Eliminate Unemployment

What would it be like if there were no unemployment? I am not talking about so-called full employment. Full employment is the euphemism for 5% unemployment that economists use. What a cop-out. They have no theory that allows 0% unemployment. They have given up trying to reduce unemployment to zero. This is just another example of how deficient economics is. Another example of epistemic closure. Another example of being trapped by your ideology. The idea of 0% unemployment cannot even enter their minds for consideration. According to the dominant economic ideologies zero unemployment is impossible. But it is not impossible because we, at least, can conceive of it. We can, at least, try to build a system with zero unemployment.  

Let’s imagine such a system. What would it be like? What would be the advantages of such a system compared to the present system, or any system, where at any time one in every twenty people or more, who want to work, who are actively trying to find a job, cannot find a job, and thus more or less waste their time, do next to nothing productive, do not contribute to the general welfare, feel useless and unneeded?

First more goods and services would be produced. When there are people going hungry and even starving, when people are not protected from the variations in the weather and climate by clothing and adequate shelter, when people’s health deteriorates because of injuries, disease or old age, when people do not know enough to take care of themselves or to contribute to the welfare of others, there are unmet needs for more goods and services. Specifically there are needs for food, clothing, housing, health care, and education. Surely there is work to be done. And it will require work to design and build new systems, new organizations, new institutions to train and educate and coordinate those now unemployed so that they can get to work providing the goods and services just listed. New skills and knowledge will be required to do all this within the constraints of the earth’s limited resources and within the constraint of not further degrading our natural world.

The following steps might begin the process of modifying our systems so that anyone who wants a useful and productive job gets one. First pay people a little more than they receive now from their unemployment insurance (or the equivalent in other countries) if they educate themselves in some job related skills or even any job unrelated education that truly interests them. This can be financed the same as the present unemployment payments are now. Courses could be offered at zero cost to the participants over the internet. Participants would be tested and graded to measure their progress. Methods would be implemented to prevent cheating on tests or other gaming of the system by personal interviews and tests if automated methods were not enough. The courses would be designed to require an effort equivalent to the effort for a full-time high school or full-time college or a full-time job.

If, after unemployment payments run out, a person still cannot find a productive job with a corporation or a government, then that person would be allowed to continue in the education program at the same pay by a government. Pay could be scaled by progress being made as measured by course grades to maintain incentives to work at acquiring productive and useful skills and knowledge.

Governments would create jobs by paying people directly or through corporations organized to provide necessary or useful goods and services. The education system just described would provide some of the jobs. A sort of job of last resort, a job if you can’t find any other. Because, really, educating yourself is a job. It takes time and effort. It produces a useful result — a skilled or talented or knowledgeable person who can contribute to his or her own welfare as well as the welfare of humanity as a whole. It is a simple-minded idea that the only person who benefits from a person’s skills, talents, and knowledge, is that person, and that therefore, he or she must pay for it. We don’t ask babies to take out loans to pay for their care and early education into our cultures. We don’t ask grade schoolers, or high schoolers either. To make our complex societies work well for everybody we need a wide variety of people with different skills, talents, and knowledge at multiple levels of accomplishment. To develop skills, talents, knowledge requires time and effort — work. We should pay people to do it.   

Don’t get hung up on questions of how to pay for all this. It doesn’t matter how as long as it works in a more or less consistent system that we are evolving from our present systems. Pay with taxes or pay with fiat money or pay some other way (except probably do not pay through debt financing as at present, since unregulated debt creation may be a source of many of our current problems). The point is to try stuff, build institutions and organizations that work so that everyone who wants a productive job can have one.

When people say “Well, that’s all fine and good, but how are you going to pay for all this?” they are just showing the limited thinking imposed by the grand economic theories and our present actual systems and practices. Our present systems and practices are not the only way to do things.

In addition to producing goods and services needed, people who do useful work feel good about themselves. There is considerable evidence that people want to contribute, want to work with others to make things, create things that are useful and enjoyable by others as much as themselves. Consider all the people who make art of one kind or another, often with no real hope of making any money from it. Young people who make music together, people who play and watch sports. Consider all the people who work at jobs not just for the money but also because they want to help others. There are many such people in many professions. Most of the people most of the time want to do their fair share.

As mentioned yesterday, total employment would dampen the booms and busts that occur in our present system.

There would be less crime.

There would be less boredom. There will be even less boredom if all jobs can be matched with the skills, talents, knowledge of the people doing them. Giving people as much freedom as possible in how they educate themselves might make it easier to match jobs to interests.

There will be more confidence in the future since people will not have to worry about having their incomes randomly cut off by being unemployed. People will be more confident about raising a family.

There will be less unhappiness, less depression, less mental illness, less violence, more peace, less thinking with anger, fear, hostility, and hatred. Just think about it! What a payoff!

And we haven’t even talked yet about how to encourage those who don’t want to work to do something useful for their lives. The program outlined above will in and of itself move many people now not in the workforce to join in and get a life.

First Steps

In the step by step evolution revolution, what might be some of the first steps? There are many, many  possible first steps we could take in moving away from our present system towards the just distribution we want. We should not spend too much time debating which of several possibilities is the best one to try first. Think about it, analyze it, yes. But remember there is no perfection. There is no way to know which of several possibilities is best. We cannot accurately predict the future in detail. (See Kahneman’s chapter “The Illusion of Validity”.) There is no grand theory to guide us. We have only our goals to guide us. The only way is to try something that seems like it would move our systems in the direction we want. If, after we make the change (in our laws, in the way our system works) we look at the result after some trial period. If the modified system is closer to our goals, keep the change; if it is not, or if there are negative unintended consequences, then reverse that change and try something else.

Here are some possible first steps.

Change our unemployment insurance system so that when people are unemployed they get more money if they go to some school to improve their skills and knowledge.

Go back to a free education system for all people through college and graduate school.

Limit credit creation since unrestrained credit creation by banks seems to be a root cause of cycles of booms and busts, bubbles and crashes.

Separate commercial banking from financial speculation (gambling with other people’s money).

Limit the level of allowed derivatives. No more derivatives of derivatives of derivatives …  No more CDO’s squared, etc.

Devise and implement a system for electing legislative representatives that does not depend on candidates spending (or others spending for them) large amounts of money.

Eliminate victimless crime laws.

All time in jails and prisons to have an education component, say, eight hours per day developing useful skills and knowledge.

All education to include significant components for developing interpersonal communication skills, developing improved thinking, eliminating precursors to the various mental illnesses such as phobias, paranoia, depression, etc.

Pay people a livable wage to educate themselves to a level that allows them to be productive members of our societies as if educating oneself were work, since it is work.

Change the money system. Adopt Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Governments speed up research and development of non-carbon emitting energy production. Tax carbon emissions.

Break up large corporations. Beyond a certain size corporations become less efficient. When they are too large they are dangerous, too powerful, destructive of the well-being of others, uncontrollable, the leaders can’t possibly know what all the parts are doing, and they have the same deficiencies as communistic systems — they are too complex for central planning to work, they are subject to looting by employees, executives, and others.

Tax excessive inherited wealth out of existence or down to some reasonable size. Heirs surely don’t do anything to “deserve” their inherited wealth.

Reestablish the rule of law.

Establish a practical concept of just law whereby courts could declare laws or parts of laws unjust and thereby nullify them. Laws would be unjust if they mainly benefited select individuals or groups and harmed the people as a whole or the system as a whole. The details here would be critical, but the idea does not seem impossible.

Require Congress to declare war per the Constitution and to reauthorize each war in each country yearly. War would mean any military, covert, or other activities carried out by any agencies of the government whose intent is to capture, detain, torture, physically harm or kill people or to destroy other people’s property.

I could go on and on, but this is enough for now to give you some ideas about how we might begin to change our systems to move them closer to our goals of a just distribution system. Remember each of these is a possible first step. Some are bigger steps than others. And of course other people have good candidates too. There are many good ideas. We might try several at a time, but we must be careful because if we try to change too many things at once, we run a greater risk of negative unintended consequences (or maybe some positive unintended consequences). And if the outcome is good, we may not be able to separate out the effects of each action. So we shouldn’t try too many at once. Then after some period of time when we have had enough time to verify that the changes made have moved our systems toward the just distribution goal, we can evaluate, estimate, analyze, guess, a second step and then try it for some period, etc. Maybe the evaluation period will be built into the law — for example the laws to try a step might be written to expire after two years, or five years, or whatever seems reasonable; and if the step wasn’t successful, don’t renew the law. Thomas Jefferson suggested that all laws expire after twenty years. That still might be a good idea.