Bernie Sanders’s job guarantee: Is it a boondoggle?

Bernie Sanders’s job guarantee: Is it a boondoggle? By Robert Samuelson.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants the federal government to guarantee a job for every American willing and able to work. The proposal sounds compassionate and enlightened, but in practice, it would almost certainly be a disaster. The fact that it’s taken seriously is evidence that many Democrats, like Republicans before them, embrace loony economic agendas that are more public-relations gestures than sensible policy. …

Under their plan, anyone needing a job could get one at a uniform wage of $15 an hour, plus health insurance (probably Medicare) and other benefits (importantly: child care). …

Some jobs mentioned by the economists: cleaning up vacant properties; overseeing programs for new mothers and at-risk youths; tree planting; and weatherizing homes. …

The job guarantee’s appeal is obvious. A recent Civis Analytics poll for the Nation magazine found 52 percent of respondents in favor.

It won’t work:

The trouble is that there is a vast gap between rhetoric and reality. Indeed, some leftish commentators recognize this. Here’s Kevin Drum, a blogger for Mother Jones:

“Even our lefty comrades in social democratic Europe don’t guarantee jobs for everyone. It would cost a fortune; it would massively disrupt the private labor market; it would almost certainly tank productivity; and it’s unlikely in the extreme that the millions of workers in this program could ever be made fully competent at their jobs.” …

Is there a skills mismatch between what the jobless can do and what actually needs doing? Probably. (Remember: The candidates for the public-sector jobs are among the least-skilled workers.)

Is there a similar geographic mismatch — say, the jobless are in Michigan and the jobs are in Arizona? This, too, seems probable.

Can the new workers be disciplined? Good question. “The problem with a job ‘guarantee’ is that you can’t fire people,” notes Taylor. …

Why propose it?

Americans are suckers for great crusades that make the world safe for the pursuit of happiness. In this context, Sanders’s job guarantee seems a masterstroke. The chronically unemployed need jobs; and states and localities have large unmet needs for public and quasi-public services. It’s a bargain made in heaven.

Back here on Earth, the collaboration looks less noble. The object is to appear good and buy political support.

Let’s rerun some Bernie jokes: