Raúl Carrillo’s impassioned call for a Job Guarantee – please share!
A right to a job may sound outlandish, but it’s common sense. You need dollars to eat, and unless you steal the dollars, you generally have to earn them. If the government wants to protect property with cops, courts, and prisons, issue a single, common currency, and tax and fine us in it, it should at least guarantee we can work for our own dollars. Politicians ramble about equality of opportunity and the dignity of work, but to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, we need boots. And lest our boots stomp each other’s necks in senseless competition for too few jobs, we need a Job Guarantee.
A Job Guarantee isn’t that radical. Thomas Paine proposed one in 1791. In 1944, FDR included the right to a living wage job in his Second Bill of Rights and his Republican opponent promised state-ensured employment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrined the right to work and philosophers Rawls and Dewey advocated government provide enough work. LBJ deliberated a JG and Martin Luther King, Jr., demanded one.
“Your Government Owes You a Job” by Raúl Carrillo
These two questions have fueled my dilettantish but somewhat obsessive study of Modern Money Theory (MMT) for the past few years. But I’ve struggled for a way to concisely explain what MMT is, and why you should care about this (decreasingly) obscure economic theory.
Much of the MMT literature is focused on an intra-discipline fight within Economics. This is a worthy battle but creates an extra challenge for the non-economist, who must first learn a bunch of econ speak just to be able to understand the arguments for unlearning it. The below essay is my attempt to bypass that step and explain MMT directly in language accessible to such a reader. If you find it helpful, please share. Criticism is also welcome.
Many thanks to Mike Konczal, who had the idea of looking outside academia for an MMT explainer, and invited me to write this piece.
The World According to Modern Monetary Theory
The New Inquiry Vol. 27, April 11, 2014
Too often the origins of our economic ills are cloaked by a mystical reverence for some autonomous money spirit. The economists behind Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) seek to lift money’s veil by studying the specific actions that occur as money is created, circulated, and destroyed.
For those seeking a grand, unifying sociopolitical economic theory, MMT will disappoint. But as an analytic tool, MMT clarifies who holds genuine power—sovereignty—within society, and how they organize the money system to serve their interests. Unsurprisingly, this is often a story of tremendous cruelty and exploitation.
But the revelation that the rules of money are not immutable laws of nature but are instead created and constantly modified by people opens up possibilities beyond the scope of our current political imagination. The questions become: What sort of society do we want? Do we have the physical resources to support that society? And finally, how the hell do we muster the political will to get there?
I wrote a layperson’s introduction to Modern Monetary Theory in this month’s issue of The New Inquiry.
I watched this interview with Wendell Berry a couple weeks ago, and my thoughts continue to return to this one quote:
Well, you’ve put me in the place I’m always winding up in and…that is to say well we’ve acknowledged that the problems are big, now where’s the big solution? When you ask the question what is the big answer, then you’re implying that we can impose the answer. But that’s the problem we’re in to start with, we’ve tried to impose the answers. The answers will come not from walking up to your farm and saying this is what I want and this is what I expect from you. You walk up and you say what do you need. And you commit yourself to say all right, I’m not going to do any extensive damage here until I know what it is that you are asking of me. And this can’t be hurried. This is the dreadful situation that young people are in. I think of them and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience. And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.
— Wendell Berry