Prosperity

Two Big Questions About the Job Guarantee: God, Devil, and the Details

Progressives have these questions. Others will too.

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By Steve Roth

Should government guarantee a “good” job for anybody who wants one? It’s one of the biggest ideas among progressive economists who are trying to seize the Overton window of what’s politically feasible, to step outside the regressive economic framework that’s dominated American politics (right and left) at least since the Reagan Revolution.

There’s a whole lot to like about the JG idea. It would absorb and employ the reserve army of the unemployed that perennially undercuts workers’ bargaining power — driving higher wages and widespread prosperity, and (over time) undercutting economy-strangling concentrations of wealth and income. And it would serve as a cyclical thermostat, naturally expanding when private-sector hiring goes south, and contracting when a hot economy causes the private sector to outbid the JG program for workers.

But at least two big questions remain largely unanswered by JG advocates, both of which cut to the crux of the program’s workability. They’re detailed questions about how the institution would actually work in practice: what the rules are, who arbitrates and enforces the rules, and how.

1. Can job-guarantee workers be fired? For instance, if they refuse to work (much)? J.W. Mason, one of the best economists writing today, asks this key question:

Can jobs be guaranteed? In principle I’m very sympathetic to the widespread (at least among my friends on social media) calls for a job guarantee. It makes sense as a direction of travel, implying a commitment to a much lower unemployment rate, expanded public employment, organizing work to fit people’s capabilities rather than vice versa, and increasing the power of workers vis-a-vis employers. But I have a nagging doubt: A job is contingent by its nature – without the threat of unemployment, can there even be employment as we know it?

If JG employees can not work, still receive their wages and benefits, and not be fired, how is the program different from a guaranteed income without a work requirement? It’s possible this wouldn’t be a problem in practice — that normative expectations alone, for instance, would suffice for JG employees to do the work that’s expected of them. And JG advocates envision a system where the onus of providing appropriate and meaningful jobs falls much more heavily on the employers’ side — a crucial shift in the power structure of the labor market.

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But the question remains. An army of JG opponents will put it top, front, and center, loudly, if such programs start to look like they might achieve policy reality. Proponents need a tight, cogent, and compelling answer to hand. (“You obviously haven’t read this Australian case law” very much does not qualify.)

2. Who decides which employers and employees will have their wages paid by government? The idea is that social-service groups, NGOs, and “social entrepreneurs” would provide and administer the work and jobs, with their employees’ wages and benefits being paid by the job-guarantee program. But that begs the question of which organizations’ employees, and which employees within those organizations, would be paid by the program.

Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project may be asking the best questions on this subject, cutting to the crux of which jobs, and which employers, should be part of the JG program. But even he doesn’t get to the next level: Some institutional structure(s) of rules, and humans making decisions based on those rules, will have to be in place for the whole JG project to work. What will those rules and institutions be? Who will make those decisions, and how?

If dedicated progressives who are deeply sympathetic to the goals, tenets, and approaches of JG, who have read and thought at some length on the subject (Matt, Mason, and me), are asking these questions, you can be quite certain that well-financed opponents will be asking them nonstop — and really, quite justifiably.

As always, God, and the Devil, are in the details.

2017 June 23


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  • 1. Can job-guarantee workers be fired?

    Yes, with due process. Why not? “Hard to fire” and “Cannot be arbitrarily fired” are not synonymous with “Cannot be fired.”

    2. Who decides which employers and employees will have their wages paid by government?

    Congress could create a federal bureaucracy administered by the executive. Isn’t this how we ordinarily do things like this? I mean, we answered the question, “Who decides what constitutes pollution and who pays to clean what up?” was the EPA.

    I’m not in the business of creating federal bureaucracies, but it seems such a common occurrence that there must be some actual experts out there.

    I think there are more pertinent issues. It is important to explore precisely which jobs the government should provide. We have to identify jobs that can easily both absorb a lot of labor in downturns and shed labor in upturns. I don’t know that there is an easy answer to this issue.

    A related issue is to prevent the job guarantee from creating a permanent underclass, locked into low wages without meaningful opportunities to move into higher-paying private positions.

    • EnjoyWhoa

      “We have to identify jobs that can easily both absorb a lot of labor in downturns and shed labor in upturns. I don’t know that there is an easy answer to this issue.”

      The feasible solution that I see here, without compromising both productive use of time, and on consequently on individual freedom as well as dignity, is to exponentially increase dependency on decentralized decision making, in my view. As much as we might not need to go all the way to a universal income just yet.

      On that note, under a universal income system, I wouldn’t be too concerned about shedding labor in non-profit areas for the benefit of for-profit areas, since the upturn would simply be attractive enough from the demand side to encourage people to monetize what they’ve been doing all along, or follow the money in another way. Upturn necessarily means there’s more demand for paid labor, after all. Paired with consumption/income taxes, it’s a self regulating system, sapping out more money in times of economic upturn, while net-stimmulus is automatically present in economic downturn times.

      It’d only need adjustment (upwards) as the economy continues to monopolize due technology improving economic relevance, returns from network effect and economies of scale. A tying of universal income to GDP/currency volume could help there.

      • On that note, under a universal income system, I wouldn’t be too concerned about shedding labor in non-profit areas for the benefit of for-profit areas, since the upturn would simply be attractive enough from the demand side to encourage people to monetize what they’ve been doing all along, or follow the money in another way.

        I agree, but that’s not what I was concerned about in my comment above. I’m assuming you’re correct: if designed correctly a lot of people will just up and leave JG jobs in an upturn. We need to identify jobs where such an abrupt exodus will not have too-severe consequences. So, for example, we might not want to have JG jobs building buildings: if a lot of those workers quit (as desired), we might have a lot of unfinished buildings that were unprofitable to complete.

        • EnjoyWhoa

          Indeed, I’d probably want to focus on professional hobbyist, crafts, science, art, sort of things to provide through the job guarantee, but to not unfairly compete with people actually trying to make money in the space, I’d always want to pair a JG scheme with a universal income for everyone, and simply have the JG opportunities be there as something for people to do who want to explore something new they didn’t consider yet. But yeah I’m generally not all that huge on JG to begin with..

    • Really the core Q the post asks: what jobs (for which employers), who decides, and how? Saying “we can figure it out” doesn’t answer that. (And asking “how would it work?” is not saying “it couldn’t work.”)

      • geerussell

        Hopefully a link won’t get my comment netted in the spam filter. I think Bill Mitchell addresses your questions to some degree in his piece here “There is more to the Job Guarantee literature than a few blog posts” http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=36071

      • Well, *I* ask specifically, “Which jobs?”; the post actually asks, “Who decides which jobs?” Don’t blame me if you don’t ask the question you want answered! ‘-)

  • Bruno Cotrim

    Seriously? People actually consider this?

    Can’t people just update their sense of morality surrounding work already? Where are we? URSS and it’s full employment? Germany in Auschwitz with it’s “Arbeit macht frei”? Because those two ended up so well…

    As automation progresses more and more labor will be discarded as unnecessary, your solution is to have people slave away in worthless occupations that serve no propose other than to make them toil?
    Or do you honestly believe that you’ll succeeded where the URSS failed in proper full employment in the age of automation?

    Do people who actually entertain these ideas hate humanity that much? Because fundamentally I can’t see any reason to support these ideas not based on some kind of negative emotion towards others, it is certainly not rationality…

  • David Swan

    Bruno, your assumption that JG workers will necessarily “slave away in worthless occupations that serve no purpose” is simply a reflection of your ignorance. There is an infinity of “worthwhile work”, it just may not be *profitable*. To conflate profitability with value is a reflection of a warped worldview. It is clear that you are ignorant of anything and everything pertaining to the concept of a Job Guarantee – I would ask that you inform yourself, but that would likely be a waste of breath.

    • Bruno Cotrim

      Ignorance? Well that’s quite some big words for some one who doesn’t know me… Ignoring the ad hominem…
      I did not deny work, I denied such “worthwhile work” being controlled by bureaucrats.
      People naturally work for causes they believe in so in the case the work is as worthwhile as you say it is people will naturally do it, without the need of having someone forcing them to do it.
      Instead of finding excuses to keep power in the hands of the few, just give people freedom from having to spend all their lives at work and you’ll have a much more diverse and interesting society.
      You can dress the concept with as pretty words as you want but in the end it’s just a reflex of what has been tried before and failed miserably.
      You apparently are incapable of grasping the concept of what I said since I didn’t even indirectly referenced the concept of profitability or value, both concepts I find completely irrelevant for the arguments I made before.

    • EnjoyWhoa

      “There is an infinity of “worthwhile work”, it just may not be *profitable*. ”

      This is very true, however, the agencies in charge by all means can make “worthwhile work” into mindless drudgery, if the individual was more inclined to do something else than what was decided for him to do. If there’s no paying customer, might as well rely on the serious deliberation of the individual, to figure out what is most profitable to do, for the greatest societal benefit.

      It must be a priority to avoid that someone may chose for someone else what has purpose, at gun point threat of destitution. We all are members of this society. Our enjoyment is individuals always to be considered as part of societal benefit. Furthermore, we see a great deal of opportunities for people to connect in much more complex ways today online, affording anyone many new opportunities to evaluate for their purposefulness for oneself and others, that we don’t want to simply discard in favor of free park cleaning personel. (a task better left to the market, like most menial labor. It’s a priority consideration for me to automate what is cost effectively autmated. Anything else is wasting human potential.)

      If nothing pays, maybe people should be able to pay each other more. If nothing pays still because everything is somehow automated, then maybe we will chose to more often act for our own fulfillment and growth, be it socializing outside of work, or enjoying the fruits of technology. As much as I see a splendid field of (paid) work ahead of us in creative, chance taking, social and niche ways, if we’re willed to enable people more to be customers of each other, for many decades to come. As much as this might involve permanent redistribution of land and societally created value (like the network effect and cost savings from economies of scale) that today is increasingly captured and enclosed by less and less companies by basic market logic.

      • David Swan

        Again, you know nothing of how a Job Guarantee works. This is referred to as “ignorance”, but if that strikes you as ad hom you can rephrase it however you like.

        You keep running on about “”agencies in charge… choosing for someone else what to do” as opposed to “affording anyone many new opportunities to evaluate for their purposefulness for oneself and others”, but if you actually had any knowledge (the opposite of ignorance) pertaining to Job Guarantee theory you would understand that the work content is determined primarily in the private sector through non-profits and community organizations, although could be supplemented as needed with federal environmental initiatives, etc. The WORKER chooses between the available assignments, the government role is simply to subsidize and support the free market, which does the work of providing productive roles with social value. Not only does this system “afford many new opportunities to evaluate for their purposefulness for oneself and others”, it provides a magnificent INFRASTRUCTURE for that process, opening the way for us to “update [our] sense of morality surrounding work”.

        What you said in your first comment was ignorant. You don’t know anything about the Job Guarantee, and you attacked a straw man. Read Pavlina Tcherneva’s work on the JG so that you can actually speak from an informed position.

        • EnjoyWhoa

          ” the work content is determined primarily in the private sector through non-profits and community organizations”

          These precisely are the agencies I am concerned about. Far too centralized. I’ll feel the purpose realization compromised that we’re today afforded, if everyone as individual can be such a body of power, after serious contemplation of what has purpose for their society including themselves. We simply have so many opportunities that are mostly in sight to the individial, and there’s plenty of such. We cannot discard the opportunities for someone to realize societal purpose, just because only he or she sees it due to being engaged in the micro-community, communities that no such thing as a non-profit organization or formal legal community have heard of.

          I simply have a disliking on moral and pragmatic grounds, for any attempt to coerce someone by withholding of the resources that nature and society bring forth free of charge to subsist and to participate, into something less ideal, if societal purpose realization is the measurig stick, compared to what the individual for oneself perceives after serious contemplation.

          It’s not very satisfying to spend your time less efficiently for realizing societal purpose, just because you’re not afforded to propose your own asignments where your own asignments would be more purposeful, and sometimes only within the context of you providing em, and I’d suggest that anyone who reflects on what they can add, will sometimes be confronted with this reality. The future is in exponentially more complexity in humanly valued relations. At least that’s how I see it.

          As much as it’s cool to try to get some more socially focused groups to have power over currency creation, I think ultimately, that power should radiate from the people, not from for-profit companies via interest based currency creation, nor from well intentioned but in my view increasingly often ill suited social focused actors.

          Also as a means for people to propose societal purpose to each other. Only having workers working for others (be they some kind of social focused workers or for-profit) and shareholders be entitled to propose societal purpose is pretty unfair, as we all come to this planet with a claim to nature for our own purposes, and towards free effects such as the network effect and economies of scale related cost savings. Of course working for others can deliver on more, sure, but a baseline level of access is something we’re all just in demanding, no matter what.

          Basically, building a platform for people as individuals to propose to others, what has purpose to themselves, via the bargaining chip of temporary access rights, is what the universal income can do. If a JG seeks to do something similar to that too, I’m all for that, be it to particularly support explicit non-profit organizations (though I have some gripes with blanket supporting some people more, merely because they put on a fancy hat.). Putting the individual into the center of considerations of what has societal purpose, via massively decentralized system, is still important in my view.

        • EnjoyWhoa

          ” the work content is determined primarily in the private sector through non-profits and community organizations”

          These precisely are the agencies I am concerned about. Far too centralized. I’ll not feel the purpose realization compromised that we’re today afforded, if everyone as individual can be such a body of power, after serious contemplation of what has purpose for their society including themselves. We simply have so many opportunities that are mostly in sight to the individial, and there’s plenty of such. We cannot discard the opportunities for someone to realize societal purpose, just because only he or she sees it due to being engaged in the micro-community, communities that no such thing as a non-profit organization or formal legal community have heard of.

          I simply have a disliking on moral and pragmatic grounds, for any attempt to coerce someone by withholding of the resources that nature and society bring forth free of charge to subsist and to participate, into something less ideal, if societal purpose realization is the measurig stick, compared to what the individual for oneself perceives after serious contemplation.
          It’s not very satisfying to spend your time less efficiently for realizing societal purpose, just because you’re not afforded to propose your own asignments where your own asignments would be more purposeful, and sometimes only within the context of you providing em, and I’d suggest that anyone who reflects on what they can add, will sometimes be confronted with this reality. The future is in exponentially more complexity in humanly valued relations. At least that’s how I see it.
          As much as it’s cool to try to get some more socially focused groups to have power over currency creation, I think ultimately, that power should radiate from the people, not from for-profit companies via interest based currency creation, nor from well intentioned but in my view increasingly often ill suited social focused actors.

          Also as a means for people to propose societal purpose to each other. Only having workers working for others (be they some kind of social focused workers or for-profit) and shareholders be entitled to propose societal purpose is pretty unfair, as we all come to this planet with a claim to nature for our own purposes, and towards free effects such as the network effect and economies of scale related cost savings. Of course working for others can deliver on more, sure, but a baseline level of access is something we’re all just in demanding, no matter what.

          Basically, building a platform for people as individuals to propose to others, what has purpose to themselves, via the bargaining chip of temporary access rights, is what the universal income can do. If a JG seeks to do something similar to that too, I’m all for that, be it to particularly support explicit non-profit organizations (though I have some gripes with blanket supporting some people more, merely because they put on a fancy hat.). Putting the individual into the center of considerations of what has societal purpose, via massively decentralized system, is still important in my view.

        • Raoul

          For some reason disqus is unable to publish this post on my other occount, so here it goes, slightly updated:

          ” the work content is determined primarily in the private sector through non-profits and community organizations”

          These precisely are the agencies I am concerned about. Far too centralized. I’ll not feel the purpose realization compromised that we’re today afforded, if everyone as individual can be such a body of power, after serious contemplation of what has purpose for their society including themselves. We simply have so many opportunities that are mostly in sight to the individial, and there’s plenty of such. We cannot discard the opportunities for someone to realize societal purpose, just because only he or she sees it due to being engaged in the micro-community, communities that no such thing as a non-profit organization or formal legal community have heard of.

          I simply have a disliking on moral and pragmatic grounds, for any attempt to coerce someone by withholding the resources that nature and society bring forth free of charge to subsist and to participate, into something less ideal, if societal purpose realization is the measurig stick, compared to what the individual for oneself already perceived after serious contemplation.

          It’s not very satisfying to spend your time less efficiently when it comes to realizing societal purpose when you’re not afforded to propose your own asignments where your own asignments would be more purposeful, and sometimes only within the context of you providing em, and I’d suggest that anyone who reflects on what they can add, will sometimes be confronted with this reality. The future is in exponentially more complexity in humanly valued relations. At least that’s how I see it.

          As much as it’s cool to try to get some more socially focused groups to have power over currency creation, I think ultimately, that power should radiate from the people, not from for-profit companies via interest based currency creation, nor from well intentioned but in my view increasingly often ill suited social focused actors (e.g. not the people as individuals).

          The universal income also acts as a means for people to propose societal purpose to each other, akin to a vote. Currency creation should belong to all of us as such. Only having workers working for others (be they some kind of social focused workers or for-profit) and shareholders be entitled to propose societal purpose is pretty unfair, as we all come to this planet with a claim to nature for our own purposes, and towards free effects such as the network effect and economies of scale related cost savings. Of course working for others can deliver on more, sure, but a baseline level of access is something we’re all just in demanding, no matter what.

          Basically, building a platform for people as individuals to propose to others, what has purpose to themselves, via the bargaining chip of temporary access rights, is what the universal income can do. If a JG seeks to do something similar to that too, I’m all for that, be it to particularly support explicit non-profit organizations (though I have some gripes with blanket supporting some people more, merely because they put on a fancy hat.). Putting the individual into the center of considerations of what has societal purpose, via massively decentralized system, is still important in my view.

  • EnjoyWhoa

    “The idea is that social-service groups, NGOs, and “social entrepreneurs” would provide and administer the work and jobs, with their employees’ wages and benefits being paid by the job-guarantee program. But that begs the question of which organizations’ employees, and which employees within those organizations, would be paid by the program.”

    I don’t like that idea from its very premise, mostly due to what he article pointed out, but there’s further implications.

    At the end of the day, such a sceme is hardly going to be be inclusive of any modern (sub-)culture space, and with so much potential for more niche-ization in the culture space, it’s just a steering away from any of that, basically. Same for many areas of life where people would want to contribute their time and effort and find purpose in it. As long as potential complexity increases, I just don’t like the idea of a JG, unless you’re cool with dynamically spawning and de-spawning agencies depending on where people want to contribute their time and effort with purpose for others and/or themselves, on an unprecedented scale, leveraging direct democracy.

    Which leads us to the second point: Some ‘acting with purpose for oneself’ should be afforded to anyone, and the extent to which is dependent on how one estimates the value of one’s own labor (to oneself) vs the scarcity of labor actually experienced on the market. Because what’s the point working for less societal value of others, than what you could be realizing in societal value for yourself.

    I’ll not be happy with a JG unless the individual is integral part of the agency that provides jobs, both with a veto right and a right to propose jobs, also for oneself. At which I think we might as well cut to the chase and just go for a universal income plus guaranteed grants to take if you need extra money for some business/community/etc idea, be it profit or non-profit.

    At its core, this is basically about “who should decide what has societal value”. I think the human rights movement made a point about that all of us should be able to do that to some extent. The universal income also as a right to usage of nature and freely provided (but enclosed for a profit of some) societal infrastructure, can be one important source of societal value signaling from the people who ought to be able to signal societal value.

    In times where money is less and less representative of paid human work, and more and more of raw resource value and things that humans do voluntarily for free (such as making for-profit ecosystems more profitable via the network effect), or that humans collectively create, say cost savings via economies of scale or wikipedia or open source, it’s high time to put a share of GDP recurringly into the hands of each and every one individual, to express societal value.

    As much as the point about resource access justice rang true in Thomas Paine’s times already when he wrote Aggrarian Justice. It’s just continually gaining relevance, as benefits of economies of scale are expanded and leveraged in more and more fields, and the network effect gains more and more relevance. (both thanks to progression in technology)

    If we want dignified work, we won’t get around expanding towards more complex, more niche focused fields of work where soft skills are increasingly important. Sociality, community building, exploring the good, true, and beatiful in art, play, debate, in a massively decentralized context of individuals. There’s simply no room for a hierarchy to organize what is worth awarding money and what is not, unless you want to throw out of the window all most of the great things we could be doing for one another in micro communities both online and offline.

  • EnjoyWhoa

    “The idea is that social-service groups, NGOs, and “social entrepreneurs” would provide and administer the work and jobs, with their employees’ wages and benefits being paid by the job-guarantee program. But that begs the question of which organizations’ employees, and which employees within those organizations, would be paid by the program.”

    Also to harp on that point a little more:

    I live in germany.

    We have this system in place where about anyone can go and be like “hey employment agency, I got non-market work here that might or might not be making the world nicer or help the unemployed become more employable”

    These opportunities must not compete with the real economy as to not provide unfair competition to the real workers who have to make money from customers who actually pay, and that makes sense, so I’d want to keep this feature.

    Problem being: You end up with profit driven opportunities (since it pays for the provider, based on number of people removed from the unemployment statistic) that are completely pointless to the unemployed, like “playing” supermarket or putting puzzles together to give away, or walking around the park. This is awful. People could be posting on-line to progress political movements or they could be enriching the experience of others in online games or even pick up a passion for giving back to those communities by creating content or obtaining skills to build helpful websites leveraging APIs provided by related parties or building open source tools that make content creation better. None of that what the individual might feel they can add, is encouraged. Unless you go really fine grained on the system of job provision, like REALLY fine grained. All I can say is “put the people in charge of being their own boss, they’ll figure something worthwhile (that probably doesn’t pay much from customers) out for the most part. And if people face existential crises due to not finding such a thing, you can always provide something that probably doesn’t pay much from customers, on a voluntary basis. Giving people the money to subsist first is important either way.”

    • EnjoyWhoa

      Also note that these opportunities must explicitly contribute to getting people into paid work, at the face of it, but the statistics all show that they don’t do that and might even be detrimental to that.

      The objective of getting people into paid work is simply flawed for this kind of policy, since the problem isn’t with the people. It’s with demand being increasingly absorbed by less and less companies doing more and more for us, via enclosure of free effects such as the cost savings of economies of scale, or the network effect.

      Sure, raising the reservation wage helps a bit. But increasing demand at the cost of those who monetarily benefit from enclosure of economically relevant effects and resources, through increased permanent redistribution/printing or turning everyone into a shareholder through sovereign wealth funds, that should be the priority demand, if you ask me.

    • EnjoyWhoa

      Note that I have another post pending here, this was my second reply to the article, hope the first one can get published!

  • EnjoyWhoa

    “The idea is that social-service groups, [and so on] would provide and administer the work and jobs,”

    Even with all the best intentions and considerations, such a scheme is intrinsically going have a hard time to be inclusive of many modern culture spaces, as the world of labor (both for and non-profit) heads for ever more complexity in relations, for people to continue to be able to add something uniquely human, as we see with the recent emphasis on soft skills and the potential to connect online for societal purpose realization. And anything that can be standardized, even if it’s non-profit, can be done with advanced technology, so the idea here is to always try to integrate menial labor work that has societal purpose, into a for-profit model. (state grants to be collected by whoever offers to do things cheapest via technology.)

    And with the internet and improved availability of economies of scale for everyone, there sure is a lot of potential for more niche-ization in the culture space. Having agencies in place to decide what people are to do in ever more niche roles within their micro and macro communities, seems implausible from the get-go, considering there’s so many areas of life where people would want to contribute their time and effort and find purpose in it, even if it doesn’t pay. Whenever one is to work for a low/non-profit purpose, it’s increasingly important to leave autonomy to the individual from that perspective.

    • EnjoyWhoa

      At its core, this is about “who should decide what has societal value”. I think the human rights movement made a valid point that all of us should be able to do that to some extent, even if sometimes, work is done for oneself, not others, if it means more net-societal value. It might as well increasingly happen. Though the increasing ability of people to interconnect in their perceived self-dedicated time might as well bear fruit in the most unexpected ways as well. So I like to go at this with respect for the individual human’s tendencies towards sociality.

      Especially in times where money is less and less representative of paid human work, and more and more of raw resource value and things that humans do voluntarily for free (such as making for-profit ecosystems more profitable via the network effect), or that humans collectively create, say cost savings via economies of scale or wikipedia or open source, it might be high time to put a share of GDP recurringly into the hands of each and every one individual, to express societal value.

      As much as the point about resource access justice rang true in Thomas Paine’s times already when he wrote Agrarian Justice.

      If we want dignified work, we probably won’t get around expanding towards more complex, more niche focused fields of work where soft skills are increasingly important. Sociality, community building, exploring the good, true, and beatiful in art, play, debate, in a massively decentralized context of individuals. I don’t see much room for third parties to organize what is of societal purpose and what is not, beyond giving suggestions and providing a platform for everyone to provide suggestions on, unless we want to discard many of the great things we could be doing for one another in micro communities both online and offline.

  • Michael Nash

    These are both great questions, Steve. As an Organizational Development Consultant who has spent the past 20 years training managers how to not suck at being managers and training leaders of organizations how to not suck at leading their organizations, these questions ring true for me. There will always be those employees who don’t work hard, or who create major disruptions for others, or who don’t have the ability to interface well with customers, or who…fill in the blank. There needs to be a system of accountability for behaviors that promote excellence, positivity, success and effectiveness. Creating a rich, morale-inducing environment that “entices” people to bring their best self to work every day is most of the battle. However, not every agency will do this. Managers need to have the skills to coach employees toward improved behavior, and part of their tool belt, by necessity, includes the ability to use a “last resort” option, whether that be a “performance improvement plan” or some other tool. A guaranteed job – no matter how the employee behaves – is a major handicap to long-term sustainability of a healthy, positive and professional workplace.

  • So many dimensions to the complexity of this question.

    Aside from the one I continually raise, the idea that markets are based in scarcity and cannot give a positive value to any universal abundance that advanced automation delivers, there is another major problem here, and that is diversity.

    Freedom will result in diversity.
    All sorts of things result in diversity.

    One simple example.
    My wife and I organise things differently.
    I organise by space. I can recall where things are, and where I put things.
    Ailsa does not have 3D vision, the world occurs to her like 2D photos (which makes her a great photographer), so she organises things by colour.
    There is something different about my colour vision. When I did the colour blindness test for my skipper’s ticket, I could see the several sets of numbers on every page with about equal clarity. I suspect I don’t see colours like most people do.
    Whatever the causes, Ailsa just puts things whereever she sees a gap.
    Anything that is more than 1cm from where it was is lost to me, and I start a systematic spatial scan to find it.
    This is a constant source of conflict in our relationship.

    It is an example in microcosm of the dimensionality of the difficulties present when there are multiple simultaneous sets of distinctions and interpretations present.

    Often, there is no simple answer.
    Often a degree of physical functional separation, and respect for those physical boundaries, is required.

    Translate that into a work situation, and there is instant difficulty.
    Work places tend to develop procedures and rules.
    Those at the top of hierarchies tend to want the rules they are most comfortable with.
    It doesn’t matter what set of rules or procedures it is, there will exist a wide spectrum within society as to how easily an individual can work within those rules.
    For many, it will not be possible.
    The individual may be totally committed to the outcome, yet psychologically unable to work within the set of rules and procedures of a specific organisation devoted to that outcome.

    The issue for many in society is not simply finding work they see as valuable (that is relatively easy), but finding a group that achieves those values in ways that work for the particular particular physiological and psychological and skill sets present in that particular individual.

    It is a very serious issue.
    It is an issue I see clearly present in every individual I know.

    There is not, nor can there be, any level of “one size fits all” solution to this issue; it is like a fractal system that recurs through every new level of system or structure present.

    It requires active tolerance and acceptance of the need for diversity across all dimensions, which must involve respect for degrees of “personal space” across all sets of dimensions (including time).

    So yes – the devil is very much in the detail.

  • Wayne McMillan

    Steve, Why is it necessary for social entrepreneurs, and NGO’s to be the employer? Governments at Federal, State or local levels could directly employ anyone who wanted a job.The funding however should come from the Federal level, as they have unlimited fiscal capacity to funds these schemes.