The No Name Project

By Wade Lee Hudson

My hope is to help build a nationwide network of small, local communities based on the strategy outlined here that is large and unified enough to contribute significantly to positive social change. Some groups already do this kind of work. If they affiliated in a loose network, they could more easily compare notes, support one another, and encourage others to adopt this approach. In these ways, they could expand the network.

Others already do this work to a considerable degree. After making some slight modifications in their methods, they could affiliate with such a network.

This essay presents some ideas concerning how this network might coalesce. But I’m not sure what to call it, so I call it the No Name Project. If this community develops, the members could decide later how to describe it.

Words are necessary. They enable individuals to identify with a particular community. But words also tend to exclude. Individuals who don’t relate to the language that a particular community uses to describe itself tend to shy away from that community. Since my hope is to nurture the growth of a community that is broad, diverse, and inclusive, I envision the members finalizing key language, including the community’s mission, its general method, a specific method, and its name.

For the mission, which every member of the community would embrace, I propose: to grow communities dedicated to the common good of the entire human family. That focus seems to address our most essential, deepest need as human beings.

Concerning the general method used to achieve the mission, it seems that if every member utilizes similar methodology, it will provide us with shared experiences that deepen our sense of community and enable us to more easily compare notes in order to improve our work. I propose that our general method be: to provide one another with mutual support for our personal growth, community building, and political action efforts.

Efforts in each of these areas reinforce efforts in the other two areas in a positive upward spiral. In our hyper-specialized modern world, most communities focus on only one of those three areas. But communities whose members engage in all three can ultimately be more effective.

By “personal growth,” I refer to efforts to steadily become a better human being. For some people, this includes spiritual development. For others, it simply involves paying attention, noticing mistakes, and resolving not to repeat them. Regardless, each member would define their own self-development goals.

By “community building,” I refer to efforts to create or improve social institutions, whether formal or informal. It might involve volunteering at a childcare cooperative or a food bank, getting involved in your child’s school, being active in a spiritual community, or forming a small group affiliated with the network envisioned here. In either case, the intent would be to help develop models that could point the way to an improved society.

By “political action,” I mean efforts to impact public policy in the near term, like with lobbying and demonstrations. Many people use the word “political” to refer to other kinds of relationships that involve the exercise of power. These concerns are important. But that’s not the principal definition of the word political, which refers to the government. If an effort is not focused on achievable near terms goals, it is cultural work, not political as defined here. Most people feel a moral obligation to vote. I also feel a moral obligation to do at least my fair share between elections to make my voice heard as much as I can to improve public policies.

But what kind of politics? I suggest a “compassionate populism” focused on taking power away from the “crony capitalism” that dominates our society. This unholy alliance between Big Government and Big Business undermines democracy. We need to develop nationwide mechanisms that will mobilize the kind of unified, popular pressure that is needed to persuade our elected officials to respect the will of the people.

This approach is not a matter of “left” and “right.” As I argued in “Building Compassionate Populism,” I believe the so-called “political spectrum” is a myth that serves to divide and conquer. Most individuals cannot be placed on that spectrum. Neither can every opinion. It is an oversimplification that distorts reality. Increasingly, people on the “left” and those on the “right” are setting aside abstract ideology and finding common ground on specific issues.

If the network avoids labelling itself with those conventional terms, it could more easily attract people who hold a variety of opinions. Individual groups affiliated with the network might well describe themselves with any number of usual categories, like libertarian or progressive. But the network itself could be a “big tent.”

Some groups might consist of members with widely varied political perspectives who would take different positions on specific issues. The common commitment would be to ask: How can we best fulfill our mission to serve “the common good of the entire human family”? When people tap their deep compassion, truly appreciate the various points of view involved, set aside their anger and resentment, and carefully consider what is the best way forward, they can usually achieve an understanding. At the least, they can respect their differences. Regardless, the network could affirm that groups could support individual decisions about their course of action, if the group so defined itself.

Some groups might affirm a long-term goal of “systemic reform,” aiming to restructure our society fundamentally. Others might relate to that goal as a possible outcome, but choose to focus on immediate reforms while hoping those changes would eventually lead to some yet-to-be-determined “evolutionary revolution.” Yet others might refrain from speculating about the long-term future, preferring to focus on the present. Regardless, each type of group could respect the others without trying to “convert” them.

All groups affiliated with the network could also utilize one specific method. The members would gather at least once a month to share a meal, socialize informally, and report to one another on their personal growth, community building, and political action efforts. Those reports might lead to discussion, or they might not. Merely putting such thoughts and feelings into words can be beneficial, especially if others are listening carefully.

How to structure these gatherings could become a focus of experimentation. By sharing the results of these experiments, a consensus about the best approach might emerge. But with newly forming groups, it would probably be best to start small with close, trusted friends and grow slowly. Sharing intimate feelings openly can be a delicate matter. It helps to have a safe haven. Meetings could be held in members’ homes, or a familiar community center. In a future essay, I’ll report on my research into what formats groups are currently using and share some ideas about other possible formats

What to call these groups is open for discussion. Terms that have been suggested so far include club, support group, support circle, and growth ring.

Each group would be free to do more than this monthly gathering. Members of some groups might engage together in social, recreational, cultural, political, or other activities. Network members could also gather occasionally for regional and national gatherings to share information and provide mutual support. But they would all have in common this one specific method: gathering at least monthly to share a meal, socialize informally, and report on their efforts. This shared experience could help build a sense of community across the network.

How to describe this network is a dilemma. The word “holistic” seems most accurate, but it carries New Age connotations that are restrictive. And many groups use “transformation,” both personal and social. But transformation implies to change completely, and it seems to me that we become more who we really are, rather than becoming totally new. We may from time to time feel “like a new person,” but the use of that word “like” implies a metaphor, not the reality. And I believe it’s important to be precise. Moreover, defining transformation as our goal may drive away people who consider that goal to be too utopian. So “evolutionary growth” seems more accurate to me.

But that’s merely my opinion at the moment. I’m open to persuasion. If folks who affirm “transformation” form a national network or organization of the sort proposed here, I’ll likely be more than willing to support it. My bottom line is merely that any such effort clearly foster mutual support for personal growth, community building, and political action. To do that, it seems to me that such an effort needs to be explicit about its intent and offer members one or more specific user-friendly tools that they can easily use (without extensive training) to nurture personal and social change.

Until I discover a project of this sort that I can join, I’ll continue to discuss these ideas with people who are interested and experiment with methods that might help put these ideas into practice.

Full Employment Resources

Following are links to selected information about the effort to secure the human right to a living-wage job opportunity. I will occasionally update and/or modify this list.

Social Media “Buddies”

Dad O'Rourke's 5-26.13

To most effectively utilize the 15 minutes a day that I budget for using Facebook and Twitter, I’m seeking to establish “share buddies” on Facebook and “RT buddies” on Twitter.

On Facebook, I’m telling my Friends that I will share at least one of their posts each week if they will do the same with mine. I’ll then make those who make that promise a “Close Friend” and will look at my Close Friends’ activity first when I go on Facebook.

On Twitter, I’m posting a link to a Wade’s Wire article about this plan and tweeting “Reply YES to be my RT buddy? For more info: see [link].” I’ll add Followers who do reply YES to a List and look at their tweets first when I go on Twitter.

As much as I can, I’ll still look at content individuals other than my “buddies” post. But it’s impossible to look at everything and I’m already flooded with information from multiple sources, so I’m experimenting with this way to prioritize my time on Facebook and Twitter.

Take care,

Full Employment, Social Welfare and Equity: Columbia U. Seminar

pharveyOn February 10, Philip Harvey led a Columbia University Seminar on “Full Employment, Social Welfare and Equity” in the Faculty House. On February 21, he sent to the participants the following written responses to questions that were raised during the seminar.

(1) Do I believe that deficit spending caused the stagflation problems of the 1970s?

No, I do not. When I said that the failure of the Keynesian full employment strategy was revealed in the 1970s, I did not mean to suggest that deficit spending caused the stagflation crisis. I agree with Jeff that there were other causes. What the crisis exposed was the inability of the Keynesian strategy to combat high levels of unemployment that were accompanied by high levels of inflation. That, I believe, is what precipitated the sudden collapse of confidence in Keynesian macroeconomics during the 1970s among both professional economists and policy makers. Moreover, this collapse of confidence in the Keynesian strategy extended far enough into the left that full employment virtually disappeared from the progressive reform agenda for the next two decades, a trend highlighted by a comparison of the platforms on which Democratic candidates for the Presidency ran from 1944 through 1976 to those on which they have run since then. See Harvey,  Is There A Progressive Alternative to Conservative Welfare Reform? (2008) p. 173 note 49).

(2)    Do I think the Keynesian macroeconomic strategy is ineffective as a means of combating unemployment today?

No, I do not. I agree with other progressive economists that a full recovery from the so-called Great Recession could have been achieved before now with a larger dose of stimulus spending and that the recovery is still being delayed by the “austerian” response of policy makers to the recession.

(3) What then is my criticism of Keynesianism?

My criticism of Keynesianism differs depending on whether we are talking about the Keynesian response to the problem of unemployment during recessions or its strategy for achieving full employment (which I maintain is almost never achieved in market economies, even at the top of the business cycle—see Harvey,  The Trouble with Full Employment (2013)).

As a response to recessions, my argument is that the conventional Keynesian strategy requires more spending to achieve a given employment effect, is slower to achieve that employment effect, distributes the jobs it creates less fairly, and delivers its multiplier-driven stimulus to the private sector less efficiently than the direct job creation strategy pioneered by the New Dealers. See Harvey,  Back to Work: A Public Jobs Proposal for Economic Recovery (2011).

My criticism of Keynesianism at the top of the business cycle is that it is incapable of achieving genuine full employment because of its inflationary tendencies as the unemployment rate approaches the genuine full employment level of between 1% and 2%. This is something that the Swedish economists Gosta Rehn and Rudolf Meidner recognized from the beginning of the post-World War II era, but which progressive economists in general have been reluctant to acknowledge. See Harvey  (Why is the Right to Work so Hard to Secure (2013).

(4)    Do my cost estimates account for the fact that persons other than the officially unemployed would probably seek employment in the kind of program I describe?

First, I want to emphasize that I agree with Bill that the cost of the undertaking I propose is not precisely calculable. My estimates are only that—estimates. My goal is not to establish what the budget of a program designed to secure the right to work would be, but to demonstrate, based on a reasonable set of assumptions, how affordable the strategy is. In so doing I am merely responding to what I believe is a widespread assumption (among progressives as well as others) that it would be prohibitively expensive to actually guarantee decent jobs for everyone who wants to work. I think that assumption is false and would welcome more back and forth on the issue from anyone who thinks I’m underestimating the actual cost of the kind of program I am proposing.

My use of the “million job” unit of measurement in my cost estimate is nothing more than an accounting convention. I use it to estimate the average cost per job for a program serving a cross section of job wanters in the United States. Since there are no significant economies or diseconomies of scale for a program like the one I propose, I don’t think my use of that methodology poses a problem.

I also want to say that I agree with the observation that a direct job creation program like the one I propose would have to provide jobs for more people than just unofficially unemployed workers. All my estimates of program cost assume that jobs would have to be provided not only for officially unemployed workers, but also for involuntary part-time workers and for persons who say they want a job but are not actively seeking work and hence are not counted as unemployed in BLS statistics. In the end, I think my methodology is more likely to overstate than to understate the number of jobs that would have to be provided to secure the right to work; but no one should take my word for it. If you have questions about my estimation methodology, please ask them. I will be happy to respond.

Finally, I agree that securing the right to work would likely result in increases in the labor force participation rate over time that would exceed the immediate increase I assume in my cost estimates. But I don’t think this would increase the relative tax burden (per employed worker) of securing the right to work via the strategy I propose because increases in the labor force participation rate tend to create more macroeconomic space for private-sector economic growth to occur by natural or macroeconomically induced means before inflation becomes problematic. That’s why comparative labor force participation rates and employment to population ratios correlate so poorly with comparative unemployment rates. Once again, if anyone is interested in this issue I would be happy to explain my thinking in further detail.

(5) Would workers employed in a jobs program committed to paying market wages refuse to take private sector employment?

I would first like to point out that if this turned out to be a problem, there are a number of straightforward remedies for it. Hourly wages could be reduced in the program; hours of work could be limited; time limits could be placed on program participation; and/or administrative sanctions could be imposed on workers who refused bona fide offers of suitable employment (as UI laws already provide).

On the other hand, I think there’s a good chance these measures would be unnecessary except possibly at the top of the business cycle. First, the policy I favor would place workers in program positions only if it were determined (either administratively or via a job search/employee search requirement imposed on both employers and unemployed job seekers) that there were not enough jobs in the regular labor market to provide work for all job seekers with their qualifications. And even after their placement in the jobs program, both program participants and employers with suitable job openings to fill would continue to be referred to one another. In this environment I think it is reasonable to assume that private employers would grow accustomed to seeking candidates for job openings via the public employment service and public job creation program in addition to the places they now look—simply because it would be the cheapest and easiest way for them to access what Marx called the “reserve army of labor” when the burden of being unemployed no longer drove job applicants to seek them out. Employers have no trouble adopting aggressive recruitment measures when seeking to fill positions for which suitable applicants are not already knocking at their door. The only change is that they’d find it necessary to deploy these recruitment measures for all of their job openings. That’s what we should expect in a labor market in full employment equilibrium— notwithstanding employer complaints about labor shortages whenever they have to do more than pull out a stack of resumes from a file drawer to fill their job vacancies.

Would jobs program employees accept regular employment offered to them via this mechanism? I mentioned that program wages would be set at market levels, but the program’s wage scale would still be fixed in the short run—like public sector wage scales in general. That means an employer could always offer a program employee a better job simply by offering them a wage slightly above the program scale or with a slightly better benefit package, slightly better working conditions, slightly better hours of work, and/or slightly better opportunities for advancement. Again, employers already do this when seeking to fill positions for which the applicant pool is limited. We find it hard to contemplate only because we’re accustomed to most workers having to seek work in a job short environment.

Would employers complain? Of course they would until they became accustomed to the “new normal.”

(6) How would the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affect my program cost estimates?

It certainly wouldn’t make it any more expensive—since my existing cost estimates are already based on the assumption that the program would provide all employees the same health insurance benefits the federal government provides its employees. Whether a local program could shift some of its health care costs to the federal government by taking advantage of ACA subsidies and expanded Medicaid eligibility standards would require an analysis of the ACA and each state’s Medicaid and CHIP programs with that question in mind. I have not undertaken such an analysis, but it clearly should be done.

(7) Since regular public sector employment has declined due to the recession, wouldn’t it make more sense to support an expansion of the regular public sector workforce?

Of course it would, but that wouldn’t create enough jobs to secure the right to work, and since public sector hiring at the state and local level is constrained by balanced budget requirements, it’s not possible for state and local governments to maintain existing public sector employment levels during a recession without gutting other public services. What my proposal would do is permit state and local governments to maintain public sector employment levels during a recession by using jobs program trust-fund monies to pay the salaries of workers who otherwise would be laid off due to declining government revenues. Anti-displacement rules would have to be strictly enforced to prevent the inappropriate use of trust fund monies to pay the salaries of regular public sector employees in situations other than this, but that’s no more difficult to do than the enforcement of other regulatory limitations on the spending of public funds. The fact that Congress didn’t include adequate anti-displacement measures in CETA’s enabling legislation evidenced a lack of foresight rather than an inability to write and enforce such limitations.

(8) Since employers would oppose the strategy I propose with particular ferocity, doesn’t it make more sense to rely on more conventional strategies to expand employment and guarantee workers decent wages (e.g., with things like the EITC, raising the minimum wage, job training, the promotion of small business formation, and the deployment of the Keynesian macroeconomic strategy)?

Except for the Keynesian strategy, I agree that it would be theoretically possible to secure the right to work at the local level via these means, but progressives have been promoting that strategy for the past 50 years and the instances in which it has succeeded in achieving local full employment are as rare as hens’ teeth. I would support all such measures as an accompaniment to the direct job creation strategy, but I think the historical record is clear that they can’t do the job on their own.

At the national level, the problem is that none of these alternative strategies is capable of achieving genuine full employment. The effectiveness of the Keynesian strategy is limited by the

NAIRU (which I don’t think any progressive economist thinks is fixed, but which I also don’t think any progressive economist believes can be driven down to the 1%-2% level required to achieve genuine full employment). The other strategies would do little or nothing to close the economy’s job gap.

Moreover, even during a recession—when the conventional Keynesian strategy DOES work as an anti-cyclical intervention—it is a far more expensive, far slower, and much less equitable way to respond to the needs of unemployed workers than the direct job creation strategy; AND it also delivers no more macroeconomic bang for the buck in practice than spending the same stimulus dollars on a direct job creation initiative.

As I argue in my paper, if the money Congress allocated to the ARRA had instead been devoted to the strategy I advocate, the U.S. unemployment rate could have been reduced to the genuine full employment level of 1% to 2% as quickly as the jobs program could have been gotten up and running, and it could have kept it at that level beyond the 2010 midterm elections while simultaneously delivering a LARGER macroeconomic boost to the private sector than the ARRA did. My analysis in support of these claims is briefly explained in the paper I presented tonight (Harvey,  Securing the Right to Work at the State or Local Level) and more fully in the earlier Demos report from which it takes off (Harvey,  Back to Work).

One would think advantages as strong as these would inspire at least some interest on the part of progressive economists—notwithstanding the opposition of employers to the proposal.

Conservative opposition didn’t stop progressives from exploring and arguing the advantages of a single-payer national health insurance reform. Why is the direct job creation strategy verboten?

(9) What administrative structure do you propose for a local direct job creation initiative?

As explained in my paper, there are three “delivery models” that can be incorporated simultaneously in one centrally administered program, with each delivery model having certain advantages and disadvantages.

What I describe as the WPA model is one in which the program work force is employed on free-standing projects undertaken by the program itself. (And lest there be any confusion, when I refer to the WPA model I am NOT advocating the wage and hours policies the WPA adopted. They are in no way essential to the model—any more than CETA’s lack of adequate anti-displacement measures is essential to what I call the CETA model.)

The second model is the one CETA used—assigning program participants to jobs in regular government agencies where they work alongside regular government workers to expand and improve the quality of government services.

The third model is the one used in the College Work Study program. Under this model, not-for-profit employers are awarded grants that they can used to hire eligible workers to perform jobs in support of the not-for-profit’s mission.

For-profit corporations could also be paid to create jobs, but I don’t view this model as distinct from the College Work Study Model—since I assume it would be agreed that the jobs created by the corporation should not include profit making activities. This could be accomplished by including restrictions in the contract between the government entity and the corporation that would require the workers to be employed on public service projects that did not add to the corporations “bottom line” except via the PR value of their participation in the program and whatever contracted-for profit was negotiated up front to elicit the corporations participation.

I have described various aspects of the kind of program I am proposing in a string of writings on the subject going back 25 years. If anyone is interested in particular aspects of the administrative model I propose, I’ll be happy to respond to further questions.

(10) What kind of jobs could program participants reasonably be expected to perform?

I honestly don’t think this would be a problem. It certainly wasn’t for the CCC (which as a general rule only enrolled the children of families on local relief rolls) or the WPA (which in practice provided jobs for the poorest third of the nation’s population of unemployed workers). On those rare occasions when adequate numbers of jobs truly are available in local labor markets, the unemployment rate falls to the 1% to 2% level, so it’s clear that workers who remain unemployed when the unemployment rate reaches the 4% to 5% range are NOT unemployable.

That said, the jobs created by a direct job creation program designed to secure the right to work would have to be selected with the skills profile and trainability of the program’s workforce in mind, a strong preference for labor intensive projects, and a willingness to work with and accommodate private sector providers of similar goods and services. The following list is suggestive of the kinds of work that could be offered, consistent with these constraints.

  • The operation of child care centers (on a sliding fee basis) and recreational programs for school-age children is an obvious choice because such services would be needed by the program’s own employees as well as the general public.
  • Access to summer and school-holiday-break day and sleep away camp experiences could be offered as an entitlement (and on a sliding fee basis) to all children.
  • The renovation of dilapidated housing and the construction of new low-and moderate income housing is another obvious choice because of the shortage of such housing in urban, suburban AND rural communities throughout the United States. The goal of program activities in this area could be to turn access to decent housing into an entitlement—with the subsidy required to make this possible furnished by the construction and renovation work of the job creation program combined with conventional financing secured by the sale or rental of the housing units.
  • Permanent (or temporary) housing with needed support staffing could also be provided to homeless individuals and families.
  • The dreary, over-crowded quality of government office spaces, including those where the public comes to receive public services, could be remedied. Three is no reason these spaces should not be as appealing as their private sector counterparts.
  • Energy conservation improvements could be offered at nominal or no cost to existing home owners and renters.
  • The CCC’s contribution to the conservation, expansion and improvement of public parklands and outdoor recreational areas could be emulated and expanded to include existing and newly created suburban urban parks.
  • Recycling and related conservation measures of all types could be expanded.
  • The work study program could be turned into an entitlement, with the participation of not-for profit organizations in addition to schools guaranteeing after-school and summer employment not only to post-secondary students but to high school students as well.
  • Supplemental staffing could be provided to any unit of government that could use the extra help.
  • Schools and libraries could be provided additional educational and support staff.
  • The Public Works of Art programs of the New Deal era could be emulated to provide work on a competitive basis (as the New Deal program did) for aspiring writers, artists and performers.
  • Community-based support services for the elderly and disabled populations could be expanded—including transportation services, shopping assistance, home maintenance and upkeep, meals on wheels, etc.
  • Support services could be also be furnished for program workers (and others) with special needs.

(10) What if any residency requirements would a local job creation program have to impose?
This is a challenging issue—perhaps the most challenging issue a locally-funded job creation program would have to face—as I conceded in response to the question when it was posed during the seminar. Nevertheless, I think it can be worked out. There are various ways to limit eligibility based on social insurance principles. These include but are not limited to the following.

  • Residents of the locality could be required to live in the locality for a certain period of time before becoming eligible in order to deter people from moving to the locality simply to obtain program employment.
  • Non-residents of the locality who are employed in the locality could either be excluded from eligibility or given the opportunity to obtain eligibility by working in the locality and paying taxes in support of the program for a specified period of time (as is currently the case for non-residents of a state under the state’s UI program).
  • To the extent program slots had to be rationed, preference could be given to applicants based on the length of their residency (or employment) in the locality.

In the long run, of course, there is reason to hope the problem would solve itself by incorporating progressively larger units of government into the program (cooperating localities, counties, states, and ultimately the federal government). It’s also worth noting that even a nationally administered program would face this issue through its impact on unauthorized immigration and the many problems posed by the existence of two work forces in the economy—one legally authorized to work and the other lacking such authorization. From a human rights perspective I think immigration restrictions are as problematic as restrictions on emigration and the free movement of people within a country—and in the long run I think the remedy for the problem is the same at the national level as it is at the local level: expand the program beyond the polity’s borders through cooperative arrangements with other polities.

(12) Shouldn’t we focus on insuring everyone’s right to an adequate income rather than a job?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes a right to income that is every bit as robust as the right to work, but it is not a substitute for securing the right to work. In part this is because access to remunerative employment is an important means to “the full development of the human personality” in market societies, in part because access to other opportunities (including a higher income) is based on access to paid employment, and in part because the right to income includes a right to income security in addition to a right to a minimally adequate income. I have addressed the relationship between the right to work and the right to an adequate income at length elsewhere, especially in responding to “basic income guarantee” proposals (see, e.g., Harvey,  The Right to Work and Basic Income Guarantees: Competing or Complimentary Goals (2005), Harvey, More for Less: The Job Guarantee Strategy (2013). I would be happy to answer any questions regarding my views on the subject.

@LivingWageJobs Report — 2/20/14

2014 Netroots Nation Submission: After receiving confirmation that Congressman Conyers would be “definitely available” to participate in a 75-minute panel discussion July 17-20 at the 2014 Netroots Nation conference, I submitted a proposal that the conference host a session on “How to Achieve Full Employment: Human Rights, Morality, and Organizing Strategies.” Kazi Sabeel Rahman, a Fellow at Harvard Law School and the Roosevelt Institute, is also on board as “tentatively available.” Rahman has written eloquently on law, economics, and morality.


Dialog with Phil Harvey — NOTE: I will update this post as more emails are exchanged. Philip Harvey, a Professor of Law and Economics at Rutgers School of Law, has a Ph.D. in economics and a J.D. His research focuses on public policy options for securing economic and social human rights. His books inlcude Securing the Right to Employment: Social Welfare Policy and the Unemployed in the United States.


Dialog with Dean Baker — NOTE: I will update this post as more emails are exchanged. ollowing the Feb. 5 public forum on “Employment: A Human Right,” I sent Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an email that has resulted in the following thread.


My Autobiography: Preface
When I tell stories about my life, a common response is curiosity or amusement. Those responses prompted me to write this book….


Quotes from Cornel West, talk, New York Catholic Worker, 8 November 2013, “The Legacy of Dorothy Day,” Catholic Agitator, February 2014


A Question: Do we need to encourage, support, and/or cultivate caring communities whose members support one another in their self-development, community building, and political action? Why? To answer, click here.


Comments on Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, a fascinating book by Tina Rosenberg that addresses personal, social, and political change.

NOTE: To subscribe to @LivingWageJobs Report, post a comment here (I’ll probably establish a listserv soon).

2014 Netroots Nation Submission

After learning on February 18 that February 19 was the deadline for submitting proposed workshops to the 2014 Netroots Nation conference, I told the Jobs for All Campaign email list, “I would probably be able to participate if needed, but I am not inclined to submit a proposal or take the lead. Please let us know if you plan to submit one.” I also asked Living Wage Report subscribers, “Might any of you want to jump on this real quick? The deadline is tomorrow. I could help recruit a panel.” Not have received any indication by 12 Noon the next day that anyone was able and willing to take this on, I proceeded to work on the submission, while consulting with Jennry Perrino, Legislative Aid to Congressman John Conyers, Jr.

After receiving confirmation that Congressman Conyers would be “definitely available” to participate in a 75-minute panel discussion July 17-20, I submitted a proposal that the conference host a session on “How to Achieve Full Employment: Human Rights, Morality, and Organizing Strategies.” Kazi Sabeel Rahman, a Fellow at Harvard Law School and the Roosevelt Institute, is also on board as “tentatively available.” Rahman has written eloquently on law, economics, and morality. I’ve also invited Claudia Horwitz and Taj James to serve on the panel.

The workshop description states:

America is currently witnessing a jobless recovery, leaving millions of Americans unemployed, underemployed, or unable to meet basic life necessities. Grassroots action has played a significant role in improving labor and employment conditions historically, yet the aftermath of the recent Great Recession has not seen an outpouring of activity advocating for improvement in working conditions and demanding full employment. This workshop will address how and why we must work together to achieve full employment by engaging activists and political leaders. It will focus on the underlying human right of employment, the need for a moral approach to the economy, and the potential value of organizing methods that minimize unhelpful patterns, maximize positive impacts, and enable activists to steadily support each other in learning how to collaborate more effectively.

The envisioned takeaways are:

As the middle class shrinks, more Americans appreciate the need for economic security. Assuring living-wage full employment will benefit everyone. The positive benefits will spread throughout society, resulting in less divisiveness and greater progress on other issues, including reduced criminal activity and greater concern for the environment. Americans will focus more on the quality of life and fulfilling their potential. This issue provides the opportunity for helping to forge a broad coalition of many diverse constituencies. This workshop will clarify how to frame the issue and engage in effective organizing to help the United States live up to its ideals.

The questions to be addressed include:

Question 1* How can we achieve “full employment” and must it be tied to a specific unemployment rate?
Question 2* Is living-wage employment a human right and if so what is the role of government to protect it?
Question 3* In this modern era, what are the best means to activate Americans to push for full employment?

It will be several weeks before we know if the proposal is accepted.

Dialog with Phil Harvey


NOTE: I will update this post as more emails are exchanged.

Philip Harvey, a Professor of Law and Economics at Rutgers School of Law, has a Ph.D. in economics and a J.D.  His research focuses on public policy options for securing economic and social human rights. His books inlcude Securing the Right to Employment: Social Welfare Policy and the Unemployed in the United States. 

On Feb. 9, 2014, in reference to my Dialog with Dean Baker, I asked Harvey, Professor of Law and Economics at Rutgers, the following question:

Do you agree with my formulation: “I know no one who is proposing that we depend ‘largely’ on direct government employment. I certainly do not, for I assume most new jobs will continue to be in the private sector.”

…I agree that direct job creation is “the only reliable way” to push up employment beyond what the private economy can safely achieve. But I don’t see that it is a “better way to respond to cyclical unemployment.” It seems both methods are needed. As you said at the forum, “How does the federal government guarantee it? By doing whatever it can to stimulate private sector employment, but at the end of the day, standing ready to provide jobs for any workers for whom jobs don’t exist in the regular labor marker.”



PH: To paraphrase a former President, it depends on what “depends on” means. If we’re talking about job creation in general, then I certainly don’t propose relying “largely” on direct government job creation. The vast majority of jobs created in the economy—both those created to replace jobs that are eliminated (with no net job creation) and those created in excess of that number (and hence increasing total employment)—would continue to be created by the private and regular public sectors of the economy in the world I contemplate. And this would be true across all phases of the business cycle notwithstanding the operation of a large direct job creation program.

Right now the Social Security Trustees estimate that the U.S. unemployment rate will average about 5.5% over the long run (the average they project including booms and busts). I believe the direct job creation strategy would lower that projected average—perhaps to 4.5%. Why? Because a direct job creation program committed to securing the right to work on an ongoing basis would constitute a more effective “automatic stabilizer” of private sector economic activity than the existing “tool kit” of countercyclical policies on which the federal government relies—and that means recessions would be less severe on average. I say this not because of the program’s direct job creation effect. That would mainly serve a social welfare function—securing the right to work. Rather, it’s because the delivery of a fiscal stimulus via the kind of job creation program I advocate would do more to (1) forestall a downward recessionary spiral (layoffs leading to further layoffs), and (2) promote the continuation of regular investment activity by otherwise healthy private sector businesses (those who suffer business losses during a recession not because they participated in whatever excesses triggered the recession but simply because their customers—or the customers of their customers—are unemployed).

If I am right about the superior anti-cyclical effect of the direct job creation strategy, the average level of unemployment would fall closer to the NAIRU level (I know, you don’t like that term, but I think it’s serviceable), and that would translate into an increased level of private sector job formation. The direct job creation program would contribute an average of only 2.5%-3.5% of all employment (and all net job creation) in this scenario—enough to reduce the economy’s average unemployment rate from 4.5% to the full employment rate of 1%-2%.

If I am wrong, and the long-term average rate of employment in the U.S. turns out to be the 5.5% projected by the S.S. Trustees, then the direct job creation program would contribute an average of 3.5%-4.5% of all employment (and all net job creation).

On the other hand, if by “depends on” we’re talking about (1) how stimulus dollars should be spent during a recession to induce private sector job growth, and (2) how to close the job gap that remains at the top of the business cycle when the FED starts applying the brakes to prevent further private sector job growth, then it’s true that I advocate relying not just largely but almost entirely on direct government job creation.

I hope that explanation is clear.



WH: It still seems to me that your position is too close to “either/or,” rather than “both/and.” It implies an opposition to other methods that could help and are politically popular, such as loans for new small businesses and temporary payroll tax reductions. Politically, such opposition risks alienating potential allies and intellectually, it’s not convincing to me.

I’ve posted my Dialog with Dean Baker. My last email asked, “How does the “employer-of-last-resort” federal jobs program you and Bernstein recommend in Getting Back to Full Employment differ from what I’ve been proposing in this thread,…” He replied, “It would not be open-ended. It would be limited and experimental.”

My immediate inclination is to ask what limits he would impose and to ask if he would support an “employer-of-last-resort” federal jobs program as proposed on pp. 88-9 of their book if it ended on a certain date. My own sense is that four years would be an adequate experiment. After three years or so, of course, it could be extended. My intent is to try to find common ground.

What are your thoughts about Baker’s comments and my response to the issue of whether we should rely “not just largely but almost entirely on direct government job creation”?

I also posted this dialog, at [here].


On February 20, 2014, Phil Harvey replied:

Point taken, but after having my proferred contribution to the progressive tool kit utterly and totally ignored for 25 years, I intentionally decided to be more aggressive. I’m willing to back off. Indeed, I’m inclined to accept your advice. You’ve certainly succeeded to a greater extent than I ever have in getting Baker to respond to your questions. But I think you should take seriously the likelihood that unless people like him feel compelled to respond seriously to the views expressed in your questions, they will continue to dismiss the New Deal employment assurance strategy in one or two sentence put downs.

It’s also pretty clear from his responses that he’s not willing to accept the “both/and” approach. He is convinced that the only role direct job creation can usefully play in responding to the problem of unemployment is as a work experience/training opportunity for disadvantaged workers—the success of which will be judged not by the benefits they derive while they are employed in the program, but by whether or not they successfully transition to regular employment outside the program. The problem with this strategy is that it ignores the fact that market economies suffer from a job shortage even at the top of the business cycle. A policy that aims merely to help disadvantaged workers “transition” to regular employment in a job short economy is destined to fail for reasons I have explained in considerable detail in my scholarly work. If you want everyone to have a seat in a game of musical chairs you have to add chairs to the circle. Helping chairless children to get a seat in the next round of the game only guarantees that someone else will end up without one.


WH: I appreciate your flexibility, am pleased that my argument was cogent, and hear your concern about the emphasis on training.

Can you refer me to experiments of the sort Dean [suggested] that have already been done?

PH: The most extensively-studied experiment was the CETA Public Service Employment program which operated from 1973 until it was terminated during Reagan’s first term in office. However, the the program assumed two very different forms during the course of that period.

It was first instituted as an anti-cyclical program to combat the recession of 1973-75. The conventional Keynesian remedy of increased deficit spending was considered inadvisable at the time because the recession was accompanied by high rates of inflation (“stagflation”). This version of the CETA program was badly designed, though, in that federal funding was provided to state and local governments without strong anti-displacement protections in place, and state and local governments accordingly took advantage of it to pay the salaries of local government employees who would have been employed with local funding in any event. As a result of this “fiscal substitution” problem, the CETA program was changed in 1978 to limit eligibility to disadvantaged workers living in poverty or near poverty. The result was less fiscal substitution, since this population generally lacked the qualification needed to take over jobs previously performed by regular public employees.

It was this second version of CETA that embodied the features that Baker presumably would include in the kind of direct job creation program he is prepared to endorse. So the experiment he proposes has already been conducted. Moreover, it was an experiment that was extensively studied by social scientists. What’s interesting about these studies, though, is that the primary measure of program success they tested was whether participants in the program experienced an increase in earnings after they left the program rather than whether they experienced in increase in earnings while they were employed in the program. In short, the researchers assumed that the reason program participants were poor is because they lacked the skills necessary to obtain presumptively available employment rather than because their weren’t enough jobs to go around. I have called attention to this defect in the research literature on the CETA program from my very first writing on the subject of direct job creation, and I have continued to emphasize that it is futile to try to end poverty without insuring the availability of enough jobs to provide work for everyone who wants it because of the musical chairs effect described in my earlier email.


WH: Thanks much. Can you review the Dialog with Dean Baker and offer your comments?

Dialog with Dean Baker

Dean BakerNOTE: I will update this post as more emails are exchanged. Following the Feb. 5 public forum on “Employment: A Human Right,” I sent Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an email that has resulted in the following thread. On pp 87-8 of Getting Back to Full Employment, he and his co-author, Jared Bernstein, in a section titled, “The need for a national jobs program,” argue, “If our central bank, a government institution, can be a lender of last resort, then the federal government can also be the employer of last resort.”


On 2/5/2014 9:12 PM, Wade Lee Hudson wrote:
Dear Dean, I very much appreciated your participation in the “Employment: A Human Right” forum and your lucid comments. Please find attached my transcript of the question and answers concerning human rights, which I plan to post along with a commentary on the event. If you want to correct or modify your comments, please let me know. Also, would you please clarify two points:
• Do you affirm a definition of full employment that is not tied to any unemployment rate?
• Do you believe that with the political will, we can handle any inflationary pressures that result from assuring that anyone who wants to work can find a living-wage job? Thanks again for everything, Wade
DB: Hi Wade, Full employment is used many different contexts and some of those are going to be tied to specific levels of unemployment. The second question is tautologically true. If you’re asking me whether I would sacrifice everything to else to meet your definition of full employment my answer is that I don’t know. If full employment depends largely on direct government employment then it is likely to be very unpopular politically and lead to political figures getting into power who don’t give a damn about unemployment. So I wouldn’t support it under those circumstances. regards, dean
WH: Thanks again for your reply. I believe it would be much less confusing, and help build a full employment movement, to consistently use the common sense understanding of the phrase “full employment.” That is a vision that could motivate people. I don’t see how the second question is a tautology. Many objectives could not be achieved even with the political will to try. An affirmative answer to the question therefore could be falsifiable. But if, in terms of the economics, you consider it indisputable that is reassuring. In terms of the politics, I know no one who is proposing that we depend “largely” on direct government employment. I certainly do not, for I assume most new jobs will continue to be in the private sector. And public opinion polls have consistently shown strong support for the proposition. For example, in a 2013 study funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, Page, Bartels, and Seawright reported that two-thirds of the general public in the United States believe “the government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job.” So I hope you will consider whether a push for true full employment would be popular politically if the plan is not “largely dependent on direct government employment.”
DB: Hi Wade, Someone might be proposing that the a large share of the jobs would depend on government employment with the commitment you described. That may not be the intention, but that may well be the outcome. regards, dean
WH: Dean, Others might rely more on government employment than you or I would. I’m having a dialog with Phil Harvey on the subject, for example, and it seems we may have a difference of opinion, though with additional clarification, that may not prove to be the case. Regardless, I’d appreciate it if you would clarify your position. Since you and Bernstein affirmed using the government as the “employer of last resort,” I believe, it seems that we should not be that far apart. Do you affirm assuring that anyone who wants to work can find a living-wage job opportunity if that proposal is clearly presented so that it is clear that the proponents do not envision relying primarily on direct government employment to achieve that goal?

In terms of political viability, Benjamin I. Page, Larry M. Bartels, and Jason Seawright, reported that two-thirds of the American people believe “the government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job.” The wording on this survey is important. As other surveys have done they did not ask people if they support a guaranteed job. Rather, they used the phrase “can find a job.” That formulation implies assuring a job opportunity. It does not assume that they can keep the job regardless of their effort. It does not guarantee a job unconditionally. Polls indicate the importance of the distinction. The Page/Bartels/Seawright study found lower support for “the federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment.” Barely more than half supported that position. And a 2014 YouGov/Huffington Post poll asked, “Would you favor or oppose a law guaranteeing a job to every American adult, with the government providing jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector?” In that poll, more people supported that proposition, 47%, than opposed it, 41%. So support for each of these positions was weaker than with the “job opportunity” option. Still, however, a plurality supported both positions.

Moreover, we could propose federal revenue sharing for local jobs, not federal jobs. Still opponents would object to increasing the size of “the government.” I believe the first stage of a direct jobs program might boost government employment by four million workers, which would be less than a 20% increase in total government employment. Given the strong public support for the general principle, it seems that those specifics would largely be acceptable — especially if framed within the “opportunity” concept, which “conservatives” affirm. If we reached a 4% unemployment rate with other measures, at that point we might need to rely primarily on direct job creation to create 2-3 million more jobs. But it seems that would be politically viable and overall we would not be relying primarily on direct government employment to achieve our goal. So, as I phrased it above, do you affirm assuring that anyone who wants to work can find a living-wage job opportunity if that proposal is clearly presented so that it is clear that the proponents do not envision relying primarily on direct government employment to achieve that goal?

Thanks again for everything, Wade
DB: I am not sure that the government could guarantee a job for everyone at a living wage, as I said before. Any government job would be an effective wage floor. You could end up with very large numbers of people at government jobs (I don’t care about intentions) and this would be an economic and political disaster. The polling today on this point is meaningless because people are not looking at the situation.
WH: How does the “employer-of-last-resort” federal jobs program you and Bernstein recommend in Getting Back to Full Employment differ from what I’ve been proposing in this thread, which assumes an HR1000-type program that would require workers hired with HR1000 money to take jobs in the private sector when they become available
DB: It would not be open-ended. It would be limited and experimental.
WH: What limits would you impose and what would be the goal(s) of the experiment?
DB: I haven’t really thought it through that carefully. The idea is that it would be an experiment, presumably in a limited number of states, to see if people can be usefully employed (i.e. actually doing work, the programs are well run, limited cases of fraud and abuse) and then transition at high rates into other employment.
WH: Would you be willing to support an experiment that focused only on the first question: can people be usefully employed in well-run programs? The second question seems of limited value given the musical chairs dilemma. Also, you may be interested in A Dialog with Phil Harvey, which discusses some of these issues.
DB: I don’t see how the second question would not be of value. If found that people who entered a jobs program never got a job elsewhere, the implication would be that the program would be that we would either have to continually extend the time allowed in the program or end up with lots of people unemployed.
WH: If the experiment as you described it were successful, what would the next step be?
DB: expanding it
WH: Assuming it continued to be successful and expanded nationwide, in what sense would it serve as the employer of last resort?
DB: It would be there for people who could not get other employment.
WH: How many workers at any one time would likely be employed?+++++
DB: hopefully not many
WH: Considering that In January 2014, 20 million people were officially unemployed, employed part time for economic reasons or “marginally attached to the labor force,” and earlier, you told me , “There will be a limit as to how far you can go with just macroeconomic policy. At that point there will still be people without jobs. It will require other policies to get those people employed. I guess my view is that we’re about 9 million jobs from being in that situation,” can you estimate plus or minus one million the number who would be employed at any one time in the federal jobs program you envision (following a period of smaller experimentation that proved successful)?
DB: no, I can’t — i have no idea what that world looks like and  I can’t imagine a less productive thing to do with my time than to try to speculate
WH: Dean, You questioned guaranteeing living-wage job opportunities partly because it might involve “very large numbers of people at government jobs.”As an alternative you proposed a federal jobs program that “would be there for people who could not get other employment,” yet would employ “hopefully not many” workers.I fail to see how an employer-of-last-resort program would not employ at least three million of the eleven million workers who would remain unemployed or underemployed after we create the nine million new jobs you envision that we could create with macroeconomic policies.Do you consider three million “not many”? Unless you do, your position seems logically inconsistent, for it seems that if the federal government served as the “employer of last resort,” it would need to fund at least three million jobs.Clarifying this issue could help explain how your proposal differs from other proposals for an employer-of-last-resort federal jobs program that you have been unwilling to support. Greater clarity on this issue could help advocates decide what position to support. Thanks, Wade
DB: Just to be clear I am not advocating that  the government make a commitment that it will employ people who can’t find other jobs. I would support experiments with temporary government jobs.
WH: So you do not support the federal govt serving as the employer of last resort, correct?
DB: I do not support a guarantee of government employment, I am fine with the government acting as a limited employer of workers who cannot find other jobs.
WH: What time limit would you impose on those temporary federally funded jobs and if a worker were unable to find a job six months after the temporary job ended, could that worker get another temporary federally funded job?
DB: probably not
WH: Do you still believe it is accurate to use the phrase “employer of last resort” to describe the program you outline?
DB: yes
WH: Do you believe that those who are unable to find work for extended periods deserve to be unemployed? That they are to blame for their situation?
DB: No, but we need to have workable policies. It doesn’t do anyone Any good to lie to them, is that your policy?
WH: No, I do not want to lie, and yes, I do believe we can avoid creating a false or misleading impression by being transparent. Influenced by your experimentation frame, I propose that we take it step-by-step and be very clear from the outset that neither we nor anyone else can reliably predict the future on this point. So, though we would like to reach the point where everyone who wants to work can find at least a minimum wage job quickly and we believe that by increasing federal funding for temporary, minimum-wage, public-service jobs (including jobs with private non-profit agencies) we can help achieve that goal (along with other measures to boost private-sector employment), we aren’t certain that we can over time maintain enough public support politically to do so. And we aren’t certain about the impact on inflation. Therefore, we propose to experiment with a program that would increase federal funding for such jobs incrementally every two years. If the program worked well and continued to be popular, we would continue to expand it.

We might begin with funding for one million workers and increase it with funding for an additional one million workers each two years as needed and if still feasible. Since we currently have about 20 million government employees (7% of the total population), an increase of one million every two years would not be a shock. How many such minimum wage jobs would be needed is hard to predict. It would depend on what happens in the private sector and how many people seek those jobs.

If we were clear and open about all this, I do not see that we would be misleading anyone. If the jobs were temporary jobs that would involve providing assistance to current workers and were obtained through the local unemployment office with the requirement that those workers would have to take jobs in the private sector when available (as is the case now with UI benefits), and they were funded with federal revenue sharing funds that would not substantially increase the size of the federal government, and the material benefits of enhancing those services became clear, I believe we would maintain political support for it.

Any risks that might be involved seem well worth taking. The risks involved in maintaining the status quo seem far greater.
DB: I’m afraid that I am not confident that we do an increment of 1 million to start, especially since the unemployment is not evenly spread. I’d be more comfortable around 200k-400k and my goal would not be to continually increase the number.
WH: Do you rule out any scenario that would result in any worker who is able and willing to work but unable to find a regular job being able to work at a federally funded minimum-wage provisional job that would require workers to accept regular jobs for which they are qualified when available? The scenario I just described tried to avoid proposing a definite “goal.” Rather, it merely affirmed that “we would like to” reach that point if the experiment worked. Stipulate whatever parameters you like. Begin with 400k. Then if the program is successful without damaging the economy and the public supports it (as they do Social Security), expand it incrementally periodically at whatever level and pace you prefer. Are you unable to envision supporting any such plan?
DB: I certainly hope we would get there.
WH: That’s good to hear. So I wonder if we can outline an experiment that you would support. Let me modify my last email with that aim in mind.

We begin with distributing revenue-sharing federal funds to hire 400k minimum-wage workers who serve as assistants to current public-service workers. They are referred to those jobs through their local unemployment office, which helps them find permanent employment for which they are qualified. When such jobs are offered, those workers are required to accept them. Since most of those jobs pay more than minimum wage, these workers are motivated to seek and take those jobs. When they find such work, the workers they were assisting revert to their prior situation, providing services as best as they can.

If and when it becomes clear that this jobs program is: 1) helping to improve the quality of our public services; 2) is not damaging to the economy; and3) is popular politically, and 4) we still have unemployed workers who are unable to find work, we expand it by some yet-to-be-determined increment.

If after some yet-to-be-determined period of time, those same four conditions are met, we expand the program by some additional yet-to-be-determined increment.

We then continue expanding the program until everyone who is able and willing to work but unable to find a regular job can find work at a federally funded minimum-wage provisional job that would require workers to accept regular jobs for which they are qualified when available.

Would you support that plan?
DB: that sounds reasonable

Cornel West Quotes

Cornel_West_2QUOTES FROM CORNEL WEST, talk, New York Catholic Worker, 8 November 2013, “The Legacy of Dorothy Day,” Catholic Agitator, February 2014

When you think of Dorothy Day, you think of love overflowing.

It takes courage to be a nonconformist, to be willing to be a witness to something grander than one’s self.

In the end, love will have the last word for Dorothy Day, because she was, in fact, a woman not just of faith, but a sister of what we in the black Baptist tradition call “thick faith.” We have many folk in the pew that have faith, but I am talking about the ones that have that thick faith, the ones that go all the way down.

We can love our enemies. It does not matter what our enemies are doing at the moment. Their deeds do not fully define their humanity; they can change in the same way you have changed in your own lives. You do not want to be frozen in any particular moment that definitely defines you. I know I was a gangster before I met Jesus, and the best I will ever be is a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities and gangster memories, hence the need for grace to fall back on something that can sustain me.

Why is it we have a criminal justice system that cannot manage to put one Wall Street executive in jail after massive criminality, insider trading, market manipulation, fraudulent accounting across the board. And why is it when they are caught they are asked, “Hey JP Morgan, what do you want? Thirteen billion [dollars]?” They get huge tax write offs and no one taking personal responsibility. And yet, this is the same ruling class, with major ideologues representing its interests, saying to poor people, “When you make bad choices you must have personal responsibility; pull yourself up by your own boot-straps.” They do not believe in bailouts for the poor, yet when they [i.e., the financiers] get in trouble, its $767 billion with $85 billion [more] every month for over two and a half years…. And we wonder why it is that we are wrestling with such cultural decay, especially for our young people. [slightly modified]

The heroes are usually holy fools, the question is, can we be holy fools against worldly indifference and callousness? To be a holy fool is to be on fire with a love committed to justice. In any historical moment, when there are enough holy fools on fire, that fire can spread like a prairie fire and affect others, become contagious, shatter their sleepwalking, wake them up, and let them straighten their backs and stand up for justice.