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Via Rolling Stone:
It’s a new year, but one thing hasn’t changed: The economy still blows. Five years after Wall Street crashed, America’s banker-gamblers have only gotten richer, while huge swaths of the country are still drowning in personal debt, tens of millions of Americans remain unemployed – and the new jobs being created are largely low-wage, sub-contracted, part-time grunt work.
Millennials have been especially hard-hit by the downturn, which is probably why so many people in this generation (like myself) regard capitalism with a level of suspicion that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. But that egalitarian impulse isn’t often accompanied by concrete proposals about how to get out of this catastrophe. Here are a few things we might want to start fighting for, pronto, if we want to grow old in a just, fair society, rather than the economic hellhole our parents have handed us.
1. Guaranteed Work for Everybody
Unemployment blows. The easiest and most direct solution is for the government to guarantee that everyone who wants to contribute productively to society is able to earn a decent living in the public sector. There are millions of people who want to work, and there’s tons of work that needs doing – it’s a no-brainer. And this idea isn’t as radical as it might sound: It’s similar to what the federal Works Progress Administration made possible during Roosevelt’s New Deal, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. vocally supported a public-sector job guarantee in the 1960s.
A job guarantee that paid a living wage would anchor prices, drive up conditions for workers at megacorporations like Walmart and McDonald’s, and target employment for the poor and long-term unemployed – people to whom conventional stimulus money rarely trickles all the way down. The program would automatically expand during private-sector downturns and contract during private-sector upswings, balancing out the business cycle and sending people from job to job, rather than job to unemployment, when times got tough.
2. Social Security for All
But let’s think even bigger. Because as much as unemployment blows, so do jobs. What if people didn’t have to work to survive? Enter the jaw-droppingly simple idea of a universal basic income, in which the government would just add a sum sufficient for subsistence to everyone’s bank account every month. A proposal along these lines has been gaining traction in Switzerland, and it’s starting to get a lot of attention here, too.
We live in the age of 3D printers and self-replicating robots. Actual human workers are increasingly surplus to requirement – that’s one major reason why we have such a big unemployment problem. A universal basic income would address this epidemic at the root and provide everyone, in the words of Duke professor Kathi Weeks, “time to cultivate new needs for pleasures, activities, senses, passions, affects, and socialities that exceed the options of working and saving, producing and accumulating.”
Put another way: A universal basic income, combined with a job guarantee and other social programs, could make participation in the labor force truly voluntary, thereby enabling people to get a life.
HT: Noel Sheppard