Some Thoughts About Universal Basic Incomes And Job Guarantees

Or, if you prefer, why the Mad Biologist is in the slow leftist group. With the Democratic frontrunners for 2020 getting onboard with a job guarantee, there has been much discussion about both a universal basic income (UBI) and a federal job guarantee program. Leaving aside the whole debate over which is better, I actually don’t like either that much.

I would prefer a massive increase in ‘regular’ non-military and non-internal security spending (i.e., a doubling, at least), combined with a minimum wage hike to $15/hour over five years. While some of that increase would go towards expanding UBI-like things, such as TANF, food stamps, LIHEAP, and the like, much of it would go towards infrastructure, with infrastructure being defined very broadly: education (building, books, teachers, aides, etc.), mass transit, public housing, science, arts, and humanities funding, along with more traditional infrastructure repair (aka ‘fixing all of the broken shit’). I don’t see how a jobs guarantee would deliver many of these goods reliably–and people, including the ones who already have jobs, have to like this crap. I can even see Republicans perverting a jobs guarantee to undercut both higher-paying civil service jobs and unions (remember the ACA? Of course they would do this). To the extent a jobs guarantee provides medium to long-term contracts (as did the CCC in the 1930s), I think it will be fine, but as a temporary, float-in, float-out system over weeks or a few months, it won’t meet many of our infrastructure needs.

A $15/hour wage would redistribute wealth from the wealthy to labor (without whom that wealth isn’t generated) without being inflationary (that’s not a concern now, but, at some point, it will be). And income redistribution is desperately needed. It has the advantage of being simple to understand–and enforce (by the way, how does a jobs guarantee or a UBI prevent wage theft–and that enforcement of fair wages is a… government job).

Finally, I can’t help but think this is yet another case of much of the left doing the ‘Look! Shiny Pebble!’ thing again: months ago, ending monopoly (which is good) was the Kewl Thing, now it’s a jobs guarantee. Maybe plugging something for more than a few months would be good…

If a UBI or jobs guarantee in 2021 were to get traction, I would support it. Not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And as part of a larger program, a jobs guarantee would be helpful. But I would rather focus on growing the economy with lots (and lots) of targeted spending, and redistribute that wealth through a minimum wage (and reduce income inequality through more progessive taxes).
But then again, I’m in the slow lefty class…

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