Democrats Love a Jobs Guarantee. That Figures

Newark’s former mayor, Sharpe James. Credit Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Last year, Ro Khanna, the Democratic Congressman from Silicon Valley, introduced a $1tr proposal to expand the EITC, seen as a gateway to a universal basic income. It got showy write-ups in thinky publications on the way to nowhere. This week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker threw his weight behind Democrats’ alternative preference, a universal jobs guarantee. Sanders, Booker and the whole progressive wing of the Democratic Party have embraced a jobs guarantee while rejecting a universal basic income. Their reasons aren’t pretty.

Booker’s preference for a job guarantee over an expanded EITC or basic income is everything frustrating about the Democratic Party in a single press release. Presented with an opportunity to spend public money to relieve suffering, they just can’t resist the temptation to divert a portion back to themselves, enough to turn a great idea that could change our future into just another miserable public boondoggle. Booker is recreating on a larger level what he once fought against in Newark.

There’s nothing new about a jobs guarantee. It’s been a feature of Democratic politics for more than a century. For a model of how a job guarantee actually works, look at the mayoral administration of Sharpe James, the man Cory Booker had to defeat in Newark to launch his career.

James was a city councilman in Newark from 1970 until he became mayor in 1986. He ran the city like a mob boss, using the police as his enforcement arm. He shook down local businesses through taxes, bribes and favors. He pocketed some of that cash, using much of the rest to fund public sector jobs for key supporters. Some of those jobs involved real or semi-real work. Many were phony. For more than a decade James served as both the Mayor of Newark and its representative in the state senate, drawing two paychecks and leveraging two sources of patronage loot.

This is how the Democratic Party functions in the places it has governed for the past century. Local political leaders get to dole out jobs and other benefits to supporters. Those supporters are responsible for the precinct level operations for the party. Public sector unions have become a keystone of this machine, using their leverage to the choose who will represent the public and taxpayers in negotiations for their union contracts. In some cases, employees of public sector unions can actually get paid to attend protests, attend public meetings, and perform GOTV activities.

The same goes for non-union employees in politically connected jobs. People you see working in airport or public stadium concessions usually got their jobs through political connections. Companies employing them got their contracts through their service to local politicians. It’s a machine that’s always starving for more fuel, since very little of the work it doles out features any self-perpetuating economic benefit. It’s always tough to find enough of other people’s money to give away. People only lose those jobs when the political capo sponsoring those jobs loses an election, like in Newark when Booker finally dethroned his corrupt predecessor.

Booker tried to unseat James as mayor 2002. It was a nasty campaign in which Sharpe deployed every ounce of his corrupt leverage. Sharpe defeated Booker, but the publicity Booker drew to the city and the strain on James’ machine took its toll.

Booker promised to run again in ’06. James retreated, promising not to run for his mayoral job, but it was too late. He was indicted on numerous charges in 2007 by an ambitious US Attorney named Chris Christie. He would serve 18 months in federal prison, all the while calling himself a political prisoner. Today, more than a decade after James’ departure, the city is still the largest employer in Newark, as it has been for decades and will remain for the foreseeable future. That’s what a jobs guarantee does for a city, diverting talent and resources that might have been used for market purposes into a churning wheel of numbing dependency.

Bad institutions will bend good people toward corrupt purposes 99 times out of 100. Why would a police officer in Newark threaten rival campaign workers? It’s not because he’s a bad human being.Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan are nice people who’ve done monstrous things in office without losing a night’s sleep. If you want political change, insist on policies that will transform institutions rather than placing your faith in nice people. They’ll start saying sane, civilized things once they’re beyond the reach of the institution that controls them today. Put a nice guy inside a system engineered to produce a corrupt outcome and you’ll get a corrupt outcome.

How would a jobs guarantee work?

The proposal being touted by Booker and Sanders, drafted by the CBPP, would create 4 million jobs at a $12/hr minimum wage. Available jobs would spike during recessions as needed. What would these workers do? That’s where the program starts to show its true colors.

The CBPP’s plan is vague, suggesting workers could do things like “reducing our carbon footprint.” One plan from the Center for American Progress proposes to put the unemployed to work as EMT’s and teachers’ aids. We are experiencing unemployment rates lower than ever recorded in some parts of the country. These policymakers imagine that we’ll take people who can’t find work in this market, and have them saving lives in ambulances.

Here’s how this program would actually work, once it’s been ground into political sausage. It would be funded by grants that would be channeled through state and local governments. “Employers” would “apply” for these grants, through a byzantine process only navigable with considerable assistance from a politically connected Sherpa. Grant recipients would promise to put people to work doing simple things, like removing garbage from vacant lots, etc.

Politically connected community organizers would receive the grants. They would hire their supporters, who become their little political turnout army. It would be impossible to verify what work was actually completed, but it would be easy to determine who was receiving the paychecks. If they wanted to keep getting a paycheck for their job as a “teachers’ assistant” or “carbon footprint reducer” they would have some obligations to the machine.

For concrete examples of what a jobs guarantee looks like right now, compare staffing levels at your city or county public hospital to levels at the most elite private hospital in your area. To see the impact of a jobs guarantee on public services, watch what happens when someone tries to replace patronage hires with real professionals at schools, hospitals or other public institutions.

A government employment guarantee is still money for nothing. If the economy needed this work to be done, chances are someone would already be doing it. A jobs guarantee is merely a basic income with a political payback clause. Someone imagining a scenario to validate the Republican talking point about the Democratic “plantation” would dream up a jobs guarantee.

More than a decade after Cory Booker’s transformative victory in Newark, the city is governed by a man endorsed by Sharpe James. The mayor’s brothers are on the city payroll and city contracts are being fluffed to feed political allies. Newark once again belongs to a family, supported by paid allies. The machine does not yield to good intentions and Booker seems not to have learned any lessons from his failures.

Both a universal basic income and a jobs guarantee deliver a safety net of income people can use in difficult times. Both provide a wage floor pushing up salaries for everyone employed. One of them cycles that money through a political machine, creating expensive theater of worthiness while serving to corrupt our political system. The other one sets people free from that machine, free from corporate exploitation, and just free in general. We shouldn’t be surprised that today’s authoritarian Republicans oppose both programs, and Democrats support only one of them.

31 Comments

  1. Some really interesting ideas have been suggested. What we all seem to be thinking about is how do we provide basic security and dignity for more people without upending the financial security of our nation nor creating disincentives. I wish I had the answer to that. The aging of America is going to require a large number of workers as aides to seniors…positions that will require more compassion and patience than education. I also believe more and more people will work from home…lending itself to Nicholas’ idea of a shorter work week, or, at least a “different” work week….

    One thing we haven’t touched upon in this discussion of work/work/work, is how hard most Americans do work – really at all levels, even though some tasks are more physical for those without formal educations. And I cannot commend women enough for the very long days they put in between their day jobs and their mom jobs. They could use some helpers around the house, too.

    So, how about a little focus on “rest”? WaPo had a nice piece on this subject which I’ll link below. How much money is enough on the low end and high end? For the uber wealthy, evidently 21% tax cuts really make the difference. For most working class people balancing multiple demands, it’s hard to meet basic needs and save for retirement. My sweet departed husband was so attuned to the balance between work and family and play which afforded our family valuable time together in the years we shared. How do you value time? Is our focus directed too much on production and not enjoyment? One doesn’t have to experience but one traumatic event in life – accident, death, illness – to stop you in your tracks and realize the importance of simply appreciating the joy of living.

    Rest, my young friends, is the balance of work.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/america-is-obsessed-with-the-virtue-of-work-what-about-the-virtue-of-rest/2018/04/25/f829f406-48bf-11e8-8b5a-3b1697adcc2a_story.html?

  2. Other commenters have pointed out that a Jobs Guarantee polls better than UBI. Honestly, I’d support either. I think the JG makes more sense short term, while UBI is where we *eventually* have to go when automation takes over a much larger fraction of the economy.

    Other commenters, particularly Ryan, have pointed out that there is nothing sacred about the current setup of what we call the “market”. Just because someone can’t find work, and just because some work is not being done in the current market doesn’t mean that either are worthless.

    What I don’t think I’ve seen is push-back on Chris’s assertion that “Politically connected community organizers would receive the grants. They would hire their supporters, who become their little political turnout army.” That would happen only if we choose to let it happen. The simplest solution, if the goal is full employment, is to add people to agencies at competing (State, Federal) levels whose job it is to watchdog for corruption in the JG program! Further, many possible programs could be done directly as Federal-local partnerships, not “hand the cash to some local organizer”.
    A few examples:
    1. Many parks (local, state & federal) could use trail maintenance, cleanup and habitat restoration. That cries out for a multi-level administration of work.
    2. Meals-on-Wheels could be expanded with partnerships including the Social Security Administration, local cities, and even faith-based organizations.
    3. Install as much rooftop solar as possible. Administer through a partnership between the federal DOE, state planning agencies, and local chambers of commerce.

    I’m a long, long way from an expert on national employment policy, but if I can come up with those possible partnerships off the top of my head, I’m pretty sure that experts can come up with ways to make them (and more) really work. Now let’s talk about how to pay for the JG (or UBI) program … starting with a small transaction tax for Wall Street, reversing the income tax cuts on incomes over 250K, and a new higher bracket starting at 500K.

    1. I’m inclined to be against JG. The Vox article Chris links to mentions a 3 year pilot in 15 areas, with guaranteed jobs of at least $15/hr. The effect of inflation could be monstrous here, and even worse it might go undetected in the pilot because of national commerce like Amazon, or even the regional commerce of stores in a neighboring area, keeping certain prices down but only while the effect of this bill hits isolated areas. I don’t know of the top off my head whether marginal increases in minimum wage cause inflation or not – my guess is it doesn’t – but doubling it in less than 5 years?
      The free market is not completely worthless. There are parts of eastern KY where companies have quit doing drug tests on employees because they’re sick of having to fire people. And Sanders’s answer to this is to pretend that they’re worth $15 an hour?
      I can all too easily picture near-minimum wage industries cutting workers, which increases the government’s onus even more here. The displacement is going to require bureaucrats to think up a lot of jobs in not much time and well from here I’d pretty much be repeating Chris’s argument.
      Honestly I don’t trust Sanders himself on this either. I haven’t thought much about him since the primary but based off of debates, and attending his stump speech (which I got to contrast with that of Bill Clinton), he strikes me as much more of an impassioned ideologue than a technocrat or thinker.

    2. Stop and consider your individual examples. Who would be responsible for actually implementing any of these goals? Under our present system, they would all be put out to bid. There’s no other way to do it. It’s not like there are a bunch of people in state or local agencies just sitting around waiting for something to do. This is how everything in local government works, nearly everywhere, from managing airport concessions to new road construction.

      Do you know how to submit a legally acceptable bid for one of these functions that would be competitive on the “merits.” Neither do I. And neither does anyone else outside the system, party because the “merits” are so consistently obscure (certain percentage minority or women-owned, possessing certain types of bonding, published adherence to certain non-discrimination and equal hiring criteria – requiring you to go through a formal vetting process, and on and on and on. The only people who know how to do this are those with relationships to the people who make the rules.

      It doesn’t matter what valid or exciting purposes we come up with, the people who get control of that money will be the people who have the right relationships. How corrupt this process is varies somewhat from place to place. It is more blatantly corrupt in this places that gave up on fighting corruption fifty years ago. It is less blatantly corrupt in places where there is relatively little of this kind of loot being handed out, like Texas or Colorado.

      This is the single most important argument in favor of a UBI from my perspective. It sets people free, and by doing so, potentially upends our political gridlock.

      1. I don’t understand how this can resolve gridlock, unless you mean that the popularity (plus the utility) of an unconditional income stream will mobilize more voters to protect it, bringing our national politics into line with polled attitudes. Is that what you had in mind?

    3. Many parks (local, state & federal) could use trail maintenance, cleanup and habitat restoration. That cries out for a multi-level administration of work.

      Currently in Texas, and some other states, too, there is a hybrid arrangement of state government, federal government and volunteer organizations to get tasks like these done in municipal and state parks and preserves.

      The volunteers report the hours they spend on each task to a state agency. The agency reports the volunteer hours to the federal government, which has assigned a monetary value to each hour reported.

      Somehow, the state agency is able to turn the monetary value of the volunteer hours into actual federal income to its budget, perhaps in a matching grant kind of situation.

      I’m still trying to figure out the mechanism in detail.

      After the election there was concern that the new administration would slash the budget for this endeavor.

      So it goes.

  3. RedState has officially PURGED all of its Trump critics, thus officially redefining itself as King MAGAnificent the 1st’s RedArmy.

    https://www.themaven.net/theresurgent/erick-erickson/redstate-is-no-more-uoT86A-iT0i4rC6OSzF7wA/

    https://twitter.com/Patterico/status/989903285065732096

    https://twitter.com/ReaganBattalion/status/989919266311897088

    And to think Kevin Williamson’s firing was the scourge of the Right just a few days ago…

  4. I agree, somewhat.

    First, the market isn’t divine, although it tends to be treated as such.

    The mysterious InvisibleHand of the almighty FreeMarket, as expressed physically by JobCreators on earth.

    The market can no better allocate labor than the government, or an arbitrary toddler picking names out of a hat and tossing them into a bucket. The market simply provides the least amount of possible job openings in order to make some other entity profit. Any business employing more people than necessary is either incompetent and going bankrupt, ripping off its shareholders, or rarely providing a benevolent, non-free-market job to people unnecessarily.

    Or, if a machine or fewer people can do the job, someone’s getting laid off.

    There is no reason that government couldn’t allocate excess labor (if you’re unemployed but are able to provide labor, you are excess labor) to useful purposes for society. Whether it involves assignment to clean up garbage in a vacant lot, or training to be a RN, which I can assure you, there are nowhere near enough to take care of people who need taken care of.

    Second, the reason why a UBI, along with any number of economic policies such as a shortened work week with universal health care, are better than some block grant program, is that:

    a. there aren’t enough job openings that pay a living wage for 7+ billion human beings
    b. the human population is still rising
    c. technology and automation are decreasing the amount of jobs that require direct human labor

    So, it’s much better to just pay people who don’t have the necessary skills/education/intelligence/will to work, enough money that they can stay in shelter, heated/air conditioned, fed, and entertained, than just “making work” like having them dig a ditch, and then fill it in.

    Plus, the inherent desire to “have more” than you have, which people believe is what causes the desire to work / better yourself / educate yourself / etc., will still inspire people on a UBI to find some way to market themselves or some product to sell. You know, capitalism.

    Because who wants to sit at home watching daytime television? And if you do, then better to do that then turn to crime to stay inside, warm, and entertained, no?

    Ultimately, the political and economic system of the past 100+ years is being exposed as anachronistic to what is necessary to solve current economic and social problems. I mean, that’s what Strongman Trump voters, Sanders voters, and many Clinton voters believe. Hell, I know Chris believes this, because he’s said as much on the previous blog, and here.

    We need to work towards something that solves many of the issues that “free market” capitalism can never solve, since there isn’t any more land and resources that are free and clear and acquirable by pioneers, at least on this planet. And the last time we had it here in the US, it specifically involved the genocide and forced removal of the natives, and even then the government was redistributing the land and resources for pennies on the dollar. We called it Manifest Destiny. The Lebensraum of the 19th century. And just as nasty.

    A UBI is one step.

    Decreasing the full time work week to, say, 25 hours, with the same pay and benefits, would also open up, literally millions of jobs. Paired with universal health care, you’d also end up with people who have free time, and entrepreneurial spirit and freedom to take chances without fear of going bankrupt and possibly homeless and destitute. Capitalism, anyone?

    Obviously these changes don’t happen over night, or even over the course of a decade. But they are announced as national priorities and policies, so it isn’t some surprise. It would take BothSides™ to agree on this, which isn’t likely currently, but could be possible if and when the Republican party finally stabs itself in the head enough times that something relatively decent can take its place.

    It’s clear that economic problems are not going to be solved by more ditch diggers, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be solved by cutting taxes on the richest people in the solar system yet again, because, surely, this time it will trickle down.

    Multiple solutions exist, if only we could agree on the glaringly obvious problem.

    1. Jon: I can empathize with young people (I am 74) regarding paying into a program they will likely not benefit from “if” changes are not made, and the reality is, there is only so much money to spread around, regardless how long one lives. The real question, IMO, is not whether programs for the living (UBI or JG) and the aging (Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid) are justifiable and needed, but what must be “lose” funding in order to fund them. A smaller defense budget? No “wall” at America’s southern border? No ethanol subsidy? I(I’m actually fine with all of these suggestions.) And so forth.

      America has been rolling along doing the “same old, same old” while the marvels of health care are enabling people to live longer. Are they living better? Many are – some aren’t, and I can attest that those who are old and infirm (and many who are poor) would just as soon depart this good earth. Quality of life matters, regardless of age.

      My view is that America has a lot of priorities backwards. We have monetized educational attainment to the point that young people start out with huge debt, fight years to bring it down, have families and begin the cycle all over again. In many countries, post-high school education as well as special training for medicine and other highly skilled occupations, are free or nominal in cost. It is an investment in the people of their countries made on the front end, to return higher yield during productive years so that people are better positioned to manage their later years while contributing to society.

      Yet, education and skills gaps, in combination with a free market economy that is highly competitive and not particularly kind to those who are born poor and brown, makes for a very uneven playing field. Throw health care costs and problems into the mix and suddenly, you are one accident away from financial catastrophe. The older one gets, the more complicated we realize life is to predict and plan. I don’t know if either income support model is a real improvement but I do know that the funding priorities in America are widening the divide between wealth and making the aging process extremely scary for the young who are just entering the highway of life and those who are on the exit ramp.

  5. I’m still intrigued by Job Guarantee. I think many people like having a decent job, it fulfills social needs. UBI I don’t think will have the same effect on getting people to cohere and make friends. In this light, it’s kind of like a public health program.

    I agree that there are many execution hazards, and I tend to agree with the ones you have itemized, but it’s a much smaller step in the budget and socially-wise than UBI, so I’m interested in giving it a try.

    One thing I don’t agree with is that the private sector has already swept up all worthwhile work. Some, maybe even a lot of work is hard to monetize. For example: tutoring children from families of modest means. I’ve been doing this on a volunteer basis and I think there’s a lot of room to do more, and for more students.

    Finally, there’s the biggest thing of all: voters seem to like the Job Guarantee much more than UBI. I don’t really see a tyranny by the majority thing going on here, and this is a democracy after all, we think. Maybe if we get JG and it’s corrupt as all hell nationwide and people think we should get to the punch and just infuse cash, we’ll do that. https://twitter.com/DataProgress/status/989600133879926784

    1. Counterfactual: what would monetizing school tutoring, or maybe even school in general, look like? A security on future outcomes for children influenced by various programs and tutors that would represent conserved public resources (like policing) and increased productivity. Seeing as how we’re not yet at this point in social and financial engineering, and maybe don’t want to be, I think there is a good claim that there are a good number of un-monetized normatively worthwhile activity.

  6. A’ight, let’s play Devil’s Advocate and have some fun. 🙂

    >] “The CBPP’s plan is vague, suggesting workers could do things like “reducing our carbon footprint.” One plan from the Center for American Progress proposes to put the unemployed to work as EMT’s and teachers’ aids. We are experiencing unemployment rates lower than ever recorded in some parts of the country. These policymakers imagine that we’ll take people who can’t find work in this market, and have them saving lives in ambulances.

    This strikes me as willful ignorance on par with those who disparage a basic income because they, quite incorrectly, say that it’ll make people lazy and not want to work. Our market isn’t some divinely inspired ordinance that decrees that anyone who hasn’t been able to find a job is beyond hope – circumstances and poverty are a bitch, and it’s more than worth the effort to give a guarantee to those people, have them be properly trained, and let them show their mettle on the merits.

    >] “Politically connected community organizers would receive the grants. They would hire their supporters, who become their little political turnout army. It would be impossible to verify what work was actually completed, but it would be easy to determine who was receiving the paychecks. If they wanted to keep getting a paycheck for their job as a “teachers’ assistant” or “carbon footprint reducer” they would have some obligations to the machine.

    Our market economy’s already a monstrous embodiment of the Obligation Machine that a Jobs Guarantee threatens to impose – all you’re really doing is trading in one set of obligations for another, but at least in this scenario people are getting money and skills training.

    >] “A government employment guarantee is still money for nothing. If the economy needed this work to be done, chances are someone would already be doing it. A jobs guarantee is merely a basic income with a political payback clause. Someone imagining a scenario to validate the Republican talking point about the Democratic “plantation” would dream up a jobs guarantee.

    The economy doesn’t need someone to be a housewife or a stay-at-home dad in the sense that they’re not compensated for doing that – a travesty that a basic income would correct, IMHO.

    If you’re going to criticize a Jobs Guarantee, try not to drag down a basic income with it by the same logic. Granting that both are money for doing nothing (I don’t – it’s money by virtue of being alive and the everlasting opportunity to make something of yourself), the only difference is that a JG has the so-called “political payback clause”.

      1. If Social Security was written today it would have to have a qualifying age that moves with census data rather than be a constant 65 by law. I don’t think the idea of healthy individuals with normal wealth retiring over a decade before death was common in 1935. Life expectancy has risen by well over 10 years. Meanwhile the Social Security age has risen by 0-2 years depending on one’s birth year. The ratio of the working force to beneficiary recipients has surely declined as a result of that program (One number I am looking at says the ratio of workers to retirees is 3.7, expected to go down to 2.9 by 2030), and I kind of resent it: there was no natural/moral law requiring it, it appears to have arisen as a result of political accident and the strength of certain lobbying groups, and it seems to me that the net effect of Social Security taxes/payouts is just going to get worse and worse for each new generation that passes through it.
        Medicare has the opposite problem. The CBO determined in either 2003 or 2004 that raising the eligibility age to 70 would cut costs by only 9%. That is sobering in its suggestions about where we spend money allotted to healthcare, and the effectiveness of that money. I do not believe that marginal increases in life span, well past what our current health span reaches, are a good idea.

      2. And your answer illustrates the point perfectly – we only need a Congress that can pass a UBI once, and that’s all. Even if every other Congress from then on until the end of America would vote to repeal it, once it’s been ingrained into American society, people would never forgive anyone who tried to take it away.

      3. The status quo is powerful yes but I don’t think that helps your case. The UBI sounds good to me but what if it fails or produces negative side effects in an unexpected way? There’s a lot riding on the ones who implement it to predict everything with certainty and get it right the first time. The de facto irreversibility of major programs like that is a weakness of our system imo.

  7. The thing I worry about even with a UBI is that in the US, our regulation of corporations has atrophied to the point where it seems as if the UBI would be one more money grab opportunity by the vampire squids. Rural and impoverished communities have a host of problems to boot, and I’m not quite sure what a small stipend in isolation ultimately solves.

    That said, Chris, your post has given me a lot to think about on the jobs guarantee front – I had not considered how that might play out until you mentioned it. In my opinion the vast majority of people living in poverty seek agency, self-determination and dignity – not charity. The way you describe the Democratic proposal, I’m not sure it realizes that vision.

  8. I read in the Telegraph the government ended the experiment due to lack of budgeting in the new Fiscal Year https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/23/finland-ends-universal-basic-income-experiment/

    They will retain and publish the data from the two years the program was in place sometime in FY 2019. I did see it characterized as a failure in the New York Times but that appears to be a miscue given how virulent the Finnish government is defended the program. The data limited as it will be (no long term outcomes with a 24 month program) will still be more than we have now. I know I will be curious.

    Chris,
    I grew up in a Union household in the 60’s and early 70’s until we suddenly became a non-union household. I am so conflicted as I saw all the you mentioned in your piece but they had a food bank, tutor programs for kids, emergency health care loans. The Union Hall was a second home especially on Wednesday and Friday nights (safe stuff like movies and soda while the grown ups drank). I empathize with Mary’s point that Republicans are just as guilty but their graft and dirt was to help the already affluent and corporations. Its where the largesse was directed that differentiates the two parties. In either case they both do harm. I am intrigued by UBI maybe with an income qualifier. I just know that by the time such a creature got through our legislative process it would end up looking like SNAP or unemployment insurance. Naturally it won’t even be considered in our current environment

  9. Wow, where to begin. The examples offered of corrupt, self-serving Democratic mayors are reprehensible, yet is it a fair criticism to levy across all eras and all Democratic elected positions? I agree that blanket jobs policies/guarantees as “continuous welfare” are fraught with problems, yet the concept of targeted employment and wage control is hugely important when properly applied….which I assume is the point. We can go back to the New Deal instituted following the Great Depression in which millions of Americans were put to work for reasonable wages in their communities and elsewhere.
    (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration)

    As seems always the case, it is the abuse of “good” programs that casts aspersions on what is positive. Graft and political patronage are not, however, unique to Democrats. There are “bad” leaders on both sides of the aisle, and the ones cited are grevious. There are also programs that have inherent weaknesses, but many times, it is not the program that is bad, it is how the program is led. For all of the criticism levied against Democratic Mayors, I would think it is fair to point out that graft and exploitation in the Republican Party simply occurs in a different arena and is much more subtle and out of public view.
    Note that the New Deal program lasted eight years, ending with the advent of WWII during which employment was optimized due to America’s war footing. It served its purpose well, allowing people to find dignity in work, fair wages to help people live, and addressed many infrastructure needs that may not have been realized otherwise.

    As for public sector unions (and private sector as well), these organizations have a valid purpose. Are there elements of the collective bargaining process that are repugnant to those of us on the outside? I’m sure they exist; however, these groups exist to protect working people and if and when they abuse their authority, that needs to change – not be used to justify elimination of unions as a legitimate tool of representation. As noted in the article: “If you want political change, insist on policies that will transform institutions rather than placing your faith in nice people.” This applies whether one is looking at unions, mayors, Members of Congress, or corporate leadership.

    This post bothers me on many levels because I feel it unfairly targets one political party and ignores the graft and corruption that exists in the private sector as well as within the Republican Party. There are many ways to steal from people – whether they are taxpayers or voters. I understand the focus of the post is to highlight how political patronage and certain guaranteed wage controls can be destructive. Whether you compare the “robber barons” who exploited workers in the past, or the corporations or polititians of today who are designing policies and regulations that are upending the lives of millions of Americans, it is the people that I worry about.

    I am flatly in favor of universal health care – that is affordable, comprehensive and accessible. That, to me is a critical area of need in our country. A basic retirement income is important. Are changes needed to make it financially viable? Yes. SNAP should be temporary, but not eliminated. And so many other programs. Without getting into the merits of every public assistance program that exists – for the poor and the wealthy (who feel just as entitled to their taxpayer assistance without being honest enough to call it what it is), I submit that there is a time and place for everything, agree that bad people are among us at many levels, and that good policy directed by honest, good people should be the goal of government. It is very difficult for me to accept criticism for the abuses perpetrated by the Democratic Party without a more balanced discussion of what is and has occurred under the Republican Party. Greed and unethical behavior exists, but it is not partisan. It is personal.

    1. Well said.

      Chris’s post up top here is ludicrously unbalanced. I respect the intellectual journey he’s been on, but he still gives too much salience to specific examples of “machine politics” corruption (Chicago, Newark) that are more relevant as conservative fetish symbols than they are to the overall picture of corruption in the US. That stuff is small potatoes compared to the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, and the lack of regulatory enforcement that lead to the 2008 financial crash.

  10. Didn’t Finland just decide to scrap their failed “UBI” program? Aaron’s description of the UAE’s description sounds much like the US with the Hispanic immigrants taking the place of Filipinos and discriminatory Institutionalized “UAE Privilege” being promoted as the biggest difference. Newark isn’t even the worst example of the “Democrats’ public job program corruption policies. I’m surprised that anyone is surprised. Still waiting for a proposal from either side to be as concerned with “Doing their jobs as they are with Keeping their jobs”. Until then, we will continue to expand Federal spending and debt and blame each other.

  11. I worked in the United Arab Emirates, which provides a job guarantee to all Emiratis by virtue of their nationality. What it means in practice is that no Emirati is ever in office — except when they want to hang out together and drink some tea, so, like, two hours on an occasional Wednesday — and to get anything done in the UAE’s fractal bureaucracy, you have to have an Emirati call his brother to get the phone number of his cousin who has the phone number of his cousin who you can call to get you the number of the his brother who probably doesn’t even live in the country anymore, and oh by the way it’s a religious holiday so wait for another three weeks.

    The system makes sense to them because the purpose of being wealthy isn’t to labor, and it’s designed that way because wealth is family matter in a way Western Democracies would consider mob-like or corrupt, but for them is just how culture works.

    And frankly, I can’t blame them. Essentially their thinking boils down to, “We’re rich and comfortable and our families take care of each other. Why bother doing anything?”

    The reason the UAE even functions is because Westerners design its cities and buildings and sell them their second rate luxury discards at heavily inflated prices; Central Asians build the buildings while living in literal labor camps — often without the permission to exit and with their passport withheld; and Filipinos staff the businesses and take care of the Emiratis’ households — often without the permission to exit and with their passport withheld. The government makes its money through state ownership of oil and the Emiratis make their money by owning empty real estate and legally required partial ownership of every business. The United States would not be able to replicate that system.

    Anyway the funny thing about the Republican resistance to the job guarantee is that they’re essentially begging the Democrats to build that initiative via job requirements. Then we get the worst of both worlds, citizens required to work in service of the system but for less than wages. Once again, if the Republicans really had any interest in providing solutions to the Democrats’ worst ideas, they’d have something more useful to do than sputter their chubs up about welfare queens.

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