantee can tolerate higher aggregate demand without inflation.

While there has been a lot of disagreement on what the investment outlay would be in different countries to introduce a Job Guarantee (net of the saving) the point is moot. Who cares, the Job Guarantee is not about demand stimulation.

However, it is clear that if we introduce a Job Guarantee, other things equal, the initial level of Job Guarantee employment will deliver a higher demand level than inherited under the NAIRU economy. A neo-liberal (and many progressives such as Malcolm Sawyer) immediately wants to know why replacing unemployment with (higher paying) employment ceteris paribus is not inflationary given it ostensibly disturbs the balance set by the NAIRU.

Sawyer expressed this in the following way (2003: page 898):

… the level of unemployment achieved could be below a supply-side-determined inflation barrier … the NAIRU.

The negation of this proposition relies on an understanding of how the Job Guarantee buffer stock works. First, the buffer stock is now specified in jobs rather than unemployment – so the concept of a NAIRU-buffer stock is abandoned.

Second, the ELR creates ‘loose’ full employment. The ELR workers comprise a credible threat to the current private sector employees because they represent a fixed-price stock of skilled labour from which employers can recruit. In an inflationary episode, business is more likely to resist wage demands from its existing workforce to achieve cost control if it has the option of hiring out of the ELR pool.

In this way, longer term planning with cost control is achievable. So in this sense, the inflation restraint exerted via the NAIBER is likely to be more effective than using a NAIRU strategy.

Most economists think that the jobless are more effective as a threat than Job Guarantee workers are in holding down wage inflation. Yet they offers no argument as to why the unemployed and those out-of-the-labor-force are equivalent in the eyes of employers to employed workers, who are already demonstrating their availability to work and offering a work history to potential employers.

Inflationary pressures may arise, for example, if private investment becomes very strong. When inflationary pressures do appear, if government does choose to deflate demand to fight it (this is not my preferred policy recommendation, but it is a possible response), it will increase the size of the Job Guarantee buffer stock, inflation-fighting, pool.

Since Job Guarantee workers are a better inflation-fighting force than are the jobless, the necessary adjustment to demand will almost certainly be smaller with the Job Guarantee in place.

If government decides not to deflate demand, the Job Guarantee pool still allows the economy to operate with higher aggregate demand and lower inflation pressures, although inflation can still result. Hence the NAIBER is actually below the NAIRU in the sense that employment can be higher before the inflation barrier is reached.

So the Job Guarantee stands in stark contrast to the standard ‘Keynesian’ approach advocated by many Post Keynesian economics (such as Sawyer). The latter see the solution to unemployment in closing the demand gap (deficient effective demand) by increasing net spending via purchasing goods and services and/or labour at market prices.

If there are wage-price pressures in the economy then this approach will inject considerably more nominal demand into the economy in pursuit of higher employment levels than would be the case under the Job Guarantee. The Job Guarantee exploits the power of the State as the currency issuer to provide a fixed-wage job to all those who are unable to find a job in the private sector. The government thus provides a buffer stock of jobs that are available upon demand. The resulting net spending is the minimum required to restore full employment, as defined above.


It should now be clear that Job Guarantee does not operate like any other ‘Keynesian’ fiscal policy, nor like a Monetarist ‘money drop’.

It achieves full employment not by raising aggregate demand, but rather by offering jobs at a basic compensation rate to all who are ready and willing to work.

Aggregate demand may rise as an incidental consequence – or it may fall if Job Guarantee is implemented with budget tightening. Unlike a ‘money drop’, it requires that participants work for their compensation.

Unlike ‘pump-priming’, it achieves full employment with what can be described as ‘loose’ labor markets because it ‘hires off the bottom’. It does not seek to employ any specific number of workers nor does it seek specific skills; most importantly, it does not chase wages upward – it never competes with higher and rising private sector wage offers.

This is the primary reason that full employment can be achieved without setting off inflation, and at any level of aggregate demand. Full employment is then sustained through time with a buffer stock of employable labour.

I feel a letter is coming on soon to one of my US colleagues – probably Friday. Any guesses yet?

S&P declare themselves irrelevant – again

I think S&P must be struggling with ADHD and they need treatment – poor dears. Imagine always wanting to be the centre of attention when you are basically irrelevant to everything. I recommend that the legislative authorities in each nation that S&P locate declare them illegal.

Please read my blogs – Ratings agencies and higher interest rates and Time to outlaw the credit rating agencies – for more discussion on this point.

You can also read Randy Wray’s comment in the New York Times (April 18, 2011) on the S&Ps decision to change their outlook on US government debt.-

Plain idiocy – and remember that the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released it long-awaited Report last week – Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse – that demonstrated the endemic corruption in the ratings industry and showed how the ratings agencies were in no small part responsible for the financial crisis. Why haven’t some of their executives been sent to prison?

Incidentally, this US Senate Sub-Committee was once chaired by Joe McCarthy.

That is enough for today!

This Post Has 34 Comments

  1. Isn’t it strange how the S&P didn’t make any comments about US debt while the Bush tax cuts for the rich were being extended, but now that budget cuts are being discussed they talk about cutting ratings? I know the people at the S&P don’t have a political agenda. Right?

  2. Interesting.

    So the Job Guarantee reduces the ’employability gap’ which means that existing workers at the lower levels are easier to replace from the buffer pool than at present.

    Governments can hardly argue with that since all the ‘training’ programmes they’ve been pursuing all attempted to reduce the employability gap.

  3. gary hart “Isn’t it strange how the S&P didn’t make any comments about US debt while the Bush tax cuts for the rich were being extended”

    I guess the ratings are (or supposed to be) trying to predict whether current bond holders will do well or badly going forward. Tax cuts for billionaires might strengthen the exchange rate and also lead to dropping bond yields. What current bond holders want is deflation, falling yields and strengthening exchange rates. An economic situation could both be calamitous for the world economy and ideal for bond holders. Remember people holding 30year US gov bonds did fabulously well through the 2008 crisis (>50% annual gain in £GBP terms or something like that).

  4. >I feel a letter is coming on soon to one of my US colleagues – probably Friday. Any guesses yet?

    OK. Let me guess ;~) I hope it is “A letter to Brad DeLong” answering his post “Is ‘Modern Monetary Theory’ Modern or Monetary or a Theory?” (no link – we shouldn’t link to rubbish, right?) I also hope this letter will not only address the (no)substance of his post but also the arrogant posturing of Brad DeLong. I also note that some comments I heard about don’t show up on Brad’s website. Another proof of Brad’s notorious thought police behavior in regard to economic thinking. But well, maybe that happens if you do too much World War 2 Live Blogging. You institute a sort of GESTAPO comment policy.

    PS: Brad DeLong is one main reason why I’ve no hope that the Institute for New Economic Thinking will live up to its name. With major players like him involved the INET initiative is a hopeless cause and only makes a mockery of the word “New”.

  5. Finally got around to viewing the movie Inside Job. When the rating agencies were brought to Congress to testify, they stated that their ratings were “opinions” and that they could not be held responsible for others’ actions based on their opinions.

    I believe that is very appropriate now that the S&P has an opinion about the sustainability of US debt. As the saying goes: “Opinins are like assholes, everyone has one.”

  6. In an interview yesterday DeLong begins with “I agree with Clive Crook …..”.

  7. It should now be clear that Job Guarantee does not operate like any other ‘Keynesian’ fiscal policy, nor like a Monetarist ‘money drop’.

    It achieves full employment not by raising aggregate demand, but rather by offering jobs at a basic compensation rate to all who are ready and willing to work.

    Aggregate demand may rise as an incidental consequence – or it may fall if Job Guarantee is implemented with budget tightening. Unlike a ‘money drop’, it requires that participants work for their compensation.

    Sorry, isn’t that (reduction of aggregate demand – if it takes place) like saying, its a redistribution of income ?

    Of course, taxes can be looked at as redistribution or not depending on how one looks at them. If there is growth, people do not look at taxes as burden because of improvement in quality of life due to growth.

  8. Just a few questions, mainly on the implementation of the Job Guarantee:

    _ Would work in the Job Guarantee be mandatory or standard unemployment benefits would be kept ? To not kept them would be very difficult politically speaking but so is the JG after all.

    _I agree that in general work is preferred to complete leisure but if the JG is not mandatory wouldn’t the newly unemployed profession refuse to go into it at least in the short run ? Since their benefits would already give them enough money, furthermore if they expect to stay unemployed for a short time they might want to take some vacation and accepting a job with a lower wage would be viewed as a loss of social status.

    _Also work is preferred to leisure but only if work is gratifying. Usually it involves promotions, even symbolic ones, and wouldn’t people who have been for a long time in the JG demands them ? And how could we refuse, after all they work like everybody else…

    _I can find a lot of ideas for jobs to do in the JG programs but these jobs could create an a permanent demands for them -for example if they start to give jobs to take care of older people these older people would get used to it. But the essence of the JG is to be temporary, how would the government make sure that the JG only satisfies temporary needs ? In fact it’s hard to see how the private sector could compete with the JG program.

    To sum up I am rather favorable to the idea of a JG but I have trouble imagining how to concretely run a program that only addresses short term demand that could be cut off at will and that would work with temporary workers since only long run unemployed people would agree to apply for it -and long run unemployed people will often stay unemployed even longer.

  9. Bill,

    Thanks for tackling this very important topic in more detail. Three further thoughts:

    1. I really like your suggestion of indexing the JG wage level to increase at the rate of national productivity increases.

    2. The emphasis on the JG effects being largely separable from the level of aggregate demand is helpful to see spelled out in more detail. There are always groups questioning the usefulness of GDP as a measure of human progress and the JG might be especially appealing to those groups.

    3. In a continuation of the theme from my comments last week, I disagree with the first sentence in this statement of yours:

    “The main principle is simple: a buffer stock sets a floor price and cannot pressure prices that are above the floor. Setting of the compensation floor can cause one-off changes, if, for example, it is set above the lowest prevailing wage (perhaps the legislated minimum wage).”

    I absolutely think the buffer stock can pressure prices/wages that are above the floor (i.e., even if the JG wage were set at or below current minimum wage levels). I won’t rehash all my examples from my last comments… But to add one more:

    As Warren repeatedly emphasizes, the government is the price setter, and it’s about price, not quantity. I think the size of the JG buffer at any given time (e.g., even if it shrinks as the economy grows faster than capacity) has less impact on relative price (wage) levels than the fact that the JG bid for labor exists at all.

    It’s like the central bank setting the overnight interest rate. The operations are about price, not quantity, and the private sector interest rate structures that add in credit risk etc adjust in response (short term rates obviously so, longer term rates also adjust to the extent that the market expects the central bank’s overnight rate changes to persist).

    Similarly, setting a new wage floor via the JG could shift upward a chunk of the private sector wage structure (primarily at the lower end). Your point that there is evidence that people prefer work over ‘leisure’ at a given level of compensation only magnifies this effect, since the comparison used to set relative prices (wages) is now between private sector work versus JG work (both of which are real work) instead of between private sector work and no work…. so the alternative to private sector work becomes more appealing after you introduce a JG.

    However, if the wage premium that the private sector would need to pay to hire workers out of the JG pool is small enough on average, then you are probably mostly right that the JG “cannot pressure prices that are above the floor.” (But I think your wording would still be too strong).

    I still give the JG the benefit of the doubt and love its benefits overall, my only substantial current disagreement is whether the JG “cannot pressure prices that are above the floor.” And if it can of course that’s not likely to be a disaster — as I understand it, it does risk accelerating inflation without an appropriate policy response, but even that risk would only occur under certain aggregate supply/demand scenarios.

  10. I should clarify in case my last comment confuses those who didn’t read my comments last week… the difference between the JG bid for labor and the government’s setting a minimum wage is that the JG may also come with a floor for working conditions depending on how it is constructed (including indirect conditions such as potentially shorter commute which means lower transportation costs and more time with the family).

    The potential wage premium demanded to join the private sector from the JG arises to the extent that some private sector industries cannot match the JG floor for conditions. You can argue that averaged across the entire economy this premium is in reality zero (or even negative!) and I might be convinced with the right evidence, but either way I’d prefer to see that assumption made explicit.

  11. hbl,

    I’d say it is the other way around. Currently the private sector employer is not paying the full cost of the people they employ due to the shortage of positions altering the balance of negotiation.

    Once that imbalance is eliminated the true costs arise, and there will be a readjustment to take them into account – including as Bill as pointed out the greater supply of work-ready labour made available by the Job Guarantee.

    In other words at present it is not a free and fair market – because there is insufficient choice available, on both sides.

  12. I’d say there are two issues operative. First, as Neil points out and as I did previously, the present wage is not the true wage because of the externality that is socialized. Secondly, the political determination of the JG compensation package in a liberal democracy determines what kind of a country the people choose to promote. The more progressive the package the more socialistic the outcome, that is, the more resources committed to public purpose. The more conservative the package the more laissez-faire the outcome and the fewer resources committed to public purpose. Different countries will choose different balances of public and private. Think the US, where ~ 20% unemployment/underemployment/no longer in the job market is acceptable, versus Sweden.

  13. JG equals re-inventing the wheel. In Ancient Greece 2,500 years ago, Pericles put the unemployed onto public sector type work (building/repairing the wall round Athens). Then in the 1930s we had a range of “make work” schemes, like the WPA in the U.S. And post WWII we’ve had God knows how many “job creation” schemes in Europe and the U.S. But that’s not to write off the idea: it’s just that it’s an idea which can easily turn into a shambles when implemented.

    I’ve read Sawyer’s paper more than once, and I thought his criticisms of JG were fair. For example he raised the issue mentioned by Fabien above about (to quote Fabien) the inherent problems in “a program that only addresses short term demand that could be cut off at will and that would work with temporary workers”.

    I don’t agree with Bill’s claim that JG “doesn’t compete with bids for labour from other sectors..”. If JG and other sectors pay the min wage, then they ARE in competition, seems to me.

    Next problem is that the public sector employs relatively skilled people. Thus finding public sector type work for JG employees is not easy. Even in relatively rough and supposedly unskilled environments like building sites, unskilled people are useless. I know, because I spend decades in the construction industry.

    Re the idea that the cost of materials, skilled permanent labour and capital equipment on JG projects can to any significant extent come from cost savings stemming from redundant unemployment benefit staff, that is not on. The administration costs, as a proportion of unemployment benefit in the UK are around 10%. See:

    Now compare that with the fact that with most normal employers the amount spent on materials, skilled labour, capital equipment etc dwarfs expenditure on unskilled labour. Let’s say the ratio is 1:10 (a wild guess). That means that if unskilled JG labour is to be mixed with the optimum amount of other factors of production (skilled labour, etc), the money coming from the above redundant unemployment benefit staff will be about one hundredth what is needed (10 x 10). That’s back of the envelope, but hopefully I’ve made the point.

    In para starting “Second, if there is a net spending increase…” Bill says that where JG does raise AD, this can be dealt with by raising taxes. Well sure, but in that case JG destroys normal, commercially viable jobs: not the object of the exercise!

    Conclusion: the theory behind JG is horrendously complicated. In fact I’ll end this comment by predicting that the human race will never understand labour markets.

  14. Alan Dunn: Strangely enough the ne0-liberals think that households should run deficits and the government should run surpluses. Hence, rejecting government deficits when excess capacity exists is advocating pushing households into a cycle of unsustainable spending via credit.

    Not strange at all. This is the agenda that Michael Hudson calls the road to debt peonage. The goal of FIRE, and that includes the financial arms of corps like the auto mfgers, is to extract as much rent as possible from workers. That means loading them up with as much debt as they can bear, even at the risk of busts, since the government will then bail out the financial sector as being in the national interest. It is a clever but diabolical business model. It’s working fine for them.

  15. Neil & Tom,

    You both make a good point in reminding me that current entry level wages don’t reflect the full cost to society once the external costs are accounted for. However, if Bill argued that this would lead to an upward price adjustment for private sector wages (other than if the JG is set above the minimum wage), then I missed it or forgot about it. (Which is very possible!)

    I suppose the fact that the JG raises the productivity of the buffer pool of employment (an important point of Bill’s) is supportive of higher real wages for this labor demographic at a macro level (maybe he said that explicitly?), but that feels to me like a parallel dynamic to the one I raised. And Tom, your comments on “political determination of the JG compensation package” make sense to me, but either that wasn’t intended as a response to me (likely), or I don’t see the connection.

  16. S&P on the US: read this ;~)

    “And the technical chance of them defaulting on their debt is?”

    “Well unless some kind of alien invasion happens, leading to civil war and mass starvation, dengue fever, millenarian sects take over the seats of power etc. Zero.”

  17. Well done, Bill. I can now see that the JG as you formulate it has some of the elements of a true synthesis between the traditional conservative and liberal positions and is not merely a BS “third way” trade off solution. Like Henry George’s land tax it is likely to increase productive economic activity rather than the reverse, is a “cost” that cannot really be shifted to the consumer and will not tend to punish firms except for those that rely on making their “profit” from the rent associated with labor arbitrage.

    Conservatives, having traditionally extolled the value of work while excoriating the evils of “welfare” will have their selfish, mean spirited agenda exposed in opposing it. Progressives will also tend to acknowledge that work is superior to welfare and will find that backing something like JG is more tactically and strategically sound than arguing for a portion of the “free lunch” they know the rich are getting.

    Conservatives will, of course, oppose it. They will not do it by taking it on directly but by ridicule, mischaracterization and mostly by pretending it doesn’t exist. That was the way H.G. was handled and J.G. will be handled similarly.

  18. Just read “Full Employment through Job Guarantee: A Response to Critics” and I think it answers pretty well my questions. Except that my point remains about the necessity of gratification in the workplace. Would someone who has been for 30 years in the JG -as the “core workers” would be- treated exactly as the one who just arrived ? I agree this is not the biggest problem the JG is facing but still…

  19. hbl: And Tom, your comments on “political determination of the JG compensation package” make sense to me, but either that wasn’t intended as a response to me (likely), or I don’t see the connection.

    I was simply stating two issues that I think are important and need to be distinguished.

  20. Would someone who has been for 30 years in the JG -as the “core workers” would be- treated exactly as the one who just arrived ? I agree this is not the biggest problem the JG is facing but still…

    Some people would “graduate” to managers?

  21. @Stephan,

    LOL wrt your comment on the INET! I dont get anything that comes out of that outfit…. I look at it over and over and I just dont get anything out of it. I think the mistake they make is if you look at the people they invite, it is like the “Institute for OLD Economic Thinking”. I dont see how you can get to ‘New’ by inviting Carmen Reinhart to sit on the stage.. she ‘wrote the book’ on the old thinking, old approaches..

    Or do you think this: they invite someone like her and have to suffer her presentation in the hopes that she has to sit and listen to someone else who actually has some new ideas with the hopes some of that will rub off on her? Or hope she is challenged in the Q&A?….

    hard to tell, but I see the INET on the surface to be a big waste of Soros’ money, oh well easy come, easy go! Resp,

  22. I like the concept of INET but I agree with Matt Franko. The only decent thing I’ve ever seen come out of it is one or was it two things by Randy Wray.

    Like others here I have had concerns with the JG, specifically the minimum wage, as someone states a private sector firm employs a minimum wage and that is competition for resources. I also understand Bill’s point that it means to attract JG workers the private firm would have to have a more attractive package. I’m not really convinced of the merits of this and thus I would said the JG slightly below the nominated Federal Minimum Wage (e.g. its $15ph now, so say $13ph). However, a possible answer to my critique is the FMW offered is nominal not real.

    That said I do typically agree that if a business can’t afford to pay the min. wage, then it is not a viable business.

    I would also add my gut feel (no proof) is that there be two “once-off” inflation adjustments before settling down when a JG is introduced.

    As an aside, all of us here that have a passing familiarity with MMT should be appalled that we’re attempting to keep inflation stable with a buffer stock of unemployed, it is immoral and unethical. All the more reason for a JG.

  23. Why would we want to protect an employer that pays people the minimum wage ?

    The minimum wage is absolutely pathetic and is barely enough for anyone to live on.

    So what if there’s competition from the JG?

    It simply means the private sector need to lift their game and if they choose not to then bad luck for them.

    So much for those animal spirits the neo’s crap on about.

  24. I think where the JG will put the pressure on is that it will force the private sector to ease back on casualisation – and that can only be a good thing.

  25. “Well sure, but in that case JG destroys normal, commercially viable jobs:”

    No. They are only commercially viable because they have been able to externalise the cost of unemployment, the cost of excessive commuting and the social cost of family breakdown. Once those costs are returned to where they arise from the jobs stop being commercially viable.

    The unemployed are an externality. It’s only the “we’re always at full employment” tripe that has stopped somebody suggesting that profit taxation should be linked to the unemployment rate.

  26. Ralph Musgrave, your points about the great cost and complexity of creating useful jobs are key. It seems to me that there is a massive underestimation of how hard it is to find people capable of effectively managing large projects of employees and also a massive underestimation of how capable people can be (if given a chance) at starting up their own enterprises to meet demands they have identified in the economy. That is why I think that if the money spent on a JG were instead spent as a flat citizens dividend it would actually result in more useful work being done. In 1970s China (which had a JG in effect) huge teams of people were conscripted into doing things like cutting the grass lawns in large parks using hand held knives. It is all too easy (inevitable) for make work schemes to fall into such time wasting pointlessness. By contrast a citizens dividend could allow fledgling start up enterprises to try and meet unmet demands. The participants could initially work for an equity stake in the business (or whatever arrangement they wanted), if it worked out then they would do well. If people preferred to do whatever work JG proponents came up with then, under a citizens dividend system, they would have the choice of joining a voluntary team of workers under the command of the JG proponent. If people valued the work done by the teams of JG proponents (eg they liked having knife cut lawns) then those people could donate money to pay the JG proponents.

  27. What if businesses and individuals were given an allotment that they could use to hire the unemployed? For example, an unemployed carpenter offers to do a renovation job at an agreed upon price. When the work is completed, the government pays the carpenter and the employer’s allotment is reduced by that amount.
    Qualifying candidates would be unemployed or under-employed individuals. The yearly or quarterly limit would encourage employers not to waste their allotment. In this scenario the employer receives goods and services they would not otherwise have purchased, the unemployed obtain work and income, and the government does not end up paying above market prices for the labour that was done.

    Would this reduce administrative cost while maintaining free market efficiency?

  28. Meanwhile, back in the US:

    The War On Child Labor Laws: Maine Republicans Want Longer Hours, Lower Pay For Kids

    Maine State Rep. David Burns is the latest ofmany Republican lawmakers concerned that employers aren’t allowed to do enough toexploit child workers:

    LD 1346 suggests several significant changes to Maine’s child labor law, most notably a 180-day period during which workers under age 20 would earn $5.25 an hour.

    The state’s current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.

    Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, is sponsoring the bill, which also would eliminate the maximum number of hours a minor over 16 can work during school days.

    Burns’ bill is particularly insidious, because it directly encourages employers to hire children or teenagers instead of adult workers. Because workers under 20 could be paid less than adults under this GOP proposal, minimum wage workers throughout Maine would likely receive a pink slip as their twentieth birthday present so that their boss could replace them with someone younger and cheaper.

  29. @Robert you said

    What if businesses and individuals were given an allotment that they could use to hire the unemployed? For example, an unemployed carpenter offers to do a renovation job at an agreed upon price. When the work is completed, the government pays the carpenter and the employer’s allotment is reduced by that amount.

    This would actually lead to further unemployment and driving down wage rates, and would hence be unproductive. Businesses are incented to produce a profit – which means keep costs to a minimum. Sure businesses would accept the “free” labor with open arms, but they will use that labor in lieu of other people that they would have employed.

    The job guarantee program has to be used for producing “public goods and services” and not for “private goods and services” – these are goods and services which enhance the community at large, and which individuals will gladly use, but will not pay for — these include roads, municipal services, parks and recreation, public works of art etc. etc. — this is exactly what FDR did with the WPA. From wiki on Works Progress Administration

    The Works Progress Administration (renamed during 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. It fed children and redistributed food, clothing, and housing. Almost every community in the United States had a park, bridge or school constructed by the agency, which especially benefited rural and Western populations. Expenditures from 1936 to 1939 totaled nearly $7 billion.[1] The budget at the outset of the WPA in 1935 was 1.4 billion dollars. It provided work for three million “employables” at this time, however there were an estimated 10 million unemployed persons at this time. [2] By 1943, the total amount spent was over $11 billion.[3]

    The WPA was a national program that originated its own projects (in cooperation with state and local governments) and sometimes took over state and local relief programs that had originated in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) or FERA programs. Headed by Harry Hopkins, the WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA provided almost eight million jobs.[4] It never managed to come anywhere close to full demand for employment.[5]

    Liquidated on June 30, 1943 as a result of high employment due to the industry boom of World War Two, the WPA had provided millions of Americans with jobs for 8 years.[6] Most people who needed a job were eligible for at least some of its positions.[7] Hourly wages were typically set to the prevailing wages in each area.[8] However workers could not be paid more than 30 hours a week. Before 1940, there was very little training to teach new skills, to meet the objections of the labor unions.

  30. “Ralph Musgrave, your points about the great cost and complexity of creating useful jobs are key. It seems to me that there is a massive underestimation of how hard it is to find people capable of effectively managing large projects of employees and also a massive underestimation of how capable people can be (if given a chance) at starting up their own enterprises to meet demands they have identified in the economy. That is why I think that if the money spent on a JG were instead spent as a flat citizens dividend it would actually result in more useful work being done. ”

    Stone – you miss the point that the private sector will not provide everything of value. Parks, basic research, transit systems, security – these are things that should benefit all citizens. I like the idea of the JG, and I believe that citizens should demand that any work performed should be of value to the broader community. That doesn’t mean that it will be easy. But it’s far better than the horrible waste and human costs of unemployment.

  31. Dismayed, I totally agree that the private sector does not provide everything of value. I’m not against the gov employing people in order to provide what is needed in the most efficient and effective way possible. The JG is quite different from that. The JG is employing people for the sake of employing them. I’m just saying that paying a citizens dividend would free people up to both provide labour towards things that the private sector would not otherwise provide AND (more importantly) would free people up to apply their ingenuity to working out what needed doing and how best to do it. The JG relies on an appointed handful of people to work out what needs doing. It squanders the creative potential of all the other people.

  32. I think that Bill makes the point in many blog posts that the gvmt can purchase any available goods or services. We have a policy choice to pay for beneficial services/work or wasteful work. I would rather see a new park or a repaired levee than a fresh hole.

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