Employment: The Democrats’ ‘jobs guarantee’ plan
Finally, said Jeff Spross in TheWeek.com, the Democrats may be “getting their progressive groove back.” In recent weeks, three of the party’s likely presidential candidates—Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bernie Sanders—have endorsed a federal “jobs guarantee,” a bold idea that could make mass unemployment a thing of the past. Though details of each proposal vary, the basic concept is for the government to hire every American who wants a job and pay him or her $15 an hour, with health-care benefits. Under this program, economic recessions would come and go without accompanying waves of human misery. Full employment would exert upward pressure on private-sector wages, especially at the low end. And though the cost would be high—$543 billion annually, in one estimate—that would be offset by a tax increase on the wealthy and huge savings in Medicaid, unemployment, and welfare programs, which would have far fewer recipients. A jobs guarantee sounds radical, said Marie Solis in Newsweek.com, but it polls surprisingly well with voters—with 52 percent in favor and just 29 percent against—and is popular even in red states. As 2020 looms, this could be the big idea that helps Democrats win back those blue-collar voters “who gave up on the party two years ago.”
This is a recipe for “socialist disaster,” said David Harsanyi in NationalReview.com. Guaranteed jobs would devastate small businesses, which would have to compete for workers with a government that can offer wages and benefits “wholly untethered from the real cost of labor.” More importantly, “what would all these people do?” said Megan McArdle in WashingtonPost.com. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration was effective in its era, but today, roads, bridges, and buildings “aren’t built by armies of men wielding shovels.” They’re built by complex machinery you need extensive training to operate. While the government could put some people to work as home health-care aides, painters, and clerks, “it probably cannot use 25 million of them.” Most of the people in this program would be doing expensive “make-work.”
Democrats’ “rapid embrace of a jobs guarantee is understandable,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. The party’s invigorated left wants a major new piece of social engineering to mark a break from the “neoliberal” caution of the Clinton-Obama years. But Democrats need to be careful. The program would be enormously expensive in a time of rising deficits; a 5 percent income tax hike on those earning more than $200,000 would barely cover a fifth of the cost, according to one analysis. And guaranteeing every American a job presents a “staggering bureaucratic challenge,” including finding useful work that millions of unemployed people are qualified to do. Do you create jobs to match skills? It “could be a huge mistake” for Democrats to risk their electoral fortunes on “a half-baked concept.”
The details don’t matter, yet, said Matthew Yglesias in Vox.com. As Democrats enter the next election cycle, a jobs guarantee sends a distinct message about the party’s priorities and allegiances, and like President Trump’s wall, should be taken “seriously rather than literally.” There is an unmissable whiff of socialism to this idea, said Jeffrey Dorfman in Forbes.com, but we conservatives have been saying for years that people should have to work for their government benefits. Federal jobs programs could make that linkage, even if the benefits are called “wages.” “If it replaces free handouts with the need to work for a living,” a jobs guarantee could be that rare liberal idea that conservatives end up embracing.