On Politics: Pitfalls of a federal jobs guarantee (opinion)
June 28, 2018
The Democratic Party appears to be veering hard left at least partially in response to the embarrassment of "sure thing" Hillary Clinton's electoral upset.
Nevada Democrat gubernatorial hopefuls Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani just spent millions of dollars in TV ads trying to out-left wing each other. On the national scene three of the party's likely presidential candidates, senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are endorsing a federal jobs guarantee.
The plan would basically require the government to hire every American who wants a job for $15 per hour plus health benefits. The proposal would be paid for by hiking taxes on the wealthy.
Winston Churchill is quoted as having once said: "Socialism can thrive in only two venues: Heaven, where they don't need it, and Hell, where they already have it."
It is just amazing with unemployment, particularly among minorities, at historic lows that lawmakers would be talking about government subsidized job creation programs reminiscent of Roosevelt's New Deal.
"What would all these people do?" asked Megan McArdle in the Washington Post (wapo.st/2JYElbc). Roosevelt's (Depression era) Works Progress Administration was effective … "But modern Americans generally have different sorts of skills. And modern roads aren't built by armies of men wielding shovels, but with expensive heavy machinery you must be trained, expensively, to use."
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The conservative National Review (http://bit.ly/2tslcn8) also challenged the idea because it would devastate small businesses which would have to compete for workers with the government "that can print money and create salaries (and benefits) that are wholly untethered from the real cost of labor."
This basic idea is not completely new nor is it just a fantasy of ultra-liberals. During the Nixon Administration a commission studied income equality problems and produced a report titled: "Poverty amid Plenty: The American Paradox." The commission recommended a guaranteed annual income ($15,182 in today's dollars) whether or not recipients worked. The rationale was that poverty was caused by forces beyond an individual's control and it was up to the federal government to provide a solution. A bill, called "the Family Assistance Plan" passed the House 243 to 155 on a bipartisan vote but stalled in the Senate due to fears of its effect on small businesses.
About four years ago Swiss voters entertained a ballot referendum that would have guaranteed each Swiss citizen an unconditional basic income of 30,000 Swiss Francs (about $34,000) per year whether or not they worked. What a deal. No congressional hanky panky, no veto threat, just a direct vote of the people. Free money from the government! Yet the measure failed with 77 percent voting no and just 23 percent voting yes.
Surprisingly some conservatives endorsed this plan but only as the sole vehicle of government largesse and the elimination of all other welfare plans. Social engineers lauded the proposed benefits of mothers being free to tend to their families and older children being free to complete their education without having to sling hamburgers.
Readers with long memories and a sense of humor may recall Al Capp's comic book character Lil Abner and the story of the "shmoo." In it Abner runs across a secret valley where shmoos abound. They are prolific little animals which are eager to be eaten; fried they taste like chicken, broiled like steak, roasted like pork and baked like cat fish. They produce grade A milk and eggs. They are ideal playmates for children.
As Lil Abner leads them back to Dogpatch he says: "Wif these around nobody won't nevah havta work no more!!"
Regrettably Dogpatch's "Pork King" sees his sales tank, visualizes a repeat of the 1929 crash and orders the shmoos exterminated thus ending "shmoo-topia."
Conservatives' favorite quotation, attribution for which is lost in the mists of history, goes something like this: "A democracy can only exist until voters discover they can vote themselves money from the public treasury; then it collapses and is followed by a dictatorship."
Swiss voters were too smart to buy that. Are Americans?
As Trump would say: "We'll see."
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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