Counter-cyclical Job Guarantee or Universal Basic Income as An Economic Stabliser?

A very interesting recent post from Ivan Horrocks leads me to think a Job Guarantee is clearly possible, but it seems to me to be particularly suited for school leavers.

For those worried about the country’s lack of work ethic, who, anecdotally at least, so often seem themselves to be in financial services or property investment so actually often know little of real work, this would provide a proper full time employment opportunity – perhaps guaranteed for up to two years and then we could all have an Unconditional Basic income after that.

That would help to get the young into the work ethic.

As an aside, instead of being hooked up in a job creation programme of the time, as Ivan was, I thought I was fairly fortunate (although I’m much less sure now), to get temporary jobs, which because most people seemed to avoid them, were tolerably well paid and the jobs were sometimes even interesting – the highlight was experimental tin can making with Metal Box (of course, they were actually rolled steel, but that was still what they were – even now – called). It was factory work where ear protection was required, but if you were reasonably competent you could do five minutes factory work and five minutes reading in about ten minutes of employment. Not always of course – but, since it was all an experiment, it was the weekly (sometimes more) breakdowns that we looked forward to most. A good half an hour of reading was a usual result – such that you might – disastrously – finish the book you had brought in with you!

But I think Ivan’s opportunities were actually much better than mine. Mine were – in effect – privatised. His were organised and clearly to the benefit of the worker’s skills (though any acquired were seemingly in either his or my case, serendipitous) but his more than mine had intellectual, and because state sanctioned, improved societal benefit….

Ivan suggests that “under a Tory government that regarded pretty much any form of public sector employment as a waste of money … any programme such as Community Enterprise Programme (CEP) was a form of policy to be actively attacked.”

Whilst I agree, could politicians not be persuaded that, rather than a largely useless National Citizen’s Service, we could have a instead have a ‘Job Guarantee’ or perhaps better sold as a ‘Guaranteed Job Opportunity’ for everyone of school leaving age.  Of course many will be going to university but some might like to take advantage of some work experience before arriving in full time education.

Indeed with effort and thought perhaps a Job Opportunity could also be guaranteed to graduates, who would no longer feel the need, necessarily, to be baristas and barmen whilst looking for something else.

All this would, I’d suggest, appeal to those worried by the work ethic as well as to Job Guarantee advocates, when the appallingly harsh system of current ‘welfare’ sanctions is, as they will be eventually, abolished. The Job Guarantee could thus gain credibility and be less influenced by any state ‘useless job’ scenario.

In general though I am still of the conclusion that the psychological – or in current parlance, the mental health benefits of a Universal Basic Income, are a clincher.  In fact, it seems to me that a Job Guarantee is, in many ways, reinforcement for a basic right wing agenda of prosperity through hard work, which, in reality, is by no means a guarantee of any such thing.

I therefore come increasingly to the conclusion that a Job Guarantee should be a youth employment opportunity guarantee, largely as a young person’s introduction to wider society.

The question really is whether this limited youth scheme disadvantages a Job Guarantee’s main benefit, which is that it is obviously completely and always, counter cyclical.

Yet with Universal Basic Income gives an income guarantee, which is what we all really need and is paid regardless of recessions or booms.  I wonder therefore whether others agree with me that it should itself be seen as an economic stabiliser because it cannot be cut and is paid automatically to everyone always?


  1. Bruce Gray -

    The JG always seemed like a good academic theory, but I have never been convinced it could be practicably implemented. People don’t lack jobs, they lack a means to an income. Some people are lucky to get paid for what they love to do, but most work to provide income to do other things. Why would a make-work JG job be any more or less attractive than a barista or barman, especially as it would be paid below prevailing wages.

    In a JG scheme what kind of jobs would be created, value added or make work? Who would decide? How would the jobs be distributed? Could a person be fired from JG job for performance reasons? There are also other barriers to employment beyond lack of actual jobs, such as secure housing, geographic location, transportation, child or elder care, and basic competency. How does a JG address any of these other barriers?

    I guess I am much more aligned to the UBI than JG program, although your idea of limiting JG to youth programs is interesting. I would also argue a step further and actually pay students to attend university, especially to obtain skills that are in short supply in the economy. It would seem that proper fiscal policy, including UBI, could stabilize employment through more organic means and provide a safety net for the rest, making a JG program largely unnecessary.

  2. Peter May -

    I entirely agree that people need income not jobs, which is why, like you I’m in favour of UBI.
    But it just seemed to me that a JG for youth would help to get round the usual complaint of you cannot pay people to do nothing (although pensioners seem to get away with this and society hasn’t -yet – collapsed) and if it were for youth it could be argued that they were being ‘trained’ for general ‘future’ work.

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