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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
prevented....

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.

8 comments:

Tom Hickey said...

Looks like William Petty may have proposed something like an ELR in the case of "supernumeraries."

"Fiscal contributions were of prime concern to policymakers in the 17th century, as they have remained ever since, for the wise country would not spend above its revenues. By Petty’s time, England was engaged in war with Holland, and in the first three chapters of Treatise of Taxes and Contributions, Petty sought to establish principles of taxation and public expenditure, to which the monarch could adhere, when deciding how to raise money for the war. Petty lists six kinds of public charge, namely defence, governance, the pastorage of men’s souls, education, the maintenance of impotents of all sorts and infrastructure, or things of universal good. He then discusses general and particular causes of changes in these charges. He thinks that there is great scope for reduction of the first four public charges, and recommends increased spending on care for the elderly, sick, orphans, etc., as well as the government employment of supernumeraries."

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Petty#Fiscal_contributions

Tom Hickey said...

Petty was also a fan of full employment, using an analogy similar to what Keynes would assert later.

"The goal of full employment was of most importance to Petty, having recognised that labour was one of the major sources of wealth for individuals and 'the greatest Wealth and Strength of the Kingdom'. In this vein, he extended the cloth-wine argument above, arguing that it is better to employ men and burn their product or to engage in extravagant public works projects, than to have indolent 'supernumeraries' in an economy – hence his famous example of relocating Stonehenge across the plains of Salisbury."

Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Petty#Full_employment

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