Against a guaranteed jobs program

Jeff Spross, my colleague here at The Week, argues that such a jobs guarantee could even be married to the other popular idea in liberal wonkdom: the universal basic income.

The two ideas have a lot in common. Both are big, sweeping proposals — something the cautious Hillary Clinton campaign failed to provide. Both have a simple, straightforward elegance. In the case of a universal basic income, government cuts everyone a check. In the case of a jobs guarantee, government supplies everyone a job. And both offer a happy ending to the modern economic scare story of robots taking all the jobs. Indeed, many job guarantee advocates hope the program would make Americans so comfortable with a much larger welfare state that a job guarantee would become a policy bridge to a UBI.

But the more you look at the idea of a jobs guarantee, the more it seems like a bridge to nowhere. There is nothing simple about it, and the plans so far offered provide loads more questions than answers. First, there’s its novelty. This isn’t a case where government would fund jobs in reaction to some one-off, severe economic shock — say, how the New Deal responded to the Great Depression. CAP wants a permanent plan with an arbitrary goal of “maintaining the employment rate for prime-age workers without a bachelor’s degree at the 2000 level of 79 percent.”

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