Fun with the Family Fun Pack

Another interesting policy proposal from Matt Bruenig inspires some comments here.

Image result for calvin and hobbes

The proposal’s framework has more potential than might be evident. In particular, with regard to problems with the availability of child care services, since school districts (which are everywhere) would administer the program, they could provide facilities too. There is money in the program for capital expenditures. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to include churches in the system as well (which could be done with school districts as intermediaries). The program also supports child care in the home.

I appreciate the interest in the child care of high quality. I’ve needed some dodgy caregivers in my time. We ought to be careful not to raise standards to the point where the supply of care is unduly restricted, especially in low-income locations.

Many school systems are run by local governments, not school districts. I presume they would be part of what grant wonks call the ‘geography’ of the program. This geography (the array of school districts plus local governments) is severely underserved in the Federal grants-in-aid system. Not incidentally, it reflects deep racial disparities. Instituting a new pipeline of funds into it could end up with a broader scope than the Family Fun Pack. School districts and local govts could expand their provision of other social services, the subject of decades-long austerity.

The lack of attention to reproductive rights is well-taken. Of course, family planning is intrinsic to family well-being. There is no reason to classify it separately under health care. I wouldn’t say the choice is a sin or indicative of any buried, malignant bias, but it is an oversight.

Accusations of “natalism” are a bum rap. The proposal significantly increases the EITC for childless singles and couples. Of course, the bulk of the money is for children. The notion that the program fails to serve childless families is equivalent to saying the problem with a car is that it isn’t a bus. This program is no more natalist than dependent exemptions in the individual income tax. I doubt that anybody thinks policies to arrest climate change are only of interest to environmentalists.

Reducing the decision to have (or care for) children to a consumption decision or a matter of individual taste is just weird. People are going to have kids, and kids need care. (The program is neutral with respect to birthing children or adopting them.) There is something to be said about limits to support for children, in terms of numbers. Last time I looked, most families with children in poverty averaged fewer than three children.

One angle that cuts against the cultural conservative rap, evidently inspired by the fact that Matt’s wife Liz makes people giddy, is the program makes no allowance for home schooling.

In general, this proposal opens a fertile field for debate. It should be considered along with Liz Warren’s new child care proposal.



Amazon, Coming ‘Atcha

Image result for amazon

Recriminations are thick on the ground in New York City, as retail and cloud-service giant Amazon announced the cancellation of plans to locate a new facility in the borough of Queens. The state and local governments offered them $3 billion in incentives, in the form of tax abatements. The company promised that the new facility would provide 25,000 new jobs. In the face of the ensuing uproar, they tucked tail and ran. The most talked-about alternative location is Arlington, Va., less than an hour’s drive from my country estate.

Mayor Bill DiBlasio, a lead architect of the deal along with Governor Cuomo, was very unhappy.

Local real estate nabobs described the debacle in apocalyptic terms

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described it as a victory for popular mobilization against greedy corporations.

“Morning Joe” Scarborough, who helped to bless us all with the current incumbent of the White House, declared that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez “only cares about herself.”

Some on the left, as well as some local residents, denounced the bourgeois NIMBYism of those indifferent to the well-being of the local economy and its unemployed.

Since everybody is accusing everybody else of moral turpitude, I should declare my own interest, and you can draw any conclusions you like. I get huge benefits from Amazon Prime, from the consumer information and pricing, from the free shipping (which indulges my stay-at-home proclivities), and from some of the video content (e.g., ‘Goliath’ or ‘Bosch’). If they come to Arlington, it will further snarl up traffic, which is totally screwed to begin with (but remember, I never go out), and could put upward pressure on real estate prices (good for me, as a homeowner).

So how should we think about the Amazon deal? I’d say there are at least three main issues.

The government subsidies are probably a financial boondoggle. These deals are always difficult to evaluate objectively. What’s in question are foregone tax revenues up front (the government subsidy to locate), juice for the local economy, and increased tax revenues in the future. The good people at Good Jobs First have been on this beat forever.

There is a lot of academic literature on these location incentives, and the results are never praiseworthy. They do not usually benefit the jurisdiction. Yes, there could be some boost to future revenues, but their magnitude is hard to predict. There will also be some future costs, in the form of public services required for any new, large facility.

In general, the encouragement of bidding wars among local jurisdictions for corporate hosting is toxic for local public finance and from a national standpoint, pure economic waste. A company that needs to expand, invariably for reasons outside local taxation, will find some place in any event. The firm’s choice of a location usually does not hinge on local taxes, but on other benefits of the location (e.g., shipping costs, local infrastructure) and the local supply of labor. Amazon’s refusal to negotiate in the face of the opposition, criticized by Mayor Bill himself, reflects the brute exercise of corporate power in play. This arrogance was also on display in Seattle, as the company blew away local plans for modest taxation of their payroll.

The local economic benefits are mixed and ambiguous. Local property owners will benefit, though some local merchants might be displaced, as national chain retailers serving new, upscale residents replace local bodega-scale operations. Higher real estate values will drive up rents, forcing some residents and business firms to relocate. The increase in local labor demand (also highly uncertain, given the potential variation in mix between newly resident, highly-paid employees from Seattle and local, minimum wage jobs) will drive up wages, good for workers in general, bad for local employers.

Amazon said the new facility would employ 25,000 people. None of them would necessarily be locals. The authors of the deal have an incentive to inflate that number. It was reported that the company itself promised just 30 jobs (for a call center) to local residents of public housing.

The local distributional implications reflect a many-sided conflict. Workers who need jobs, or better jobs; homeowners with secure jobs who fear the impact on their neighborhoods from increased traffic or gentrification; trade unionists who resent the arrival of a new, notoriously anti-union boss (whose net impact on wages could actually be negative); idealists who hate Amazon for its execrable corporate behavior, its treatment of its own workers, its collaboration with the hated Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and its massive challenge to anti-trust concerns.

What should be clear is that any net benefit you think derives from Amazon’s arrival in New York City would be equally available to any other place to which it decided to go. There is no conceivable moral case for favoring the needy unemployed workers of Queens, god bless them, over any other benighted locale.

Amazon is a terrible corporate citizen. Amazon’s corporate behavior will be no less evil, regardless of where it sets foot. It will cooperate with the satanic ICE regardless. You might want to limit Amazon’s expansion because it is a terrible company, but in so doing you only indulge the space for other terrible companies. (Hello, Walmart!) Bad corporate behavior demands a national response.

Subsidies aside, whether Amazon should set its big foot in Queens should be up to the people there, even, or especially, acknowledging the widely divergent local interests enumerated above. That’s why we need democracy to make such decisions. It will undoubtedly leave some people unhappy, but there is no better way to decide.



Hands Off Venezuela, 2019 Edition

american imperialism | spanish american war imperialismHere we go again. Another crisis in a nation ruled by an unfriendly regime made worse by U.S. policy for the sake of running sanctions as prelude to military action. We’ve seen this movie before.

  1. The inconsistency of U.S. foreign policy regarding human rights is a scandal. That it has always been so, or that such behavior is inevitable for a powerful nation, does not detract from its fundamental immorality.
  2. Dwelling on the shortcomings of targets of phony U.S. human rights campaigns provides no benefit to the victims of those regimes. All it does is enlarge the political space for future, disastrous U.S. military intervention. It also glosses over the history of U.S. assaults on the sovereignty of the targeted nation.
  3. The resort to “soft power” should be viewed as a compromise of the USG with political exigencies. Given a determination to destroy an unfriendly regime, there are no other effective constraints. Soft power itself should be regarded as a political campaign to pave the way for more aggressive tactics, up to and including military intervention.
  4. Actual intervention has usually been justified with outrageous fabrications: Noriega’s cocaine that was actually tortilla powder, the fable of Iraqi soldiers overturning baby incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital (exposed by one A. Cockburn), Saddam Hussein’s non-existent WMDs, and of course the legendary Gulf of Tonkin story.
  5. The apparent fact that presently the USG lacks the political and military wherewithal to mount a serious invasion means that instead there will be a continuation and escalation of measures that deepen the misery of the people of Venezuela. These sanctions, by worsening conditions on the ground, provide fuel for denunciations of the regime and aggression against it. That is their purpose.
  6. Trump’s anti-interventionist proclivities are substantially offset by his employment of depraved neo-cons, his innate tendency to macho bluster, his ignorance of the limitations of U.S. power, his infantile designs on the country’s oil resources, and the need for a new distraction from his own political and legal jeopardy.
  7. A drawdown of all U.S. offensive policies in re: Venezuela should be a litmus test for the support of any candidate seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.
  8. U.S. Imperialism is still a thing.


Trade the Wall?

Image result for the wall

The actual construction of a big, beautiful wall, along the entirety of the U.S./Mexican border, in concrete, steel, or whatever, sends a horrible message. That is the intention. It’s a metaphor of bigotry, not to mention ignorance. But such a structure, The Wall, will never be built. Instead, we have the spectacle of $5.6 billion that will merely pay for some additional fencing.

There are already walls and fences, here and there. The border is anything but open. Nevertheless, that $5.6 billion, a pittance of funds compared to the actual cost of The Wall or to the total Federal budget, is solidifying as The Wall itself in the public’s mind, and especially in Trump’s.

On the other hand, given that DT is hardly versed in the details of immigration, giving up on some of the $5.6 billion seems like it could gain significant concessions on DACA, etc. Any immigration activist could come up with a bunch of things that are more important than that $5.6 billion, either as symbol or reality.

The same holds true, incidentally, for anti-immigration activists. They are being set up for a big defeat, if Trump trades more significant concessions for some additional fences.

On top of the threat to DACA, the government shutdown promises serious harm to other vulnerable constituencies (e.g., EITC and SNAP beneficiaries). The thought of DACA kids and anybody else who has lived here for years being deported is unbearable. So, the case for refusing to give up even one dollar for The Wall, as opposed to some additional fences, seems rebuttable.

True, a deal would let Trump claim victory, and many of his deplorable, ignorant supporters would be happy. But the knowledgeable anti-immigration factions would be enraged, since The Wall nor a pissant $5.6 billion are their highest priority. Neither are the politics of concession so cut-and-dried.

It’s true that this kind of deal was available in the past. Trump went for it, then reversed himself after protests from the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. The problem for the latter is that as we go forward, The Wall becomes increasingly important as political symbol to the nativist Right, without gaining any importance as a concrete policy measure. So it becomes increasingly easy for Trump to sell out the anti-immigration freaks. We need some word for a pyrrhic victory where the victors are unaware they have actually lost.

Suppose Trump folds and we get a budget but no $5.6 billion for some additional fencing. It’s likely he will freeze up on other, more important immigration matters. The politics of Democratic victory are not so obvious either.

I have to wonder what Pelosi and Schumer’s end game is. Perhaps it’s to do to Trump what McConnell did to Obama – put up a prevent defense and just block everything. I’m not sure this has the same value to our side. To begin with, Trump and his minions thrive on rejection. They revel in their imagined grievances. Trump himself is not burdened by a deep commitment to any policy, except one of enriching himself and his family.

I suppose that in the end, the Democrats have the upper hand on the shutdown. People hate it. Trump is likely to fold, and then the job is to just administer further beat-downs. There will be further harm in the meantime to the undocumented, among others. The victories will not be without casualties.


Every act gets old, and we will see the Pee Tape.

At the start of Trump’s presidency, I predicted he would be gone in nine months, because he is such a defective individual. I was certainly vindicated on the latter score, more than anybody knew, as he would say. Now it’s time to predict his removal from the White House in calendar 2019. Like all wild predictions, you will only remember this if it proves correct.

The key ingredients of his impending, ignominious descent are as follows.

The Resistance grows. With every passing day, Trump commits another disgusting or patently stupid act of one type or another. A gross tweet, consigning another innocent group to the threat of deportation, the death of an innocent immigrant, and so on. An endless series of straws for the beleaguered camel’s back. This stimulates erosion of electoral independents and threatens incumbent Republican senators, about which more below.

The Left grows, and drags more Democrats along with it. Instead of lame appeals to moderation and bleating about polarization or fairness, the message transforms into the giant Fuck You that the Administration so richly deserves. One constructive component is the advance of bold policy proposals – abolish ICE, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal – that provide political ballast to the critique.

With enemies like this, the president badly needs friends. But Trump has exhausted his usefulness to his assortment of allies.

One crucial ally was the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which Trump has destroyed. In its place we will have a fusillade of subpoenas from the Democrats. Once they have been fortified by the Mueller report and ensuing indictments, there will be a successful vote to impeach. Worsening legal troubles will exacerbate the frenzy of his tweets, leading to further alienation of rational persons.

The Senate remains on his side, but cracks are beginning to show. Until now Trump could guarantee primary losses to any senator who defied him, but his removal next year will leave time for potentially endangered politicians to mend their fences by 2020. Moreover, Trump will not be well situated, nor probably personally committed, to wreaking vengeance on his enemies. He will have bigger worries, and we know he’s not much of a worker to begin with.

One crack is the recent repudiation of Trump’s love affair with the homicidal Prince MBS (no relation) of Saudi Arabia, in the form of a bipartisan rejection of support for the genocide in Yemen. Another is the manifest lack of enthusiasm on the Right for the Wall, as far as funding goes, something Republican majorities in both the House and Senate were not inclined to deliver. Another is admittedly faint signs of opposition to a few judicial nominations.

As far as policy goes, Trump has already delivered the tax cut, a raft of Heritage Foundation-approved Federal judges with lifetime appointments, and an enduring Supreme Court majority. In other words, he’s shot his wad. There isn’t much love for his further commitments, such as the trade war or infrastructure.

The greatest concern of incumbents, of course, is reelection. While the bias of the Senate is conservative and rural, the “map” – the array of seats that will be contested in 2020 – is unfavorable to the GOP. Red states are bleeding and turning less red. I would not expect a vote to remove Trump in the Senate, but the reality that such a vote is in play will encourage Trump to leave.

Trump’s friends in Russia have little further use for him. He has already done what he could to advance their strategic goals, which included Brexit chaos in Great Britain, promotion of alt-right politicians across Europe, increased aggression towards Ukraine, and the downgrade of NATO. There could also be favors for Russia from China, in exchange for eliminating disruption of their economy by Trump’s clumsy trade war tactics.

Once an asset has been fully exploited, the logical step is to discard it for its scrap value. That means releasing information that further imperils Trump and foments turmoil in the U.S. It means we will see the Pee Tape, which was too crazy not to be real, and related material.

The combined impacts of Mueller disclosures, indictments, House subpoena gold, and Russian machinations will cause Trump’s political standing to crater. Fears of legal assault will lead to his willingness to make a deal with prosecutors – resignation in return for some measure of legal immunity. In other words, he will be run out of office.

He will explain that the fundamental unfairness of the legal assaults is a distraction from the needs of the Nation, so for the sake of the country he will leave the Administration in the capable hands of Mike Pence, who has done an incredible job.

Pence is a lackluster politician, never especially loved in his own home state of Indiana. His intelligence has never been overestimated. The fall of Trump will provoke hysterical intra-Republican infighting, including demonstrations of nakedly neo-fascist components that further discredit the GOP. A Pence Administration will be a weak, lame-duck affair, not something to be feared. It’s hard to see Pence essaying brinkmanship in dealing with the House Democrats.

Incidentally, one lever that Mueller and company have over the Republican Senate is possible charges against Pence. Removal of both Trump and Pence puts the Speaker of the House next in the line of succession. If anything could get the Republican Senate to impeach, it would be the specter of President Nancy Pelosi.

The economic trends will not be helpful either. Presently the economy is in passable shape. The stock market ought to recover for a while, but in the longer term, say twelve months or more, a market drop and recession are quite likely.

So Trump is toast. Lame attempts to corral Democrats into some kind of alliance with neo-con #NeverTrumpers in the form of the #NoLabels fiasco or the absurd suggestion of a Biden/Romney “unity ticket” in 2020 crumble at the touch. The future is Blue. How much so is the only question.

Labor’s Stake in Immigration: the Nagle Attack

After publishing my “Send More People” piece in Jacobin, I decided I ought to offer a rebuttal to this junky essay by Angela Nagle on the purported ideological travesty of the “open borders left” (sic). By now this subject is a little dated, but that’s because this draft languished in an editor’s slush pile for a week, only to be passed on. It’s also been superceded by recent remarks from Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton story is a bigger can of worms. A recent speech by her in the U.K. provides the relevant context, but for the sake of putting this essay to bed I’ll stay on Nagle.

The crucial caveat to this entire post is that immigration is associated with bigotry, and I don’t offer a cure for that. Here the focus is on economic misconceptions that stimulate and amplify bigotry.

The following claim near the top of Nagle’s piece embodies much of the wrong that follows:

While no serious political party of the Left is offering concrete proposals for a truly borderless society, by embracing the moral arguments of the open-borders Left and the economic arguments of free market think tanks, the Left has painted itself into a corner.

We ought to first reject the false binary implied by the scare terminology of ‘open borders.’ One can favor lots of increased immigration without embracing unlimited immigration. One can have requirements for asylum applications that are tight or loose. One can have arrangements for housing immigrants awaiting disposition of their status that are benevolent or perverse. With the benefit of this Manichaeanism, Nagle is able to equate appeals for humane consideration of immigrants (e.g., “no human is illegal”) with open borders, or more extravagantly, a wholesale rejection of sovereign nations. Small wonder indeed that ”no serious political party of the Left is offering concrete proposals for a truly borderless society.”

On a more practical level, Nagle asks what unlimited immigration would mean for leading left initiatives in social welfare – single-payer health care, free college, or a jobs guarantee. The implication is that public programs would be overwhelmed by participants, as if such programs are just a garbage pail for resources. To the contrary, the programs are investments in a healthy society, and I think that can be supported in concrete, economic terms, not just in humane moral values.

No doubt there is a political problem signaled here; many suffer from the same misconceptions as Nagle, but the economics are just bunk.

Besides being nice to have around, immigrants are a resource. You don’t have to suffer the delusions of “the free market” to agree. Educated, healthy immigrants, given the chance, will be productive. To imagine otherwise connotes some kind of zombie-apocalypse, forage economy. This sort of angst has been standard on the nativist Right for generations.

Nagle’s other unfounded economic implication is the threat to labor implied by immigrants. Like many pundits who opine on policy issues, her analysis is bereft of quantitative content. That immigrants take the jobs of Americans is simply economic illiteracy. The U.S. government can expand employment at will. When and why it declines to do so is a political problem, not an economic one. That immigrant labor pushes down wages is an empirical question, but as noted, Nagle doesn’t do data. Evidence on this from labor-friendly researchers is for small, limited effects that can be remedied by other means. One need not rely on the Cato Institute or George Borjas for guidance here.

The organized labor movement has been susceptible to these fears in the past but is now mostly on the same page as the immigrant-welcoming left. Nagle’s appeal to labor’s progressive authority harkens back to the era of George Meany and Lane Kirkland, who are dead and gone. She is out of step with today’s labor movement. (One should not equate opposition to specific, narrow public policies aiming to undercut U.S. workers, such as rules pertaining to tech workers and H1B visas, or the history of agribusiness and guest workers, to all-around hostility to immigration.)

The root of Nagle’s error is her narrow view of power, to wit: ”[the] power of unions relies by definition on their ability to restrict and withdraw the supply of labor, which becomes impossible if an entire workforce can be easily and cheaply replaced.” Of course, nowhere near the “entire workforce” is in any danger of being ‘replaced’ (note the jobs point preceding). That nonsense aside, we could suggest an alternative formulation: the power of unions depends on the power of the working class writ large, a power that among other things fosters a climate conducive to labor militancy and that agitates for the expansion of employment and consequently, the tightening of labor markets and upward pressure on wages.

Some of Nagle’s arguments are not really about labor migration, but globalization more generally, such as in the cases of trade agreements and deunionization. NAFTA’s harm to Mexican agriculture is not founded on Mexican workers entering the U.S. Nor is U.S. capital flight to low wage countries facilitated by neoliberal trade agreements due to the in-migration of workers.

A more reasonable concern is the ‘brain-drain’ of those with greater educational attainment from less-developed countries who come to the U.S. Our gain is their loss, but this is not really a problem for the U.S. working class, whose interests Nagle places foremost. We might note that these migrants send a lot of dough back to their countries of origin. The point remains that a better model of development than what prevails under globalization is essential.

Nagle’s remedies, besides taking pains to eschew bigotry (thanks!), boil down to forcing employers to verify the immigration status of their employees. Here again we have an overly narrow view of what is needed. We need to rejuvenate the enforcement of labor standards across the board, including but not limited to residency status. Higher wages and benefits eliminate the employer’s incentive to troll for cut-rate labor.

It is certainly true that migration is unpopular, to put it mildly. Failure to cope is destroying center-left political parties across Europe. Moreover, establishing a nice social-democracy does not necessarily eliminate the problem, as developments in Nordic nations attest. Unfortunately, the arguments put forward by Nagle, replete with economic misconceptions, are more likely to animate the neo-fascist, nativist right. It is not ‘moral blackmail’ to point this out.








The Story of Thanksgiving (updated)

“It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it”.

– Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson

MaxSpeak Summary: Among Puritan Christian fundamentalists, the Pilgrims were treacherous, murderous swine. The Pilgrims made a treaty with the indigenous people around Plymouth, until they had enough forces to wipe them out. This they later did with smallpox and guns, unless they were able to sell them into slavery, all for the greater glory of God.

Wait a minute. That wasn’t quite right. Let’s try it again. Here’s how it goes.

The Puritans in England were subjected to religious persecution, lo unto death. They were not allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ They needed borders, because without borders you don’t have a country. But in order to have borders, you need some land to put the borders around. The Puritans tried to settle in the Netherlands, but the people there were crooked; they refused to exercise eminent domain, provide tax subsidies, or hand over land for free. The New World beckoned. It was a land without a people, first-class hotels, or golf courses, and they were a people without a land.

Upon settling around Plymouth, the first Puritans (Pilgrims) began to get along with the Wampanoag Nation. The Wampanoug were lovely people subject to aggression by immigrants from other Native American groups, who sent murderers and rapists and bad hombres instead of their best. Sad! The Wampanoag provided thousands, no millions of jobs for the Puritans; their alliance became an outpost of peace and freedom in the New World.

As more Puritans arrived, they required more lebensraum. The Wampanoag, like other indigenous peoples, lacked a modern system of property rights. They did not see fit to build fences, put up street signs, or trade in mortgage-backed securities. The Puritans remedied these defects of indigenous civilization. It just happened that the Puritans ended up owning all the property, and Native Americans themselves became classified as property.

Taking umbrage at this advance of Judeo-Christian civilization, the indigenous people were reduced to terrorism. Some were sufficiently maniacal as to sacrifice their own lives in order to murder innocent settlers. There was a virtual cult of death. Underlying this irrationality was a primitive religious belief system that celebrated exterminating one’s enemies, as well as the consumption of locoweed and psychedelic mushrooms. Nobody knew how bad they could get. In short, the natives hated America.

As a matter of self-defense, the Puritans were compelled to rise to the challenge of this war of civilizations; they had to get tough, by exterminating both the terrorists, their families, and the societies that nurtured them. There was no middle ground, believe me; you were with them or against them. Those Native Americans that were willing to live in peace were provided with alternative living arrangements under the protection of the new government. Sadly, they proved unequal to the rigors of modern society and eventually disappeared.

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving as a tribute to their memory, and to the invaluable assistance they unselfishly provided to the Christian conquest of America.

Now please pass the gravy, and have a Happy Thanksgiving, from all the MaxSpeak mispochah.


The Job Guarantee Is Not a Human Capital Program

Now that debates are raging over Bernie Sanders’ proposal for a job guarantee, also known as an “employer of last resort” or ‘ELR’ policy, one bit of skepticism founded on apparent empirical evidence needs to be addressed. The evidence in question is presented in a paper by David Card, Jochen Kluve, and Andrea Weber, all eminent economists (‘CKW’). Card in particular is an honored leader in the profession. His study is cited in criticisms of the idea by Dylan Matthews in Vox, Noah Smith on Bloomberg.Com, and Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic, among others. I explain in this note that the merits of the paper notwithstanding, its results have no relevance to the merits of a job guarantee. To impute such relevance is a category error.

In a nutshell, the framework of CKW is human capital. It treats public employment, to the extent it treats it at all (fewer than 10% of the studies examined pertain to public employment, and none of them are randomized controlled trials), as a temporary intervention aimed at making a worker more qualified for subsequent, permanent employment in the private sector. In this respect, it locates the cause of a worker’s spotty employment record and prospects as resulting from his or her lack of human capital, one aspect of which is work experience. To his credit, Matthews discusses the JG in just these terms, as an effort to employ people with “work barriers.” This is the wrong question.

The broader survey in the paper covers a wide variety of “active labor market programs,” or ALMPs. The value of the interventions depends on the individual’s subsequent employment experience. The extent of labor market slack such workers confront is included as a factor that is indeed found to have noticeable impacts, but the fundamental reality of a labor-surplus economy is glossed over.

We could note that workers who tend suffer employment discrimination or who are bedeviled by occupational segregation (women confined to “women’s work”) will not necessarily benefit from ALMP interventions. Their weak labor market attachment is not their fault. The word “race” does not appear in CKW.

A job guarantee would be evaluated very differently. Experiments are conceivable. A JG program would fail to the extent 1) nobody applied for jobs; 2) those who entered the program would voluntarily exit, then go to seed or become otherwise unfit for private employment; 3) it produced no public output of value.

In the first instance, a JG program open to all comers cannot fail. If you show up willing to work, you will have work and income. If your job tenure is ended (with ample notice and portable benefits), it would only be because private sector job openings were abundant. We could imagine termination could be conditional on successful placement in a private sector job–placement, not simply referral. In the event of unsuccessful placement, the door would remain open for a returning worker.

In short, an ELR regime is quite distinct from temporary public employment in a labor-surplus economy, one where the surplus is fomented as a perverse public policy for the sake of controlling inflation and maintaining labor discipline.

Human capital policies are not necessarily without value. In this regard, the paper is carefully done and has useful pointers to relatively fruitful approaches. But ALMPs remain a horse of a different color from an ELR regime.


A Note on Work and Dignity

“The only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited.” – Joan Robinson

One of the purported benefits of a job guarantee is said to be the dignity it confers on otherwise unemployed people. Matt Bruenig is at pains to explode this idea. His argument is tendentious. However, I would frame the benefit slightly differently, besides the obvious one, that a job guarantee provides a guaranteed income in a socially approved way.

Work in and of itself, under capitalism or any other real-world economic system thus far in history, can be personally rewarding or sheer hell. Of that there can be no doubt. Nevertheless, there is work to be done. People need goods and services. No small share of useful goods and services is most efficiently provided by the public sector.

I would stay the dignity potential of work stems in the first instance from its communal implications. We look with favor upon those who contribute to the general welfare. This does not have any negative connotations for the young, the disabled, those charged with work in the home, or the retired. It is commonly understood that many of those not employed have good reasons. The young are being prepared for work, or at the very least, allowed some fun time until the daily grind begins. The elderly have already done their bit. The disabled may be prevented from work, through no fault of their own. Work in the home, by which I mean caregiving, contributes to the general welfare no less than does work under formal employment.

The act of contributing to the good of the collective confers respect and thus dignity, and why shouldn’t it? Any other view would stink of ingratitude. Not only do you add to the national product, your financial independence relieves me of the burden of supporting you. This would follow even if a technologically advanced society was able to provide all the necessities of life, free of charge.

Of course, there will always be prejudices against those in certain types of jobs, because there are always assholes. If they didn’t look down on ditch diggers, they would find somebody else who didn’t deserve their opprobrium. People in low-wage/low-skill jobs are looked down upon out of intra-class bigotry, regardless of whether they work in the public sector. This will probably be with us for some time.

The right counterfactual is someone not working on public support, or someone not working at all but otherwise able to work. In either of the latter cases, they are likely to receive less respect than someone working in a low-status public job. On balance those who are able to work and do so enjoy superior social status than those who do not. In this sense a job guarantee offers a public option for dignity that the private sector might otherwise deny.

Moreover, the output under a job guarantee could confer greater dignity than in private employment. Maybe you work in a factory making widgets, but maybe I have no use for widgets. Alternatively, under a job guarantee regime, you could be employed providing public goods that are positively valued by the community at large.

That work affords dignity does not imply that more work brings more of it. Obviously, such dignity depends on the conditions of work, the nature of the labor process. Jobs – real jobs – in the public sector have historically offered superior labor standards, compared to the private sector. This competitive edge naturally puts upward pressure on standards maintained by private sector employers. The weekly hours of any worker is an aspect of labor standards, one of the most important ones, and the case for contracting hours of work for all remains salient.







Left-Wing TwitterGasms: If you don’t stop, you’ll go blind

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been growing by leaps and bounds. Of course, that is from a microscopic base, relative to national politics ‘in the large.’ And it is still small in that sense, but the volume and energy of activism is moving in the right direction. At the same time, our small size commends the exploitation of alliances with those who are not on the same page as DSA on every issue.

More recruits means more political naifs. That’s who I want to talk about. They are full of moral conviction, and I’m not questioning their intentions. Their understanding of politics seems to consist of having a set of positions, perhaps backed up by extensive study or perhaps picked up casually. So neither am I questioning their intellectual faculties.

Given this set of views, their idea of politics seems to consist of berating anyone with contrary views. Sometimes the attack is justified on the grounds of some kind of moral deficiency on the part of the object of the attack. Sometimes there is an assumption that the target is motivated by corruption – an anti-social financial interest. Without doubt, this is often the case. People who depart from the consensus views of DSA may indeed not have the best of intentions.

But there are also people who are potential allies, if not on every item in the DSA platform. This is where logic seems to depart quite a few people. People who disagree may have open minds and be susceptible to persuasion. Politics is about 1) getting people to like you enough to be willing to listen to what you have to say; 2) using techniques of persuasion that include but are not limited to moral appeals; 3) accepting if only for the time being the achievement of partial agreements with some people that provide a basis for practical collaboration.

I can tell you from old experience that brow-beating and the exploitation of social sanctions works, but only in the short term. As Joan Robinson wrote,

“He who’s convinced against his will/
Is of the same opinion still.”

Then there are those whose own views are founded on deep intellectual work. They may not be persuadable, but they may still be allies on certain issues. It would be politically idiotic to shun them and reject their practical assistance, even if limited.

This brings me to the Liz Bruenig Twittergasm. Twitter exacerbates the worst aspects of “call-out” politics. Quite a few people have so little political sense that they think insulting others constitutes a constructive contribution to progressive politics. Just search for “Liz Bruenig” on Twitter (she has shut down her own account). It can certainly be emotionally satisfying, but the political impact is more negative than positive.

Please don’t bother regaling me with the moral case for reproductive rights. I’m as pro-choice as anyone. At the same time, there is a substantial body of political opinion that seeks to meld a pro-life perspective with the remainder of progressive views. For shorthand, we could call them Catholics. Yes I know there are pro-choice Catholics. I’m not talking about them.

The desire to preclude any working relationship with progressive, pro-life Catholics is not smart. That doesn’t mean tempering DSA’s commitment to choice. It means taking advantage of alliances where they are available.

Nobody is going to change the philosophy of LB or, say, “the nuns on the bus,” or Pope Francis. They have thought about the moral implications of their stance at least as much as you have. It remains the case that for the U.S., especially for a small socialist formation like DSA, a good working relationship with progressive Catholics should be a strategic objective.

It’s funny that this shunning campaign has sometimes been a stance of the leftier left. We could note that there is no precedent for any successful revolution rejecting alliances. There is a precedent for entryists using such divisive appeals to siphon off supporters to their own sectarian outfits.

In the past I haven’t always held my tongue on Twitter when it comes to the Bernie v. Hillary wars. But these days when I see something vicious from either side, a little light goes on over my head and I practice restraint.

The inescapable fact is that both sides need each other. Trumpists deserve every sort of excoriation that the mind can devise, but the rules for dialog between the left and the moderates within the Democratic Party need to be different. Some on each side seek to purge the other side, but this can only benefit the Right.

There are entryists within DSA who uphold certain left stances for the sake of driving the organization into the swamp of third party or no-party politics. Many years ago, I could have been one of these people, so I understand the mindset. I also know where it leads – to a big fat nowhere.

For DSA to keep growing, it needs to be inviting, not exclusionary, like some high school clique. Moral condemnation should be reserved for the Right, constructive and even bracing criticism for moderates.