Response To: Objections to a Job Guarantee

In response to: http://alittleecon.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/objections-to-a-job-guarantee/

Actually this isn’t really a response; it’s more of an elaboration. Some common objections to a theoretical Job Guarantee are listed in the post. I wanted to add that the objections really highlight what I think is a muddling of what unemployment actually is, and what solving it as a problem actually achieves.

The most important detail, that is easily missed, is that employment is a purely financial construct. It is an aspect of the monetary system, which is financial, and not part of the ‘real’ economy, and solving unemployment has nothing to do with solving any real output problem.

We tend to think of jobs as, pretty much just, doing stuff. This is incomplete. You could do whatever you do as a job, right now, without anyone paying you to do it. No-one can really stop you pursuing whatever you think the work content of jobs are. So what’s difference between driving a bus around and being employed as a bus driver? Simple: you get paid. If you are seeking to be paid to do something you are unemployed. If you are seeking to just fill your time and not get paid you are not unemployed. Unemployment is the problem that there are people seeking to be paid, not that they are seeking to do stuff. People may well be seeking to do stuff, people work for reasons other than to get paid, but that is not unemployment.

Solving unemployment is a financial solution to a financial problem. You can solve unemployment by hiring people to do useful things, by hiring them to do pointless things, or by hiring them to do something terrible like kill each other*. All of these policies would, by definition, solve unemployment, and that’s that. The confusion is mixing the solution to unemployment with the solution to the problem of useful real output. They are not related. As the above example shows it’s possible to affect real output in whatever way you want, from terribly to brilliantly and everything in between, while eliminating unemployment. It’s also theoretically possible to have perfectly adequate real output (by whatever standard you want) without everyone being employed. You could even imagine a science fiction world in which no-one is employed but everyone is perfectly happy.

Talking about ‘non-jobs’ while discussing job guarantee is like discussing a balance sheet and just imagining what real assets the numbers represent, and then concluding the activity producing that sheet must be non-assets. Those numbers could represent anything, a balance sheet is just a financial description and doesn’t track real assets, let alone their qualitative value.

*all of which happen right now.

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