Forget Basic Income – We need Guaranteed Employment

I’ve long been a champion of Basic Income. As we head towards an uncertain future where automation and offshoring becomes the norm, we need more safeguards to protect the most vulnerable members in our society. Instead of paternalistic welfare programs, full of bureaucracy and central planning, the idea of putting money directly in the pockets of those who need it the most, and letting them utilize it as they best see fit, is impeccable.

However, it’s worth recognizing the political infeasibility of such a proposal. There are too many people who are morally repulsed by the idea of someone sitting at home, playing video games all day, and collecting enough money from the taxpayers to lead a livable-life. It offends their moral sensibilities, and feeds into their fear of society collapsing into a nihilistic moocher dystopia.

Such concerns are misplaced in my opinion, but it’s worth acknowledging how they can and will poison any substantive policy discussions on Basic Income. Hence why we need something that is conceptually similar, affords the same safety net provided by Basic Income, but is more politically palatable – Government Guaranteed Employment.

Imagine a government mandate that anyone who so desires, is guaranteed a job by their local/state/federal government at a livable wage of say $12/hour. What exactly would they be doing? That’s left completely at the discretion of the local government agency. They could be asked to clean the city streets and parks. They could be asked to drive Taxis/Ubers on behalf of the state. They could be trained and promoted to specialized jobs in administrative roles or construction projects. They could be subcontracted out to other companies like McDonald’s/Walmart that are in need of low-skill labor. Heck, they could simply be made to sign up for TaskRabbit, in order to help other local citizens, and help the State recoup some of the costs of this program.

Regardless of precisely what the government chooses to do, everyone wins.

The unemployed who would otherwise be destitute, would instead get a guaranteed job at a livable wage.

The state, instead of just giving out welfare checks with no strings attached, would have a pool of labor that can be directed towards projects that improve infrastructure and overall quality-of-life.

The taxpayers get the satisfaction of knowing that no one in their society need suffer under poverty, but also that everyone benefiting from government “assistance” is working for their wages, in ways that contribute to the local economy and infrastructure.

With the looming tides of automation and globalization, our society is certainly going to become increasingly wealthy on aggregate, but there will inevitably be those who find themselves left behind. We as a society have a duty to help them, but it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to continue to work and contribute back to society. Government Guaranteed Employment is the perfect bridge that connects both ideals.


Related Links:

The looming dangers of Automation

About OutlookZen

Ex-Journalist & Columnist. Loves exploring the world.
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3 Responses to Forget Basic Income – We need Guaranteed Employment

  1. BRIAN BIEN says:

    Perhaps this would be more palatable. Reminds me of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal !

  2. Jay says:

    Frankly this is a terrible idea. There is no massive need for unskilled labor, and people don’t become magically qualified for jobs just because you force agencies to hire them for it. Believe me, in customer/public-facing roles there are reasons you do not want people in them whose jobs are guaranteed.

    You talk about sub-contracting them to private companies, which makes no sense, because if they were qualified for those roles to begin with, they could get hired for them already — that’s how the job market works.

    Basic income is not just a strategy to provide everyone with an income, it’s also a strategy meant to provide an economic upside. By uncoupling earning a livable income from required labor, we increase everyone’s ability to pursue education & entrepreneurship, and increase social mobility. The likely outcome of these things is a net gain in societal wealth (and taxable income). Whereas what you’re proposing requires the creation of projects that are clearly un-needed or economically unfeasible (or we’d be hiring people for them already), providing no opportunity for additional benefit while also draining our budget.

    • OutlookZen says:

      You seem to be missing the main point of the idea, which is that the government agency is given complete discretion on how they put their “employees” to work. If there really isn’t anything for them to do, then the agency is free to set them free, or enroll them in a long term job training program. If there is indeed something to do, such as cleaning the public parks for example, the agency is welcome to do that instead. And if it’s indeed true that giving people the free time to get educated and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities will generate net societal wealth, then the agency is free to do that as well.

      I’m not opposed to basic income, but there’s no reason to dismiss guaranteed employment just because it isn’t basic income. Guaranteed employment is certainly better than the status quo, and it is a lot more practical and politically palatable than basic income. It’s also very easy to transition from a guaranteed employment policy to basic income, because the funding would then be in place. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

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