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Thursday, September 30, 2010

"The Ghost of Full Employment"

Should the government guarantee a job for anyone who wants one?:

The Ghost of Full Employment, by Jefferson Cowie, TAP: After nearly two years of bad economic news,... the ... government's direct response to the jobs and poverty crisis has ... drawn only from the narrow menu of economic fundamentalism -- tax cuts and stimulus. Now that gross domestic product is positive, the unemployment problem is mostly considered "structural" -- a skills mismatch -- and thus beyond our capacity to solve.
Yet not that long ago, in the midst of another long-term economic meltdown, politicians dared to think beyond the idea that growth alone would solve all problems. National leaders, including mainstream politicians in both parties, went so far as to propose a federally mandated and legally enforceable right to a job for every American.
That's right -- the federal guarantee of a job.
Their premise? That people's livelihoods are too important to be left to market mechanisms. ... In 1974, when the United States faced another period of double-digit unemployment and global economic crisis,... Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Rep. Augustus Hawkins ..., teamed up to advance a seductive idea: national planning that wouldn't simply promote growth, support Wall Street, or prop up consumption but ensure a job for every person. ...
Humphrey and Hawkins looked to revive Franklin Roosevelt's famous Economic Bill of Rights, the core of which was, as FDR explained in 1944, "the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation." The aggressive Keynesianism of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act was simple in concept: Federal policy should promote full employment..., and if that failed, government would then be triggered as the employer of last resort. ...
To contemporary ears, the idea of a federally guaranteed job sounds like crazy talk...
Today, as a similar economic malaise haunts the land, we ... need ... spirit and imagination. Despite its failure to deliver much of anything, the Humphrey-Hawkins Act serves as a striking example of national leaders thinking boldly about the collective economic well-being of the citizenry. ...
President Barack Obama's failure is not on specific policy grounds; it is in his more significant inability to help the nation reimagine a constructive role for the state. ...
The boldness of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act remains a forgotten artifact of a bygone political era, buried deep in the ideological layers of the post-Reagan world. Perhaps it's time to dig it up and ask ourselves if ... we actually have the courage and imagination to govern ourselves.

I can imagine how to do this in a large, one-shot, New Deal kind of way in times where there is a substantial amount of idle labor, but it's harder to imagine how to design a job guarantee program that would operate on an ongoing basis.

    Posted by on Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 01:26 AM in Economics, Policy, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (108)


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