The transitory view of the current inflation episode is getting more support from the evidence.…
Work not UBI – the hopeful not the surrender
I have long disagreed with Guy Standing about the solutions to unemployment. 20 years ago we crossed paths on panels and in the literature where he would argue that UBI was the way forward and I would argue that it was a neoliberal plot and that, instead, we needed to push for job creation. My view has always been that to surrender to the neoliberals on their claim that governments cannot generate sufficient jobs to satisfy the desires for work of the unemployed was a slippery slope. Standing continues to publish his fiction. In his latest Social Europe article (January 15, 2020) – Building a progressive alliance in Britain – he seeks to integrate UBI proposals with a recovery plan for British Labour. My view is that would not help Labour recover from the shots they fired into their own feet in the period before the December election by listening to the likes of Standing and those who advocated the Fiscal Credibility Rule and the reneging on the Brexit commitment. Standing’s aversion to job creation is in contradistinction with a recommendation from the Wetenschappelijke Raad Voor Het Regeringsbeleid (WRR or in English, The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy) to the Dutch government to deal with the challenges of achieving “good work”, in part, by introducing a ‘basic job’ which in my parlance means by introducing a Job Guarantee. They are motivated by a deep vein of social science and medical research that extols the virtues of work beyond its obvious income generation qualities. Pushing a UBI in the light of that research is just a pitiful bailout.
The WRR is “an independent advisory body for government policy … [and] … The task of the WRR is to advise the Dutch government and Parliament on strategic issues that are likely to have important political and societal consequences.”
It brings together research and sorts through “opposing views” in order to come up with “properly thought-out opinions”.
On January 15, 2020, it released its – Het betere werk. De nieuwe maatschappelijke opdracht – (Better Work: Societies new mission) Report, which outlined three essential conditions that emerge from the scientific literature for what they call “good work”.
They say these elements accord with the “wishes and expectations of people in society”.
An 11-page English summary is available – .
The full report in Dutch is – WRR-rapport nr.102: Het betere werk. De nieuwe maatschappelijke opdracht.
Essentially, without analysing the whole report, which I have now been able to read, the Report notes there are three developments that will impact on the future of work:
1. New technology (robots, etc) which results in loss of jobs also presents new opportunities for work. They conclude that policy has to focus on “complementarity” between people and machines to ensure the technological age promotes human welfare and doesn’t erode it.
2. The increasing flexibility of work has increased the likelihood of a precariat developing.
3. The changing intensity of work is also important which an increasing proportion of workers reporting they “often or always have to work quickly to get the job done” and the “work pressure is too high”.
The Report says that “Greater autonomy at work – that is, more freedom to perform tasks as one sees fit – is one buffer against such intensification.”
An important contribution of the work, that draws on many social science disciplines (including sociology, psychology etc) is that:
Being in work is good, both for the income and the self-respect it affords individuals and for its benefits to society. But this applies above all when that work is good work.
In other words, they recognise that while “good work is work that provides sufficient financial security” (that is, secure income and real wages growth), it also is important for our social standing, our sense of worth and self-esteem, our sense that we are contributing to something in a collective way using our own skills and efforts.
The provided the following diagram which traces the benefits of governments ensuring there is good work available to the individual sense of welfare through to benefits for the “economy and society”, in the aggregate.
They say that:
Good work improves people’s health and well-being … as well as their engagement … all of which contribute towards greater productivity and well-functioning, innovative work organizations. Good work also helps ensure that people can continue working longer and limits the cost of healthcare. Finally, good work for all is better for social cohesion … since it makes people better able to enter into human relationships and to connect with society as a whole. For optimum social cohesion, it is therefore best if everyone has good work.
The WRR report also argue that a policy program that promotes the goal of financial security must recognise that there are many people in our societies who want to work but cannot find work or who are underemployed.
In the Netherlands, this number reaches “about one million”.
A further 1.6 million are “receiving benefits”, while there is a rising proportion of people, for example, with disabilities, that are “outside the labour market” because they cannot find work but are willing and able to do work.
They report that:
At the same time, the Netherlands has all but stopped investing in active labour-market policy … People without a job receive hardly any training or personal guidance, even though being in work is so important for personal health and well-being and for national social cohesion. Given that work is so important psychologically and socially, we should not simply be ‘fobbing people off’ with benefits. A basic job, rather than benefits should be the final piece of the social security structure.
This is the role of a Job Guarantee – to ensure that any worker can gain productive employment at a socially-inclusive wage at all times at their choosing – including sufficient hours of work to satisfy their preferences.
The Job Guarantee would provide work that was inclusive for all types of workers and can be flexibly organised to accomodate those with special needs (disabilities, etc).
I have written about the benefits of work over the entire course of my career (several decades now), which is why I argue that the responsibility of government is to pursue full employment, not bail out of that mission and opt for fairly inferior options such as UBI.
The WRR make an excellent point on page 182 of the full Report:
De basisbaan is ook deels een antwoord op het idee van een basisinkomen. Als werk psychologisch en sociaal zo belangrijk is voor mensen, waarom zouden we degenen die willen en kunnen werken dan ‘afschepen’ met een inkomen in plaats van te zorgen voor goed werk?
Which means that the WRR see the provision of a basic job that is inclusive to all and provides psychological and social benefits to people, as being a superior solution to the provision of a basic income.
They ask “why would we ‘deprive’ those who want to and can work with an income instead of ensuring good work?”
Juxtapose that positive narrative, which is informed by the extensive research evidence from the social sciences as to the value of work, with the sort of stuff that Guy Standing pumps out, which many progressives think is the answer.
He claims that:
1. The British election disaster for Labour is the “endgame of ‘labourism’ founded on appeal to the industrial proletariat.”
2. The Tories are the “populist party” – using that term is a typical progressive putdown although it is meaningless – the very art of politics is to be the popular option.
3. “the old working class … labourism has failed them.”
4. Redistribution of income is not possible because it “would require dismantling the rentier capitalism on which the plutocracy thrives.”
Among the other daft proposals he ventures to solve all this are:
… tackling inequality and precarity by moving towards a basic income … creating a national capital fund with revenues from the commercial exploitation of our commons-natural and societal-which could be used to pay a basic income as ‘common dividends’
Apparently, this would “appeal to the precariat … and the salariat … wanting action on climate change and the environment”.
So a “precariat-salariat alliance” is formed which would require the Labour Party becoming the “Progressive Party”.
And pigs might fly!
There is also a tax the rich proposal – which is now a standard urban progressive delusion – that all will be well and all essential services will be able to be funded if only we use the money from the rich.
The dissonance between those two visions of humanity (WRR and Standing) are extreme.
Standing seems to think that the provision of a basic income:
1. Will satisfy all the unmet human desires for work.
2. Will require governments to tax in order to gain the funds to pay the UBI.
3. Will unite the beneficiaries of globalism with the losers.
He has been peddling this nonsense for years.
What the Labour Party needs to do is:
1. Dispense with all the neoliberal macroeconomics myths about taxing the rich, needing to have unworkable Fiscal Credibility Rules, and treating people as if they are just consumption units (that a UBI will satisfy needs).
2. Outline a bold employment plan to ensure the British government creates sufficient work of a reasonable standard that drives out all the providers of precarious work or forces them to restructure their workplaces to provide for the components of good work that the WRR Report articulates.
3. Spent this period in electoral ignomy to educate the public that the British government is only constrained in its spending by real resource availability and has options available to it to redirect resources currently being used into more socially-productive purposes, should that be deemed necessary and desirable.
4. Not listen to advice from those that pushed them into its current unwinnable position including the likes of Guy Standing.
A currency-issuing government can always provide enough work for those who want it, should the non-government sector come up short.
That should be the starting point for a safety-net social policy.
The proposals for a UBI represent a rather wan surrender to the neoliberal lie that the government cannot do that.
It is not a progressive position but continues the unemployment regime that suits capital – they get wage suppression from the slack and maintain sales via the UBI.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2020 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.
This Post Has 34 Comments
I must admit in the past I had thought a UBI was a good idea. Upon reflection I now consider it just a means of lining the employer’s pockets. A job guarantee is a much better idea. The only comment I would like to make is that perhaps a UBI would be a good idea in areas where there is extreme poverty – say for five years. Ideally that would be coupled with a job guarantee but if that is a step too far for some, it could help to lift the incomes, and so the welfare of the children in those areas. It would encourage businesses to go to those areas and so lift the employment level.
There was an article by Richard Holden which I won’t link to but nonetheless found interesting – google “The end of the checkout signals a dire future for those without the right skills” if you want to read it.
A high-profile figure representing one of the giant players in Australia’s supermarket oligopoly states that this major entry-level role into the labour market will be gone by the end of the decade, doing away with 150 000 jobs in Australia. This is due to rapidly advancing automation.
Holden posits that even though ever since the invention of the pointy stick, new innovations have displaced workers but new positions have been created through innovation – this time it’s finally different. Automation is simply becoming so advanced that it no longer creates jobs to replace those it destroys, at least not nearly enough or of the right kind for those made redundant.
Given that such a situation must result in the human beings made redundant no longer having the income necessary to consume the output of the machines that have replaced them, it’s no surprise that captains of industry like Elon Musk et al, are some of the biggest proponents of a UBI – they want governments to fully underwrite their business empires and act as the ultimate consumer of their output through a massively expanded welfare system.
Exactly how does what our supermarket oligopoly is proposing do anything to fundamentally improve our lives as consumers (or anybody’s for that matter, apart from a small handful)? It’s just capitalism doing what it has always done best – make the rich richer by making the poor poorer.
And then in the long run saying “gee, where did all the customers go?”
Or perhaps we will end up with a two-tier economy, where the majority of the population shop at something like Aldi, while the rich folk have their own up-scale luxury stores, with nothing in the middle? It is interesting that several mid-range fashion and home wares brands have gone into receivership in Australia recently, indicating shrinking demand in that market. Tech, construction and auto sectors all seem to be consolidating too…
Hi Prof Bill,
Can you comment on the intensification of work mentioned? This seems to me quite an important issues cause it might lead to burnout of those who are in work.
Very good article; the UBI is a cop out, and this provides some concise arguments to use as to why.
As an aside, interesting to see that if you speak English and German, you get Dutch thrown in for free!
“…It is interesting that several mid-range fashion and home wares brands have gone into receivership in Australia recently, indicating shrinking demand in that market”.
Exactly the same as in UK. And (patchily?) in rest of Europe. (And USA, I understand).
So far the phenomenon seems to have been attributed to the effects of internet-selling rather than shrinking aggregate demand as such. But maybe the effects internet-shopping have undoubtedly been having are masking – or accompanying – an underlying seismic shift.
I would think a UBI much more likely to generate inflation, because money is provided without changing output. In fact, it could destroy industries which rely on minimum wage labour, because they might quit their “shit jobs” with no one to replace them expect people not eligible for the UBI.
The short term consequences I see are “more money” + “less output”. Now that sounds like how Zimbabwe (+other hyperflation episodes) actually did start.
Dear Mr Shigemitsu (at 2020/01/21 at 7:28 pm)
I actually learned Dutch properly and use it to understand German not the other way around!
Bill’s summing-up is a small masterpiece of compression in itself, and the whole article effortlessly and comprehensively demolishes several targets in one go. A tour de force.
Apart from its overall virtues, for me it does finally clinch beyond all reservations the doubts I’ve sometimes entertained about aspects of the Job Guarantee. The only remaining problem is how to get a working example of a JB put into practice somewhere.
Nothing could be better calculated to stop that from ever happening IMO than that the UBI alternative had meanwhile been established because the two are like anti-matter particles:- if ever they meet they “mutually destruct” (as the physicists say)!
Unlike Patricia I think they’re fundamentally incompatible because based on conflicting premises: espousal of involuntary unemployment as buffer-stock is the starting-point for the UBI approach – which is the polar opposite of the JG approach.
…if anti-matter and “normal” matter particles meet they mutually destruct…
(I’m not a physicist – in fact I’m an anti-physicist).
I first came to MMT when writing an article on UBI for Morning Star, and met Guy Standing at an event (arranged by John McDonnell) in 2017. I was the only one to speak against. We are/were on hugging terms:o)
The issue always was what was the UBI wage going to be and who was going to provide the skills and real resources for those people on the UBI to use.
Child benefit is a great example of this arguement. They can’t agree on what that should be so they will never agree on what the UBI should pay. With the people who do not have kids saying why should they pay for it.
Same old, same old, which will Ultimately mean people will not vote for it. Especially those who do go out to work and provide the skills and real resources that will be used.
In Scotland they say it would allow more people to get involved in politics at a local level. Yeah sure, what kind of people ?
The usual kind the metropolitan liberal middle class sound finance mob. That just puts a layer of nonsense on top of another layer of nonsense until you end up with a liberal version of the later cake. Detached from the working class that they are supposed to be helping.
Charity porn on TV is another issue. Countryfile on a Sunday night provides at least a dozen job guarentee schemes every week. That are currently being carried out by the later cake, who think they are helping by doing this work for free.
Is charity supposed to stop inflation because the government spending only happens once ? Then savers decide how to spend the money again ?
Or is charity just a good will gesture to make society feel good ?
I would like to see a MMT viewpoint on charity and these ever more jobs being done for free.
Charity is being carried out on an industrial scale in rural areas throughout the UK. That are always on their last legs looking for money. Tunnocks tea cakes paid for a life boat for God’s sake. With years waiting lists for dogs for the blind.
Take charity out of the hands of the liberal layer cake and it is perfect for jobs to be carried out by the job guarentee. Would transform rural areas everywhere and help so many people from different back grounds.
Some of these areas can no longer even provide a bus service. Charity has to step in which is ridiculous.
The only area where I might agree with Standing (who repeats all the mainstream stuff about tax and spend) is this:
‘The British election disaster for Labour is the “endgame of ‘labourism’ founded on appeal to the industrial proletariat.”‘
I have serious doubts about the existence of any ‘industrial proletariat’ as working life has become a debt fuelled. fragmented rush to keep above the service and people are seeing themselves, it seems to me, as isolated runners in this ‘race.’ Labour’s disaster in the North wasn’t a disaster, it was simply are return to where Blair/Brown had left it in 2010.
As for ‘populism’ perhaps a recent quote from the flabby and vague Johnson about ‘bunging a bob for a Big Ben bong’ (to celebrate Brexit) quite well encapsulates what populism is all about, A trite statement about national pride which is not matched by anything on the ground. Even just this week, the Tories were stuttering and stammering over social care, saying a decision will be reached within a year and then altered to ‘within this Parliament.’ with another minister saying it’s “quite likely” we’ll reach an agreement by the end of the year.” This, after climate change, one of the major crises of our ageing society.
Populism is a clear phenomenon and not just an empty insult. Populism involves a very clearly defined approach to the manipulation of certain emotions and human vulnerabilities. It manipulates a person’s legitimate need for a sense of belonging by using crude symbolism and reference to a lost past and vague ideas of national renewal without the actual policies to realise it, the stirring of the emotion being enough. Trump still get’s it to work even though there has been zero change on the ground, debt peonage and job insecurity as well as levels of private debt that mean most Americans can’t afford a sudden bill for a few hundred dollars. Nevertheless , I suspect Trump will likely be re-elected.
A flexible and intelligent JG is absolutely essential. Many people with disabilities want part-time work so they can balance health needs and work needs. The psychological effects of not working, or feeling that you are able to make some contribution is very debilitating. Instead, the present system, if it deems you fit for work only deems you fit for a notional job and then reduces people to penury and a cycle of worsening health. The Tories have no plan to end this absurdity, indeed, only today the Department of Work and Pensions admitted that there have been a massive number of complaints against it for its work assessment process. It’s a complete shambles with a serious toll on human well-being. A JG could make a massive contribution to the age dependency ratio that is climbing (I live in an area where it is 20% above the national figure).
The BIG underlying issue is, I think, the housing crisis. The last 40 years of housing bubbles in the UK have created a wealth transference if vast proportions. The Tories have no plan to deal with this in any way which may be die to about 66% of there M.P’s having interests in land/housing and many of their voters likewise do not want their main asset to fall in value. This bakes in a huge problem which is not easy to solve: either house prices fall, or wages rise enough to allow rents and mortgages to be no more than 25% of disposable income. At present a JG income would still need large levels of housing benefit support.
Hard to put in words how wonderful it is the Dutch will be making work of work (hopefully if the neo-liberal VVD has still any sense in them)
‘Take charity out of the hands of the liberal layer cake and it is perfect for jobs to be carried out by the job guarentee. Would transform rural areas everywhere and help so many people from different back grounds.
Some of these areas can no longer even provide a bus service. Charity has to step in which is ridiculous.’
Absolutely and applicable to the area I live in. My village Hall is falling to bits and I was involved in raising £1,000 by running a community choir. Grants from Rural Community Councils are dwindling and I lost money setting up the venture (and I must be in the lowest decile).
people getting together to raise money can be a good thing but the level of dependency on charities is now becoming absurd.
Simon Cohen wrote:-
“people getting together to raise money can be a good thing but the level of dependency on charities is now becoming absurd”.
A (related) bête noire of mine is the now widespread licensing by governments of (either privately-owned or run exactly as if they were – ie as capitalistic profit-driven, dividend-paying entities) sub-contractors to run large-scale lotteries and gaming-operations as a means for governments to massively shirk their own responsibility to society (namely:- to themselves commit to a policy for and thereafter to deliver directly a properly-targeted *full* range of primary social support) by out-sourcing some of it through requiring said third parties to divert a proportion of the profits – in some cases all, but even then only *after* deducting the salaries and benefits costs of managements and employees – to “worthwhile causes”.
I think the involvement of governments – which in practice means elected politicians with constituencies to please and votes to win – in the gambling industry is in itself pernicious as well as potentially corrupting. The public sector ought not to be involving itself in such matters other than regulating them strictly in the public interest – which might very well require them to be severely pruned.
In regard to that proportion channeled to “the arts” a) that’s in a slightly different category but, b) it doesn’t follow that that need can only be met in that way either.
Fascinating. Comments articulate so many things that I have been observing. I live in rural United States.
There are many on the left who seem to view the combination of increasing taxes on wealth coupled with a UBI as a redistribution mechanism, as the means to drive the final stake through the heart of capitalism.
It would be interesting to explore the origins of that line of thinking.
They seem to miss the point every successful ceo understands: only the state variety of capitalism is whats practiced, it’s state the support for their own desired goals that shapes the manifestations of economic life for society, and this always seems to be a simple matter with such an uneven playing field.
The JG seems to offer a point of entry for participatory economics and participatory democracy, and less uneven playing field; this it seems is most fearful to those with the real power.
I will admit initial puzzlement over the distinction between the UBI and the Job Guarantee. Once the non-economic benefits of the latter were explained to me, I became convinced of its superiority.
Which parallels another journey of self-discovery. As an amateur without any formal economic training, I initially approached issues under the neoliberal framing (since I’ve been swimming in those intellectual waters all my life without really knowing it) which presents economics as a sort of series of inhuman math problems — the “autistic economics” if you will, devoid of its natural connections to human psychology and sociology (not to mention anthropology, political science and history). Once I realized that this “formalism” was a cul-de-sac (especially in empirical terms) and forced myself to consider the what ought to have been obvious connections between economic problems and the whole panoply of social sciences, I was freed from the “mind forg’d manacles” of the neoclassicals.
Now it seems so obvious — the human need for connection with others, expressed in “work” (contribution to the whole in concert with others) is as old, or older than civilization itself. Göbekli Tepe offers evidence from before the neolithic revolution that bands gathered for ritual, feasting and the “work” of erecting structures together.
Request from a nitpicker:
Bill writes “The provided the following diagram which traces the benefits of governments ensuring there is good work available to the individual sense of welfare through to benefits for the “economy and society”, in the aggregate.”
I am going to take a look at the report, but perhaps the diagram could be added to this excellent post?
Problem with UBI is that its so dehumanizing.
UBI treats humans as without agency. It serves to entrench our current condition where there is no responsibility to provide physical and mental well-being.
Too many people are just too passive at my workplace, UBI reinforces this problem. UBI essentially says: surrender to the dictates of the market that has failed to deliver outcomes.
And the inflation problem.
I love how Dr.Standing claims the recent labor loss as evidence for laborism failure, while the loss can be just as well explained as a neoliberal brainwashing success–or, more likely, a combination that includes a failure of labor party (or center left parties in general) to represent the working class.
Btw, good luck getting respect defending people doing nothing and getting paid in this culture.
Dear Thomas Bergbusch (at 2020/01/22 at 4:17 am)
Sorry for the lack of diagram. I just forgot to include it in my haste yesterday. It is there now.
All the best
No less a futurist than H.G. Wells knew the crucial value of the JG when he wrote “A Modern Utopia” in 1905, envisioning the operation of a benevolent and efficient world government. To quote him in anticipation of Bill and other MMT economists who advocate for a federal buffer stock employment program over a UBI: “(T)he world state–failing an adequate development of private enterprise–will either reduce the working day and so absorb the excess, or set on foot some permanent special works of its own, paying the minimum wage and allowing them to progress just as slowly or just as rapidly as the ebb and flow of labour dictated. …The aim of all these devices, the minimum wage, the standard of life, provision for all the feeble and unemployed and so forth, is not to rob life of incentives but to change their nature, to make life not less energetic, but less panic-stricken and violent and base, to shift the incidence of the struggle for existence from our lower to our higher emotions….” I almost fell off the chair when I came across this this presciently accurate description of MMT’s current Job Guarantee proposal written by a world-famous author some 115 years ago.
@Newton, I understand that the first idea of a UBI came from Moore’s Utopia, so it’s good to see that the later Utopia was more progressive.
I’ve been reading the MMT literature by the MMT developers and explaining it to others since 2011. When I read “fundamentals of MMT” explanations by Bill, Randy Wray, Stephanie Kelton and others, I’m not missing much. I understand that MMT is a lens that allows a more accurate understanding of money and the impact of economic decisions. I understand that we are plagued by the neoliberal myth of money scarcity and that our actual constraints in a sovereign currency are our real resources and that, regardless of who funds those resource uses, demand exceeding ability to supply is inflationary. I also understand that a Job Guarantee is not just a preferred method to help meet human needs, but is also designed as an built-in inflation check, unlike UBI.
However, I struggle explaining how Social Security is different from UBI. I am on Social Security. I see it as a legitimate way to achieve a public purpose — creating $$ to keep Granny, those with disability, and me out of the gutter. About 20% of Americans receive Social Security of some kind. That is a larger percentage than the un-or-under-employed. How is SS not UBI for the 20%?
It is interesting how many seniors on SS volunteer. It is satisfying to give. This volunteering is not the same as paid work and it is mostly not “charity work” used to substitute for what society should really be providing, but it can be more valuable and satisfying than work. It is, I think, a legitimate alternative to “work” because it carries with it the option to not do it, to do several versions of it, and to find new ways to express that which was is not currently “valuable” enough to get paid to do. In a way, this “outside the system” version of work is more satisfying. I suspect that younger demographics are forced to forgo such satisfaction for lack of a way to make a living without doing something they don’t want to do at a pittance wage. We know that when capitalism defines value, we are limited to what has an ROI and that is a great collective loss. Might a stipend for younger people allow us to redefine “valuable” work without the need for a bureaucracy to define it as acceptable — a legitimate fear (or at least challenge) of JG.
While Social Security in the US was originally not meant to be taxed, for a long time now SS payments have been subject to tax on an sliding other-income basis. Given that money is spent into the economy and taxed out of existence, is it not possible that, even under a UBI such a progressive taxation scheme could help control the inflationary tendencies of everyone receiving the stipend — given that a primary purpose of taxation should be to appropriately remove money from the economy? We’re not rich, but our wants and savings are doing ok, and we recognize that we can’t take those big spreadsheet numbers with us after all. So I do not begrudge some of my SS being taxed away.
As is often pointed out, those at the lowest income levels will use the payments they get to satisfy their needs. Those whose basic needs are already met will use the payments to satisfy their wants and save for the future. Those who, through other sources have their wants met, will concentrate on collecting larger spreadsheet numbers. They can never be big enough, it seems. So if everyone gets a stipend (SS for all), much of that from the middle and higher income brackets should get taxed away. Meeting wants is more likely to create inflation than satisfying needs for all.
Approximately 2,500 years ago in ancient Athens, Pericles went far beyond Utopian dreams.
He rejected UBI and sucessfully implemented a very ambitious JG scheme.
From Plutarch’s “The Parallel Lives”
In his desire that the unwarlike throng of common labourers should neither have no share at all in the public receipts, nor yet get fees for laziness and idleness, he boldly suggested to the people projects for great constructions, and designs for works which would call many arts into play and involve long periods of time, in order that the stay‑at‑homes, no whit less than the sailors and sentinels and soldiers, might have a pretext for getting a beneficial share of the public wealth.
The materials to be used were stone, bronze, ivory, gold, ebony, and cypress‑wood; the arts which should elaborate and work up these materials were those of carpenter, moulder, bronze‑smith, stone‑cutter, dyer, worker in gold and ivory, painter, embroiderer, embosser, to say nothing of the forwarders and furnishers of the material, such as factors, sailors and pilots by sea, and, by land, wagon‑makers, trainers of yoked beasts, and drivers.
There were also rope‑makers, weavers, leather‑workers, road‑ builders, and miners. And since each particular art, like a general with the army under his separate command, kept its own throng of unskilled and untrained labourers in compact array, to be as instrument unto player and as body unto soul in subordinate service, it came to pass that for every age, almost, and every capacity the cityʹs great abundance was distributed and scattered abroad by such demands.
An inspiring quote indeed.
But (this is not to quibble, merely musing), would you not agree that Pericles’s programme might more aptly be likened in modern terms rather to an MMT-informed fiscal policy-programme – ie one having (“loose”) full employment with price-stability as its cardinal aim – than to the JG directly?
Which is not to detract in any way from Pericles’s extraordinarily enlightened vision.
Nor from his dismissal of the “UBI” alternative – though his depiction of it is perhaps (seen through its modern proposers’ eyes) a bit of a caricature.
As to the UBI itself, I do think that the questions which Lyle poses make a very thought-provoking contribution to that debate.
In Plutarch’ account (written 400 years later!) there is no mention of Pericles being in any way concerned with inflation. No nonsense here about a “price anchor”.
It seems that Pericles’ projects were essentially Keynesian “shovel-ready” public works, with sub-contacting to private firms – “each particular art, like a general with the army under his separate command, kept its own throng of unskilled and untrained labourers”.
This could be described as a JG policy with subcontracting of some of the guaranteed employment to private firms.
The main differences from MMT’s ideas are:
– Subcontracting to private firms. This might be more efficient than direct government employment.
– Hard workfare: no work, zero income. In contrast MMT proposes soft workfare: No work, no pay, only welfare support.
– Employment delays if the public works are not immediately “shovel ready”
Thank you, Kingsley Lewis, for uncovering the JG concept MUCH earlier in history than I did. Fascinating quote!
The WRR is a valuable resource for policy, but I don’t know how seriously the Dutch government listens to them. They are right-wing and neo-liberal; as is a large proportion of the population here. Today in Financieel Dagblad there was an article about the report from Hans Borstlap (the fellow who in the 90s demolished the old system of protection for workers who could no longer work). More ‘flexibilisering’ in the labour market is not considered suspect here. When ‘flexible work’ is talked about, in the press or by government, it is generally in positive terms; ideas of work freedom and liberation and all the rest of the claptrap.
Now Borstlap is talking about changes in the Labour market. Among other things in this report, there is much talk about ‘developing skills’, but it is spoken about in a typical way by people who draw fat salaries in high-flying jobs. If they ever worked in a low-paid job they have no memory of it. The fact of the matter is that some jobs are just tedious and don’t have much scope for ‘development’, but are still necessary. Proper rights and protections are what such jobs need: like full holiday pay, legal representation, the right to unionise, protection from corporate bullying, decent wages. Not fantasies about constant training which just exhaust you alongside the work. Have you read this report Bill?
Talking about ‘basic jobs’. I would hope that any job guarantee scheme doesn’t end up as merely versions of shit-shovelling for minimum wages; with someone drawing a 5-figure salary coming round to tell you how this is increasing your well-being. It has to be understood that quite a lot of people who are underemployed, or somewhat unemployable, are not necessarily people ‘requiring skills’. That is so often thought of as the cause. I originally studied medicine but ended up having a breakdown. I’ll never have a career in medicine now; It’s just impossible. I’ve done a lot of low-end jobs and you meet a lot of the same people, who have a range of skills but for some reason or other can no longer apply them. What usually happens when do-gooders come with ‘development’ plans is they insult you by offering basic ‘reading and writing help’, stuff you don’t need. It’s less about actual investment in work opportunities, but trying to plonk it onto the individual.
Their idea is that everyone can be rapidly trained up to move on to the white-collar service jobs or as high-flying freelancers in the financial sector – the valued jobs in terms of salaries (even though a good deal of them are bullshit jobs). Important blue-collar service jobs remain disparaged when they should just be properly remunerated and afforded proper rights. To my mind that is how you get people willing to work a basic job in a job guarantee, not with promises of ‘development’ from people who promote it, but will never have to work a ‘basic job’ themselves..
I probably decided not to go into medicine earlier than you did. Glad i did though, otherwise i would never had the freedom i have now.
I think work is so precarious, everyone is trying to go to medical school even though its not for them. People destroy themselves trying to get ahead. Its fair to attribute some blame on neoliberalism i think.
Thanks for the account of an early JG. =)
For me the idea of UBI instead of work is rightly rejected but universal(for every adult) and coupled
with higher tax for the wealthy so the net affect is both fiscal stimulus and fiscal transfers
would raise aggregate demand and increase employment .Unless of course you fall for
the classical and neo liberal idea that unemployment is voluntary.
Having said that there is a question of priorities and inflation. I think the priorities are skilled work.
Eliminating carbon admissions as soon as possible ,providing adequate housing in both quantity
and quality ,education and training ,transport infra structure ,health and care needs this all needs
highly skilled and hopefully well paid work.
If there is credibility to notions of fiscal space although I have yet to see any remotely credible macro inflation model, then this needs to be taken into consideration.
There is so much incredibly important work that needs to be done ,many people who are already
doing important work are working too many hours ,many workers could do with more holidays
the idea that robots are soon to take care of all our needs seems incredibly far fetched.
Given that work is necessary for the foreseeable yes all should be contributing and will want to
contribute.So yes a guaranteed job ,please but UNIVERSAL stipends as a part of fiscal stimulus and
fiscal transfers would provide more work and more equality. I am just not sure that either are
the priority .
We can reach the frictional levels of unemployment enjoyed by many nations in the post war settlement if we have similar levels of fiscal stimulus and fiscal transfers (yes by taxing the rich)
I am still in favour of a job guarantee should certainly as FDR thought be one of the rights we
deliver through democracy.
I wanted to let you know about a French initiative (which has extremely low visibility in France also) called “Territoires Zone Chomage de Longue Durée” (No long term unemployed zone) https://www.tzcld.fr/. I saw a film called “La Nouvelle Cordée” (http://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm_gen_cfilm=277134.html)last night which discussed the experience of one town in this program. There are 130 or so towns participating. The government provides a subsidy / month / person (cost of benefits etc saved) . The town sets up a company which employs the people to do whatever they can. They look for work to suit the employee. The idea is to provide services which do not compete with existing companies…or where no one is willing to take on the work. As it sounds a little like an implementation of your “last resort employer” – I would love to hear your opinion of it. The film was extremely moving – showing how an accident of life could bring poverty and exclusion on the likes of you or me, and how giving people a chance had changed their lives.!
(and merci for your fantastic blog)