Murray and Forstater (eds) Full Employment and Social Justice

Michael J. Murray and Mathew Forstater (eds), Full Employment and Social Justice: Solidarity and sustainability, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, ix + 264 pp, 3 319 66375 3, hbk, £88

In their introductory chapter the editors and authors of this volume seek

to eliminate the opportunity gap for women and minorities, promote environmentally sustainable methods of production and consumption, and rebuild local economies through education, training, and community redevelopment programs:

and they believe that the way to achieve these aims is

a federally funded, locally operated, Job Guarantee program … that puts all those with the willingness and ability to work into paid employment. (pp. 1-2)

The editors list advantages of this approach as promoting macroeconomic stability (because during a recession the publicly-funded scheme could expand), putting a floor under private sector wages (because in order to hire labour the private sector would need to pay more than the job guarantee programme would), encouraging skills enhancement through training provision attached to the guaranteed jobs, strengthening local economics, and promoting a ‘green economic’ system.

Chapter 2 suggests that a job guarantee programme could act as a brake on urbanisation, globalisation, economic growth, and social and economic change. Chapters 3 and 4, which are rather too alike, outline a ‘degrowth’ economy, and argue that a job guarantee program would ‘dissolve the contradiction between economic and ecological prosperity’ (p. 63), and chapter 4 additionally suggests a reduction in working hours, recognises that trades unions would need to be a lot stronger to achieve this, and offers no other mechanism for meeting the desire. Chapter 5 describes Iranian public works programmes, and unusually for this book calculates the cost; and chapter 6 finds in Buddhism the inspiration for a co-operative non-capitalist economy. Chapter 7 proposes a combination of local currencies, local taxes (payable in the local currencies), and local jobs that pay wages in the local currencies. Chapter 8 proposes a job guarantee for American Indians; chapter 9 suggests that a job guarantee fits nicely with conventional US politics; and chapter 10 offers a rather too long history of the Argentine economy and prescribes an employment guarantee programme as a means to economic stabilisation. Chapter 11 argues that a job guarantee programme ‘would animate the non-invidious re-creation of community, challenge the hierarchy which permeates social and economic relations, and facilitate an institutional adjustment toward a more inclusive provisioning process’ (p. 239) by challenging ‘the institution of ownership and the price system’ (p. 252).

This book is variations on a theme, and the theme is a job guarantee. As often happens in such edited volumes, each author writes from within their own interests, some address the theme more directly than others, and there is a fair amount of irrelevant material ( – some of the technical economics could easily have been cut). No linear argument emerges, but what the editors and authors do manage to achieve is a persuasive cumulative argument for job guarantee programmes. However, it might only be persuasive because important issues are sidestepped, and objections are ignored. For instance, the administrative complexity and easily compromised accountability of long term job guarantee programmes are not discussed; and nowhere do we find reference to Paul Gregg’s research on the subject, which is a pity. In an article published in 2009 he concluded that job creation schemes ‘have produced little in the way of useful output and have in some instances actually delayed job entry and subsequent job retention rather than promoted it’. [1]

A job guarantee is sometimes proposed as an alternative to a Citizen’s Basic Income. There are at least two significant differences: a Citizen’s Basic Income would offer much that a job creation scheme would offer because it would increase employment incentives and would create a more efficient employment market, whereas a job guarantee would not pay a Citizen’s Basic Income; and whereas a job guarantee will always be expensive and difficult to administer, a Citizen’s Basic Income would not be.

This debate needs to be had.

 

Note

[1] Paul Gregg (2009) ‘Job guarantees – easing the pain of long‐term unemployment’, Public Policy Research, 16 (3): 174-179, p. 175. A working paper can be found at www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cmpo/migrated/documents/jobguarantee.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes

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