Can a Job Guarantee Succeed?

Shaun Whittaker

More than 24 000 jobs were lost in the Namibian private sector from 2018 to 2023.

This shows the private sector is not the solution to mass unemployment as it is profit-driven.

At the same time, our public sector has skewed priorities.

Despite 8 000 unemployed qualified teachers, the government recruited 1 000 police officers and 1 600 soldiers in 2023.

The nation needs a dialogue not only about the long-term unemployment crisis, but also about colour and party-political discrimination in the job market.

Simultaneously, the Namibian government acted like a typical neoliberal state and opted to focus on social control jobs rather than care of the nation.

It is high time to move beyond neoliberalism’s predatory approach and implement effective solutions to unemployment.
An actual way out is a job guarantee.

UN BLUEPRINT

A report by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, ‘The Employment Guarantee as a Tool in the Fight Against Poverty’ – presented to the Human Rights Council of the UN General Assembly last year – recommends introducing a job guarantee for the full realisation of the right to work.

It proposes public employment programmes in the care, education and cultural areas.

Jobs would have to be decent, provide a living income and offer training opportunities. Such a job guarantee would be open to all, and must have the goal of full employment.

It would be important to find the best model for local conditions and community participation would be key.

A gradual pay scale for educated participants might have to be considered.

A job guarantee could lead to improved mental health in the form of a decreased suicide rate and less domestic violence.

EXAMPLES

The report points to examples of countries where job guarantee schemes were successful.

The Productive Safety Net Programme of Ethiopia provided jobs to 10% (11 million people) of their population in 2018, while the National Rural Employment Guarantee in India ensured work for 76 million citizens in 2020.

The oil revenue of Trinidad and Tobago was used for their public employment programme.

A job guarantee should last for at least five years to significantly impact lives.

Harry Boesak

Half of the jobs need to be reserved for women, but childcare facilities and safe transport would have to be made available for them.

A job guarantee improves workers’ bargaining power and raises standards in the labour market, while reducing inflation.

It is also an inflation and macroeconomic stabiliser and should therefore be permanent.

American economist, Pavlina Tcherneva, in her ‘The Case for a Job Guarantee’ suggests that living-income public sector full employment could provide an alternative to the disagreeable jobs in the private sector and concurrently prioritise green jobs.

Most jobs have an important public purpose, nurturing and reproducing society. A society cannot be organised around the profit motive.

Unemployment is not only unnatural and limits economic growth, but is a form of vandalism on people.

The exaggerated focus on the budget deficit is an artificial financial constraint used as a political tool.

A central bank, according to Tcherneva, must rather abandon the policy of a Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (Nairu) and stop putting the brakes on job growth.

It could be replaced by a job guarantee as a stabiliser that would provide both full employment and price stability.

It does not make sense to use unemployment as a buffer against inflation. If anything, the central bank has to prioritise unemployment above inflation.
 
SOCIAL VALUE

In a piece published in China Social Science Network, economist Yan Liang encourages introducing a comprehensive employment guarantee scheme that would employ young people.

Such jobs might be unprofitable to the private sector, but have social value in providing skills and work experience to youth.

That kind of guarantee ensures a cycle of employment, income, consumption and moreover represents efficient fiscal spending.

Public employment creates goods and services needed by society and in the process dampens inflation.

Liang cautions it is necessary to take a long-term view of increased household consumption and that temporary cash distributions are not the answer.

Namibia – like most countries in the Global South – must have a development strategy based on mobilising all working people and could run a budget deficit to be successful.

Inflation targeting is a smokescreen for class struggle that only benefits the wealthy.

Full employment (and price stability) is more imperative.

A job guarantee ought to be financed with local resources and be devised to promote the homegrown production of goods (e.g. food) that are currently imported.

In the final analysis, the size of a job guarantee in Namibia would have to be large given our mass unemployment, widespread poverty wages, and limited employment in the private sector.

The alternative is never-ending starvation, malnutrition, homelessness, crime, and mental health crises not to mention the epidemic of deaths of despair.

We must urgently implement a job guarantee for a decent standard of living for all.

  • The authors are members of the Marxist Group of Namibia.

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