The Case for a Job Guarantee by Pavlina R. Tcherneva

Rating: ★★★

The Case for a Job Guarantee is a case for a job guarantee. This is a rhetorical piece: it's more rhetoric than than empirics evidence. My favorite parts of the book are the questions Tcherneva raises: Why do we guarantee the price of agricultural commodities but not the price of labor? Why did economists target a specific level of unemployment (NAIRU) when it would be unthinkable to target a specific level of illiteracy or starvation?

Here are some points I found interesting:

Unemployment is a unique social ill

Unemployment is unique because there's an idea that there's some non-zero optimal level of unemployment: NAIRU. It would be nuts to think this way about homelessness or illiteracy.

"It is hard not to conclude that the NAIRU has provided cover for the profound policy failure of tackling unemployment head on."

The buffer stock precedent

There's a precedent for a job guarantee: buffer stock programs where the government buys a commodity, prevents it from going below a price floor, and sells it back when demand picks up. This maintains a price floor and employs the commodity.

"It is indefensible on both economic and moral grounds to have run full employment and price support programs for agricultural commodities or gold, without doing the same for jobseekers."

Eliminating poverty jobs is a feature, not a bug

One frequent critique of job guarantees is that employers would have to meet or exceed job guarantee standards, and they may not be able to compete. "This critique is a thinly veiled argument in support of firms' privilege to pay poverty wages."

A job guarantee isn't about the productivity of projects

"When the emphasis is on the project, rather than on the person, it invariably becomes difficult to advocate for jobs for all. That becomes possible when the emphasis is on the scourge of unemployment and the need to guarantee the basic economic right to a job."

This is very honest, but I don't find it satisfying. It seems to me an admission that a job guarantee could in some ways be a make-work scheme.