F@ck Work?

Yves here. The reason I prefer a jobs guarantee (with an income guarantee at a lower income level) is that the time an income guarantee was implemented on an open-ended, long term basis, it produced an unskilled underclass (see our post on the Speenhamland system for more detail).

Moreover, the idea that people are brimming with all sorts of creative things they’d do if they had an income to allow themselves to do it is bunk. For instance, MacArthur Foundation grant recipients, arguably some of the very most creative people in society, almost without exception do not do anything productive while they have their grant funding. And let us not kid ourselves: most people are not creative and need structure and pressure to get anything done.

Finally, humans are social animals. Work provides a community. If you are extraverted and need to be around people during the day, it’s hard to create enough opportunities for interaction on your own.

By Scott Ferguson, an assistant professor of Film & Media Studies in the Department of Humanities & Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida. His current research and pedagogy focus on Modern Monetary Theory and critiques of neoliberalism; aesthetic theory; the history of digital animation and visual effects; and essayistic writing across media platforms. Originally published at Arcade

In the wake of Donald Trump’s alarming election to the White House, historian James Livingston published an essay in Aeon Magazine with the somewhat provocative title, “Fuck Work.” The piece encapsulates the argument spelled out in Livingston’s latest book, No More Work: Why Full Employment is a Bad Idea (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

In both his book and the Aeon essay, Livingston sets out to address several overlapping crises: an alienating and now exhausted “work ethic” that crystallized during the Protestant Reformation; forty years of rampant underemployment, declining wages, and widening inequality; a corresponding surge in financial speculation and drop in productive investment and aggregate demand; and a post-2008 climate of cultural resentment and political polarization, which has fueled populist uprisings from Left to Right.

What the present catastrophe shows, according to Livingston’s diagnosis, is the ultimate failure of the marketplace to provision and distribute social labor. What’s worse, the future of work looks dismal. Citing the works of Silicon Valley cyber-utopians and orthodox economists at Oxford and M.I.T., Livingston insists that algorithms and robotization will reduce the workforce by half within twenty years and that this is unstoppable, like some perverse natural process. “The measurable trends of the past half-century, and the plausible projections for the next half-century, are just too empirically grounded to dismiss as dismal science or ideological hokum,” he concludes. “They look like the data on climate change—you can deny them if you like, but you’ll sound like a moron when you do.”

Livingston’s response to this “empirical,” “measurable,” and apparently undeniable doomsday scenario is to embrace the collapse of working life without regret. “Fuck work” is Livingston’s slogan for moving beyond the demise of work, transforming a negative condition into a positive sublation of collective life.

In concrete terms, this means implementing progressive taxation to capture corporate earnings, and then redistributing this money through a “Universal Basic Income,” what in his book is described as a “minimum annual income for every citizen.” Such a massive redistribution of funds would sever the historical relationship between work and wages, in Livingston’s view, freeing un- and underemployed persons to pursue various personal and communal ends. Such a transformation is imminently affordable, since there are plenty of corporate funds to seize and redirect to those in need. The deeper problem, as Livingston sees it, is a moral one. We must rebuff the punishing asceticism of the Protestant work ethic and, instead, reorganize the soul on more free and capacious bases.

Lest we get the wrong idea, Livingston maintains that social labor will not simply disappear in a world organized by a tax-funded Universal Basic Income. Rather, he envisions an increasingly automated future, where leisure is our primary preoccupation, social labor becomes entirely voluntary, and ongoing consumption props up aggregate demand. Eschewing utopian plans or prescriptions, he wonders,

What would society and civilisation be like if we didn’t have to ‘earn’ a living—if leisure was not our choice but our lot? Would we hang out at the local Starbucks, laptops open? Or volunteer to teach children in less-developed places, such as Mississippi? Or smoke weed and watch reality TV all day?

Enraged over the explosion of underpaid and precarious service work? Disaffected by soulless administration and info management positions? Indignant about the history of unfree labor that underwrites the history of the so-called “free market”? Want more free time? Not enough work to go around? Well, then, fuck work, declares Livingston. Say goodbye to the old liberal-democratic goal of full employment and bid good riddance to misery, servitude, and precarity.

“Fuck work” has struck a chord with a diverse crowd of readers. Since its release, the essay has garnered more than 350,000 clicks on the Aeon website. The Spanish publication Contexto y Acción has released a translation of the piece. And weeks later, Livingston’s rallying cry continues to resonate through social media networks. “Fuck Work” has been enthusiastically retweeted by everyone from Marxists and small “l” liberals to anarchists and tech gurus.

The trouble is that Livingston’s “Fuck Work” falls prey to an impoverished and, in a sense, classically Liberal social ontology, which reifies the neoliberal order it aims to transform. Disavowing modern humanity’s reliance on broadscale political governance and robust public infrastructures, this Liberal ontology predicates social life on immediate and seemingly “free” associations, while its critical preoccupation with tyranny and coercion eschews the charge of political interdependence and caretaking. Like so many Universal Basic Income supporters on the contemporary Left, Livingston doubles down on this contracted relationality. Far from a means to transcend neoliberal governance, Livingston’s triumphant negation of work only compounds neoliberalism’s two-faced retreat from collective governance and concomitant depoliticization of social production and distribution.

In a previous contribution to Arcade, I critiqued the Liberal conception of money upon which Marxists such as Livingston unquestionably rely. According to this conception, money is a private, finite and alienable quantum of value, which must be wrested from private coffers before it can be made to serve the public purpose. By contrast, Modern Monetary Theory contends that money is a boundless and fundamentally inalienable public utility. That utility is grounded in political governance. And government can always afford to support meaningful social production, regardless of its ability to capture taxes from the rich. The result: employment is always and everywhere a political decision, not merely a function of private enterprise, boom and bust cycles, and automation. There is therefore nothing inevitable about underemployment and the misery it induces. In no sense are we destined for a “jobless future.”

Thus upon encountering Aeon Magazine’s tagline for Livingston’s piece—“What if jobs are not the solution, but the problem?”—I immediately began wondering otherwise.

What if we rebuffed the white patriarchal jargon of full employment, which keeps millions of poor, women, and minorities underemployed and imprisoned? What if, in lieu of this liberal-democratic ruse, we made an all-inclusive and well-funded federal Job Guarantee the basis for a renewed leftist imaginary?

What if we stopped believing that capitalists and automation are responsible for determining how and when we labor together? What if we quit imagining that so-called “leisure” spontaneously organizes itself like the laissez-faire markets we elsewhere decry?

What if we created a public works system, which set a just and truly livable wage floor for the entire economy? What if we made it impossible for reprehensible employers like Walmart to exploit the underprivileged, while multiplying everyone’s bargaining powers? What if we used such a system to decrease the average work day, to demand that everyone has healthcare, and to increase the quality of social participation across public and private sectors? What if economic life was no longer grounded solely in the profit motive?

What if we cared for all of our children, sick, and growing elderly population? What if we halved teacher-student ratios across all grade levels? What if we built affordable homes for everyone? What if there was a community garden on every block? What if we made our cities energy efficient? What if we expanded public libraries? What if we socialized and remunerated historically unpaid care work? What if public art centers became standard features of neighborhoods? What if we paid young people to document the lives of retirees?

What if we guaranteed that Black lives really matter? What if, in addition to dismantling the prison industrial complex, we created a rich and welcoming world where everyone, citizen or not, has the right to participation and care?

What if private industry’s rejection of workers freed the public to organize social labor on capacious, diverse, and openly contested premises?

What if public works affirmed inclusion, collaboration, and difference? What if we acknowledged that the passions of working life are irreducible to a largely mythical Protestant work ethic? What if questioning the meaning and value of work become part of working life itself?

What if we predicated social critique on terms that are not defined by the neoliberal ideology that we wish to circumvent?

What if we radically affirmed our dependence on the public institutions that support us? What if we forced government to take responsibility for the system it already conditions?

What if we admitted that there are no limits to how we can care for one another and that, as a political community, we can always afford it?

Livingston’s argument cannot abide such questions. Hence the Left’s reply to “fuck work” should be clear: fuck that.

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  1. BecauseTradition

    Again the seemingly endless conflation of work, good, with being a wage slave, not so good. Progressives would do well to focus on justice and that does not include making victims work for restitution. One would think Progressives would wish to f@uck wage slavery, not perpetuate it.

    Finally, humans are social animals. Work provides a community. If you are extraverted and need to be around people during the day, it’s hard to create enough opportunities for interaction on your own. Yves Smith

    I solve that problem with volunteer labor at a local laundry. I do it ONLY when my favorite worker is there because I like her, she has a family to support, she is overworked, she is in constant pain from fibromyalgia, has carpal tunnel syndrome and because of the interesting people I get to see there.

    How can I afford to do meaningful work for free? Because I’m retired and have a guaranteed income from Social Security and a small pension.

    And let’s be honest. A guaranteed job as opposed to a guaranteed income is meant to boost wages by withholding labor from the private sector. But who needs wages with an adequate guaranteed income?

    1. cocomaan

      I’ll also piggyback onto this, even though I am not keen on basic income until I see a little more work put into it.

      Many people aren’t actually contributing anything in any given work environment in our current system. To expect differently if we have a guaranteed jobs program seems naive.

      In the administrative structures I’ve worked under (both private and non profit, often interacting with government), many workers have obstructionist compliance responsibilities. Decisions are put off through nonsense data gathering and reporting, signatures in triplicate, etc. It’s why I’ve become a huge proponent of the Garbage Can theory of administration: most of the work being done is actually to connect or disconnect problems from decision making. When it comes down to it, there are only a few actual decision makers within an organization, with everyone else there to CYA. That goes for any bureaucracy, private or public.

      David Graeber has detailed the “bullshit jobs” phenomenon pretty well, and dismantles bureaucracy in his book, and says all this better than I. But the federal job guarantee seems like a path to a bureaucratic hell. Of course, an income guarantee for the disabled, mental, physical, otherwise, is absolutely critical.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        There is no magic bullet, whether JG or UBI. But I think the author and Yves are absolutely correct in asserting that there is no workable UBI under the current political economy. It would by definition not meet the needs its proponents claim it could because private (and non-profit!) employers would scream about how it was raising labor costs and otherwise destroying the “real” “productive” economy. A UBI after the revolution? Perhaps. Before? Extremely problematic.

        On the other hand, a JG that emphasized care work (including paying people to parent) and energy efficiency would meet screaming needs in our society and provide many people with important new skills, many of which would be transferable to the private economy. But even here, the potential pitfalls and problems are numerous, and there would no doubt be stumbles and scandals.

        1. Jesper

          Two things:
          1. Goverments can hire people without a JG, the argument that the JG is necessary for the goverment to find employees is therefore not a very convincing argument.
          2. Increasing and enforcing reduced hours an employer can demand of a worker will strengthen the bargaining position of all workers. But the people advocating the JG appears to see the reduced hours of work as a bad thing? People get to meet people at work but the more pleasant interaction (to me) comes outside of work with the same people.

          How many paid days off should a person in JG get? As many as Germans get? Or the Japanese? Or?
          When can a person in JG retire? At 60? 65? 70? When does work in JG stop being a blessing and instead living at leisure is the bliss? Are we all to be assumed to live for work?

          And finally: If income guarantee is too liberal, isn’t job-guarantee too much of one of its opposites – totalitarian?

            1. Jesper

              most people are not creative and need structure and pressure to get anything done.

              How does JG put pressure and structure onto people?

              1. Tim

                Who says they need pressure? Maybe multigenerational welfare queens and kings

                For everybody else they don’t need pressure, just an opportunity to do something of value and be paid for it more than they would make on welfare.

              2. jrs

                How do we even know this? Most people have only ever worked under the gun all their entire lives pretty much, the school to wage slave pipeline.

        2. lyman alpha blob

          I think a combination of both would be best. As has been said many times here, a lot of current jobs are complete BS anyway and I don’t really want to be guaranteed a job just so I can take the dirt out of Boss Keen’s ditch and then put it back in.

          Then there’s automation which has already taken away a lot of jobs and will continue to do so. That’s not a bad thing as long as people are still getting an income.

          As there likely isn’t enough productive work to go around, ideally there would be a UBI and instead of a job guarantee, have a minimal job requirement. That exact amount of work required could be tinkered with, but maybe it’s a couple days a week, a few months a year, or something similar. You’d have to report to work in order to be able to collect your UBI when your work was no longer required.

          When you’re not doing required work, you can relax and live off your UBI or engage in some sort of non-essential free enterprise.

          1. jrs

            From my own experience maybe about 40-50% of jobs are BS jobs. I base this on jobs I have held. People don’t like to admit they hold or have held BS jobs because they know everyone interprets it as a flaw in them, but it’s just the system which contains great quantities of BS, and needing a job (that is needed an income). So how many jobs are BS is probably way underreported.

            1. Erika

              It doesn’t just say something bad about them, it also says that the holders of BS jobs are expendable. It’s like that episode of the Office where accounting was charged with the task of finding superfluous jobs/workers, and they realized all the superfluous workers were in accounting.

              My last job was a useful, non-BS position in a company that offered a useless, BS product. I sure as hell wasnt going to point that out while I worked there.

          2. Marco

            “…I don’t really want to be guaranteed a job just so I can take the dirt out of Boss Keen’s ditch and then put it back in.”
            I am unsympathetic to your overall argument but your sentiment (and fear) are valid and humorously stated. You get a gold star!

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I don’t know what sort of fantasy land you live in. Being an adult means doing stuff that is not fun so that you and your family can survive. This is the nature of the human condition, from the hunter-gatherer phases of existence onward. You see to believe that you have the right to be paid for doing stuff you enjoy. And the sort of jobs you deem to be “bullshit jobs” would seem like paradise to coal miners or people who had to go backbreaking manual work or factory workers in sweatshops in the 19th century. Go read Dickens or Karl Marx to get some perspective.

        1. Kurt Sperry

          Was this meant to be a reply to cocomaan’s post? It seems like it’s replying to something else.

          If I understand “Bullshit jobs” aren’t bullshit because they are unpleasant to do, but because they are to some significant degree unproductive or even counterproductive. Administrative bloat in acedemia is pretty much the gold standard here from my perspective. They are great jobs to have and to do, just useless, unnecessary, and often counterproductive ones. High rise office buildings are, I have always suspected, staffed with a lot of these well paid administrative types of bullshit jobs.

        2. cocomaan

          There’s plenty of perspective here. Capitalism hasn’t solved the problem of bullshit jobs, it’s exacerbated the problem. If you don’t see the bullshit jobs, you aren’t looking very hard.

          It’s exactly as Kurt says: the bullshit jobs are actually grains of sand in the cogs. And this isn’t new and it isn’t isolated to academia. Parkinson’s Law was developed by Dr. Parkinson because he worked for the RAF in WW2 and saw a lot of bullshit jobs. Here we are, decades later, same problem.

          So if the federal job mandate means we keep bullshit jobs, I’d rather say, “No thanks” and keep those unproductive folks out of the economy, where we’re trying to do real work.

          1. skippy

            When people use the term – Capitalism – as a monolith they disabuse its multifaceted aspects, largely as a Pavlovian response due to ideological stakes in the ground.

            Moving on name any society that does not have what some would call BS jobs, yet most of the BS jobs are the result of private sector crapification – e.g. administration bloat i.e. hell many company are just a shell of administration which then seeks good and services from abroad or nationally and the only thing they exist for is running VoM across their books to burnish equity valuations and resulting C-suite remuneration.

            Not to mention the infiltration of ideologues in the guise of econnomists into all aspects of government to facilitate what the market wants first and foremost.

            You and Kurt are decrying the effects of neoliberalism and not the Capitalism of up lift….

            The disturbing bit is those in the PM [positive money camp] that are pushing a UBI the hardest, yep Milton’s monetarist mob.

            ““UBI has been endorsed by neoliberal economists for a long time. One of its early champions was the patron saint of neoliberalism, Milton Friedman. In his book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman argues for a “negative income tax” as a means to deliver a basic income. After arguing that private charity is the best way to alleviate poverty, and praising the “private … organizations and institutions” that delivered charity for the poor in the capitalist heyday of the nineteenth century, Friedman blames social programs for the disappearance of private charities: “One of the major costs of the extension of governmental welfare activities has been the corresponding decline in private charitable activities.”

            To Friedman and his many powerful followers, the cause of poverty is not enough capitalism. Thus, their solution is to provide a “basic income” as a means to eliminate social programs and replace them with private organizations. Friedman specifically argues that “if enacted as a substitute for the present rag bag of measures directed at the same end, the total administrative burden would surely be reduced.”

            Friedman goes on to list some the “rag bag” of measures he would hope to eliminate: direct welfare payments and programs of all kinds, old age assistance, social security, aid to dependent children, public housing, veterans’ benefits, minimum-wage laws, and public health programs, hospitals and mental institutions.

            Friedman also spends a few paragraphs worrying whether people who depend on “Basic Income” should have the right to vote, since politically enfranchised dependents could vote for more money and services at the expense of those who do not depend on these. Using the example of pension recipients in the United Kingdom, he concludes that they “have not destroyed, at least as yet, Britain’s liberties or its predominantly capitalistic system.”


            Disheveled…. do people actually do their due diligence anymore or is it all back in the head with inaccurate axioms attenuated to infinitum…. yee gads… striping citizens of basic rights for a stipend and let the free markets dictate humanities path – barf~~~~~

            1. cocomaan

              Hey skippy, I understand your distinction between neoliberalim and capitalism, which is well taken, but I am just speaking broadly to say that BS jobs are timeless and haven’t been solved by better mechanisms of capital.

              One hundred years ago, the Sick Man of Europe, the Ottoman Empire, was famous for its bureaucratic bloat. Heck, Plato said that only a philosopher could really govern, because the other people involved in the political work of a society didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

              I think we’re talking about a perennial problem of making work out of thin air and suggesting that we might not have the tools to talk about it constructively if we’re just looking at it through the lens of capital.

              1. skippy


                Understand what your saying tho I have not seen anyone from the JG camp suggest anything like those throwing out the BS job bait or the timeless classic of government bloat.

                This might help to unpack where I’m coming from….

                The “Efficiency Dividend”

                Governments invoking efficiency as an intrinsic good is nothing new. The Commonwealth “efficiency dividend” was introduced by the Hawke government in 1987, and was supposed to reap the benefits of technological advances. It is an annual reduction in funding for the running costs of an agency, and is not supposed to compromise output.

                The problem with this very blunt instrument is that it works on the assumption that the only way to measure efficiency is to put a dollar value on it. Reducing funding does not necessarily deliver efficiency.

                Moreover, it indicates a misunderstanding of the relationship people have with government agencies. What do people want from their public institutions? Do people really value some technocratic vision of “efficiency” above all else? Do they want minimum level services followed by tax cuts, or do they want to see their public services maintained, or even improved? Our Annual Tax Survey shows that a majority of us want good quality public services and are willing to pay for it. A focus on efficiency for efficiency’s sake does not reflect this.

                Democratic Institutions

                Several decades of ascendancy of neoliberal principles has given governments a very instrumental view of public institutions. The efficiency of an institution or its work is only measured through market principles. The intrinsic public good and the benefits that flow from institutions is sidelined.

                This is where we get back to the ABS and #CensusFail. Moving the census online compromised the success of the census in order to save money. This is on top of other cuts from the last few governments that have left the ABS struggling to maintain standards. How much of the expected savings will now be spent just trying to finish the census?  It’s a classic case of false economies. Decisions about how to fund such an institution and its functions should have at least some passing regard for its essential purpose. But it appears that the focus was on saving money.


                Not really interested in using market based optics on society as a whole [see comment above] or on how to run a functional government.

                From the 13 commandments of neoliberalism…..


                A primary ambition of the neoliberal project is to redefine the shape and functions of the state, not to destroy it. Neoliberals thus maintain an uneasy and troubled alliance with their sometimes fellow-travelers, the anarchists. The contradiction with which the neoliberals constantly struggle is that a strong state can just as easily thwart their program as implement it; hence they are inclined to explore new formats of techno-managerial governance that protect their ideal market from what they perceive as unwarranted political interference. Considerable efforts have been developed to disguise or otherwise condone in rhetoric and practice the importance of the strong state that neoliberals endorse in theory.

                One way to exert power in restraint of democracy is to bend the state to a market logic, pretending one can replace “citizens” with “customers.” Consequently, the neoliberals seek to restructure the state with numerous audit devices (under the sign of “accountability” or the “audit society”) or impose rationalization through introduction of the “new public management”; or, better yet, convert state services to private provision on a contractual basis. Here again our commandments touch directly upon the crisis. The financial sector was one of the major sites of the outsourcing of state supervision to quasi-private organizations, such as the Financial Industry Regulation Authority (FINRA) or the credit rating agencies such as Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard & Poor’s. Indeed, the very “privatization” of the process of securitization of mortgages, which had started out in the 1960s as a government function, has become a flash point in explanations of how the financial sector lost its way.

                One of the great neoliberal flimflam operations is to mask their role in power through confusion of “marketization” of government functions with the shrinking of the state: if anything, bureaucracies become more unwieldy under neoliberal regimes. Another is to imagine all manner of methods to “shackle” the state by reducing all change to prohibitive constitutional maneuvers. In practice, “deregulation” always cashes out as “reregulation,” only under a different set of ukases.

                Disheveled…. I think its best that humans don’t become quantified by the market or governed arbitrarily by it… if you get my drift… cheers

                1. cocomaan

                  Absolutely get your drift, skippy, and I too am wary of efficiency for the sake of efficiency, especially because it often has a human cost. But I meet a lot of miserable people who hate their jobs and feel alienated from their labor. There’s got to be a happy medium between a job guarantee program that will just perpetuate meaningless ditch digging or paper shifting and UBI that will probably suck the verve out of the society.

                  1. skippy


                    If people are miserable its probably more than just their BS job, its probably a wide array of factors so I think is a bit narrow to focus on jobs.

                    That’s why I’m calling out the BS job meme wrt a JG, especially when phrases like “meaningless ditch digging” is applied. Its presumptive and extremely leading considering all the meaningful work out there to be done, let alone the ideological use of stuff like the “broken window fallacy” some camps have used in the past even as it was taken out of original context.

                    This is compounded by the information I supplied in the open democracy article about the UBI’s ideological agenda and authors vision for society. I mean do you agree that people on a UBI should not allowed to vote because they would just vote for more money.

                    Who makes this shit up, oh yeah, Friedman and ilk. First you entice people with free money, then finish privatizing everything, reduce citizens rights, throw everyone in the market, and lastly put the monetarist in control of our social credit.

                    disheveled…. until you read the article I submitted above which unpacks the fundamental aspects of a UBI and its broader agenda, its a bit presumptuous to bag a JG with the BS job meme…. in comparison…

                    1. cocomaan

                      Well don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to bag a JG entirely, I am more playing devil’s advocate by bringing into relief this idea of gross inefficiencies in order to beg the question of what kind of jobs arise out of a JG. Maybe that makes me a neoliberal haha.

                      It seems that those who originally pushed for a UBI, as you are pointing out, did it for some cynical reasons. But I was also in a third world country for awhile where 60% of the population was employed by the government and it was weird and demeaning.

                      I am not thrilled by UBI at all, I think it’s got serious problems and I don’t see it as a real solution to any of these problems. I just wanted to bring up this idea of problematic jobs, too. I don’t think a JG can avoid inefficiency, just like UBI can’t avoid the social degradation that would occur.

                      I’d rather see a wholesale re-imagining of what kinds of work are meaningful before we just have some entity guaranteeing jobs.

                    2. skippy


                      “I don’t think a JG can avoid inefficiency”

                      Here we are again – inefficiency – the onus is on you to unpack that and put it into broader context.

                      I would also recommend you spend some time inquiring about your assumptions about a JG, with them, before projecting unwarranted attributes to it arbitrarily. One might confuse it with casting aspersions.

                      To date those that suggest a JG [w/ taxation to sort the hyperinflation mobs ever nascent fears] would be a regional affair dialed in to regional needs and administered by locals in a social democratic manner.

                      Contra to a totalitarian federal dicta of working in demeaning servitude or UBI and let the free market completely take over.

                      disheveled… its not like we don’t have quite a mess to clean up from – past – mistakes and prepare for the future, seems the BS job meme has more to due with the past dominate economic and sociopolitical agenda.

          2. Left in Wisconsin

            From personal experience, I would call parenting real work, yet it mostly goes uncompensated. That fact that many compensated jobs under our current economic arrangements are bullshit (though I will admit I miss the connection between capitalism and academic administrative bloat, which is much less direct than the connection between capitalism and teaching as temp work) does not in any way suggest there is not enough real work to be done. And yet if we did choose to pay people under a JG to be good parental workers, I can imagine there would be lots of complaining from you “real workers.”

            1. cocomaan

              I’m not sure why I’d complain, though. Social reproduction, as some have called it, is the most important job that there is.

              I’m just not convinced that a job guarantee will put the people into the jobs people are talking about. Someone mentioned the CCC downthread, which is a great example of a top down approach to putting people into jobs that are needed at the time. But the CCC was quite temporary and maybe that’s for a reason.

              It’s worth noting that the questions asked by the article writer are humanist questions. The real change here isn’t in policy, it’s in ethics.

              1. financial matters

                “”The real change here isn’t in policy, it’s in ethics.””

                Good points. Another difficult change that I think would be very helpful is to back away from the obsession with the stock market.

                Some people look at how much the stock market has gone up over the last 8 years and see this as Obama being very successful. Trump also has said the stock market will go up with him seeing that as a measure of success.

                Meanwhile we are seeing a large increase in precariat jobs and under and unemployment. We have a crazy medical system based on very expensive, high deductible private health insurance.

                We need to find some way to focus on these problems rather than celebrating a DOW 20,000 based on buybacks, job outsourcing, downsizing etc and which benefits mostly the top 10-20%.

                1. cocomaan

                  Absolutely. Valuation of something as abstract and inhuman as the stock market tells you how we have the entire idea of work backwards, especially when we know those BS jobs exist in spades and are, strangely, part of that stock market success. Places like Morning Edition/NPR report on the stock market like they do the weather. It’s seen as a natural force, which it is not.

                  We need to figure out what we value about work as we try out the ideas mentioned above, whether it’s “we’ll make sure everyone gets a job, no matter how stupid that job is” and “we’ll just pay everyone to sit on their butts.”

                  Maybe Yves is right and I’m in a fantasy land, but I’d rather appeal to our good nature and our simultaneous desires for meaningful occupations and efficiency.

          3. animalogic

            I guess this is stating the “bleeding obvious” but however interesting discussion of JG & UBI these policies not only contradict political reality as it has existed for 100’s….1000’s of years, but basically our development as a species. In short, i believe, at least these policies are both profoundly revolutionary.
            I suspect, in the absence of massive changes across culture, environment & technology, our elites would have a full blown Samson moment before they’d tolerate such change….Of course, I’m cynical by nature….

        3. jrs

          By BS jobs I think they mean jobs that serve no productive function whatsoever, in fact I’ve held jobs where they didn’t even give us work to do!!!! Really truly. But I needed a paycheck, of course, so I pretended to work (and in one job kept asking again and again to be given work and never was) and they did pay us. It doesn’t mean one doesn’t try to get out of such a situation if they have any sense of self-preservation. It doesn’t mean that such a situation is the worst thing in the world that could befall one. It’s not.

          It merely means the job itself does nothing or if not nothing nothing that serves any real function even in the organization much less in society.

          1. skippy


            The assertion was that Capitalism is to blame for BS jobs, and to state that jobs that don’t serve a productive function is a bit ill defined or should we use Jefferson’s nail shack as a quantifier whilst enslaving humanity to a pure market driven decision based matrix.

            Additionally as such any jobs under a JG would be BS jobs because of it.

            This is all juxtaposed by the operational realities behind a UBI – see my link above.

            disheveled…. nice to see you anyway jrs….

        4. washunate

          Yes but Yves, the irony of talking about older versions of crap jobs is that we addressed those problems in our system of political economy through less work and more social insurance (not to mention regulation of the financial system and meaningfully high progressive income taxation).

          The Fair Labor Standards Act and the Social Security Act in particular are two of the fundamental pillars of the New Deal era. These focus on making work better and providing support outside of formal employment. They are broadly popular and have demonstrated staying power relative to every other idea that has been tried.

          What these posts have failed to address for many years now are the specifics of what a JG/ELR would entail and why that approach is claimed to be superior to enhancing the FLSA, SSA, and related legislation instead.

          Why do we need more hours, in aggregate, spent in formal employment? Americans work more than any other industrialized nation on the planet. Why not have universal health insurance, universal unemployment insurance, mandatory paid vacation, mandatory paid parental leave, mandatory paid holidays, overtime that kicks in after 24 hours (instead of 40), a higher minimum wage, and so forth? What evidence does MMT provide that these are bad ideas?

      3. rd

        The Civilian Conservation Corps is, to my mind, the single most important civilian jobs program of the past century because it provided millions of people meaningful work at a time when they could not get it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps

        The military also provides a similar function to many people with no other way out of a poor situation. It is likely that one of the reasons that there was such a huge economic post WW II economic boom is because many people (men and women) learned discipline and skills in the military and industrial work places during WW II.

        Problems with deadlines are the key drivers for productivity. If there are no problems defined with no deadline, then most people will simply drift. Occasionally a Faraday, Edison, or Einstein will show up who will simply endlessly grind through theoretical and experimental failures on ill-defined problems to come up with something brilliant. Even Maxwell needed Faraday’s publications of his experiments showing electro-magnetic fields to get him to come up with his great equations.

    2. Waldenpond

      The assumption that work (for profit) is good is very entrenched in culture. The argument that people aren’t motivated to work (Americans are lazy) is disputed by the sheer amount of ‘volunteerism’ (unpaid labor).

      Corporations are not going to give up on marketing jobs as they get the vast benefit of labors efforts.No one system works… it will take employee ownership to counteract the negatives of private ownership and a ubi along with a job guarantee and expenditures on leisure to shift from a consumer based economy.

      I always thought that people were supposed to argue for more than they want and then settle. Here the argument is always on the right side of the political spectrum… capitalism and private ownership. Privatize schools and then use a transfer of wealth through taxes and a captured labor force to work in them?

  2. swendr

    Job guarantee all the way, as long as our bosses aren’t dicks. We’ve already kicked people off of public assistance and into shitty underpaid jobs. If having a job is so important, there should always be a good one available. And anyone that can’t or won’t work can live off a limited basic income. Makes for a smooth and just transition too when our dirty, dull, and dangerous industries are shut down or automated out of existence.

    1. philnc

      Which brings us, along the way, to the need for meaningful educational opportunities for those who the system has heretofore failed.

      Concrete case in point. My cousin is a young, single mom in central North Carolina who works hard but is just barely scraping by. Recently my wife and I decided to help her out by giving her the money she’d need to get broadband service so that she and her teenage daughter could take advantage of free, high quality online resources like EdX.org (https://edx.org, check it out if you haven’t yet). But actually getting her hooked up has been a challenge because the Internet provider Duopoly dropped their most affordable plans sometime last year (around $15/mo) so that the cost will now be a minimum of $40/mo before modem rental, taxes and whatever other fees the carriers can dream up (for the techs out there, even DSL costs $35/mo in that service area). This in a state where there’s a law prohibiting local governments from providing Internet services to its citizens in competition with the Duopoly, and where a private initiative like Google Fiber has stumbled so badly that it actually has had a negative impact on price competition.

      Of course you might say this is a first world problem, heck at least we have (semi) affordable electricity nowadays. But this happens to be a first world country, where big business pushes paperless constantly to cut its own costs and a semester in college is basically the price of a recent model preowned sedan, _every semester_.

      So, a guaranteed job for everyone PLUS the resources to learns what’s needed to obtain a job that’s more than another dead-end.

      P.S. Anyone who has ever tried to use free Internet services at their local library knows that’s not a viable option both because of restrictive timeouts and bandwidth caps.

    2. Waldenpond

      Bosses will be more likely to be dicks when their employees are a captured labor pool. If you don’t comply with commands you’ll be out of your ‘job guarantee’.

      1. Tim

        Similar to the right to pursue happiness, a job guarantee doesn’t mean you get a job you love, it just means you become a contributor to society and earn a true living for yourself and family.

        I guess we know we are on the right track when the arguments against it are pretty superfluous.

  3. jgordon

    I support Yves’ idea for a basic income as a default position for disabled people. Although I’ll advocate for something a bit different if possible for the ambulatory: instead of a monetary income, let’s provide free basic rations and solar panels, along with a small plot of land in a rural area, free gardening and household supplies, (including free seeds that are appropriate for the given area). And free classes in ecology, cooking, composting, soil management, blacksmithing, carpentry, appropriate technolies… and any other good stuff I happen to think of.

    As for what the guest poster wrote–well he seems like a good guy but this social justice warrior thing is a dying fad that’ll provoke a very unpleasant counter reaction if it keeps up for much longer. I’m positive that Trump garnered thousands of votes in those vital Midwestern swing states thanks to the highly visible sjw activities on campuses, and theis backlash is only going to increase as this goes on.

    1. Moneta

      I have a son with a disability. Without a job, he would watch movies all day.

      With a job he becomes a productive part of society. He loves it and he is dedicated. It also gives him the opportunity to bond with people which is hard when you don’t have full autonomy because of some aspects of your disability.

      From my personal experience, a large percentage of people with a disabilities would prefer a job to income guarantee.

      And many would be quite happy with what most consider shit jobs.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Amen, Moneta!

        My mom shops at a store that hires intellectually disabled people to do things like shopping cart roundups and bagging customers’ groceries. These aren’t the kinds of jobs that most of us would flock to, but that’s our perspective.

      2. Uahsenaa

        I have to second this. Having worked briefly with developmentally challenged students, they have a much easier go of things when they feel empowered, when they feel like they have some control over their lives, despite the challenges they face. Rendering them even more helpless simply increases frustration and exacerbates existing problems.

        Which I think should be brought into the larger argument. It surprises me that any Marxist worth her salt would glomp onto this, when, it seems, the purpose is to further alienate people from the means of production and control over the political economy. When Silicon Valley types and Charles Murray are arguing for it, you have to wonder what the underlying reasons might be. Murray never met a poor or uneducated person he didn’t want to drive into the ground, so I find it rather curious that he would suddenly be all for a form of social welfare.

        And as to the boss point above, there’s nothing stopping anyone from making the jobs program have a cooperative structure. As the article says, these are all political choices, not naturally occurring phenomena.

        1. Romancing The Loan

          When Silicon Valley types and Charles Murray are arguing for it, you have to wonder what the underlying reasons might be.

          My tankie friends on Twitter think that basic income is a trojan horse that’s going to be used to try and trick the American public into ending Social Security and Medicare. They’re usually right, sadly.

          1. Stephanie

            It seems to me as if basic income would also be a great excuse to chip away even further at the idea if public education and single-payer health care as social goods. If your parents aren’t able to shell out for them, well, you don’t need to be healthy or literate to recieve UBI.

            1. lyman alpha blob

              If there were both a UBI and a job requirement rather than a job guarantee, that might solve the problem you mentioned.

              If everyone were required to work a certain amount in essential services like housing, food production, health care, etc before they could collect a UBI, that would require a trained and healthy workforce.

              1. hunkerdown

                Exactly. And that the number of hours per annum or per quarter should vary according to the actual amount of public work there is to do. Marking time is an outrageous opportunity cost.

              2. jrs

                The socially needed work might be less than 20 hours a week, and yes this is a straightforward argument for socialism.

          2. jrs

            I don’t think a basic income is needed for that. Paul Ryan wants to end those now and he’s not even pretending to support even a bad version of a UBI. So watch as we get neither guaranteed incomes nor social programs! But dying in a ditch is still allowed!

      3. RC

        As a disabed person myself I would argue it’s not jobs that disabled people are necessarily after, it’s being able to actively participate in society in a contributing, meaningful and productive way, to be included in something with a purpose, a purpose you believe in. If income is not an issue, most people would still engage in projects. Your son would watch movies all day only because there is no better role to play, we are at a transition stage where disabled people, still considered invalids, are being discovered to be not so invalid.

        I take issue with the notion that disabled people would be happy to do any deadend work. We deserve more and better than that, everyone does.

        I’m a deaf person with a talent which fintech wants and needs, which so happens to be ensuring our tech is accessible, inclusve, making it so much better; so disabled people can truly participate in society, to do all the same things tech supposedly does to liberate while making it truly liberating for all.

        But we are also socially responsible for finding meaningful and significant work for the talents disabled people actually have, as opposed to getting them to do something stupid because it’s something to do and they’re disabled and so should be satisfied with whatever they get. We’re not vegetables, nobody is. So that goes for non-disabled folks too.

        Which brings us to the heart of this UBI/JG discussion, either you’re coming to this from a perspective of people should have jobs, any job, cuz they’re basically vegetables or some kind of autonomous machination which goes through motions and capitalism doesn’t work without those machinations so there’s some kind of moral imperative to labour or wage slavery, and the measure or class of a person is whether they are jobbed machinations/slaves, or UBI/JG is secondary to the question of are people as a whole happy and doing what they’d rather be doing, are they truly participating in society, as part of the human project.

        That’s the reality most corporations are facing at the moment. The meaning and nature of “work” itself is undergoing change, becoming “play”, as capitalism shoots itself in the foot and in the drive for profit either necessitates socialism and classlessness, or mass social upheaval and less profits.


        1. Waldenpond

          Thank you. It gets tiresome that the default is people are lazy. People are describing what seems to be human nature…. the desire to connect with others and to contribute.

        2. Laughingsong

          After reading some of these arguments, and thinking about what I have experienced and seen, I think there are merits to both approaches (UBI and JG). From experience I can’t entirely agree with Yves that people would remain unskilled and not pursue activities that engage with others and improve their lives and skills. Perhaps this is because I have always been fascinated by and have known many Hippy communities. I live in Eugene Oregon now, but grew up in San Francisco. The running joke I was told was that all the hippies left SF and came to Eugene because there were no jobs :-). I did see hippy groups in SF that did pretty much nothing but play all day. They didn’t last. However, here in Eugene I see many lasting legacies of what they built after they “dropped out”; many if not most of my favorite businesses were created by these people: the alternative groceries like Sundance (supposedly Whole Foods was purported to model themselves after this store-bah!) and Kiva and Growers Market, the Saturday and Farmers Markets, Tsunami books. The Oregon Country Fair, the coops. Not all were directly started by “hippies” per se but the early hippy groups did much to create a culture and an environment that encourages this.

          I also know a lot of people here that work “precariously” and there are times when work is hard to come by. But these people do not seem to sit around, they find other things to do, like learn about gardening, or get skills volunteering for Bring recycling (they do things like find creative re-use or “decom” houses slated for demolition and take out useful items), or Habitat for Humanity, or Center for Appropriate Transport (bicycle and human powered), or local tree planting and park cleanup. They often find work this way, and make connections, and get new skills. They don’t have to… But they want to stay active and involved.

          This is why I think UBI is not such a bad thing.. I know many people who would benefit and still do many things like I’ve described I also am aware that there are more general tasks that society needs doing and that is where the JG might come in. But maybe Eugene is too much of an exception?

          Of course, all this is besides what these policies may be used for by the PTB. That’s an entirely different discussion; here I am arguing the merits, not the agendas.

        3. Moneta

          I was careful to use the word many and not all people with disabilities.

          My son has an intellectual disability. He needs to be instructed and the routine will not come on its own unless it is well practiced. But as long as someone is directing, he does great work.

          It is obvious by your post that the menial job he would enjoy does not correspond to what you could offer the world!

          I spent hours holding him in the NICU, worrying about his future until one day, instead of feeling sorry for the both of us, I looked around and noticed a regular guy, apathetic looking, spending his entire day cleaning and disinfecting the room… then the thought came to me that someone with special needs could do the same job and actually be happy.

          Around that time, I read an article about the problems they were now encountering with the integration of people with special needs in France. It would seem that when the job became boring, many would just stop showing up to work… Why bother when the state and society has always been there for support… that’s what happens when individuals never get to feel true independence.

          Any action that produces a good or a service is a form of work. Hugging is a service. So are smiling and cleaning a toilet.

          For some reason we have huge trouble putting monetary value on many of the most essential services.

          We are also having a very hard time filling the jobs with individuals who have the right skill set and temperament.

          I don’t know how we solve these issues.

      4. susan the other

        a job guarantee is kinda like citizenship. We come together in the first place and pledge our loyalty to each other because we all need it. Pledging your loyalty to a humongous global, rag tag and unreliable struggle isn’t a good prospect. And besides these days a “shit job” applies to 99% of the jobs because they offer no possibility of great capitalistic gains – because those days are way over – all the more reason to go MMT and jobs guarantee. The best reason for this is that there is so much neglected “shit” work that still needs to be done and will always need to be done. The 1% skate thru that reality and just take the quick profits and big stupid bonuses. But the point about a creativity medium – simply working at the shit jobs creates solutions – is a very important thing. Of course the 1% will take all the credit. Until we eliminate inequality. Bottom line: a shit job is a boring, pointless job – but there are lots of ignored and neglected very meaningful occupations out there to be developed. Sovereign jobs.

    2. Waldenpond

      Oy….. make the disabled do hard labor of agriculture? Blind? Deaf around heavy machinery? Wheelchairs on plowed land?

      You are proposing this as it seems enriching, gets them out of your community, and is economically sound. This lifestyle choice should apply to everyone. Let any who want do this and you will have removed people from the labor pool (made up unemployment number magically goes down) less resource consumption.

  4. Marco

    Thanks Yves for pounding this issue. As a former lazy BIG’er I am naturally wired to stare at my navel all day. I think at the heart of it we have an existential problem with toil. Tcherneva’s succinct take-down of BIG vs JG also set me on the straight and narrow. Plus she spanks Yglesias which is always enjoyable.

    1. Marco

      My biggest quibble with JG is that “work” often involves needless consumption. Most people (in America) require a car and 1-2 dangerous hours a day getting to and from “work”. Personally this is a very good reason NOT to work.

      1. Leigh

        1-2 dangerous hours a day getting to and from “work”.

        The reason I get to work 2 hours before I’m required to is because I find driving to work is the most stressful part of my day. I commute while the roads are quiet. The deterioration in driving etiquette is maddening. It is dog eat dog out there. The fact that we are all flying around at 70 MPH in 4,000 pounds of steel and glass is lost on most drivers.

        1. dontknowitall

          I think there should be an indicator on the dashboard showing the probability of surviving a frontal impact at your current road speed, people might slow down as they saw the number approach zero

      2. BeliTsari

        Well, most jobs are in “bad” neighborhoods (just think of how that concept evolved?) As white flight followed electrification’s trolley lines, then highways out to the cul-de-sac, both labor & white collar petite bourgeoisie fought tooth and nail against hiring “unqualified,” “poorly-educated or motivated” locals (partially, fearing for their wages & benefits). Isn’t that when we were first told about concrete production, cars, petroleum-based meat production and coal-fired industry causing climate change?

  5. George Phillies

    “If you are extraverted and need to be around people during the day, it’s hard to create enough opportunities for interaction on your own.”
    People have all sorts of mental quirks, but to what extent do we rig society to handle them? As a justification for work, this one sounds expensive.

    1. I Have Strange Dreams

      We are social creatures. That’s not a quirk, just a fact. The average work environment already has people with various “quirks”. Some are chatty, some not. Not a big deal, no need for a radical redesign.

      As for costs – unemployment imposes devastating costs in sickness, addiction, crime, etc. JG is a no-brainer. It’s been tried with great success in Argentina. It works. There’s a slogan for ya: Work Works.

      1. roadrider

        We are social creatures.

        Well, OK, but we all vary in the level of our sociability. Some need people around them all the time others value their solitude and still others are in between.

        That’s not a quirk, just a fact.

        One that you’re overstating.

        The average work environment already has people with various “quirks”. Some are chatty, some not. Not a big deal,

        Actually, it is a big deal since noise and lack of privacy are two of the biggest problems in today’s workplaces, particularly those with “open work space” designs. I speak from personal experience here.

        no need for a radical redesign.

        Ummm, yeah, there actually is.

      2. Massinissa

        Whether or not JG is the answer or not, there is most definitely a need for a radical redesign of the capitalist workplace…

    2. jgordon

      I’d rather be out in the woods spending my time growing fruit trees. I hate people–and reading above about all the inspirational work the government would be giving me and the people I’d have to be around while while doing it left me wondering about whether or not going postal would be a good idea.

      Secondly, the wishlist I saw above for everything the government is supposed to be doing to help people was pretty scary. Ehile the intentions might be good, power like this given to government never, ever turns out well for the people. As an example, let’s say Scott waved his magic wand and suddenly Trump had all the power and authority he needed to accomplish everything on Scott’s list today. Alright, now try to imagine just how awful the next four years would be. Not good!

      1. Uahsenaa

        I sympathize with the desire to just be alone and do your own thing–I’m like that as well–but I think you’re missing an important aspect of the argument, one which Tcherneva makes more forcefully, which is that there is a knock on benefit of people being more engaged in public life: they are harder to politically disenfranchise. I wouldn’t be surprise if one of the reasons why elites are so gung ho about UBI is that it would serve to further alienate people and fragment communities, thus preventing them from organizing anything like meaningful resistance to state power.

        Also, Ferguson kind of already addressed this:

        What if private industry’s rejection of workers freed the public to organize social labor on capacious, diverse, and openly contested premises?

        1. Tivvy

          The problem with a JG and that line of argument, is that JG does not propose to engage people more in public life than an Unconditional Income, as an Unconditional Income is by definition, far more inclusive of all kinds of work that people may do for others.

          You may even do things that nobody in a society approves of, with an Unconditional Income, like trying to prove that the world is round, not flat.

          JG got nothing on enabling people to be active citizens. It’s a policy to look backwards, or it’s so inclusive that it’s basically an unconditional income to everyone. You gotta be willed to take a long shot sometimes (increasingly often, looking at the world as it is today and might increasingly be tomorrow), to properly empower people so they can be active citizens.

          1. jsn

            As best I can tell UI doesn’t engage people at all: by what mechanism does UI engage people “more in public life?”

      2. Waldenpond

        How about we have more public housing… I would like to see boarding houses come back but another option could be monastery type living? There could even be separate ones for men, women and families that way you could select a monastery that is focused on agriculture and you could have space away from women.

        1. Laughingsong

          I sometimes have incredibly vivid dreams. One of them I hade a couple of years ago was somewhat apocolyptic; something had happened (unknown) and I was in a dilapidated city of middlin’ size. The blocks of cheek-by-jowl houses and storefronts were all boarded up. But I entered one and found that 1) they had been connected by knocking down walls between them, and 2) the Interior Of the block was completely open. All the buildings faced inward (no boarded windows) and that had been transformed into a Commons with gardens, vegetables, corrals, parklands, small outbuildings. Maybe something like that….

          1. Waldenpond

            It would never happen but eminent domain should apply to abandoned buildings. If it’s been unused for x amount of years, it’s raffled off for public use…. housing, education etc. Heck, it could apply to manufacturing. If a corp wants to leave, don’t let the door hitcha, but that building is going to the employees as a coop as competition is as good for the goose as it is for the gander.

            I would imagine more people will be having dreams like yours if things keep declining and people try to imagine what’s next.

            1. Laughingsong

              When I thought about it afterward, It seemed workable in the practical sense given the scenario. But if there was any vestige of local government private property rules. But hey, it Was A dream – I omitted that the sky was also so filled with planets that it was hard to see any stars. :-D

  6. jjmacjohnson

    Actually I know a few artist who won the Guggenheim Award and I beg to differ. Art is not something that given bunch of money produces great work. It comes with time and time spent contemplating and thinking. Most of the artists who won had to work to pay the bills before. Many were teachers and many still are. There are so few fine artists who just make art. The 1980s really pulled the wool over non-artists eyes.

    Case in point since getting the grant, not right after of course, Cara Walker made one the best pieces of her career. A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

    Plus she continues to teach.

  7. Disturbed Voter

    Job guarantee maybe, but not corvee. We can have jobs for everyone, if we build pyramids. Forced labor is totalitarian. But entitlement and free lunches … are destructive of society. Neo-liberalism involves entitlement and free lunch for some people, and for some countries (I see what you are doing to everyone else USA, GB, Germany, Japan). Entitlement isn’t just for individuals. I love my work, as long as it is “sort of” a free choice. Economic necessity works for most of us, and while wage and debt slavery aren’t fun, they are both better than chattel slavery.

    1. I Have Strange Dreams

      In a country like the USA, the only limit on socially useful, meaningful work for everyone is the will and creativity to do it. Off the top of my head I can think of more programs that could be implemented than people to fill them.

      1. Moneta

        I agree. But the problem seems to reside in the link between the services and the hard goods.

        One is unlimited while the other is limited… so the human tendency is to use money from the unlimited side and consume/stock up/hoard the hard goods creating a scarcity.

        I don’t see how we can solve that problem with property rights as they are protected now.

        In my mind, land and resources would have to be a common good… why should someone get the waterfront property or more arable land or pools of oil just because of a birthright or some other non sharing policy.

        Going even further, why should some groups/countries benefit from resources while not sharing with others?

        Lots of sharing problems to deal with nationally and globally before we get it right…

        For the last few decades, our system has been based on debt to income and debt to GDP. Those nations and individuals who loaded up on it did ok…. so we did not think of the fair distribution of resources.

        But now that debt levels are hitting what we consider ceilings we will be changing the rules of the game… you know what happens when someone decides to invent their own rules in a board game midway through the game!

        All this to say that even if we guarantee jobs the physical world of resources will constrain us.

        1. Waldenpond

          There needs to be a shift from work and consumption to leisure. Leisure is infinite…. walking trails, biking trails, parks, movies/music in the parks (our community puts up a big screen and a 150 or so show up with lawn chairs, snacks and blankets), art shows, community theatre, festivals, music, picnic areas, chess/checkers concrete tables….

          I want to start a game library: sort of a pub/restaurant with games. Have a bite, beer and a game of scrabble. I like the idea of pub nites with quiz events. If there were public buildings, gathering spaces would not have to make a ‘profit’, public health would be the benefit.

  8. schultz

    “What if public works affirmed inclusion, collaboration, and difference? What if we acknowledged that the passions of working life are irreducible to a largely mythical Protestant work ethic? What if questioning the meaning and value of work become part of working life itself?

    “What if we predicated social critique on terms that are not defined by the neoliberal ideology that we wish to circumvent?

    “What if we radically affirmed our dependence on the public institutions that support us? What if we forced government to take responsibility for the system it already conditions?

    “What if we admitted that there are no limits to how we can care for one another and that, as a political community, we can always afford it?”

    First, thanks for this article – this is a good and interesting debate to have.

    It makes me suspicious that the author’s sort of trump-card, climactic ‘takedown’ of UBI is a series of questions rather than answers. Things which even the author can’t figure out the answer to, apparently, so how can they expect UBI to have the answers.

    Think about the answers (i.e. in terms of, policy changes to people’s material lives) to the questions posed above. What would any of those policies look like? Who knows?

    My point is, it’s easy to make things (including UBI) look dumb by comparing them to impossibly high vague standards like “no limits to how we can care for one another.”

    If the author had a better more concrete, specific reason why UBI is bad, they would have used that, yeah?

    1. Tivvy

      In my view, Unconditional Incomes answer these questions without being wasteful of human life, and with being unconditionally pro-labor, as opposed to being conditionally pro labor as a JG would be. JG only empowers labor that is recognized immediately, by some body of people who do not represent the valuations of all who are part of society.

      Unconditional Incomes recognize labor that only later might generate appreciable results, and it recognizes broad valuation of the fine grained process where it is societally worthwhile, as individuals perceive it. If understood as enablement and pay for all labor related time, unconditionally.

      Pay beyond that would be representation of how much respect you command, how much you desire to obtain monopoly incomes, and how much you might hate a job. But not the labor value. That’s what unconditional incomes can provide. To the guy writing open source for a greater benefit to many, to the hardworking construction worker whose job involves a lot of undesirable factors (for which he may demand additional comensation), to the superstar/superbrand owner who seeks to maximize customer awareness and monetization with a blend of natural and artificial marketing and monopolization strategies, and to the guy who strategically maximizes market incomes to do even greater things for society than what he could be doing with just writing open source.

      On that note, thanks Amazon for pushing the envelope. At least for the time being. We can financially burden all of these market/rent incomes to provide unconditional (labor) incomes, to ensure that there’s not too much emphasis on just cashing in on your good (brand) name and market position. Coca Cola is a prime example for what such a cashing in would look like. Customers are beasts of convenience, unless there’s breakthroughs that radically improve on some process of delivery or production, that somehow isn’t taken notice of by the big brand, before another active citizen takes the opportunity to compete by help of it.

      tl;dr: No to turning society into a glorified Arnish settlement, yes to Amazon as it is today, though with a higher tax burden, yes to unconditional incomes, yes to political activism, independent research, parenting work, work for being a decent person among equal people that may look however like you chose.

      1. Tivvy

        Don’t worry, most UBI experiments and proposals nowadays aren’t ‘Income Guarantees’ but rather Unconditional payments to all, or Tapered negative income tax proposals (britain’s RSA has a UBI equivalent NIT proposal like that at least), on top of which people could earn more. Only experienceing regular taxation or a modest clawback rate of the benefit.

        UBI is commonly understood to not be a top-up to the same point for everyone as the speenhamland system was, which of course destroys motivation to expose oneself to a strenuous environment, when you can’t actually get compensated for your troubles. Any sensible person would tell you that the speenhamland system was an insane offer to the people, it asked of people to work for free, basically.

        As for UBI experiments, they’re generally rather encouraging. Particularly this coincidental observation might give prove to be useful, if you’re concerned about the timely restricted nature of pilot projects/experiments. http://www.demos.org/blog/1/19/14/cherokee-tribes-basic-income-success-story

        1. jsn

          By what mechanism does UI prevent employers from bidding down wages? As Yves post form last year says, “Taxes would therefore need to be increased to offset those effects. The best tax outcome you could expect would be a progressive tax on income. Thus the end result in a best-case scenario would be tantamount to a means-tested BIG, graduated so as to avoid any sudden cutoff for someone who wanted to work. Thus the result (whether achieved directly or indirectly) is likely to resemble Milton Friedman’s negative income tax, with the zero tax rate set at a living wage level.” Meaning the UI just pushes free money into an otherwise unchanged system incentivized from the top down to soak that money back up and out.

          So pushing more money into the system just inflates the system while sustaining the ongoing upward redistribution.

          Thus: “The trouble is that Livingston’s “Fuck Work” falls prey to an impoverished and, in a sense, classically Liberal social ontology, which reifies the neoliberal order it aims to transform. Disavowing modern humanity’s reliance on broadscale political governance and robust public infrastructures, this Liberal ontology predicates social life on immediate and seemingly “free” associations, while its critical preoccupation with tyranny and coercion eschews the charge of political interdependence and caretaking. Like so many Universal Basic Income supporters on the contemporary Left, Livingston doubles down on this contracted relationality. Far from a means to transcend neoliberal governance, Livingston’s triumphant negation of work only compounds neoliberalism’s two-faced retreat from collective governance and concomitant depoliticization of social production and distribution.”

  9. craazyamn

    It sounds like it’s is going to be a lot of work — to abolish work.

    Who’s gonna do all the work involved? LOL.

    If you think of sub-cultures where nobody works — like ancient Roman nobles, Europes aristocrats, gang-bangers, southern antebellum planters– mostly they got into fights about nonsense and then killed each other. That is something to consider.

    1. craazyboy

      The crap jobs will be the easiest to get rid of, but then we won’t have any necessary goods and services. The Romans knew this, which is why they had a pretty good run before collapsing.

      OTOH, with so much more humanity getting their creative juices going, we could end up with lots and lots of art. There would be so much art, it would probably be given away for free!

      Then there is the start your own biz path. I’ve been keeping an eye on our local self serve dog wash. The sign outside changed to “Self Service Pet Wash”. Has me wondering what’s that all about. Expanding the biz into cats, hamsters, parrots and turtles maybe? Good to see success in the entrepreneurial class, but then I wonder if that’s really for everyone and there may need to be some larger organizational structure geared towards producing some more complex thing or service. Dunno, but that could be food for thought as a next step for analysis in this whole job creation subject.

      1. craazyman

        If anybody actually expects to get paid for their “art”, that’s when all hell will break loose.

        A self-service dog wash is interesting, but if you let a dog wash itself it may not do a good job. Dogs hate to get washed. I’m not sure if this is gonna work.

    2. cocomaan

      Kwame Anthony Appiah talks about the end to duels in his book on Honor. It’s interesting stuff.

      One takeaway I remember is that the lower classes actually began to clamor for an end to the idea that murder was okay if you were in the upper classes, since dueling was a matter of challenging, preserving, and reifying an upper class. The other way to look at it is that the lower classes wanted in on the action.

      It also ended when everyone was embarrassed and fed up that their leaders were slaying each other by night.

  10. craazyman

    Great philosophical thougths are cauught. In the Moderbator!

    Even the moderbator is already working to thwart illumination and enlightenment. That should be a lesson of some sort. I’m not sure what though. That wouldd mean mental work. I’ll do it but it’s still kind of early. I’ll do it later.

  11. From Cold Mountain

    Yup. There is a big difference between work in a Capitalist ecosystem and work in an Anarchistic ecosystem. In the first you have to ask for a Universal Basic Income and equality, etc. In the second there is no need to ask for it.

    So maybe “F@ck Work” is really “F@ck Capitalism” or “F@ck Authoritarianism”, but they just don’t quite get it yet.

    1. Carolinian

      Agreed that what the author is really saying is f@ck capitalism. Pretending it’s all about the current fad for neoliberalism ignores the reality that neoliberalism is simply old fashioned laissez-faire capitalism with better excuses. The problem with left utopianism is that human nature works against it. So the author’s “what ifs” don’t carry a lot of intellectual punch. What if we all loved each other? Well, we don’t.

      Personally I’d rather just have the BIG and the freedom. The Right may be just as paranoid as the Left when they claim all forms of government social engineering are totalitarian but there is a grain of truth there. Neither side seems to have a very firm grasp of the human problems that need to be solved in order for society to work.

      1. JTFaraday

        “neoliberalism is simply old fashioned laissez-faire capitalism with better excuses”

        I think it has worse excuses, actually. No excuses. There is no excuse for the centrally managed wealth extraction in the name of “markets” that we have been seeing since Bill Clinton made nice with Goldman Sachs in the 1990s.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Sorry, I’ve held quite a few jobs and I don’t agree with your view about jobs being coercive, starting with my first job, having a paper route. And this comes from someone who has issues with authority.

  12. Pelham

    While MMT correctly conceives of money as a limitless resource, what it doesn’t take into account is the fact that continuing to allow vast accumulations of the stuff at the top of the economy inevitably translates into political power.

    And I suspect that those with such power, principally the financial industry, will work assiduously to reinforce conventional notions of money as finite, which in turn enhances their power and their ability to profit from widespread misery.

    1. Higgs Boson

      That is the taproot of The Big Lie – keeping the masses convinced of money scarcity, which goes hand-in-hand with scare mongering on the national “debt”. The delegitimizing of the national currency as worthless IOUs, mere “scraps of paper”.

      The .01%, who have accumulated political power through this con, will not just give it up.

      It reminds me of the (probably apocryphal) anecdote about Queen Victoria hearing about Darwin’s Origin of Species and asking, “Is it true?”

      “I’m afraid so, your majesty.”

      “Well then, let’s hope the commoners don’t find out!”

    2. washunate

      I too have been disappointed by how little care MMT shows toward inequality. But it’s because the whole idea of JG is to pay some workers less than others. They baked it into the cake and so have no way now to address discussions of inequality without subjecting the entire theory to criticism.

      The irony on limitless resources is that MMT does not view money as an infinite resource. Quite the opposite, the specific suggestions thrown out by Wray, Mosler, and others over the years (to the extent any of the writings constitute concrete proposals) depends upon the finite quantity of money.

      The JG/ELR wage must be less than the wages paid to the higher ups in public service (you know, like PhD economists) precisely because there’s only so much money to go around. We can’t pay everyone the same wages or it’ll cause inflation!

  13. UserFriendly

    Great piece!!! Does anyone know of any proposals or white papers for a State or City wide Job Guarantee? Laboratory for democracy or something. I know the lack of a currency printer throws a wrench into the MMT aspects and clearly there would be migration affects greater than on a national scale, but I think that a state or local program would almost necessarily have to come before a national one, or at least would make the debate about a national one less arduous. This is something I am pushing with my state house rep (Raymond Dehn, who recently threw his hat in the ring for Minneapolis’s Mayoral contest)

  14. DanB

    “What if we admitted that there are no limits to how we can care for one another and that, as a political community, we can always afford it?” MMT acknowledges that the availability of natural resources is a limit to money creation and, overall, economic growth. I wish this essay had addressed this issue, as I believe we are in the post-peak oil world and still not facing how this fact -peak oil when properly understood is an empirical fact to me- is dismembering modern political economies. Simultaneously, this destruction is proceeding in accord with neoliberal domination.

    1. Moneta

      And most of the time, when I see MMT, it seems to be associated with projects and investments that are incredibly energy and resource intensive.

      Many MMT supporters seem to work on the assumption that the US will always have the right to consume an inordinate share of global energy and resources.

      1. Alejandro

        It seems that many attempting to pigeonhole MMT, seem to not recognize the role of fiscal policy to regulate and modulate. Full employment need not correlate to consuming ” an inordinate share of global energy and resources.” IMHO, how the term “growth” is often used with and within “economics” seems misleading and disingenuous.

        1. Moneta

          And Trump has all the answers on how to modulate fiscal policy under MMT?

          MMT will not help the people unless the right leaders are modulating.

          1. Alejandro

            Its not about messianism…it’s more about recognizing that the constraints on the user are not constraints on the issuer of a currency.

  15. fresno dan

    It seems to me we have done that no work experiment for ….OH, 70 years. Its called social security.
    Maybe every single person on social security doesn’t have as many friends as they should – the book “Bowling Alone” as well as many other publications about the isolation of modern society address what is a problem. But many people with jobs are isolated, as well as not getting social interaction on and off the job. I think if you asked the average social security recipient, the first thing they would want is mo’ money, mo’ money, MO’ MONEY.

    People on social security can work, volunteer, follow a hobby or take up one. In CA old folks used to be able to “audit” college classes, where you could attend for free but get no credit. Alas, no longer the case (as well as when I was young and went to college, it was dirt cheap – how did it get so frigging expensive?).
    And to the extent old people are isolated, more money would do a lot to allow old people to take cruises and other activities that cost money and give people the opportunity to mingle. I imagine young people would do the same, especially if the stress of wondering where there income would come from was removed.

    There were people at work who said they would never retire because they wouldn’t be able to fill their time. I find that just sad. Somebody has to give these people something to do because in there whole lives they have never developed any interests?
    I was very lucky to have a career that was interesting. It was also frustrating, difficult, and stressful, and besides the friends from work, there were also the assh*les. It was fine for 26, but it was time to move on. And though I thought about getting another job, I have found that not working is…..WONDERFUL.

    1. B1whois

      I also do not work, and I enjoy it. I need to find things to fill my days (other than NC), but this is complicated by not having competence in the local language. I could speed up my citizenship process by getting a job here in Uruguay, but I don’t want to go back to a stressful life feeling like I don’t have enough time to do interesting things. So learning Spanish is my job now.

    2. Katharine

      as many friends as they should

      How about, as many friends as they want? There surely is no obligation to have some number defined by other people.

    3. rusti

      I think if you asked the average social security recipient, the first thing they would want is mo’ money, mo’ money, MO’ MONEY.

      And to the extent old people are isolated, more money would do a lot to allow old people to take cruises and other activities that cost money and give people the opportunity to mingle

      I suppose it’s a much larger ambition in many ways, but I’ve always thought that a more worthwhile aim than a basic income guarantee would be de-financialization. Private health care and car-based communities put people in the very precarious position of having to worry about their cash buffer for lots of basic survival needs. I live in a country with government-funded health care, and even though my income is a fraction of what I made when I lived in the US it would be easy for me to quit my job and live on savings for an extended period of time, since the only real expenses I have are food and housing, and the other necessities like clothes or bicycle repairs can be done on the cheap when one has lots of free time.

      Public transit connecting libraries, parks, community colleges, and other public forums where people can socialize are much preferable to cruise ships!

    4. Lee

      I too have for years now enjoyed and sometimes struggled with not having to work for money. While my ability to engage in many activities is currently limited by health issues, I have previously gone back to university and earned a degree, learned fine woodworking, volunteered as a charity fundraiser and done field work for the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone. I have also spent a lot of time reading, gardening, fixing up my old house, watching movies, political activity, fishing, motorcycling, the list could go on. However, to be honest, I do suspect that the years I did spend working and the earnings therefrom did lay a foundation upon which I could build an edifice more of my own choosing.

  16. Gaylord

    Make work more interesting and rewarding by directing it toward esthetic goals. Promote the arts and education at all ages. Put art, design, music, theater, & crafts back into the curriculum, identify people with special skills & talent, support them and provide venues for learning, exhibits & performances with low- or no- cost access to the public. Elevate culture to the epitome of human achievement in all walks of life and expand involvement. Discourage commercial television watching, especially for children.

  17. jabawocky

    I do wonder if there’s a kind of circular argument to this piece, or at least there is a continuum between this job guarentee solution and the basic income. In one sense, it is said that people cannot be left to themselves to create because they just won’t. So the solution is some kind of municipal creativity, an entitity which does the creating and then forces people to work on its projects in return for income. The more top down ‘new deal’-like this is, then it looks like a JG system. If it can be bottom up, it more closely resembles a basic income.

  18. Clark Landwehr

    There is little difference, in the real world, between sitting on a park bench all day and sitting in a cubicle filling out spreadsheets, because most jobs are already busy-work. So most people are already doing corvee labor in a totalitarian civilization: digging holes and filling them up again. In a typical office building, the only people who are doing real, productive work are the janitors and maintenance engineers.

    1. jrs

      and maybe this saddens the very most those who would want to do something truly productive (not as in “innovative”, even helping another person is truly productive) … this so called “work ethic”.

  19. Eureka Springs

    I think it would take a long time, as in many generations, to begin to know who we are, what we would do and be without a Protestant work-ethic. It’s almost impossible for most to imagine life in some other form … just as it’s impossible for most to imagine a democratic process, even within just one party. Idle time scares the beejesus out of so many people I know. I’ve watched people ‘retire’ and move to these beautiful Ozark mountains for decades…and do nothing but destroy them, over and over again, out of boredom and idle guilt. I can’t remember the last time I cut down a live tree for firewood.. since there are always mountains of forrest being laid to waste.

    But we must face the fact most work is useless, crap, BS, and or outright destructive. MIC and Insurance come to mind immediately. To enforce human work for the sake of it is to perhaps destroy the big blue marble host at – at best an highly accelerated rate. If we keep making ourselves act like drones our world will continue to look like it’s what we are doing / who we are. Just drive down any street America built post 1960 looking for something esthetically pleasing, somewhat unique, that isn’t either mass produced or designed to fall apart in a few decades or less.

    Or maybe with a jobs guarantee we should just outlaw bulldozers, chainsaws, 18 wheelers, private jets, dwellings/offices with more than four units, and large farm equipment.

    If we are going to force labor then give every man and woman a shovel or a hoe with their HS diploma – not a gun, not an office for predatory FIRE purposes. That way we wont destroy ourselves so quickly.

    Joni sang.. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. What about the people who never knew what was there to begin with? Will some of us live long enough to morn the passing of parking lots?

    1. JohnL

      Thank you. When a “job” means profit for someone else and more destruction, consumption, and waste, we fewer “jobs”, not more.

  20. Tivvy

    “A job at a decent wage, set by public policy, will eliminate at least 2/3 of poverty. we can then work on eliminating the rest thru compassion.”

    Doesn’t strike me as morally agreeable to reduce the right to nature and ideas that anyone may reason to have, to a matter of compassion.

    “This is the high road that can increase productive capacity”

    Giving people an unconditional income and letting people earn money on top, could also increase productive capacity, and having a JG scheme in place might as well reduce productive capacity where it pretends to people that they’re doing something important, when they’re not. Overpaying work can be a disservice to the people and society alike. Let individuals themselves tell others how much they think something is worth, in respect and in monetary terms. We just need to equip people with money (that maintains relevance in relation to the aggregate of all money), for that.

    The high road that can increase productivity is a commitment to enabling people as individuals, unconditionally, to make economic expressions, rooted in their rights to nature.

  21. financial matters

    “”Modern Monetary Theory contends that money is a boundless and fundamentally inalienable public utility. That utility is grounded in political governance. And government can always afford to support meaningful social production, regardless of its ability to capture taxes from the rich. The result: employment is always and everywhere a political decision, not merely a function of private enterprise, boom and bust cycles, and automation. There is therefore nothing inevitable about underemployment and the misery it induces. In no sense are we destined for a “jobless future.”””

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if it took someone like Trump to get the fact that money is a public utility into the public mindset.

    This is a strong and powerful tool. Seems like it could be up his alley.

    1. Praedor

      But Trump WONT do that. He’s very much a super 1% elitist who thinks of people as winners and losers. He thinks the government is like a business that has to balance its books and “live within its means” (means = tax receipts + fees).

      Trump is NOT an MMTer. He’s closer to gold standard idiots in the GOP (whether they actually want the gold standard to return or not means nothing…the idea that the federal budget needs to be balanced is 100% outgrowth of the gold standard dinosaur days so they are ALL goldbugs at core).

      1. financial matters

        Probably true, but he now has his hands on the biggest business around.

        He has a lot of money available which could make him a popular and useful leader.

  22. Michael

    Great Article and food for thought.

    I agree with many of the skeptical views above. In the endeavor to provide equitable incomes an underlying problem is who decides what industries or groups get funded from the taxes collected? Is there private capital? How do you keep certain people from manipulating the system to assure they can collect more wealth than someone else?

    All of these might be questions may be resolved with strict laws, but I can recall in my childhood such laws and such cultures that assured a more equitable system, but these too were corrupted by people who wanted to “keep their wealth”, because “they earned it”, or inherited it (“Death to the Death Tax!”).

    This utopia sounds good on paper, but it appears to me that the execution is most times corrupted by the connected and powerful.

    In any case the most difficult task in this process will be getting enough power to take any sizable wealth away from the “shareholders” , ie owners, to redistribute in a society controlled via media and laws by our lords and masters.

  23. David

    I think we need to remember just how modern is the concept of “work” is that’s being debated here. In nearly the whole world a century ago (and still in parts of it today) people didn’t have “jobs”, they raised crops, tended cattle, caught fish, practised manual crafts, played a role in the community and family etc. and were in general productively occupied most of the time. Even with the factory system, and the beginning of paid employment, many of the workforce were skilled craftsmen with years of training and a high social status. The modern idea of a “job” as an unnecessary task carried out to gain money you don’t need to buy things you don’t want would have seemed incomprehensible. Indeed, there are parts of Africa today where a “job” is what you get to earn enough money to live on for a while and that’s it.
    The real problem then is a sense of purpose in life. There’s some evidence that work can and does provide this, provided that work is minimally useful and satisfying. Certainly, the psychological damage from long-term unemployment as well as the psychological dangers of working alone are extensively documented. But the opposite is also true – work can make you ill, and the line between guaranteeing work and forcing people to work is a treacherously easy one to cross.
    It would be better to move towards thinking about what kind of society and economy we want. After all, much of the contemporary economy serves no useful purpose whatever, and could be dispensed with and the assets invested elsewhere. Without getting into the magic wand thinking in the article, it must be possible to identify a host of things that people can usefully “do”, whether or not these are “jobs” in the traditional sense.

    1. Katharine

      You’re onto something here. Reading the post and comments, I couldn’t identify what was bothering me, because when I think of work now (having been out of the paid workforce a while) I think in terms of things that make life more livable, either in very practical ways or through learning, enlarging my view of the world, and I don’t in the least want to see the elimination of that kind of work. It’s the other kind of work, that expects you to feign devotion to the manufacture or marketing of widgets, that probably needs to be largely eliminated (I won’t say wholly, as there may be some for whom widgets are mentally rewarding). The author seems too certain of what needs to change and how. I think you’re right that we need to give it more thought.

    2. akaPaul LaFargue

      The author of this review misses much of what James Livingston is all about. JL spends some time discussing how to imagine a meaningful life and he refers to Freud (!) that we need work and love. If work is no longer available then how do we imagine love as the basis for social solidarity? OR, is solidarity another way to express love? The author’s concerns for wonky policy BS takes us down the wrong path into the scrubland of intellectual vapidity.

      And btw Fred Block has devastated the Speenhamland analogy long ago. I think not many folks have gotten beyond Andre Gorz on these topics.

      1. Massinissa

        Yeah, I’m sort of skeptical of BIG myself, but I really don’t think Speenhamland is a good comparison at all. Speenhamland had too many particularities that separate it from most modern BIG proposals IMHO.

      2. jrs

        Freud was preaching to the bourgeoisie (his clients), he never meant by work what constitutes 80% of jobs in the modern U.S., he meant creative work.

    3. River

      I think we need to remember just how modern is the concept of “work” is that’s being debated here. In nearly the whole world a century ago (and still in parts of it today) people didn’t have “jobs”, they raised crops, tended cattle, caught fish, practised manual crafts, played a role in the community and family etc. and were in general productively occupied most of the time

      Too true. If you want to see what someone’s ancestor most likely did, look at their last name. Tanner, Cooper, Fuller, etc.

    4. Waldenpond

      People used to have a right to land with which they could harvest building supplies, roofing supplies, food to feed themselves, fuel to heat and cook, raise livestock for food and fiber. The people have been stripped of the rights and ability to provide for their basic needs by force. They now have to have a job, the majority of their labor benefits someone else, to gain money in a system where nearly every transaction isn’t just monetized but exploitative.

      There is still the pull towards liberalism…. to develop a hierarchy of needs, and a hierarchy of the usefullness/productiveness/profitability of tasks. There needs to be a ubi along with the jg. When the focus is on developing hierarchies, the end result will be a rigid bureaucratic structure and the use of force to ensure compliance.

  24. Tivvy

    “What if we predicated social critique on terms that are not defined by the neoliberal ideology that we wish to circumvent?”

    To do this, I propose that we give everyone, unconditionally, an income, as expression of their potential (and natural desire) to contribute to society, and all the prerequisite time that goes into that, and for the very contributions themselves. An unconditional labor value derived income, for all. An income that both enables all kinds of work, and pays that labor value in the same stroke.

    From there, additional earned income becomes a matter of how much respect you command, how well you utilize monopolies, and how much you hate your job and require compensation for how much you hate it. But the labor value would be accounted for, unconditionally.

    In a world where there’s superstars (and superbrands) who command respect and natural monopolies to make a lot of money, and people writing open source for the greater benefit of everyone else predominantly, it makes sense to make a statement such as that, about labor value, and to pay it to everyone. Mothers and fathers in active care of their children too, could agree, I’d imagine.

    But making a list of things that you think might be cool for society, and try to have tangible compensations for only those, seems problematic, if not to say, counterproductive. Rather recognize ALL the time that people spend, to be decent people among fellow people, to educate themselves formally and informally, be it in the process of being an entrepreneur in a broader sense, at times. A sense of justice that can only be achieved by the state deciding for its people what is purposeful, will fall flat on its face when it comes to practicality, unless we have artifical super intelligence. Because you will have to literally know better than the people, what they will appreciate to what extent. And you don’t know that. Neither do I.

    There’s great things in community/entertainment space happening today, that nobody was thinking of 5 years ago. Because people still have some power to recognize things as individuals, that others do, as purposeful (as much as aggregate demand is increasingly in a sorry state, as the result of a 3+ decade long trend that seems to still keep going. Just fixing that issue would already help a lot.). I say we should build on that, and further empower people in that direction. Which to me means to give money to all the people of the society, so they can more directly at times, express what benefits society, that is themselves. And for macro economic/long term considerations we can always have direct democracy.

  25. Schwarmageddon

    The sorts of psychopaths that tend to be in control of modern human societies clearly prefer money as a tool of social control to money as any sort of public utility that would facilitate individual productivity and/or affirm human dignity, whether in the context of neoliberal derangement or not. That’s the view from the long-frozen Rust Belt and certainly nothing new in history.

    It also appears that any human capacity for moral innovation is easily constrained by our basic feces-hurling primate OS, particularly if said primates consider money to be something finite and concrete.

    On the real balance sheet, though, the sweet old Earth likely can’t afford a JG for a population of 7 billion, at least not under any current or previously existing model of labor exploitation. As all NCpeeps know, we’re resource-constrained, not dollar-constrained.

    So we arrive back at the same old power relationships, the coercion, desperation and ecocide to which we have been accustomed, in the absence of any disruptive® (!) moral innovation. Can anyone suggest that modern humans have demonstrated a capacity for moral innovation outside of prison camps? Actual, non-hopey-changey varieties of moral innovation? If so, is that capacity retarded only by misperceptions regarding the nature of money? Retarded perhaps by an exceptional propaganda system? One might only answer that for themselves, and likely only until the SWAT team arrives. It seems unlikely that some rational and compassionate bureaucracies will be established to compensate in their stead: Congress is wholly unable to formulate policy in the public interest for very good reasons, none of them admirable. It seems the social economic entities they protect require human desperation just as much as they require currency liquidity or juvenile male soldiers.

    In the absence of representation, rule of law or some meager rational public policy, a reproductive strike may be a better individual approach than FW, as not having children avoids the voluntary provisioning of debt slaves into a corrupt and violent system of social control. There is also the many ecologically salubrious effects of less humans and a potential opportunity to avoid being forced to constantly sell one’s labor at a sharp discount. Couples I know, both having made catastrophic errors in career choice (education, research, seriously OMG!), are able to persist with some degree of dignity only and precisely because they have avoided begetting, in the very biblical sense, more debt slaves.

  26. Shom

    The author’s contention that JG is better than BIG is persuasive; however I am not convinced that JG is best implemented by the govt. We have had systems like these, e.g. USSR, and it is very clear that central planning for large masses never works.

    Why not implement that JG as saying that the govt guarantees X $/hr for up to T hrs per week for every one, no matter where they are hired. Advantages:
    – small business owners are afforded breathing space to get their dreams off the ground,
    – Walmart workers will walk off if Walmart doesn’t up its game significantly beyond $(X x 4T) per month,
    – Non profits will be able to afford to pay volunteers more reliably,
    – People who want to be alone / not work can setup their own “self preservation” business and earn the minimum $X/hr for T hrs.

    This form of decentralized planning may help implement JGs in a more sustainable manner than centralized planning. It also puts a floor on minimum income. Also, when combined with barriers on moving jobs outside the US, it helps provide a sharper threshold on how good automation needs to be in order to replace labor.

    X and T can be the $15 and 40 hrs that is being implemented in big coastal cities, progressive states. Or it could be set to just above poverty level earnings, depending on how comfortable we are in letting go of our Pilgrim/Protestant shackles.

    1. Praedor

      Past time to kill off the Protestant Ethic. The future has always supposed to be made up of robots doing scut work while people get to chill out and NOT do shit work.

      The job race is why people STILL don’t take enough vacation or full vacation. It is why they feel COMPELLED to not take days off because if they do, their boss will hold it against them come promotion time.

      Not all jobs are worth doing and forcing people to take them doesn’t do anyone any good, and makes people into commodities, THE biggest problem with neoliberalism. People are NOT commodities and work should NOT be a measure of one’s value. CEOs outrageously overvalue themselves for doing little or nothing while engineers and workers they mistreat do EVERYTHING. That is neoliberalism and capitalism in a nutshell.

      Guaranteed Basic Income ends that. Set a max income so there will be no more over-compensated CEOs AND provide a decent income for EVERYONE, gratis, so they are not forced to take a job polishing the shoes of the useless eater CEOs.

  27. Praedor

    I prefer the Universal Basic Income guarantee to the Work guarantee. The Work guarantee guarantees MAKEWORK. “Here, have a broom and…do some sweeping with it. Somewhere.”

    Or, “Here’s a desk and a pile of papers with staples in them. Remove the staples.”

    “You! Toss this box of trash in the street and you, walk behind him and pick it up and put it in THIS box!”

    Fuck work. In particular, fuck MAKEWORK. A job, ANY job, just to say you have a job is CRAP.

    Better: Income guarantee. Period. Gratis. If a company wants you to do a job for them then they will have to provide incentive enough to get you to take the job. You don’t HAVE to take a shit job because you have a guaranteed income so employers better offer a sweat deal like good pay and benefits (and LESS pay and benefits for CEOs, etc…the lazy do-nothing self-entitled class).

      1. washunate

        Lambert, will there be posts sometime that concretely articulate what you and Yves have in mind? Make-work (low productivity) and authoritarian work (negative productivity) jobs are a very real concern.

        Not just theoretically, either. Our actual system in actual reality already uses public policy to direct billions of labor hours annually in ways that create little wealth or, in fact, destroy wealth.

        MMT’s ongoing disinterest in addressing the management question as a serious point of inquiry is one of the major flaws. There is a lot of opportunity there for you to draw in potential allies if you could describe conceptually and concretely what you have in mind.

        The absence of taking this issue seriously suggests that claims that we need more aggregate labor hours in the formal economy have no logical or empirical basis capable of withstanding scrutiny. It also makes MMT advocates sound completely out of touch on a variety of issues from environmental protection to warmongering to the police state.

  28. Adam Eran

    The basis of job guarantees would universally empower or improve the public realm–shared goods.

    The “anti-collectivist” propaganda that dominates most mainstream media now forbids anything but public squalor and private opulence.

  29. We work to construct a pyramid of Democratic skulls

    The basic income and the job guarantee are natural complements. In terms of the acquis that any sovereign state must comply with (the UDHR,) you have the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [your]self and of [your] family, and the right to free choice of employment. Two different rights. That means work should be an option.

    The idea is, you’re not on the treadmill, it’s the state that’s on the treadmill, working continually to fulfill your economic and social rights. It’s the state that bears duties, you have rights. So if you want to do something and you need structure, knock yourself out, work for the state or some customer or boss. If you want to spend all the time you can with your kid before the mass extinction starves her, that’s fine too.

    When you ask people, Do you exist for the state, or does the state exist for you? People are quick to say, I don’t exist for the state, that’s totalitarianism! But people seem to accept that they exist for the economy. They accept that their life depends on acceptable service to the labor market. Just like I don’t exist for the state, I don’t exist for the economy. The economy exists for me. That is the revolutionary import of the ICESCR (and that’s why the US strangled Venezuela when Chavez committed the state to it.)

    Human rights is a complete, consistent and coherent alternative to neoliberal market worship. The idea sounds so strange because the neoliberal episcopate uses an old trick to get people to hold still for exploitation. In the old days, the parasitic class invented god’s will to reify an accidental accretion of predatory institutions and customs. Everybody nodded and said, I see, it’s not some greedy assholes, it’s god’s will. After a while everybody said, Wait a minute. The parasitic class had to think fast, so they invented the economy to reify an accidental accretion of predatory institutions and customs. So now you submit to that. Suckers!

  30. jerry

    “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

    I am in favor of the job or income guarantee program. We really should not and do not need to work nearly as much as is common in U.S. (nevermind the even more repressive slave labor in Asia). The claim that “algorithms and robotization will reduce the workforce by half within twenty years and that this is unstoppable” seems like a pretty likely scenario at this point. Why have we been working for millenia to build this advanced civilization, if not to relax and enjoy it and be DONE slaving away?!

    I recently sold everything I had and travelled around the US for 6 months, and it was delightful. I was next to broke, but if I had an income guarantee I could have had way more freedom to stop here and there, get involved in who knows what, and enjoy myself with very low stress.

    I agree most people will not do anything productive unless forced, but that is what we need to finally work on: ourselves and our crippling egos. The world is plenty advanced technologically, we have made incredible inventions and that will continue to happen, but people need to start working on themselves inwardly as well or the outward world will be destroyed.

    1. Waldenpond

      What does being productive mean? Besides making a profit for an oligarch. Everything is work. Cook for yourself, not work. Cook for someone else, work. Garden for yourself, not work. Garden for someone else, work. Travel for yourself, not work. Travel for someone else, work. etc.

      Has anyone run the numbers for a 4 day work week, or 3? How about if full time work were lowered to 30, 25 hours per week?

      Automation was supposed to free up labors time. Workers have participated in designing automation, installing automation, testing automation and training others for automation. It’s time labor takes the share of their labor and if oligarchs get the permanent financial benefit of labors efforts to automate, so does labor.

    2. Lambert Strether

      > I agree most people will not do anything productive unless forced

      That sounds like the persistent notion that the pyramids were built with slave labor. Michael Hudson has debunked this:

      We found [the pyramids] were not built by slaves. They were built by well-paid skilled labour. The problem in these early periods was how to get labour to work at hard tasks, if not willingly? For 10,000 years there was a labour shortage. If people didn’t want to work hard, they could just move somewhere else. The labour that built temples and big ceremonial sites had to be at least quasi-voluntary even in the Bronze Age c. 2000 BC. Otherwise, people wouldn’t have gone there.

      We found that one reason why people were willing to do building work with hard manual labour was the beer parties. There were huge expenditures on beer. If you’re going to have a lot of people come voluntarily to do something like city building or constructing their own kind of national identity of a palace and walls, you’ve got to have plenty of beer. You also need plenty of meat, with many animals being sacrificed. Archaeologists have found their bones and reconstructed the diets with fair accuracy.

      What they found is that the people doing the manual labour on the pyramids, the Mesopotamian temples and city walls and other sites were given a good high protein diet. There were plenty of festivals. The way of integrating these people was by public feasts.

      Now, you can argue that labor is no longer scarce, so the logic doesn’t apply. But you can’t generalize that people won’t work unless forced; it’s not true.

      1. Uggo

        This seems dangerously like saying that slaves who are well-fed and housed are not slaves. It also seems to be inconsistent with the apparent NC position that people forced into subsistence labor and underemployment are people who genuinely enjoy any freedom to choose their work.

        The thing you linked is pretty glib for lots of different reasons, but to press the pyramids point in particular, dig, as it were, a little deeper:


        the actual claim is that the people who built the pyramids were probably not slaves in the glamorous Hollywood chains-and-overseers way. “[…] Not slaves at all, at least in the modern sense of the word.” This begs the question of which “slaves in the modern sense” definition we’re going to try to use today.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          First, you are misrepresenting the 2003 article in a serious way. Even the subheading calls it “a city of privileged workers” but does point out that cultural obligations also played a role. Second, you clearly didn’t bother reading the Hudson interview. Hudson has been deeply involved in the archeological effort out of the Peabody Museum of which Lerner is a key player and knows his work intimately. His interview took place over a decade later and gives a current view of Lerner’s and other archaeologists’ thinking.

          As Hudson said via e-mail:

          Good heavens. He hasn’t read the book. (Labor in the Ancient World.) The pyramids were NOT built by slaves.

          (Would you give them tools that they could use as weapons?) Lehner’s description is universally accepted. He dug up the animal bones from the meals, and the beer vats. :)-

          1. Uggo

            Is a worker privileged if they have a refrigerator? If they can have McDonald’s every day? If they can afford the gas to drive home? Would you consider them wealthy? Would you consider them prepared for the future? What is privilege? What does it mean to be free labor?

            As much as I respect you and Lambert, I again must question whether subsistence labor is free. We can cavil all year about the definition of “slavery”, but this business with the pyramids shows the danger of work qua work being considered ethically Good. I would like better living circumstances for the workers of the modern age, not the least because their productivity ethically demands it. And to come back to the JG, it is not enough for a job to exist: we need to demand that it is rewarding, and offers opportunities for advancement, and that this advancement proceeds even to the highest levels.

            Say what you like about the Egyptians, but no Sun Priest’s son was hauling rocks for a pyramid.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              My God, do you have the foggiest idea how hard subsistence farming is? I come from a long line of Yankee farmers and fishermen and it was hard physical work. You seem to think there was some sort of historical paradise we could recover if only capitalism hadn’t gotten in the way.

              And your argument is patently silly. Subsistence farmers in my gene pool could not live the life of the landed British aristocrats depicted in Jane Austen’s novels, even though some of them were contemporaries, any more than the VOLUNTARY workers on the pyramid could live the life of the Sun Priest. You seem to ignore that the beer and festivals and protein were bribes to get these laborers to show up. We have analogies to that sort of work today. Derrickhands are very well paid even though the work is dangerous and physically difficult. I know someone now in private equity who did that between college and business school because it was the highest-paying work he could find (this was during a period when oil prices were high and the net pay was higher than you’d think because he worked in a low-tax state and housing was heavily subsidized). But you would consider him to be a slave too because he was doing hard physical work. Help me.

      2. jerry

        I see what you mean, but they built the pyramids because they needed money to survive, the beer and festivals is an added bonus. Whether you call it slave labor or working for a decent wage, the premise is the same – your survival depends on doing the work so you do it.

        The distinction I think relates to what waldenpond says above. People want to feel a sense of ownership, meaning and community around what they are doing, and then they do it of their own volition, so it is not seen as work. This is something quite rare in todays labor market, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

      3. Waldenpond

        Looks like people chose to work not just for pay but for pay and the addition of leisure activities (cooking, eating, partying) and a sense of community.

      4. craazyman

        Oh C’mon. That sounds like a Pyramid Scheme!

        Rim shot!

        Bowhahahahahahahh. (Get it. A Pyramid Scheme to build pyramids. You gotta admit it’s prettty funny. They couldn’t have built them without it! And it’s a pyramid scheme. i guess that means not all pyramid schemes fall apart,, since they’re still there. Whoaa)

        I thought of a philosophical question. What if you’re already a prostitute? Can you f@ck work or is that something so many people would be doing on an amateur basis that if they could get paid for it you’d have to be digging a ditch somewhere.

        I just thoought of a macabre situation. What if you’re an undertaker working in a funeral parlor? Oh my gooodness.

        I think there should be social payments made to low-wage workers, since they’re doing something society evidently finds valuable. You coould “”top them off” at say $35,000 or $40,000, but only if they’re already working. And I’d restrict the top income possible to some reasonable level, like a few million. Of course all hell might break loose but it might be worth a try.

    3. ekstase

      I agree with this. I think of the people I knew who had to work at two or more jobs, full time or more, to be “allowed” to be a painter, musician, writer, or performer, etc. It is sapping us culturally, not to let the creative people have time to do what they were born to do. And I think at least a little of this lives in all of us. There are things that we are born to do. How much does our society let us be who we are?

      1. jrs

        The sacrifice of the creative people is necessary because otherwise some lazy people would do nothing and the extroverts might be unhappy. Make sense now?

        Truthfully though a job guarantee at a 20 hour week would allow a lot of time for creativity. But not this 40 hour nonsense.

  31. anon y'mouse

    similar arguments made regarding all of the lands in North and South America.

    “they aren’t using it for anything productive. best we take it from them.”

    who are you to say what is productive in another person’s life? if we had a meaningful culture and education in this debased society, each of us would be able to make the decision about what exactly we find most productive and worthy of our efforts, and what isn’t. since we have no public lands to hunt and gather and fish and farm and live upon, we are forced into this economic system. i find it odd as heck that two people who are effectively “unemployed” find it better for everyone else to be chained to a money-for-work scheme. will you both be signing up for some labor-conscription hours? will it be compulsory for all, without ability to opt-out except for complete physical/emotional disability with no gaming by the rich? (my apologies if you all do not agree, and i have misrepresented your positions)

    more rationales to make people love their chains, please. because we know how this would work out: rather as it does now when you sign up for unemployment/food assistance—you MUST take the first job for the first abuser that comes along and makes an offer for you.

  32. JTFaraday

    I think we should separate the wage/salary component of work from social welfare provisioning. Namely, universal health care and universal old age pensions. The more you think about it in the context of today’s various pressures, the more sense it makes.

    1. Waldenpond

      Social welfare provisioning isn’t just the means of exchange, it’s the ability to acquire the necessities of survival of shelter, food, heat etc. If the focus is just within the capitalist system of private ownership and rent seeking is not ended, the welfare is merely passed through and ends with the oligarchs.

      1. JTFaraday

        In the current economy, I think getting the plantation overseers out from between citizens and some basic economic entitlements– for the first time in American history ever– would be a good move. That’s more or less what the UBI is about, I’m just redistricting it.

        In addition, trying to snuff out all rent seeking behavior is more or less a lost cause, and possibly not even desirable.

  33. cojo

    I have several questions, concerns with UBI. One is if everyone is given a base salary who is to decide what that amount should be. Will it be indexed to inflation, what will it do to inflation, specifically, inflation for housing, food, healthcare.

    Will a UBI be an excuse to gut all social contracts/guarantees. Who will make those decisions. What will happen to social services (public schools, hospitals), and social needs (clean water, air, sanitation/trash, police/fire protection).

    Primitive human cultures traditionally “worked” to fulfill their needs only 3-4 hours a day. The rest was leisure, taking care of children/elderly, and rest. I agree, that a large percentage of time at work is wasted time due to hour artificial 9:5 business schedule. If we all perform work from home, what will the hours be like? Will we have more time to meet our neighbors and become more involved in the community or will we be shut in our houses all day not seeing anyone. Will the family unit be stronger, since people will not have to travel across the country for job opportunities and stay near each other.

    Who will be provided with basic education, will that be free or for a fee, or will the idle relatives and neighbors collaborate to provide it.

    Will some neighborhoods/regions be more organized and successful than others? Will all the “lazy people” filter into future slums riddled with crime and disease? Who will provide for them if there is no longer any social services.

    1. jrs

      “Will the family unit be stronger, since people will not have to travel across the country for job opportunities and stay near each other. ”

      will it be stronger because they no longer have to travel so far every day (the daily commute)? it depends on the person and the relationships of course but it makes many people sad to have to leave their loved ones for so many hours just to work with strangers (but hey meeting the needs of extroverts for superficial gab is priority #1 I guess).

      It’s unnatural, in that it’s seldom been like this historically to work outside the home miles and miles away from your loved ones for most of one’s days (and I don’t just mean kids by this either). So that most people spend most of their time with people they have superficial relationships with generally (coworkers) and not much time with the people who supposedly mean the most to them.

  34. inhibi

    I’m sure someone has already posted this, but my idea was to have a huge Federally funded Environmental Cleanup Dept. that essentially hires mass amounts of people to literally clean streets, parks, waterways, sort through trash, etc. It’s needed, its relatively low skill labor, but at least it could provide an alternative to Welfare, which is a huge huge scam that’s imprisons people in the lowest class (cant own a car or land).

    Obviously this doesn’t solve the entire issue, but it’s become pretty clear that just having a huge Welfare state will not work longterm, as Yves mentions, the detriments are huge and real: unskilled lower class, unmoivitated lower class (more free time = more criminal activity), etc.

    1. Waldenpond

      Again with the Americans are lazy myth. I would argue criminal activity is more related to being blocked by state violence from accessing a thoroughly monetized society (poverty) and a purposely bled social structure than from boredom.

      If a person has access to a share of the resources of a society (shelter/food and enrichment) they will not likely commit crime. For those that want a rush, we can add some climbing walls etc. ha!

      For those that are critical of the’welfare state’.. it isn’t natural nor accidental, it’s purposeful. Stop putting in so many resources (legal, political, financial) to create one.

  35. David

    What do you actually want to work for?
    In early societies, you worked so that you and your family and community didn’t die, and could produce the goods needed to make society function. But that’s changed, and today we work to earn the money to pay other people to carry out these same functions. We even work to earn the money to pay the costs of working to earn the money to pay others. We buy a house (which in the past would have been constructed by the society) and have to pay to travel to work to earn the money to pay for the house, and then the insurance on the house, and the business clothes, and then buy a car and insurance on the car because the time we spend working and traveling means we have to shop at the supermarket instead of local shops, and then we pay a garage to maintain the car, and we pay someone to look after our garden because between trips to the supermarket we don’t have time ourselves, and then we pay someone to look after our children because we work so hard earning money to pay for childcare that we have no time actually left for caring for our children. And the idea is that everybody should be guaranteed the right to do this?

    1. jrs

      not to mention work to pay for our education (whether prior debts or current lifelong learning) even if the education is merely training so that we can work.

  36. J Gamer

    In the drive towards totalitarianism, universal basic income is the carrot that enables the abolition of cash. India is the trial run. Although after seeing what’s transpired in India, it’s probably safe to say the ruling elite have wisely concluded that it might be better to offer the carrot before rolling out the stick.

  37. Gil

    Read Edmund Phelps’ Rewarding Work for good ideas about how to generate full time jobs with adequate wages.

  38. Sandwichman

    As I wrote at EconoSpeak back in December, “everyone is wrong.”

    There seems to be this false dilemma between the impending “end” of work and the unlimited potential of creative job creation. BOTH of these utopias are apocalyptically blind to history.

    In 2017 what counts as “work” — a job, wage labor — is inseparably bound up with the consumption of fossil fuel. A “job” consumes “x” barrels of oil per annum. Lumps of labor are directly quantifiable in lumps of coal.

    The ecological implications of this are clearly that the dilemma does not resolve itself into a choice between different schemes for redistributing some proverbial surplus. That “surplus” represents costs that have been shifted for decades and even centuries onto the capacity of the ambient environment to absorb wastes and to have resources extracted from it.

    Can such an extractive economy continue indefinitely? Not according to the laws of thermodynamics.

    1. Sandwichman

      From April 2015, UBI Caritas:

      A UBI might reduce the dire incentive to “work or starve” at the same time as it increases opportunities and incentives to pursue the bright elusive butterfly of “meaningful work.” That would be good if it was the only consideration. But it is not. There is also an inconvenient truth about the relationship between productivity and fossil fuel consumption. In the industrial economy, larger amounts of better work mean more greenhouse gas emissions. Productivity is a double-edged sword.

      We have long since passed the point where capital “diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary.”

      Currently, world-wide carbon emissions per year are roughly double what can be re-absorbed by oceans and plants. This is not to say that the re-absorption by oceans is harmless –it leads to acidification. But clearly more than half of the emissions are superfluous to sustainability. Lo and behold, carbon emission increase in virtual lockstep with hours of work. In the U.S., the correlation between the two has been about 95% over the last quarter century.

      Don’t even think of using the “correlation doesn’t prove causation” gambit. We are talking about a “water is wet” relationship. Fossil fuel is burned to do work. Period. Not just correlation — identity.

      So the bottom line is we either need to cut hours of work at least in half or the remaining hours need to be less productive not more.

      Reducing the hours of work also implies the potential for redistributing hours of work to create more jobs from less total work time. This of course flies in the face of “laws of political economy” that were discredited more than a century ago but nonetheless get repeated as gospel ad nauseum by so-called “economists.”

      UBI Caritas et amor…

      1. jsn

        An ecological concept of efficiency needs to replace the economic one. Money can still drive such a system but healthier environments would define the objective of remunerated work.

        In such a framework, most of what we call laziness would be seen as resource efficiency where people are asked to do things pointless but for the ecological waste they are converting to money for others in our current structure.

  39. bulfinch

    I like where this guy is trying to go, but I think I’d put forth more of a F—k Stupid Jobs with Bad Pay ethos, rather than F—k Work . Too oversimple…too broad. Work, on some level, is really all there is. The idea of a collective life devoted to perpetual and unbridled hedonism just sounds like death by holiday to me; just as awful as working yourself into the grave.

    As to Yves’ notion — probably this is true. Pressure is a fine agent for production and problem solving; but I suspect that stagnant period might just be a byproduct of the initial hangover. Guilt is an engine that hums in many of us — I think most people feel guilty if they spend an entire day doing nothing, let alone a lifetime tossed away.

    1. Praedor

      That “guilt” is bleed out of the Puritan ethic. I was out of work for 6 months after 2008. Except for the worry about money I loved not having to work each day all day. I’m perfectly fine and happy just futzing around all day. If I won the lottery I would not work another day in my life and be fine doing nothing but what I feel like doing. I’don’t go out and men’s my fences as needed on my proprty, improve my barn, tinker, and travel. Why work? Why should you HAVE to? Screw that. Wor if you WANT to, not because you HAVE to. That’s the proper goal.

  40. rd

    It is going to be interesting to see what happens as the financial sector “high value” employees continue to be replaced by passive investing and computer programs. I suspect this process will result in a rethinking of many of these people about the value of work and job security.

    1. Waldenpond

      I have been stating this also. So many tasks are open to automation… in law, healthcare (remote offices), writing (algorithms), teaching (one math teacher per language!), policing. I can even imagine automated fire trucks that can pinpoint hot spots, hook up to hydrants, open a structure and target.

  41. Dick Burkhart

    What we need is not a guaranteed minimum income, but universal ownership of key productive assets, like Alaska does with its Permanent Fund. These assets could include partial citizenship ownership of our largest corporations. All paid work would be on top of this.

    As Peter Barnes says, “With Dividends and Liberty for All”. Thus everyone would have a base income, enough to prevent extreme poverty, but still with plenty of incentives for jobs. Note: You’d also need to make it illegal for these “dividends” to become security for loan sharks.

    1. Waldenpond

      Preventing extreme poverty yet we are to keep abject poverty and generic your generic everyday poverty. It is cheaper to end poverty rather than using violence to enforce it. I think you are going to need to invest quite a bit in policy, policing, law etc to enforce that poverty.

      If it’s so difficult to define the minimal benefit associated with a jg or a ubi, maybe the correct route to go is to define the level of poverty everyone is willing to invest in? What exactly does it look like and how much are people willing to pay for it? After all, we are unlikely to ever get a trillionaire if we don’t keep transferring wealth.

      So homeless, but a sleeping bag and maybe some could have a tent?
      So food benefits, but not the necessary calories per day, say half?
      How about education to only the 8th grade? No? 6th grade? How about 3rd grade, would that get people out of extreme poverty if they could read and write?

    2. homeroid

      An owner state has so many problems. As an Alaskan i can tell you, the tiny offset of the dividend to the cost of living is nothing. Keeping the dickheads out of the cookie jar. Think about it.

  42. Craa+zyChris

    I spent a lot of time over the holidays thinking about the future of human work and came to this conclusion: As we move forward, robots and other automation will take over a lot of human work, but in 3 areas I think humans will always have an edge. I’ll summarize these 3 essentially human endeavors as: “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll”, but each of those is a proxy for a wider range of human interactions.

    “Sex work” (compare to “Fuck Work” from this essay) means what it says, but is also a proxy for human interactions such as massage, phys-therapy, etc. Robots will encroach on this turf somewhat (serving as tools), but for psychological reasons, humans will always prefer to be worked over by other humans.

    Drugs is a proxy for human appreciation of chemical substances. Machines will of course be used to detect such substances, but no one will appreciate them like us. The machines will need us to tell them whether the beer is as good as the last batch, and we must make sure to get paid for that.

    Finally, rock-and-roll is a proxy for human artistic expression as well as artistic appreciation. Robots will never experience sick beats the way we do, and while they may produce some, again for psychological reasons, I think humans will tend to value art created by other humans above that produced by machines.

    The good news is that the supply and demand balance for these activities will scale in a stable way as the population grows (or shrinks). So I think the key is to make sure these types of activities are considered “work”, and renumerated accordingly in our bright J.G. future.

    1. Craa+zyChris

      I just want to add that, in the past I’ve posted under different names, all of them like ‘CraaaaaaazyChris’ but with a varying number of ‘a’s based on how manic I feel. I noticed recently Lambert or Yves castigating someone for using multiple names. I never thought it would be an issue (I use the same email every time), but to stay on the good side of the hosts I’ve made a new year’s resolution to consistently be ‘Craa+zyChris’ – a regular expression which captures all of my old posting names.

    1. Ed

      I should have mentioned, as well, Matthew Fox’s “The Re-Invention of Work”, in which “The community supports that business which supports the community.”

  43. flashinreno

    Semi-retired, and working for a non-profit here in Reno, NV. The organization is OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNR). Volunteers are teaching 200+ classes per semester to about 2000 members. My wife (Ph.D.) and I teach an eclectic mix of macroeconomics, MMT, JG, BIG, trade policies, and tax policies. Other people teach everything from basket weaving to nuclear power. We have a small endowment from the Osher Foundation, and $45/yr membership fee. Self managed by volunteers, and no government money. The members are 50+, mostly professionals. This is satisfying work for us, and I hope beneficial to the members. After all, no one makes them come to our classes.

    Under tax policy I am teaching a possible corporate income tax structure, where the income tax is progressive by profit percentage rather than size. The first 10% of profit might be taxed at a 25% rate, for example, and higher profits would be taxed at higher rates, perhaps a 50% rate on 50% profits. Just a hypothetical, for discussion. This approach would capture the “economic rents” that derive from profits exceeding cost of goods or services sold, as from monopolies, land rent, and interest. This avoids the pitfalls of trying to define “excess profits” or “unearned income”. This is of course rejecting Milton Friedman’s “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

    I’d recommend a quick look at the New Zealand Plunket non-profit. It is a huge organization which provides family education, support, rental equipment, and in-home nursing visits for families with children 5 and under. They estimate they see 90% of NZ children in their program. Again, not a government operation. Tremendously helpful to all NZ new families, and mostly volunteers. Again, those volunteers should be paid under a JG program. Perhaps Plunket could inform the government of all their volunteers identies, and the JG program could pay them directly, rather than making the volunteers become employees.

    I don’t see any limit to the number of good things that might be done without the government actually providing a traditional job.

    Of course we would have to break the neoliberal mindset that would prohibit the government supporting in any way an organization that might compete with a profit-making opportunity.

    It seems like this kind of work should qualify as a “job” under a JG program

  44. Scott

    I have defined work as “The spiritual struggle for the material necessities.” I became aware that the English working classes forced by accidental birth into less than the ownership classes valued their hobbies. Some just picked gardening.
    The experimental college I went to as an accident of time in Toronto to see my options before my lottery number was drawn, does not still exist. At least not really.
    Deserters & dodgers were in the underground and their options for making a living were narrowed. They sold drugs or were thieves. I was given a job on the Security Force, which was corrupt.
    I’ve used createspace to publish. At Farrar Strauss one afternoon my book of poems was rejected as the editor said, “You’re not famous.”
    The legitimate responsibilities of any government are Defense & Education. As the US Empire is destroyed both institutions of Defense & Education are made pathological. War profiteering is legalized with cost plus as Generals sell weapons to Generals driving policy that would be better in the hands of Foreign Service professionals. (something I learned reading Naked Capitalism)
    First the peasants were thrown off their land where they could live from the work of growing crops by the monetization of the societies. They revolted and made collectives, or tried and made the co-op.
    Now the Empire is hollowed out and only the military industrial complex pays. They think of defense as guns & missiles & death rays, when it is much more holistic, by which I mean the CDC is a defense industry.
    I’ve trained & been retrained for being willing to take the job I could get on airfields or in movie production.
    Not famous so my books don’t sell. Can’t afford to pay SUNY Empire to read my models or literature to get a certification to teach.
    My political science & creative economist modeling competes.
    But there is the reality of time running out. Surgeons and doctor’s pills have kept me alive. I live to work, but there are people who want me to work to live.
    Painted and had a big show kick off of the Campaign for the Currency of Fame. Aim is only to die with a good name.
    Truth is that work, if you can do it, may pay more. Crime or the army, will pay. Honest working people now, adaptable, or self motivated, or not, simply cannot keep up from where they are in the pathological system we have built and tolerate & will put up with for as long as we can, considering that it is obvious that “revolution” “Political Revolution” requires Revolt.
    That Sanders did not revolt, with all that support, and is still a Democrat instead of Green can anger me.
    Depression is a pathology, anger isn’t.
    P.S. I forgot about the decade & a half as a carpenter. Not a destiny thing.

  45. Tim

    Jeez I’m late to this comments party, but I do have something to add:
    Despite the headline I believe this is still the future.
    From the article:
    To cover the reduced hours for the 68 nurses at the home it had to hire 17 extra staff at a cost of about 12 million kronor ($1.3 million).

    Still, the added hiring by the municipality has helped the coffers of the national government by reducing unemployment costs by 4.7 million kronor during the first 18 months of the trial due to new jobs, according to the interim report.

    Shorter hours so more people are hired and have something to do. So it costs more at a business level (so Bloomberg says it won’t work), but at a society level where food stamps and welfare have to pick up the tab for those 17 that otherwise had no job, you ultimately come out ahead.

    It’s labor redistribution instead of wage redistribution. Obviously there are limits. Labor should always be qualified for the job.

    And as Yves recommends keeping everybody working is the best for society’s health as a whole.

    This is the best solution I can see, for true long term wealth re-distribution. Everybody take a turn, no more rich people at the front of the line running way with the whole basket of candy, claiming they are entitled to it because they work 80 hours a week. Next time tell that person fine, why don’t we just share your job with 2-4 other skilled people?

    1. Sandwichman

      (so Bloomberg says it won’t work)

      Bloomberg has to say that because if it works it disproves Bbg’s trite political economy which not only doesn’t work but has been wreaking havoc for decades… because There Is No Alternative. Vampires.

  46. Bernard

    wow. such attitudes. fascinating to see all the “negative” vibes about JG or Basic Income. like anything else i’ve seen, there are bad aspects to everything. so i gather throwing the Baby out with the bath water seems to be the accepted answer/mindsets. the American work ethic really has us, completely screwed as to values/concepts of worth. Like somehow our own value is the “job” we do, that is person is completely what his/her job is. and the Protestant work ethic is just another form of a get over/slavery. add Calvinism and all the religious and non religious BS that demeans those who don’t value/buy into the “system.”

    if our worth is nothing more than what we do, our worklife, god we are so effed. which seems to be the case today, as American capitalism/Exceptionalism has been lately showing us. Finally the chickens have come home to roost.

    we seem to innately worship/ and never question the systems we live in and are parts of. there are some who find the idea that “liberation” from work as a real freedom. now of course, i know there are those who need “work” to define just what their value is. Capitalism as we know just feeds the chains that tie us to the “definition” of what life is and what happiness or our own self worth is.

    so some people just plain out and out screw over others where free money and job guarantees exist. well, that is terrible for them, i would think, but then again, i don’t think like that, i.e. i don’t care to “game” the system to live off other. i find the dismissal of the entire UBI ideas because of the “bad apples” total hysteric and abject simplification. we are all so different. of course, utopian ideas will never get any foothold is societies like American with the deification of Ayn Randian Capitalism that our Congress has long represented.

    the good have always suffered for the bad. for me, however, this just shows the values of our society are so warped that any concept of societal “good” is shamed lest someone “gaming the system.” dare we conceive of anything that might help the rest or encourage those who are willing to partake of a better “humane” society. that bad apple really does control the whole bushel apparently. i would never expect Republicans to conceive of higher taxes, but does that mean i should give up on the that idea.

    obviously, we “all” must accept the idea that we have to continue to suffer lest those “losers” might get something they don’t “deserve”. as i get closer to retirement i can’t even imagine why people would want to work at a job that doesn’t fulfill themselves. sadism seems to be highly valued. people gonna be who they are, regardless. i won’t sell out my joy so that “loser” doesn’t get that “extra” he/she doesn’t deserve, in my opinion. i “lose lose” with that kind of mindset.

    what a society this is when we have to keep such “mean spirited” values.

  47. Kurt Sperry

    It seems you either tend to have the conservative mindset that people are basically lazy and evil and looking to get away with as much as they can while giving back as little as possible, or you tend to feel that people are basically good and well intentioned and want to participate in a civil society in a fair and equitable way. The first type seem to me typically always obsessed with keeping score, accumulating wealth and protecting it from “takers” and “leeches”, whereas the second are by nature more communitarian, less materialistic and generous and aren’t keeping a constant tally to catch and punish the “cheaters”.

    I find the first type basically bring their own internal hells into being on Earth for all to suffer, whereas the latter are all that is human that makes life worth living.

  48. homeroid

    Some great comments in this. I Will not go on about JG/UBI.
    Some here were curious about alternatives for those less able.
    I once worked from a building that was the home for [cough] Riverside industries[ cough] would recommend you look at their set up and find what works in your area. I thought it a very good setup.

  49. Oregoncharles

    There is a solution: farming, or more precisely intensive horticulture. I happen to live in a major horticulture area – the Willamette Valley, and I happened to hear multiple examples of people leaving intensive jobs and switching to farming. My son works at an engineering firm; 4 people he knew have switched to farming. One came back. And a friend who is a small farmer has two apprentices: one from a Korean family who had been an investment advisor; and a Ghanaian immigrant who came here for a new life.

    This kind of food production substitutes labor for machinery and chemicals. It’s a net win, better food for less resource use, if you don’t mind hard labor. I’m a professional gardener, so I’m familiar with the requirements.

    Unfortunately, it’s usually also a recipe for relative poverty. Helps if you’ve already made your pile. If we want this solution to work for a lot of people, we’ll have to pay more for our food, and probably make other societal changes. It’s a different life model.

  50. tongorad

    Ava Gardner: I don’t understand people who like to work and talk about it like it was some sort of goddamn duty. Doing nothing feels like floating on warm water to me. Delightful, perfect.

    You were beautiful, Ava.

  51. Sound of the Suburbs

    Look to the top where they have all the options.

    The UK aristocracy haven’t been doing a lot for centuries and seem quite happy with that arrangement.

    The rich usually set up trust funds for their children so they can do what they want.

    Some work, some do a bit of work and some do very little apart from socialise.

    This is what the rich do and they can choose.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      Bill Gates had a multi-million dollar trust fund but he still got his finger out.

      Many associates of the Royal Family (UK) seem to do nothing but socialise.

      People are different.

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