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The Case for a Guaranteed Job

A government’s job is to protect its people from misfortune, in particular want of work, and one that abandons this duty of care to the market deserves to be cast out. This is the best argument for giving a government job-guarantee program a fair trial.

LONDON – “Any government,” writes the economist and hedge fund manager Warren Mosler, “can achieve full employment by offering a public service job to anyone who wants one at a fixed wage.” Versions of this idea have received powerful endorsements from prominent Democratic politicians in the US, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has linked a government job guarantee to a Green New Deal. Moreover, versions of a job-guarantee program (JGP), more or less connected to green economics, have been implemented in Argentina, India, South Africa, and – whisper it quietly – Hungary under its illiberal populist leader, Viktor Orbán.

In the United States in December 2017, 6.6 million people were deemed to be officially unemployed, 4.9 million were working part-time but wanted full-time work, and 5.9 million wanted to work but were not counted in the official statistics. In other words, at least 17.4 million Americans wanted but were unable to find stable, well-paid work.

Economists L. Randall Wray, Flavia Dantas, Scott Fullwiler, Pavlina R. Tcherneva, and Stephanie A. Kelton have proposed that the US government guarantee all such jobseekers as much work as they want – up to a weekly cap of, say, 35 hours – at a fixed wage of $15 per hour. Today, such a JGP might employ around 16 million American workers and cost about 2% of US GDP. Unwanted unemployment, as we have known it since the Industrial Revolution, would no longer exist.