Jan 24, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

The legal right to a job backed by a federal Jobs Guarantee at $15/hr with free childcare, medicare, Social Security retirement and the right to join a union, as proposed in H.Res 145 introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021 by Ayanna Pressley (D Mass), is a third option and better than subsidized wages or universal income. Unlike subsidized wages, the Job Guarantee would force employers to raise their minimum wage and benefit package to the Federal Job Guarantee standard or lose any employees earning less. A Jobs Guarantee would be better than a universal income because it would preserve and expand the income, health and work readiness of workers who are not wanted by the private sector due either to economic downturns or businesses' proper aversion to hiring employees who won't help their bottom line. When businesses want to expand, they'll pick up entry level workers more easily because there will be a ready pool. The security and income that workers would enjoy from a guaranteed job would reduce many of the problems that Mr. Lindsey has identified. For more, read Pavlina Tcherneva's "The Case for a Jobs Guarantee". Thank you for writing about these issues.

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Jan 24, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

Beautifully written and I love the historical setup of the underlying problem. Quick typo, "always one struck of bad luck away from serious trouble." I assume you meant "stroke" of bad luck?

While I agree with the formulation of the problem within American society, I am much less hopeful about UBI or wage subsidies as the path to truly improving the inclusion problem. I think you hit the nail on the head when you correctly identified wage subsidies as not fundamentally fixing the problem of ensuring people feel worth and challenged, it just makes life easier for those in society who currently feel superfluous. Not that this isn't a good goal mind you, I think it (wage subsidies) can be transformative for millions (albeit expensive) but I do think it leaves a lot of the underlying problem unsolved and just papers over the material wealth part of the equation with transfers.

A lot of what American society was built upon in the 70s, the hey dey of the Middle class, was not just the true societal value and recognition of hard labor work but the other societal functions which reinforced community and family: social groups, religion, unions, fraternal organizations, more closely connected communities, etc. It's so much easier for all of us to "make it on our own" these days that we forgot the deep benefits of these previously important institutions at causing all of us to be more social and build more connections with our wider community.

I don't know the answer to how to replace those things and maybe the growing labor movement will partially help there but I have a feeling it'd a big part of what we're missing from 5 decades ago.

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Jan 24, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

Good health is also a form of human capital. Many people in health poor enough to interfere with a normal working life aren't disabled, more like semi-abled, and a welfare state that entrenches a false dichotomy between work and disability serves them particularly poorly. Workplaces are now much more accommodating toward disabilities that barely interfere with productivity once they're accommodated for – which is great! But the human body can bear a lot of dysfunction before it dies. When welfare is tied to status as a worker, what happens to those whose productivity is limited enough that they could work enough to meaningfully defray their cost of living, but not enough to support themselves even with subsidized wages?

Some will luck into supportive situations, into family, sympathetic employers, and friends who give them the grace to get by. I've heard of more than a few who get by on disability fraud of an extremely sympathetic sort. For example, guys who are good coders/handymen/etc when they're lucid, good enough to be self-supporting aside from medical care, but who lose access to the psychiatric care they need to *stay* lucid if they're kicked off disability. When welfare eligibility requires clean separation into roles of "worker" or "officially disabled nonworker", it leaves no honest social role for those who don't quite fit into either category. (A job "earned" only through nepotistic pity isn't wholly honest; disability fraud, even when done for the best of reasons, is also dishonest.)

Another problem with tying benefits to "working enough" is that those who can't "work enough" need to prove how disabled they are for whatever benefit is allocated to the "officially disabled". This means building their persona as citizens on what they can't do, not what they still can do – which is extremely bad for maintaining whatever health and capacity you still have! Plus, proving you're medically needy enough to "deserve" not to work demands many of the same executive skills that working does:


My husband, an economist, once ran some figures on SSDI approval. He found that the wealth of the one applying for disability was the strongest predictor of having disability benefits approved. After that, older age, maleness, and whiteness predicted increased odds of approval. *Some* of that may be that the poor and desperate have more incentive to declare marginal disabilities than the rich, but much of it simply seems to be the perversity of the process. The "time tax".

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Jan 25, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

It shouldn't have been rocket science to see that men for whom work defined their character and status would wind up on the shoals when work disappeared. And yet, views like yours, are still not front and center as causes of the great divide. Right up until the industrial revolution Americans struggled to define the relationship of labor to citizenship. The juggernaut of capitalism dissolved those debates by making them moot. Factory jobs were here to stay. Democracy would have to accommodate capitalism. We now need to revive those debates about character and citizenship. More importantly, there must be pushback against systems that do not take into consideration the intangibles of status, self-respect and dignity.

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A few things:

1. I am guessing that from Cato days you're familiar with Michael Tanner's _The Inclusive Economy_. It'd be worth thinking about how your idea of inclusiveness compares to his and how your solutions compare too.

2. Besides wage subsidies, a generously expanded child allowance is worth a look. One could frame it in a wage subsidy like manner, in terms of the 70s feminist ideal of "wages for housework." It'd not only reduce child poverty, which is a solid human capital building measure in itself, but potentially increase the attractiveness of childcare work to men (something I'm sure Richard Reeves would approve of) and also bump up the fertility rate a bit, another good anti-stagnation measure. Arguably wage subsidies plus a child allowance give you most of a UBI's upside with little of the downside.

3. Somehow, whatever the solution package is, it has to be distilled into a story that resonates with those Chris Arnade calls the "back row kids." Previous generations' solutions have stood or fallen, political economy wise, based on those types of stories. I don't know how to do this, but I know that unfortunately that kind of storytelling is a universal human necessity for durable popularity-- we "front row kids" are just as susceptible, only to different sorts of stories.

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Nice. I'd like to add the element (common to both Left and Right and both a cause and an effect) of the idea that society/economy is zero sum. Naturally as an old school neoliberal I'm more inclined to economic "solutions" wage subsidies, improved (subsidized) health insurance, CTC, (and lots of immigration, free trade, anti-NIMBYism, and deficit reduction to generate more income to pay for this) without believing that will be a "solution" at all.

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Insightful as always. It remains one of the best reads on substack! (If I am late replying to this one, it is because your substack, unlike some, can't be read with less than full attention, so I wait until I have it to dedicate to the task.)

Scott Alexander, also now on substack, had on his old blog a discussion of job guarantee (similar to wage subsidies, and would have some of the same effects) vs a UBI, coming down strongly on the side of the latter. A very different viewpoint than yours, but if you don't know the essay I recommend it:


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Jan 26, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

I am just not quite following this from beginning to end. You start by making it clear that the problem is lack of demand for these jobs, due to technology and to a lesser extent, offshoring. I agree.

Then you discuss a UBI, but clarify that these are the very people lacking in imagination and gumption and that they will likely just use the money to sleep and watch more TV. Again I agree. UBI won’t lead to marriageable men.

Another suggestion is to subsidizing or increasing minimum wages, but that risks locking in the dysfunctional economic structure. Again I would agree.

But then you mention unionization (even though it clearly hasn’t made anything better in Europe, and is arguably much worse). My disconnect here is that I fail to understand how bargaining power will do anything to address a fundamental lack of demand for these skills. At best it might help a few incumbents to improve their lot at the expense of the unfortunate future candidates. At the worst, it will hasten the inevitable automation or offshoring.

Any thoughts on improving apprenticeships and occupational training in high schools?

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Thanks for your comments. I would like to see a country adopt UBI at scale; it would be very instructive to see the long-term effects after years. However it would work in practice, I have serious doubt about a UBI's political viability -- I just don't see how income support not conditioned on work will ever get wide enough public support for such a policy to have a chance of being enacted.

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Thank you for these insights. Yes, loss of meaning eats away at people. But there is also a flaw in our basic system. Once humans lived off the land in small tribes where our place in the tribe and connection to the land provided both sustenance and meaning.

Since the invention of money, property rights, and paid work, this is no longer true. Now most people need money to survive, and most get it from work

However, around 45-50% of the population cannot do paid work: our young, disabled, aged, and their unpaid carers, as well as those between jobs. This is not a static group.

Welfare has been designed to provide some money for this group, subject to conditions. However, benefits have been set below the poverty line to force people who can work to take the available jobs.

This, in turn, has forced those who cannot do paid work and who have no savings or family support, into poverty. In Australia, this is around 3.2 million people, around 12-14% of the population.

A Job Guarantee cannot solve this problem.

A UBI can not only solve the problem of poverty, it can become a new tool to keep the Labor Market in dynamic balance as the job market changes due to automation, virtualization and AI.

It means that as unemployment rises, the UBI can be raised until a sufficient number of people choose to drop out of work, or reduce their hours, leaving space for those who want the work. This would happen as each person has a different need and ability to take on paid work at different times in their life. This re-balancing would never be perfect, but it could ensure that most people in paid work, or out of it, are doing so by choice. This would be hugely empowering. Pilots from around the world show that when people have enough to survive, they spend more time caring for their dependents, or taking on education, and when they can also taking up the available work... which they can do without loss of their UBI. The UBI provides a floor to stand on, not a ceiling to achievement.

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Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of 'The Problem'. While I understand why you are drawn to a 'wage subsidy', it's main drawback is that it can only cover the 50% or so of the population who is in paid work at any time. The other 50% are children, the disabled, aged, their unpaid carers, and those between jobs. This is an ever-changing group of people, but while anyone is in the group, they can only get the money they need to survive from savings and family (if lucky); or welfare, charity and crime (if not).

Welfare is supposed to 'bridge the gap', but it is set below the poverty line to encourage those who can work to take the available jobs. Unfortunately, this pushes those who (for a time) cannot work, into poverty (around 50 million in the US).

The answer is to provide a UBI, and set it so that it keeps the labor market in 'dynamic balance'. As automation, virtualization and AI eliminates jobs, the rate can be raised so that people can choose to take the work that is available or live on the UBI. While it would never be perfect, it gives everyone the chance to make their own decision about what work to take when they can, based on their own circumstances at the time.

If the rate is raised so that there are more jobs available than people willing to take them, the increase in the UBI can be held until the market adjusts pay rates to bring people back into the jobs, and/or further automation is implemented. This is a good thing... as long as we can shift people to find meaning outside traditional work. Which I believe is possible. While it is true many on welfare just watch TV or sleep, it is because they lack the money to do anything else. Many interesting activities cost money to pursue.

The wealthy would benefit as the money goes round. As soon as people get the UBI they will spend it, boosting revenue and profit.

In Australia, we are working on introducing a UBI gradually. Starting at just $10/week/adult and increasing it gradually to $620/week (the poverty line) over 5 years (adjusted for inflation in the basics).

If that is insufficient to bring the labor market into balance, the UBI would continue to be increased until the unemployment rate is around 1-2% ( as it was in the mid 20th Century).

The gradual introduction ensures there are no nasty surprises caused by inflation or adverse behavioral changes. If these appear, the idea is to deal with them as they arise, before they become entrenched.

Importantly, the slow start gives the supply chain time to adapt to the new pattern of demand, without causing shortages that drive inflation.

The UBI would be 'funded' initially by printing new money, with 'offsets' designed to withdraw the money after it is spent, so it does not drive inflation. That is, the aim is to keep the money circulating and not build up in the economy.

Happy to provide more details if you are interested.

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The problem with this story is that the unemployment rate remains stubbornly low. The notion that we're running out of jobs for low-skilled people doesn't pass the smell test. The real shortage is of office jobs for 105 IQ college graduates, thus you see all those college educated people working at Starbucks.

"Nearly 60 percent of births to women with a high school education or less occurred outside of marriage; for children of college educated women, the figure is just 10 percent."

A lot of this is the result of a natural preference of lots of women to do this. They see marriage as a restriction on their personal and sexual freedom. In a society where there's no stigma against it it's probably inevitable.

That said, there are some reforms that could make the rate go down modestly:

1. Private arbitration of divorce and child custody cases. At the start of the marriage people must agree to either governmental arbitration of private arbitration in the event of a divorce. Instead of a one-size-fits-all system you'd have multiple competing providers. Among some the result would be that the misbehaving partner or the partner who wants to abandon their spouse without cause must leave the money and kids behind. Among others divorce will mean even division of assets, even child custody no matter what.

2. Enforce laws against adultery, with an opt-out for those who want to sign up for an open marriage.

3. Re-legalize abortion.

4. Child support can only be ordered by the government or private arbitrators during divorce proceedings. This will prevent women from "accidentally" getting pregnant and then sticking men with a child support bill.

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Great article Brink. The rise of technology and automation have certainly been hard on working class people and I don't see those trends abating any time soon. So, what will working people without college degrees do in the future? For that matter, given the rise of AI, there may be plenty of college educated folk facing the same problem. There are no easy solutions but I believe that we should start emphasizing natural resources conservation and use a robust, modernized Civilian Conservation Corps model to provide gainful and productive work for the unemployed. Anthropogenic climate change, population growth, accumulated litter and pollution, and the effects of development on our springs, lakes, and rivers and coastlines are all problems that cry out for attention. Working people could find a measure of status and purpose while improving our natural environment. I sure wish we heard more about those ideas from our political leaders.

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I enjoyed the article but I would like to delve a little deeper. You mention how things are more inclusive for groups that are not white males. What isn't usually mentioned is that inclusion means discrimination (equity) against white men. DEI vilifies white males and plays a pernicious role in EXCLUDING them from hiring/ promotion etc. In the last 20+ years with EEOC and other civil rights laws, at least there was a more level playing field. That's changed with the ubiquitous influence of DEI. Let's remember that there's a limited number of good jobs. It's a zero sum game.

For quiet some time media and Hollywood have built up girls/women and degraded boys/ men. Especially Disney and other studios that make kids movies. It continues today. It gives women a sense of entitlement and promotes narcissism. Society is hyper-focused on women's needs and what men need to do to accommodate them. There is no discussion about mens needs and womens responsibility to men. It's a one way street. This takes a toll.

Take for example sex. Women are told they don't need to be considerate of there partners sexual needs. I think there needs to be more balance. Both sides need to be respected. My understanding is there are many men living in despair in sexless marriages. They love their wives but want/need more intimacy. If they get divorced they usually come out on the losing end and are more lonely than before. Men have the highest suicide rates by far.

Mens sexual desires are very different than women, but no less valid or important. I think that as a society we need to address the issue of so many men, particularly young men who are sexless. Sex is extremely important to mens wellbeing. Its a natural human desire. It's sad that it's ok to get a massage, watch porn or Only Fans but consensual, transactional sex with a real human being is illegal. This subject is complex and I have mixed feelings about it. However, Imagine if you had a very low paying job, little education, disfigured, handicapped or extremely shy. What opportunities would you have for intimacy in todays world where online dating is the most popular way to find a date. It's a very important part of our lives that shouldn't be ignored because it's uncomfortable to talk about.

I think the churches (any house of worship) can make a big difference by reaching out to men. It used to be that when most men got married or had kids they joined a church. With many young women forgoing marriage until later to pursue a career, it's necessary for church's to think outside the box and get innovative. Most of us have a deep desire for a spiritual connection. It's also good for a stable society.

I don't have all the answers but I think it's time for our society to treat men, half of the population, with the respect, compassion and empathy they deserve. Just as we should treat women. If we continue this same destructive path it hurts us all. We're in this together. We all have fathers, most have sons, brothers, husbands and nephews.

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