Category Archives: full employment

The nation will also have to find the answer to full employment, including a more imaginative approach than has yet been conceived for neutralizing the perils of automation. Today, as the skilled and semiskilled Negro attempts to mount the ladder of economic security, he finds himself in competition with the white working man at the very time when automation is scrapping forty thousand jobs a week. Though this is perhaps the inevitable product of social and economic upheaval, it is an intolerable situation, and Negroes will not long permit themselves to be pitted against white workers for an ever-decreasing supply of jobs. The energetic and creative expansion of work opportunities, in both the public and private sectors of our economy, is an imperative worthy of the richest nation on earth, whose abundance is an embarrassment as long as millions of poor are imprisoned and constantly self-renewed within an expanding population.

King, Jr., Martin Luther, 1963, Why We Can’t Wait

The growth of the human services should be rapid. It should be developed in a manner insuring that the jobs that will be generated will not primarily be for professionals with college and postgraduate diplomas but for people from the neighborhoods who can perform important functions for their neighbors. As with private enterprise, rigid credentials have monopolized the entry routes into human services employment. But … less educated people can do many of the tasks now performed by the highly educated as well as many other new and necessary tasks.

King, Jr. Martin Luther, 1967, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? pp. 197-98

Quotes via “Jobs for All”: Another Dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Mathew Forstater

An Economic Program to Make #BlackLivesMatter

Must read piece by Mychal Denzel Smith and Jesse Myerson in The Nation, featuring both sober historical analysis and concrete proposals to organize around (Job & Income Guarantee, Land Value Tax, and Baby Bonds):

King’s vision, needless to say, was never realized. This is why we propose that, in addition to calls for police reform, it is vital for the defeat of the racist system that the #BlackLivesMatter movement advance an economic program. We cannot undo racism in America without confronting our country’s history of economically exploiting black Americans. Demands from Ferguson Action and other groups include full employment, and this foundational item is one that can and should be fleshed out, as we hope to do here.

Before laying out our proposals, we should clarify why, historically, eliminating racism requires an economic program. America’s story is one of economic exploitation driving the creation and maintenance of racism over time. The inception of our country’s economic system condemned black people to an underclass for a practical rather than bigoted reason: the exploitation of African labor. Imported Africans were prevented by customs and language barriers from entering into contracts, and unlike the indigenous population, their lack of familiarity with the terrain prevented them from running away from their slavers. To morally justify an economy dependent on oppression, in a nation newly founded on the rights of men to freedom, it was necessary to socially construct a biological fiction called race, one that deemed some people subhuman, mere property.

We’ll Need an Economic Program to Make #BlackLivesMatter. Here Are Three Ideas.”

Keeping It Real: Law, Coercion, & The Frontiers of Public Finance

“If the federal government creates money out of thin air, rather than taking it from some people to give it to others, as we have so often been told, then who owns the money? Who deserves the money? If money is not truly a commodity siphoned from the public, but a tool created and distributed by the government and its agents to the public, then who can claim ownership of the money currently wasting away in federal coffers? Deeper, still – who is entitled to the money that doesn’t even exist yet? If there is no money scarcity, only real resource scarcity, then most legal and philosophical conversations about distributive justice are anachronistic and impoverished.”

Keeping It Real: Law, Coercion, & The Frontiers of Public Finance by the Modern Money Network’s Raúl Carrillo

Two things you should read

Today two stellar pieces of writing were published that speak deeply and intelligently on subjects that “the left” at times falters on: the relationship of class and capitalism to both feminism and environmentalism.

First, in Jacobin, “Rank-and-File Environmentalism” describes the fallacy of the “jobs vs. environment” debate, drawing on the history of the Miners for Democracy (MFD) caucus of Appalachian coal miners in the ’60s and ’70s:

Jobs, the MFD insisted, were not at odds with the environment. The caucus suggested that any miners displaced by a national ban on strip mining or enforcement of anti-pollution laws be given other (union) jobs working to reclaim land that had been destroyed by coal companies or building up the infrastructure in their home states which had often been bypassed by state and federal development projects.

The MFD shifted the terms of the debate. Instead of a choice between jobs and environment, they argued for different priorities: people and land before profit.

As when people disparage organic food as “classist,” they often ignore that the people most harmed by pesticides are agricultural workers (many of whom are trafficked and/or children), so too with those who use populist rhetoric to defend pipelines and fracking — or, blame energy workers for such environmentally destructive projects going through:

Many who include workers as part of the problem forget that workers tend to be among those who suffer the most from the destruction their work inflicts. The concentration of energy production in places where few other job opportunities exist means that workers often take jobs that inflict ecological destruction they oppose. Women who occupied a strip mine in 1972 to stop the destruction of their mountains reported that “miners sympathized with the demonstration. These men said they would not be strip mining if there were other jobs available.”

This is one of the key reasons I support a Job Guarantee. Not only would it give workers the ability to refuse work they feel is exploitative — of the land or the people– but it could help us more justly transition to a society where at times human labor may have to replace fossil fuels. In other words, do we enter a post-petroleum world by viciously exploiting segments of the population? Or do we figure out ways to divy up whatever work needs to be done in fair and humane ways?

The former is the obvious extension of the system we have today. Work is far less “automated” than many a blogger/columnist would like to think; nimble human fingers are still often cheaper than machines, provided you don’t have to pay a living wage. If new, sustainable, technologies soon eliminate the need for human labor, great! But rather than bet on that happening before we irrevocably destroy the environment/run out of oil, I’d like to focus on ways that agriculture, construction, sanitation, etc., can be made to operate with fewer fossil fuels and dangerous chemicals, while still providing safe working conditions and fair compensation. There is already a wide range of “appropriate tech” and sustainable agriculture techniques that substitute human labor for fossil fuels. The key is to make sure there are enough workers, enough worker protections, and ample compensation to ensure such labor is safe, dignified and not miserable. “Many hands make light work,” as they say. There is a massive difference between 10 farmers working 5 hour days and 5 farmers working 10 hour days. Of course, if it turns out there just isn’t that much work to be done, we could all just work less.

Second, in The Nation, is this roundtable “Does Feminism Have a Class Problem?”, which similarly emphasizes the importance of understanding labor and class, this time in the context of feminism:

It is no accident that the societies ranked as having the most gender equality are the European social democracies, which tend to have the most economic equality, as well. It is also hardly coincidental that in America over the past twenty years, feminism has stalled while economic inequality has skyrocketed. Both feminism’s halt and inequality’s surge are connected to the rise of the neoliberal capitalist state, with its deregulated workplaces, its deep cuts in social services and its reliance on the unpaid labor of women to provide care.

Nearly everything I said about the job guarantee & green jobs above could similarly be said for the job guarantee and care work. Instead of three elder care workers doing back-breaking eight hour shifts, why not twelve care workers doing four hour shifts? And paid well, like the skilled professionals they are!

Jackson Rising

“The hundreds gathered at Jackson Rising spent the weekend exploring and discussing how to fund, found and foster a different kind of business enterprise – democratically self-managed cooperatives. They reviewed future plans for and current practices of cooperative auto repair shops, laundries, recycling, construction, and trucking firms. They discussed cooperative restaurants, child and elder care coops, cooperative grocery stores, cooperative factories, farms and more, all collectively owned and democratically managed by the same workers who deliver the service and create the value.”

Your Government Owes You a Job

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

A Beginner’s Guide to Modern Monetary Theory

What is money? Why is our economy so fucked?

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?

Continue reading “The World According to Modern Monetary Theory” at The New Inquiry »