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Sunday, February 23, 2014

History of Jobs Guarantee Program

The idea that a buffer stock of employed citizens be created by the government as a kind of 'employer of last resort' is not a new concept but I've been wondering exactly how old an idea it is.  I at the same time was reading exerts from my copy of Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" 1791 for a completely unrelated reason, and came across this section which sketches an outline of what such a program might look like (at his time). I know of no other such outline (be they from a political persuasion as below or an economic persuasion) written earlier than this (consider this a challenge!): 

Many a youth comes up to London full of expectations, and little or no money,
and unless he gets employment he is already half undone; and boys
bred up in London without any means of livelihood, and, as it often
happens, of dissolute parents, are in a still worse condition, and servants
long out of place are not much better off. In short, a world of little
cases is continually arising, which busy or affluent life knows not of, to
open the first door to distress. Hunger is not among the postponable
wants, and a day, even a few hours, in such a condition, is often the
crisis of a life of ruin. These circumstances, which are the general
cause of the little thefts and pilferings that lead to greater, may be

The plan then will be: First, to erect two or more buildings, or take
some already erected, capable of containing at least six thousand persons,
and to have in each of these places as many kinds of employment
as can be contrived, so that every person who shall come, may find
something which he or she can do. Secondly, to receive all who shall
come, without inquiry who or what they are. The only condition to be,
that for so much or so many hours work, each person shall receive so
many meals of wholesome food, and a warm lodging, at least as good
as a barrack. That a certain portion of what each person’s work shall be
worth shall be reserved, and given to him, or her, on their going away;
and that each person shall stay as long, or as short time, or come as often
as he chooses on these conditions.

If each person staid three months, it would assist by rotation twenty four
thousand persons annually, though the real number, at all times,
would be but six thousand. By establishing an asylum of this kind, such
persons, to whom temporary distresses occur, would have an opportunity
to recruit themselves, and be enabled to look out for better employment.
Allowing that their labor paid but one-half the expense of supporting
them, after reserving a portion of their earnings for themselves,
the sum of forty thousand pounds additional would defray all other
charges for even a greater number than six thousand.