Friday, 31 July 2020

Does Bill Mitchell advocate Workfare?

Bill Mitchell (co founder of MMT) said in an article recently: “Compare that with the Job Guarantee that I have consistently advocated over my career, which could not be conceived of being a more elaborate form of Workfare.”

Er – not true actually. In 2013 he said: “The existing unemployment benefits scheme could be maintained alongside the JG program, depending on the government’s preference and conception of mutual responsibility. My personal preference is to abandon the unemployment benefits scheme and free the associated administrative infrastructure for JG operations.”

Well the latter arrangement equals Workfare according to most peoples’ understanding of the word! I.e. it amounts to “Do this job, else you get no pay.”  Not, incidentally, that I’m strongly opposed to Workfare: JG can come in a relatively harsh form amounting to Workfare, or it can be more generous and relaxed. My personal preference, if there’s to be a JG system, is something half way in between.

My point is simply that people should not advocate X,Y or Z and then claim they’ve never advocated X,Y or Z.


  1. I don't understand your objection.

    The JG guarantees what it says on the label: a job, usually understood as a social relation where someone gets paid for doing something socially or economically productive.

    We could define "workfare" so broadly as include the JG, but why? Is the primary objection to "workfare" that people have to work to get paid? If so, you might have a problem with any scarcity economy, socialist or capitalist. It should still be objectionable if we outsource injustice to the private sector.

    The usual objections to workfare is that the "jobs" are meaningless make-work (which Mitchell et al. have consistently opposed) and that the compensation is substantially below a living wage (which Mitchell et al. have consistently opposed).

    1. You ask “We could define "workfare" so broadly as include the JG, but why?” My answer is that the two merge into each other. Workfare is defined in the Oxford dictionary of economics as support for the unemployed which is conditional on their doing some work. While unemployment has never been totally sanction free: i.e. it was never envisioned as a way of letting able bodied people spend their entire lives living on benefits. Ergo at some stage, those on unemployment benefit are required to find work, maybe JG work. In that scenario, workfare and JG become the same thing pretty much.

      Also a relatively harsh JG system is feasible, in which case it becomes “workfarish”. Or it can be lenient, in which case it not so workfarish.


Post a comment.