Hey Bernie, A Basic Income Guarantee Is A Jobs Program

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Senator Bernie Sanders is someone I love dearly. But even the most enlightened of lawmakers can’t be right 100% of the time.

The Washington Post reports that Senator Sanders is getting ready to unveil a job guarantee plan. According to an “early draft” of the plan, each “local, state, and American Indian tribe” government “would send proposals for public works projects for their areas” to one of 12 regional federal offices. From there these proposals would make their way to the Labor Department “for final approval.”

Sounds like a great infrastructure program, but I’m not fond of the idea of the government guaranteeing me a job. However, I do like the idea of being guaranteed an income. With that kind of a safety net in place I can find the job that suits me just fine without any help from the Labor Department.

Bernie’s plan (hopefully the good senator won’t mind if I call him Bernie from now on) hits all the right buttons for someone like me. I generally share the same values, so I understand where he’s coming from. For example, I agree with Bernie on a single-payer plan for the US, and I certainly am no fan of poverty or high student loan debt. I’m also a keen supporter of environmental protection and restoration. Bernie’s jobs plan is said to include opportunities for those interested in working in “health care, the environment, [and] education” in addition to infrastructure.

That’s great, but here’s the thing: a basic income guarantee (BIG) would allow those of us interested in helping out in those or other areas to identify local NGOs and corporations doing that kind of work without having to apply for a job approved by the Labor Department. This work could come in the form of volunteerism or low paying jobs that people could live off of because BIG sufficiently supplemented their income. It might also come in the form of higher paying full-time work if that’s what people want to do. The point is that with a basic income guarantee it would be up to the individual, not the government, to decide what jobs matched their particular skills, values, and other priorities.

Bernie is returning to the New Deal for inspiration. This jobs plan is a kind of left-wing version of Make America Great Again. Don’t get me wrong. I think the New Deal was fantastic. But that was the 1930s and America was in the middle of a record economic depression. Today automation is taking over many traditional jobs and opportunities are emerging to do things like write for Medium or self publish books if that’s what we want to do. In 2018 a New Deal Era jobs program isn’t really what’s called for.

So Bernie, drop your jobs bill and get behind a basic income for everyone. BIG will be cheaper in the long run, will drive up wages by giving workers the freedom to leave low paying jobs without risking everything, and it will enable those of us experimenting with potential new information age/gig economy sources of income to truly flourish. Oh, and don’t forget the healthcare.

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