Bernie Sanders plan for guaranteed infrastructure jobs

Bernie Sanders has proposed a variation on the idea of a guaranteed universal income. In his case, it is that we provide guaranteed jobs instead. As Cory Doctorow explains:

Bernie Sanders has a plan to solve America’s wage stagnation and its long-neglected infrastructure: tax the super-rich and massively profitable corporations, then use the money to fix the multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure overhand left behind by decades of neglect, and hire Americans at $15/hour, plus full healthcare, to do the work.

Business leaders have protested that this will make it hard for them to retain employees who are paid below-living wages and who don’t get health care. They’ve threatened to fire all their low-waged employees and replace them with robots.

Sanders hasn’t responded, but the solution is obvious: tax the robot-owners and use the money to hire their former workers to fix our nation’s crumbling roads, dams, waterworks, power-lines, schools, and other public infrastructure.

Progressive economist Dean Baker says that the plan is not without its problems and may need to be tweaked to be implementable.

Republicans and the oligarchs will of course reject this idea out of hand. But another big threat to it will come from the neoliberals who dominate the Democratic party who will find some way of undermining any progress that this idea might make. Capitalism depends on the existence of a large pool of underpaid and unemployed reserve labor. Anything that takes that source of profits away will be fought tooth and nail.


  1. jrkrideau says

    I am not convinced. I think Saunders, etc. underestimate the skills needed to work on any major infrastructure projects and this seems to effectively ignore anyone who is unable to work.

    It may be better than nothing but the likely complexity of implementation looks horrible. I can see a UBI + Guarantteed Jobs for those who a) are able to work, and b) want to without coercion but otherwise it looks like a boondoggle that helps a small fraction of those who need the help.

    It probably leaves much of the normally bewildering mix of half-sassed social assistance programs in place negating one significant advantage of a UBI, reduced administrative overhead.

  2. cartomancer says

    This isn’t new -- it’s what FDR did with the New Deal in the 30s.

    Except in the 30s there was a strong, organised and powerful coalition of Socialists, Communists and Trade Unionists in America to push for such reforms. FDR, a member of the Capitalist class himself, would not have gone there if he wasn’t convinced that threats of revolution if he didn’t act were credible.

    Until America rediscovers left-wing politics in a serious way it’s not going to happen.

  3. Holms says

    “Republicans and the oligarchs will of course reject this idea out of hand. But another big threat to it will come from the neoliberals who dominate the Democratic party…”
    You already mentioned oligarchs.

  4. says

    I’m all for infra structure project if, and only if, they place an absolute ban against tax dollars for all new projects until all existing infrastructure is at 100 percent.

  5. ardipithecus says

    1. Governments don’t do infrastructure projects except for local maintenance by municipalities/counties. States and the feds (and municipalities/counties for larger projects) decide on a project and put it out to tender, where it is bid on by private contractors who then do the work.
    If businesses have an issue with the Sanders proposal, it is because they would have to pay all their employees accordingly. Their workers aren’t generally linked to one project, they move around from one to another. Not all projects would be gov’t funded. If a bridge, for example, needs structural repairs and a new paint job, the work will be done by at least 2 different crews, who will go to another project when that one is completed. Trying to keep up with separate accounting for gov’t and non-gov’t, or Feds, States, and non-gov’t would be complicated and increase costs on all projects.

    2. New projects and maintenance for existing facilities are funded differently. Money for one has little affect on the funding for the other. There is no financial reason for a moratorium on new projects vis-à-vis maintenance. Whether or not a new project should be funded rests on its own merits.

    3. Businesses which do not plan for their own future by training an adequate supply of workers have only themselves to blame for shortfalls. OTOH, there is likely a pool of unemployed refugees with the requisite skills somewhere in the world; perhaps even enough to meet needs.

  6. Just an Organic Regular Expression says

    It discards the main positive feature of UBI, which is that it makes poor people free to pursue the work they want to do, be it family care, art, or education. In this neo-WPA scheme you would only get paid for doing whatever laborer (or menial bureaucratic) job was made available, regardless of your preferences, aspirations, or skills.
    Interestingly, my parents met and married thanks to the WPA: my mother was working for the WPA teaching ESL (then called “citizenship”) classes to immigrants and my father was one of her students. So I suppose I shouldn’t dis that program too hard. But it was (and this proposal is) light-years away from a UBI.

  7. says

    Surely the obvious thing to do is to set the income tax threshhold equal to a year’s full-time minimum wage?

    This would empower businesses to take on staff at Minimum Wage, with no tax liability. And therefore, ought to create jobs. Only Minimum Wage jobs, to be sure; but workers who had held a job for a year would be in a position to ask for a pay rise or walk into another job.

    Besides which, it can’t be cost-effective to tax the bottom earners anyway. Reducing the administrative costs would mean the rest goes further …..

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