A Job Guarantee is a terrible idea

The "job guarantee" has entered the political zeitgiest and is steadily gaining traction: It's often mentioned as a key component of a Green New Deal, and Bernie has even promised a job guarantee if president.

The superficial appeal is obvious. Unemployment sucks, lack of regular income sucks, people want to work. So why not guarantee them a job?

But what would a JG look like in practice?

Australia provides a useful example, in that there already is a form of job guarantee program: Work for the Dole.

Unfortunately tho, it's a terrible program. Its existence ought to be a cautionary tale to Job Guarantee advocates: It is right wing in origin, and is designed to coerce, punish, and otherwise humiliate disadvantaged people into forced labour. The "dole" amount itself is disgustingly low, and hasn't been raised for many years.

It's also unsafe: People have been killed while participating in the program.

These problems might seem solvable: pay a higher rate, make the program optional.

And indeed most progressive conceptions of a job guarantee suggest setting the pay at the level of a "living wage".

But this presents us with a quandry: If a Job Guarantee job pays a living wage, what "dole" is paid to those who don't/won't/can't do a JG job?

If set to substantially below the JG/living wage level, the program will be punitive and poverty-inducing in nature, much like the existing right-wing program in Australia.

But if set to be the same or similar to the JG level, a JG job becomes financially pointless. If you still get a living wage for not doing the JG, the JG is reduced to a volunteering program.

So a Job Guarantee, by its very nature, must be punitive to at least some degree, to exist at all.

The ostensibly progressive advocates of Job Guarantee plans often seem to be motivated by a decidedly un-progressive revulsion to unconditional welfare.

This is a mistake: Any centrepiece of a truly progressive agenda ought to be universal.

In constrast, a JG directly affects only the invisible underclass on or below minimum wage. Any future right-leaning government would find it easy to reform a progressive job guarantee into a right-wing punitive version, largely unnoticed, much as the immiserating conditions of Australia's Work for the Dole have been for decades.

And as before, JG participants could continue to be demonized and written off as welfare recipients.

The language of jobs and growth is right wing language. And in a society of idle, unearned wealth and inherited privilege for the rich, notions that dignity and basic necessities for the poor must be earned through mutual obligation are blatantly classist.

Progressives must vehemently reject such notions and badly thought out plans built upon their foundations. Instead, we must demand universal programs of unconditional dignity.