Australian Real Progressives has mentioned this piece previously as a parry and riposte to nominal progressives in this piece but it deserves a full treatment of its own.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is an incredibly complex body of work that studies macroeconomics. At its most elemental level, it says a currency is a social and legal construct. Currency issuers spend via an appropriation bill and are not financially constrained, though they are constrained by real resources. A monopolist of a currency can purchase whatever is for sale in the currency it issues, including idle labour. Thus unemployment is a political choice.
Within the body of work that is MMT it uses a Job Guarantee (JG) as a macroeconomic price anchor and stabiliser which I will explain below.
There have been claims that the Job Guarantee is workfare. It is not. It is a voluntary offer of a job to anyone, anywhere paid at a living wage with access to all the National Employment Standards just like every other worker.
The social policy setting of the JG is the policy manifestation of a technical concept to eliminate the tradeoff between unemployment and inflation. Current orthodox economists identify a link between rising employment and rising inflation and use unemployment to discipline the inflation rate. MMT economists say you can achieve the same end by using a ‘buffer stock of employed’ rather than a ‘buffer stock of unemployed’. This is what the Job Guarantee is.
The reason for the fixed-wage is the anchor. It sets the general price level. All prices within an economy are a function of government spending. The JG chooses to use employment as the anchor for the general price level. In the event of accelerating inflation, the cause of inflation can never be the wages of the JG workers because by definition they are purchased from the bottom and released from the pool when a better offer is made.
The JG is a small part of a broader full-employment agenda. Ideally, you want the pool to be as small as possible. It is not there to replace existing skills-based employment. It is there to sit alongside a national skills development framework to assist those that need it in finding future employment.
It ensures ’loose’ full employment as workers are drawn in and out of the JG pool rather than ending up unemployed. The automatic spending triggered by those entering the JG mean the government’s spending is directed when and where it is needed most – the unemployed.
The advantage workers have particularly those at the bottom who often hold little, if any, bargaining power is that the JG sets the floor for wages. Private employers would be forced to compete with what we as a society determine to be the absolute minimum socially inclusive wage.
A Job Guarantee is designed to create work to suit the individual. It is administered at the local level but funded by the federal government. The workers within this program are free to unionise and advocate whether something should be classed as a JG job. They are free to take part in determining what the living wage should be.
The work would be of public benefit and assist the JG worker in upskilling and finding work in the private or public sector. It is there to enhance the individual’s well-being and provide a public purpose. It is not used as a punitive system of punishment.
In a similar way to how the Commonwealth Employment Service worked, the unemployed person would have a case manager that held their CV and attempted to match that person to a job but rather than having that individual lay idle, they have the opportunity to maintain and enhance their skillset while seeking better employment working actively with their case manager to match them with an appropriate job.
The types of work that can be done are limited only by our imaginations. We could pay musicians to give workshops on band dynamics, pay them to create and assist in the organisation of community festivals, we can have arts programs where artists can paint murals in public spaces and aid others in their own skill development. Surfers could be paid to pass on surf life safety skills and teach others how to identify and avoid rips. They could take part in sand dune rehabilitation. There is massive potential to enlist thousands of unemployed in ecological restoration and plant trees along with other flora to mitigate against climate change while they undergo study in a related area.
Most importantly the JG allows the most disadvantaged in our society an opportunity to engage in paid employment which would lead to recognition in the community and vastly improved self-perceptions and a more prosperous society.
Jengis Osman is a union organiser based in the NT. He is a member of the NT- ALP Left and a research associate at the Centre of Full Employment and Equity. Twitter This first appeared in Challenge Magazine and is giving a fuller treatment on Jengis’s website Fighting Fish.