I’ve long been a champion of Basic Income. As we head towards an uncertain future where automation and offshoring becomes the norm, we need more safeguards to protect the most vulnerable members in our society. Instead of paternalistic welfare programs, full of bureaucracy and central planning, the idea of putting money directly in the pockets of those who need it the most, and letting them utilize it as they best see fit, is impeccable.
However, it’s worth recognizing the political infeasibility of such a proposal. There are too many people who are morally repulsed by the idea of someone sitting at home, playing video games all day, and collecting enough money from the taxpayers to lead a livable-life. It offends their moral sensibilities, and feeds into their fear of society collapsing into a nihilistic moocher dystopia.
Such concerns are misplaced in my opinion, but it’s worth acknowledging how they can and will poison any substantive policy discussions on Basic Income. Hence why we need something that is conceptually similar, affords the same safety net provided by Basic Income, but is more politically palatable – Government Guaranteed Employment.
Imagine a government mandate that anyone who so desires, is guaranteed a job by their local/state/federal government at a livable wage of say $12/hour. What exactly would they be doing? That’s left completely at the discretion of the local government agency. They could be asked to clean the city streets and parks. They could be asked to drive Taxis/Ubers on behalf of the state. They could be trained and promoted to specialized jobs in administrative roles or construction projects. They could be subcontracted out to other companies like McDonald’s/Walmart that are in need of low-skill labor. Heck, they could simply be made to sign up for TaskRabbit, in order to help other local citizens, and help the State recoup some of the costs of this program.
Regardless of precisely what the government chooses to do, everyone wins.
The unemployed who would otherwise be destitute, would instead get a guaranteed job at a livable wage.
The state, instead of just giving out welfare checks with no strings attached, would have a pool of labor that can be directed towards projects that improve infrastructure and overall quality-of-life.
The taxpayers get the satisfaction of knowing that no one in their society need suffer under poverty, but also that everyone benefiting from government “assistance” is working for their wages, in ways that contribute to the local economy and infrastructure.
With the looming tides of automation and globalization, our society is certainly going to become increasingly wealthy on aggregate, but there will inevitably be those who find themselves left behind. We as a society have a duty to help them, but it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to continue to work and contribute back to society. Government Guaranteed Employment is the perfect bridge that connects both ideals.