Job Guarantee or Income Guarantee – which to prefer?


This is the happiness U shape of life satisfaction, which doesn’t suggest many of us are that happy at all. But it does suggest that we are least happy when we are supposed to be ‘earning’, rather than just ‘kept’.

I wonder whether this means that the Job Guarantee (JG) would therefore just be keeping us unhappy and we should be striving instead for Univeral Basic Capital (UBC) – aka Income (UBI)?

The great advantage of the Job Guarantee (JG) is in its process. It is entirely and obviously counter cyclical. No further intervention required. It kicks in automatically. Professor Stephanie Kelton puts it more memorably: “Austerity forces the economy to balance the budget – full employment policy would force the budget to balance the economy.” Which is surely the right way round.

The JG disadvantage is, however, coercion. If somebody dislikes the job or chooses not to undertake it with any commitment then why should they be paid as others? Perhaps it should more properly be called a Guaranteed Job Offer.

And in the UK we have something else, which in spite of its government-created faults, is a free, non commercial service – the NHS. So a National ‘Service’ – free at the point of use. This is then an additional area of benefits that many of those aiming at a Job Guarantee or UBC fail to mention. It is, clearly an additional possibility – and one this American article entirely fails to address.

It is nonetheless interesting to see how this author argues against a JG, or what he calls ‘Basic Jobs’ and suggests a Basic Income is much superior. It is instructive to take the article’s major headings:

“Basic jobs don’t help the disabled; Basic jobs don’t help [carers]; Basic jobs don’t help parents.”

The answer here is that they do, if you’re paid to undertake them, which is what, I understand, supporters of the Job Guarantee propose.

“Jobs are actually a big cause of poverty; Poor people’s two largest expenses are housing and transportation; Basic jobs may not pay for themselves by doing useful work.”

Again not difficult to dispute – a job guarantee would be necessarily both useful and local so transport costs would be minimal – indeed they could be included. Housing is a human right and a red herring for either a Job Guarantee or a Basic Income. It might be considered to be a service that if not free could certainly be subsidised. We could also, fairly easily, have some free transport and although, in the UK, it is much diminished, Europe still has subsidised social housing.

‘Useful’ work would really need to be a necessary prerequisite for a JG and that is why just subsidising private employers to provide employment will not do. The job creation possibilities for a private business would bias competition.  JGs would need to be in (state provided) personal care or (state funded) construction and maintenance. As long as Brexit doesn’t prevent the continuance of easy – even frictionless – commercial food distribution, there is really nowhere else where state operation would be simple.

This is why it is easy to counter: “Basic income could fix private industry; basic jobs could destroy it” because JG does not want to compete with private industry, only soak up the unemployed who are not taken up by private industry in order to fulfil society’s everyday needs. The idea seems to be that a Basic income could ‘fix’ private industry by ensuring that jobs did not have to be taken at any price, but this would be a side effect of the JG anyway.

And if “Basic income supports personal development; basic jobs prevent it”, then the author has never had a temporary Christmas or holiday job. (I’d  recommend it!) Though I would not deny that Basic Income could, too, easily improve personal development, even ‘basic’ jobs can certainly encourage development whatever your background.

The article starkly contrasts with this one written from a British perspective. Here the author doesn’t knock the JG but lists the advantages of a ‘Basic Income’. It is an encouraging list:

“Education would change to become more focused on personal development” rather than acquiring just sufficient knowledge to pass an exam. Basic income would enable part time working, or even whole years out, to take on new skills.

“The low marginal cost of labour could make public or community funding affordable to establish new centres of local journalism.” Certainly with more knowledge of local affairs it would enable better local engagement and improve local democracy. On the same basis community food production could become more widespread. With regular state derived income self build for housing is another choice that would be much easier.

“Economic security, backed up by more inclusive community engagement programs, will lead to lower levels of crime, drug addiction, exploitation of others, and mental health issues. Studies all agree that isolation from the community leads to very negative life outcomes. Giving all citizens the security, confidence, and time needed to connect with others will build a far more secure, happy, and mutually supportive society…we will quickly come to realise that basic income is not actually a cost at all, but is in fact a critical long term investment in our own people and communities.

I see nothing to argue with here and have to conclude that UBC for all is the way to go, together with JG for those that want it; somebody who has perhaps lost their job and whose circumstances require additional earnings. But we should also try to hardwire the idea that we need to work less and be cognisant of what David Graeber suggests in his ‘Bullshit Jobs’ – that humans do not have a history of flat out everyday nine to five work but of frenzied activities followed by a longer period of rest – think of planting crops or getting in the harvest – or even hunting and gathering.

And then of course, more free or subsidised services actually reduce the red in tooth and claw market.

Still there is truth in the American article’s idea that “Basic income puts everyone on the same side; basic jobs preserve the poor-vs-the-rest-of-us dichotomy.” and that “Basic income is a real shot at utopia. Basic jobs takes [away] that energy and idealism…”

We may need a Guaranteed Job Offer on the way but if everyone received a Basic Income, for our society and even philosophically, that would be game changing. Indeed, surely an income guarantee is more desirable than a job guarantee?

That is why I remain broadly in favour of UBC.


  1. Noel Scoper -

    Er, what is the point of this blog? The 15-20 supposed original writers are down to 2 or 3. One director has quit. The other one has nothing to do with it but I assume is lumbered with the costs.

    As this blog is a Limited Company, how does is the company funded?

    Given the direction of the blog and it’s aims on the about page, are you at stage 1, 2, 3 or 4?

    1. Peter May -

      Your profound concern is touching. Clearly the point of the blog seems to be to give proper voice to constructive critics such as yourself.

      1. Charles Adams -

        … and provoke people like me to comment;)

  2. Charles Adams -

    “The JG disadvantage is, however, coercion.” There is no coercion in the job guarantee – it is merely a guarantee that there is a job if you want one.

    As you know I think basic income is more flawed as it makes citizens mere conduits for rent extraction. Focus on the real resource issues, on what we want to achieve. Money is only the means to organise society, on its own it cannot solve problems like the unaffordability of housing, the quality of education, the quality of care and our health.

    1. Peter May -

      If the JG is just a guarantee that there is a job if you want one then how do I live if I decide I don’t want one? or if I make life difficult for my fellow workers though my wilful lack of cooperation or just lack of ability?

      I also don’t see how basic income makes citizens conduits for rent extraction any more than being paid to do a job does?

      I agree that money cannot solve the qualitative problems you mention but not having any certainly doesn’t.

      The Basic Income gives you much more freedom than a job guarantee. Freedom and time too, when the basics of existance are taken care of, to think and decide how best we organise the real resources.

      1. Charles Adams -

        The JG would not replace social protection. You would still have a means to project from poverty and disability which you could call a UBI if you like.

        However, UBI on its own might be at best slightly redistributional (financially) but the real inequalities are in the distribution of land, property, knowledge and power. May be JG does not solve that either? Neither is perfect but could be a part of a larger strategy. JG is also intended as an automatic stabiliser. If everyone decides to save their UBI and sit it out, there is still a depression.

  3. Peter May -

    Your first point is what I was getting at. You’d still have social protection/benefit so the JG has to presumably pay more than that. It’s primary – indeed only real justification is to be counter cyclical. And that is a good idea undoubtedly – particularly if it is enshrined in statute and so happens automatically as we both mention.

    I agree, it’s not an either or – we really need a combination of JG, UBI and UBS. But I feel the JG is just the first step on the way.

    And of course any saving is likely to reduce economic activity and I cannot see that is more likely with UBI than JG.
    Unless the UBI is really very high – well let’s hope!

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