Under a Federal Jobs Guarantee, rather than distributing unemployment checks, the government would give a living-wage job to everyone that needs one. It’s a concept that’s been gaining popularity recently, and it’s often pitted against universal basic income. For the second episode in this two-part series exploring both ideas, expert Pavlina Tcherneva and Representative Ro Khanna join Nick and Paul to make the case for a Job Guarantee.
Pavlina Tcherneva is an Associate Professor of Economics at Bard College and a Research Scholar at the Levy Economics Institute. Her research on the job guarantee has informed the proposals of several members of congress, and she has collaborated with governments around the world on designing and evaluating employment programs.
Ro Khanna is the U.S. Representative from California’s 17th congressional district. He sits on the House Budget, Armed Services, and Oversight and Reform committees and is first vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He also serves as an Assistant Whip for the Democratic Caucus. In 2018, he introduced legislation to ensure that every jobless worker in the country is given the opportunity to earn a living.
Ro Khanna Has an Ambitious Plan to Put the Unemployed to Work. Just Don’t Call It a Job Guarantee. https://slate.com/business/2018/07/ro-khanna-has-an-ambitious-plan-to-help-the-unemployed-just-dont-call-it-a-job-guarantee.html
Trump’s bait and switch: job creation in the midst of welfare state sabotage: http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue78/Tcherneva78.pdf
4 big questions about job guarantees: https://www.vox.com/2018/4/27/17281676/job-guarantee-design-bad-jobs-labor-market-federal-reserve
The Federal Job Guarantee – A Policy to Achieve Permanent Full Employment: https://www.cbpp.org/research/full-employment/the-federal-job-guarantee-a-policy-to-achieve-permanent-full-employment
Unemployment: The Silent Epidemic: http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_895.pdf
The Job Guarantee: Design, Jobs, and Implementation: http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_902.pdf
Speaker 1: Hey Pitchfork Economics listeners. On an upcoming episode we’ll be talking about this really core neo-liberal economic idea called Marginal Productivity. It’s the neo-classical economic idea that the market, because it’s perfectly efficient always pays you exactly what you’re worth. So we want to hear from you whether you’re a minimum wage worker, and executive or anything in between. Do you think you’re paid exactly what you’re worth? Tell us what you do and whether you get paid what you’re worth and we’ll try to play it on this show. And here’s the number 731-388-9334. Thanks.
Ro Khanna: Job creation in this country has not been equal when you look at geography and it has not been equal when you look at race and it has not been equal when you look at economic class.
Pavlina: You might start thinking about this problem. Like a quiet hidden epidemic That people who live with it, they are all of these social[inaudible 00:01:01]
Speaker 1: Politics is largely the art of the possible.
Ro Khanna: If we can extend economic opportunity to the people left out than we will appeal to the better angles of this country.
Annie: From the offices of Civic Ventures in downtown Seattle, this is Pitchfork Economics with Nick Hanauer. A conversation about how capitalism actually works.
Nick: I’m Nick Hanauer founder of Civic Ventures.
Paul: I’m Paul Constant and I’m a writer at Civic Ventures.
Paul: In the last episode we talked about Universal Basic Income and today we are going to talk about it’s close cousin, Universal Basic Jobs.
Nick: Yeah, so a job guarantee is similar but different than an income guarantee and there’s a ton of conversation in progressive policy, wonky progressive policy circles, around the notion of a job guarantee and it comes in all sorts of flavors in the same way that UNI Universal Basic Income comes in all sorts of sizes and flavors, but were going to explore a jobs guarantee in this episode and I’m really excited to do it because, just to give away a little bit, I think it’s honestly a more plausible idea than a universal basic income. Paul tell us in broad strokes just what universal basic jobs, what it is?
Paul: The idea is that rather than just giving people unemployment checks, although some plans do include unemployment as well, rather than just giving people unemployment checks the government would give them a job. Preferably in a field that they had some sort of expertise in. You saw this a lot in The New Deal with things like building dams or even making murals, public arts, and things like that. So it’s a way to keep people productive in exchange for money providing valuable services that need doing, in a way that sort of keeps the economy rolling. Particularly in times of recession or depression.
Nick: Yeah, I think a lot of that makes sense because there is an infinite amount in our country that needs doing.
Nick: Infinite amount of childcare needs, teaching needs, elder care needs, heck, trail building needs, firefighting needs, there’s just so much infrastructure building. There’s just so much that needs doing and so the idea that the federal government would somehow backstop that with a big jobs program, particularly in recessionary times is the core of the idea.
Paul: And it’s kind of important to note that some progressive democrats, including people who are running for president like, Senator Sanders, Senator warren, and Senator Booker have talked about guaranteed jobs, but they also are very clear that they have to be jobs with high pay, good benefits, things like that. This is not like a 7.25 an hour minimum wage job.
Nick: Right and the policy, there’s a bunch of policy objectives with respect to this idea. One of them is to eliminate, essentially to end involuntary unemployment.
Nick: To make sure that everyone that wants a job can have one and not just a crappy job, but actually a decent job that pays well. But the other policy objective is to put pressure on the private sector to keep wages and standards high because. The government jobs, the point of them is to be good jobs. Anyway that’s an important element of it.
Paul: Yeah, so the UBI and guarantee jobs aren’t necessarily separate ideas although we have broken them up into two distinct episodes. Generally the two ideas are sort of pitted against each other in the discussion amongst wonks, and I know that people who favor the UBI say that guaranteed jobs would be inefficient and that UBI would offer more freedom and not trap people in a specific job or sort of keep them in government work when they could be in the private sector.
Nick: To be clear there’s a bunch of people in our economy, who actually cannot work or disabled when we say one way, shape, or form when we’re going to need to find ways to support them, but certainly we should have a system that enables people who want to work. Even in harder times.
Paul: If you want to get an understanding of guaranteed jobs there’s one person you call, and that’s Pavlina Tcherneva. Professor Tcheneva is the associate professor and chair of the department of economics at Bard College and the research associate at the Levy Economics Institute. She’s also the senior research scholar at the Center for Full Employment and Price Stability.
Pavlina: Hi Paul.
Paul: Hi, can you hear me? I sound alright?
Pavlina: Yes, yes I can how about you?
Paul: Yeah, you sound perfect, thank you. I guess first if I could ask you to just do the basics and explain what exactly is a job guarantee for people who might not know.
Pavlina: You can think of it as an employment insurance to be contrasted with unemployment insurance. The modern versions basically are rethinking those policies for the modern day. So, you can think of it as a new deal for the modern era, you can think of it as an employment safety net where somebody has lost their work and they are looking. There is always an option for them, guaranteed. That’s really what the guarantee means in the title that it’s a promise that there will be a federal program that will provide these opportunities on demand.
Paul: I was wondering if maybe you could talk about some of the most frequent misunderstanding of universal jobs that you have to debunk. What do people think it is that it isn’t? If that’s clear.
Pavlina: Yes, That’s a good question. So a lot of times people think that because it’s a guarantee that you can just show up and government just provides you a paycheck because the job is guaranteed. That’s not true. It’s a job like any other. You show up for work, you do the work, you get paid. You don’t show up, you don’t get paid. That’s one misconception. It’s really a job like any other. We talk about it being primarily a job in the public service sector and we can explain why that’s preferable. But it’s not a handout so that’s number one. The other thing that it’s not, it’s not work fair. There are concerns sometimes that what we’re preparing is taking away peoples unemployment insurance or other benefits unless they show up for work at this program. So there are work fair programs like this out there but the job guarantee is not it.
Pavlina: There’s another big misunderstanding I think, that people who are sympathetic tend to associate this program with just infrastructure. So they’re saying “Oh, we’re going to build bridges and provide jobs this way.” But you have to really think quite a bit about whether it is possible to provide such a guarantee to everyone just by doing infrastructure investment.
Pavlina: We need it, we definitely need it. But there are occasions when the economy really goes into a sharp downturn, mass layoffs, and it may not be easy to crank up infrastructure investments on short notice and a lot of jobs that are needed actually are in the service sector, in the service area, so the job guarantee is really a tapestry of different kinds of employment opportunities in public service that are not limited to the infrastructure projects, it will include them.
Pavlina: And the final thing is it’s not temporary. So a lot of times people will say, “Well, we could do public works in recessions. That makes sense, it’s a big town and lots of unemployed people.” But the reality is that there are unemployed people even in the best of times. They still need work and they tend to be quite invisible because the economy is doing quite well. But there are lots of problems associated even with smaller levels of unemployment. So it’s not a temporary program, it’s really part of the landscape of public policies that deal with unemployment and poverty.
Paul: So, can you [inaudible 00:10:06] the socioeconomic cost of unemployment? We often hear when we go to raise the minimum wage we hear about the unintended consequences of raising the wage to 15 dollars an hour. What are some of the unintended consequences of keeping some portion of the population consistently unemployed.
Pavlina: Yes, There is really a lot of work that comes from psychology and the cognitive sciences and public health that document these very carefully. Unfortunately, economists don’t make use of this research and public policy and so, unemployment is related to virtually any and every socio-economic problem out there. Just to innumerate some of that, for example, even a short spell of unemployment has an impact on mortality. It increases mortality rates and some of these impacts can be long term impacts. People who lose their jobs, obviously there’s scarring effects. They lose their incomes, they may have more trouble getting back into the labor market than people who already have jobs. But health, mental, physical health problems are highly correlated with unemployment.
Pavlina: Suicide rates, there’s a recent study that looks at 69 countries. Turns out suicide rates are a much higher in terms of what was previously known. The relationship between jobs and suicide rates. There are these psychological, there are these physical, mental health problems. But, they are not just problems for people who lost their jobs. It turns out that their families suffer, these are obvious things, But their families suffer from similar cognitive effects and their children suffer. So the obvious things like malnutrition, growth stunting, under performance in school is also highly correlated to having an unemployed parent, and then children don’t do so well in the labor market.
Pavlina: So, losing your social network, your connections, and if you just add up all of these you might start thinking about this problem like a quiet, hidden, epidemic that is just invisible but people who live it bear all of these social costs. And of course our communities take some of the impact in terms of urban blight, crime, economic crimes that might be related to joblessness or poverty or inability to earn above poverty income.
Paul: Okay, and so of course we measure unemployment in this country by the unemployment numbers. Do you think that we should be striving for full employment? Should we be measuring our jobs by how close we are or far we are from full employment?
Pavlina: Well, look, I think that what we should be aiming for is a good society. That’s the ultimate goal, it’s not a particular number. Now, if you expand your definitions there’s really good research that looks at proper calculations you’re probably looking at about double the numbers maybe 12 million people would be ready to take a living wage job if it were available. The goal is not to hit a particular number, the way I see this problem is I look at it from the point of view of the person. Is there a good reason not to design a policy to provide a job opportunity to somebody who’s really trying hard to find one, and to find a good job opportunity. And to me there is no good economic, social, moral reason not to do it when we actually have the means to do it.
Pavlina: So we’re not looking for a society where everybody’s a busy bee, working. There’s good reasons why some people should go to school, and stay home and whatever they have chosen to do they can do it with sort of a complex set of good social policies. There are a lot of people for whom having a decent job is important and they shouldn’t be just considered naturally unemployed and neglected because we kind of have accepted unemployment as something unavoidable, something natural.
Paul: Earlier I was glad when you pointed out that they were not just infrastructure jobs because, obviously we do need a massive infrastructure overhaul in this country. For myself I am terrible with my hands, like I can’t even hammer a nail into a board without breaking the board or bending the nail or something like that, so what kind of jobs would a job guarantee provide?
Pavlina: What we want to do is take care of people, take care of our communities and take care of the environment. So we’ve got a lot of care needs. From after school activities for kids, from elder care, from meals on wheels, from attending to veterans who have returned home. There is a lot of care work, there are lots of gaps in that sphere. We also need to improve our communities, we would strive not to just clean them up and do all the monitoring for lead pipes and fix the municipal water system, but also fix up our public spaces. Provide parks, provide skating rinks and all of that.
Pavlina: The environment of course is the big one. I mean, just thinking about the environmental transformation that we need to undertake. To deal with climate change, I think there’s no shortage of work, we will probably run out of people rather than tasks to do. I think this is the reason why the jobs guarantee has been called the single most crucial component of the job guarantee agenda.
Paul: We are coming up on the end of our time but I would like to ask you what it was that brought you to this line of work?
Pavlina: I first started working on the job guarantee because I was attracted to the macro benefits of this policy, what today we have is we basically use unemployment to stabilize the economy and you hear when the fed makes statements that we need to figure out what is the natural level of unemployment. Is it too low? Is it too high? Is it just right? To me that didn’t make sense that we should be using unemployment to stabilize the economy when you could just use employment. So the job guarantee is essentially this policy that expands in recessions and contracts in expansions and so we could do it better and there are so many benefits, macro benefits. You don’t have this human yo-yo effect that we see in the unemployment rate which is very volatile in the U.S. It oscillates so much. So that was the first thing that attracted me to this policy.
Pavlina: Then the more I studied the more I looked at actual policies that were implemented around this model. The benefits, it was the human face of this program that became very powerful in sort of giving me motivation to carry on.
Paul: When you see how it actually plays out in the real world and has positive benefits.
Pavlina: Right, Exactly, how people respond, the material impact that it has on their lives, on their children, it is quite profound and so I have looked for many arguments that would say, “well it’s not a good idea to guarantee an employment opportunity for a person who needs it.”, and I have not yet found a single argument that is powerful enough to say that we shouldn’t go forward with this policy.
Paul: Well that’s great. I’m so glad you’re doing this work. Thank you for making the time, we really appreciate it.
Pavlina: Thank you Paul I enjoy your podcast very much and I’m glad to be on it.
Paul: Alright, great, well have a good day, Thanks.
Pavlina: Thanks, thank you.
Annie: It may seem like the idea of guaranteed jobs came out of nowhere but actually, guaranteed jobs and pitchforks are linked throughout history. I’m Annie Fadely professional policy nerd at Civic Ventures and it’s time for a little history. Let’s go back to the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Before then, almost everyone was a farmer, but with factories came jobs that are more like we know them today. With bosses and wages and schedules. At first, jobs were easy to get because so many laborers were needed but as more and more people moved to urban areas the concept of unemployment existed for the first time in human history.
Annie: In France around 1846 unemployment discontent was intensified by a food shortage. About a third of Paris was on social welfare and the government tried to stop people from talking about it. Which led to the revolution of 1848, the overthrow of the King and the establishment of the French Second Republic. A provisional government was set up and it was during this time that the idea of a guaranteed job was popularized.
Annie: A socialist and historian Louis Blanc is credited with inventing the concept of the right to work and when he became a member of the provisional government after the revolution he took his chance to make it happen. He proposed federally funded national workshops where workmen in each trade could be reliably employed. It was approved but Louis Blanc’s arch enemy was put in charge of the workshops and he sabotaged them. When it was announced that the super popular workshops were closing, thousands of people rebelled in the June Day’s uprising. More than 10 thousand people were killed or injured by the National Guard and Louis Blanc was exiled. That uprising was the end of The Revolution of 1848 and snuffed out the promise of guaranteed jobs.
Annie: But, fast forward to the 1930’s in the Unites States. The Great Depression.
Music: I ain’t got no home, I’m just a roamin’ ’round. Just a wandering worker I go from town to town.
Annie: The conventional economic thinking at that time considered unemployment to be only a temporary state of being. Most people thought that the government should stay out of the market until it sorted itself out, but by 1933 unemployment had reached 25% and president Franklin Roosevelt knew that he had to do something.
Roosevelt: I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.
Annie: And at the very heart of it was direct job creation. One of the New Deals many job guarantee programs was The Civilian Conservation Core. A voluntary public work relief program that employed three million men with jobs in forestry, soil erosion prevention, and flood control from 1933 to 1942. Programs just like that made the U.S. government the largest employer in the country for a decade, but they eventually fell victim to budget cuts. Since then there have been a lot of efforts to fully employ Americans, especially during war time, and in 1978 President Carter signed the Humphry-Hawkins Full Employment Act which among other things allows the government to create a resivoir of public employment is unemployment rises above 3%. Even though it obviously has guaranteed job programs haven’t been used to meet this need.
Annie: Internationally there’s a few job programs here in Argentina, in India and in South Africa, but here’s the thing to take away from all this. Job guarantees have been successful in the past and they can be used again to encourage full participation in our economy. Typically these programs have only appeared during times of extreme unrest and maybe that’s why this idea is gaining traction again today.
Annie: That’s your quick history, now back to the show.
Nick: Our Second guest is a U.S. Representative Ro Khanna from California’s 17th congressional district, that is by the way Silicon Valley, and he has this really interesting job opportunity bill that we’re going to get to talk to him about.
Ro Khanna: This is Ro.
Nick: Hey Ro! Nick Hanauer.
Ro Khanna: Sorry Nick, It’s just been a crazy day.
Nick: Yeah, I know.
Ro Khanna: All these votes on the MDAA.
Nick: Yeah, No problem. Are you making progress?
Ro Khanna: We did, I had a big amendment pass bipartisan on stopping any funding for any offensive war in Iran. Actually 27 Republicans voted for it so it was about 260 votes so I’m hopeful. Let’s see what happens in the Senate.
Nick: Oh my gosh, Well Thank you for doing the thankless, awful work that you’re doing.
Ro Khanna: Well thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for your incredible leadership.
Nick: Your proposal is very intriguing and we think offers a lot.
Ro Khanna: I appreciate it, it’s a proposal that we worked with, a number of economists on and the idea is that job creation in this country has not been equal when you look at geography and it has not been equal when you look at race and it’s not been equal when you look at economic class. And even Larry Summers recently wrote a big paper saying that while a free market economy without government interference has worked for many Americans it actually has failed to create jobs in certain communities whether that’s rural America or communities of color and that there is a role for active government intervention to help people get jobs and be on the economic ladder towards good paying jobs in these communities. That’s particularly the case as we go through a technology revolution. Which I know, Nick, you’ve written a lot about that is changing the nature of work, that is changing the nature of the ability to unionize. There’s an acute need to think about how we are going to create jobs.
Ro Khanna: So our proposal says, 1. We want to be creating jobs both in the private sector and the public sector. FDR’s famous speech when he talked about the right to work was not just the right to work for the government he actually talked about the right to work in mining, in farming, in private industry and that the role a federal government can play is to help subsidize for up to 18 months a job and to also, at the same time subsidize a credential in that area so that people can both work and get a skill. And you have generous wraparound services because we know that one barrier to employment is folks need to have the ability to write a resume and they need to have housing and they need to be able to get a nutritious meal and they have to be integrated in society.
Ro Khanna: So for 18 months we would subsidize an individual to work in either the public sector or the private sector to get the wraparound services and to get a credential with the idea that it is a transition to then be employable in the job market. The bill originally some on the left were unhappy that it wasn’t a full jobs bill and it didn’t just give jobs to everyone but actually we’re the only one right now that has an actual bill. [crosstalk 00:25:16] So by default it’s the most progressive bill out there.
Nick: A lot of Progressives consider this bill to be a little Moderate. Was that in the plan or do you disagree with that assessment.
Ro Khanna: I agree with their critique. Their vision in some of the left and some issues were aligned some of them want just “The federal government should hire everyone, you should have a job guarantee for life basically”. I don’t think that’s healthy. 1. Most people in this country still want to work in the private sector. Arlie Hoschschild has a brilliant book Strangers in Your Own Land where she goes to communities that Trump carried and she says, “Well why did the Democratic message not resonate?” And they said “Well we don’t want government jobs we want jobs in steel or manufacturing or in the private sector.”
Ro Khanna: Now this is coming from someone who has dedicated his life to public service. I think government service is wonderful. I see people who work in the public sector it’s terrific, but I also believe we have to give people the opportunity to work in the private sector. The biggest complaint that the left had with the bill was that this would subsidize private sector jobs as well as government jobs, but there were a lot of safe guards on it. So, It’s not like Walmart could use these subsidies to just hire people at low level wages. It maximizes the amount of people you can use in a program to 20. It’s really geared toward small businesses to use it for a small number of jobs and again it goes back to FDR’s vision where he saw both the private sector and public sector as important.
Ro Khanna: I call myself a Progressive Capitalist the term Joseph Stiglitz coined. I believe in free enterprise, I believe in innovation in markets but I believe they should be working for working Americans who have had huge productivity increases and aren’t getting the benefits of the economy and that we need government intervention to give everyone a ladder to these jobs, and that I guess is the debate with the further left is do you still believe in the private sector and free enterprise and I do.
Nick: Yeah. For Sure, So can you explain to our listeners a little bit more abour precisely what the bill will do?
Ro Khanna: Sure, the bill will subsidize for up to 18 months an individuals entire salary in getting a job. So if you’re working in a place, let’s say in Chicago, and you have been unemployed for a period of six months and you haven’t been able to get a job, you can go and get qualified for a subsidy to get employment for up to 18 months. You also would get a subsidy that would help you with all of the social services you may need to be able to succeed at the type of job that you would be hired into. Finally the bill has a stipend for you to simultaneously after you get some hours in in your job to get a credential in whatever you may want if it’s in a high growth area so you become employable.
Ro Khanna: Georgetown did a study on this, they really did a whole academic study, saying that this would significantly create almost two million jobs around the country. The cost is not astronomical. It’s in the tens of billions but we’re not talking about something that’s going to break the budget. Of course it can continually be expanded as we prove success in that it would significantly lower poverty.
Nick: Yeah. That’s super cool. What do you think the fairest criticism of the bill is?
Ro Khanna: There could be a few fair criticisms one is, is this subsidy going to be enough? People who are unemployed in these areas there are so many social issues that you have to address. Whether it’s housing, whether it’s dealing with drug addiction or mental health issues, whether it’s dealing with nutritional issues, psychological issues or is the subsidy really getting to what’s going to be needed?
Ro Khanna: Is 18 months enough of a time period? Are you asking people too much to do a job and also get a credential? How do you do that? Is this scale big enough? It’s not a full federal jobs guarantee.
Ro Khanna: There are people, I know Nick you’ve been such a leader on wages and getting wages up. The folks who argue for a full federal job guarantee with the Federal Government say that we need the public sector jobs to be paying 15, 17, 20 dollars an hour…
Ro Khanna: … to put pressure on the private sector to compete.
Ro Khanna: And this doesn’t obviously have that aspect in as much of a sense and so you would need other policies on minimum wage.
Ro Khanna: Or things you’ve talked about to increase private sector wages but you wouldn’t have that impact of the public sector being sort of being competitive.
Nick: Right. One of the things that researchers seem to be finding now is the idea of just giving out of work workers training is not as successful as it could be. That it doesn’t do the job that it should do that it’s always the thing that politicians suggest when the economy goes south or when a factory closes is we’ll just retrain the workers, but that doesn’t pan out in reality the way that it does in a speech. And something I find interesting about this is that is seems to offer a little bit of latitude for people to do on the job training and kind of an apprenticeship. Is it designed for that kind of a thing to help people break into new industries?
Ro Khanna: Yeah. It is exactly. The difference is this is actually going to give you a job, so it’s not just saying “you have training that leads to nowhere”.
Ro Khanna: It’s saying, “You’re going to be employed for up to 18 months, you’re going to get on the job credential training, you’re going to get a stipend to do additional courses if you need to.” I think in general in recessions, you look at Germany when we went through The Great Recession and they didn’t have nearly the unemployment we did because they have policies that actually subsidize companies to keep people employed.
Ro Khanna: They basically pay the salaries in downturns or have huge incentives for companies to hire folks, and I think in some sense this bill is modeled around ideas like that, that have worked in other countries. I agree with you completely, I think the job training though important has gotten such a bad name because what happened is we were subsidizing these job training programs. Partly I think they were done often without any collaboration with the private sectors.
Ro Khanna: I was down in Paintsville, Kentucky within Hal Rogers’ district, big Republican, and the community college is getting millions of dollars in jobs training and they were literally, I went to one of the classes and they were teaching kids how to replace hard drives and Hal Rogers said “Look this is crazy we ought to be partnering with the private sector in some places and looking in App development or other things.” And then they came up with a program where people with Homelanders kids were going to be guaranteed a 40 thousand dollar job in App development and were going to be paid 400 dollars a week for training and the program was very successful. So, I think, yes we need new credentials but a prerequisite for that has to be a paid job and paying people to get trained.
Nick: The training challenge is a hard challenge because in a technological society that changes very quickly, by the time you have designed the training program the industry has changes so much. I’m sure replacing the hard drives seemed like a great idea once somebody thought it up.
Paul: 5 years ago or whatever
Nick: A number of years ago. Stuff changes so fast that it’s very hard to train people for specific skills that will last longer than one technology cycle. It’s just a hard problem. There’s no way around it.
Ro Khanna: It really is. You know one thing that’s pretty promising, we’ll have to see but there’s a company in my district, People Shores is a non-profit type approach although they may be a for profit company, but they did something in Clarksdale, Mississippi one of the poorest places in America with African American woman, many single mothers. They had them credentialed on robotics process automation which is basically writing some of the simple coding language that deals with chats online and the fact that when you order from Door Dash you’re now often not talking to a person but are talking to a bot. It turns out that’s very simple to teach and they were able to create 25 jobs paying, not great, but starting at 15 dollars and hour going up to 20 dollars an hour. They called it the Emmett Till Center because it’s in the place where the famous case of Emmett Till who was lynched to death in 1954 that led to Civil Rights Movement. It’s had this profound impact on the community in a very, very, positive way.
Ro Khanna: The view is that look, robotics process automation, maybe it’s not a 10 year job but for the next five years we’re going to give tons of jobs. They can all go off shore or we can do some things like his that are constructive in our communities.
Ro Khanna: I don’t think they’re perfect solutions and I think technology continues to change but I think there are many better solutions than the status quo and we aren’t being imaginative enough in what we can do.
Paul: How has the job opportunities for All Act been received in congress. I guess, where in the School House Rock song are we about the bill becoming a law?
Ro Khanna: We’re far from it. Let’s say Iran, which we just into a law with 27 republicans, got it through the house. That’s at stage 8, we’re at stage one or two and the reason for that is we have a lot more work to do first within our own Democratic colleagues to say that this is needed. People say well we’re at 3.8% or whatever 3.6% unemployment and I say “yeah, but people don’t have stable, good paying jobs that are pathways to a career and you still have a lot of geographic disparity in that.
Ro Khanna: I think people like you and your writing in your advocacy can make a big difference and then we need some of our Presidential Candidates to speak about it. I mean, one of the things that has been shocking to me, and I don’t know if you feel about that, is the lack of conversation in the first debate about jobs, about good jobs, about economic issues. I feel like we can’t just seed that to Donald Trump.
Ro Khanna: I think that his argument that the economy is doing well is sufficient. So we need our presidential candidates talking about it. We need more conversation about it. We need more grass roots mobilization around it.
Nick: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think you’re right. So what’s next?
Ro Khanna: The good news is we had a very positive report by Georgetown by some of the leading think tanks that we’re going to circulate to colleagues to make sure that we’re getting as many co sponsors on this bill. I don’t want to have the monopoly on having the only bill out there.
Ro Khanna: I welcome actually, just out of intellectual dissent and debate to have other members of congress and senators introduce bills. We have 20 healthcare bills in this congress. We’ve got numerous bills on minimum wage, on income tax credit. I’d love to have two, three other good bills.
Ro Khanna: I think it was a fad in the moment when people all talked about job guarantees and then some people legitimately had criticisms with mine but we actually did the work to get a final bill out.
Ro Khanna: I think we need more of those bills. We need to build then, hopefully get more co sponsors, and the magic number is usually 100. We need to get about 100 co sponsors then the leadership starts to take it seriously and you can move. Then we need a Democratic President, although I think on a more modest bill, probably even more modest than mine. You could arguably even get some Republican support.
Nick: Right. A question we ask everybody on this show. Why do you do this work?
Ro Khanna: Well for two reasons. I am the son of immigrants, my parents came from India, my father was a chemical engineer my mother was a substitute school teacher. I went to public school, took out loans to get to go to some of the great Universities and I now represent arguably one of the most economically successful places in the world. I believe it’s an extraordinary country. I believe it’s a kind country, a decent country. I grew up in a place that was 99% white. I was one of the only Indian kids going to school in a class of 800 so I fundamentally in the decency of this country but I think that the country is being ripped apart by people who aren’t talking about the real issues which is that we’re going through a technology revolution and they are people left behind. I fundamentally have a hope that if we can extend economic opportunity to people left out then we will appeal to the better angles of this country again and the type of country that I grew up in which was very inclusive and wanted people to achieve their dreams.
Ro Khanna: On a very personal level my grandfather spent four years in jail with Gandhi in the 1940’s
Ro Khanna: Trying to get his independence.
Nick: No kidding
Ro Khanna: I’ve been very, very passionate about human rights from a very young age.
Nick: What did your grandfather do?
Ro Khanna: He was in India’s first Parliament. For 15 years he was involved in India’s Freedom Movement and he was in jail from 1941 to 1945. The Quit India movement with part of Gandhi’s independence movement. He worked with [inaudible 00:39:11] one of the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement and I have great admiration for him.
Nick: That’s cool. Not that he went to jail but, you know.
Paul: This link to history is pretty amazing.
Ro Khanna: Yeah, I say to people, he’s on my Wikipedia page and he’s got a page of his and I say what he did is such an extraordinary thing, the risks he took, that anytime I have a hard vote or something here I think it pales in comparison to what he did. It pales in comparison, to a lot of my colleagues you know whatever you think of congress you have people like John Lewis.
Ro Khanna: Who was beaten on the [inaudible 00:39:47] bridge and others. I’m always mindful of what the previous generations have done to get us to this point.
Nick: Yeah. Well, Ro thank you so much for talking to us. It’s been a fantastic conversation. That last little bit of history was really, pretty cool. Anyway, best of luck on this stuff and we will be definitely rooting for this. It’s a really cool idea.
Ro Khanna: I appreciate it Nick and I really appreciate all your advocacy and I know you’ve come to the hill often and you’re writing and to have someone like you who has the credibility with Americans given your own story in economic success talking about equity and talking about getting people a fair shot. You’re having a profound impact and I really appreciate all you’re doing.
Nick: Well that’s very kind of you. Okay man, we’ll talk soon. Hope to see you soon. Take care.
Ro Khanna: Take care.
Paul: So we’ve done two episodes about two very different theories about how to operate the economy and they both have their positives and their negatives. Nick where do you come done? Which one do you prefer if you had to choose one?
Nick: Yeah, I have never been and continue to not be a huge fan of UBI (Universal Basic Income) but I am a big fan of the idea of Universal Basic Job because, for some hundreds of billions of dollars. Which sounds like a lot but really isn’t in the context of the full budget.
Nick: You could take a huge dent, make a huge dent rather, in unemployment and voluntary unemployment and make people productive, and generate a lot of value in the economy and simultaneously train people for new stuff that they hadn’t done before and all sorts of benefits like that. I think that the Universal Basic Job if looked at in the right way actually would pay for itself. It would literally pay for itself and so I find that idea to be much more promising. It just seems like a much more efficient and effective way to run the economy. A thing which is more continent I think what people are like and what they need and more directly fulfills the needs of the country to because as I said before we got lot of stuff to do.
Nick: There’s a lot of stuff that needs doing and if people are not employed in the private sector, by golly, let’s employ them in the public sector to get it done. There’s nothing about that, that won’t make our country stronger and better off.
Paul: Yeah, I’m definitely more of a propionate of a Guaranteed Jobs than of a UBI because, partly, as you mentioned. I think the training is real important and I think guarantee jobs are a great way to train people for a new line of work.
Paul: At least for me I learn by doing things.
Nick: Yes, and also I do believe, I know that a lot of people sort of roll their eyes when politicians talk about the dignity of work and things like that but I speak to a lot of people who want to be writers, be them journalism students or aspiring novelists or whatever and I always say that nothing is more inspiring than a deadline.
Nick: You can noodle on a novel for years and years but when you finally get that, “we need this done by this date” that’s the muse. That’s the inspiration.
Paul: Yeah. And I think that applies to life and to learning and to work.
Nick: Yeah. You know there’s something very important about keeping folks, sort of in the flow of things.
Nick: Right? You don’t want people at home. You want them out and about and the truth is that most people get jobs and get experience and get advanced in their life through a network of relationships.
Nick: Not through the newspaper adds or whatever.
Nick: So the thing about a jobs guarantee is that it keeps you plugged into the world in a way that allows a capable person to build relationships with, ideally, with new people and new networks of opportunity and from that you can build a life around new things.
Nick: A stipend which may allow you to subsist but keeps you home. Isn’t as good as that.
Nick: Right? It isn’t as good as being plugged into a world of work and opportunity and creativity and stuff that’s just happening.
Paul: I mean I have some concerns there are obviously a lot of particulars to deal with.
Paul: But one thing for me is I’m a little concerned about there being a two tier system where you have people who are employed by the public sector and people who are employed by the private sector. I think most people who’ve worked crappy jobs can tell you that it is exhausting enough that you have to go home and applying for work is almost like a whole other part-time job.
Nick: Yeah. And so if somebody is in the public sector and they want to bring their talents to the private sector I could see there being some barriers. If there’s some sort of a flow back and forth between the two I think that could be beneficial for everyone.
Paul: Yeah. For sure.
Nick: Because you don’t just want to trap people in one specific line of work. That’s almost what we’re trying to fight with this.
Paul: Yeah, For sure. But in any case two really interesting and important policy ideas to explore and I’m sure there will be much said about these things in the future.
Paul: So in the next episode of Pitchfork Economics we’re going to do something which I’m really excited about. We’re going to unpack the methodology that economists use to judge whether the minimum wage is killing jobs or not and it’s super important to understand that because what they’re not doing is just counting up the number of jobs in a particular economy after the minimum wage is raised. It’s far more complicated than that and it can be gamed and we’re going to explore that.
Speaker 10: Pitchfork Economics is produced by Civic Ventures the magic happens in Seattle in partnership with Larj Media. That’s L-A-R-J media and The Young Turks Network. Find us on Twitter and Facebook at Civic Action. Follow our writing on medium at Civic Skunk Works and peek behind the podcast scenes on Instagram at Pitchfork Economics. And one more you should definitely follow Nick of Twitter at Nick Hanauer. As always a big thank you to our guests and thanks to you for listening from our team at Civic Ventures. Nick Hanauer, Zack Silk, Jasmine Weaver, Jessyn Farrell, Stephanie Irvin, David Goldstien, Paul Constant, Stephen Paolini and Annie Fabley. See you next week.