An Interview with Pavlina Tcherneva
Prof. Pavlina Tcherneva discusses Job Guarantee programs, the many direct and indirect benefits such programs provide, and the role cooperative and community enterprises could play in both supporting and benefiting from a Job Guarantee program in the US.
Josh Davis: We're here today joined by Professor Pavlina Tcherneva — I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly, Pavlina. Pavlina is an associate professor of economics at Bard College and a research scholar at the Levy Economics Institute in New York. She specializes in Modern Monetary Theory and public policy. Her book, The Case for a Job Guaranteed, published in 2020, is the ultimate guide to the benefits of one of the most transformative public policies being discussed today. She has collaborated with policymakers from the U.S. and abroad on designing and evaluating employment programs. Her early work assessed Argentina's adoption of a large scale job creation proposal she had developed with colleagues in the United States. She also worked with the Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, after her research on inequality garnered national attention. Thank you so much for being with us, Pavlina, and for sharing your time with us.
Pavlina Tcherneva: Thank you so much for having me. Good to talk to you.
Josh Davis: Yeah. And of course, we're going to be talking about the the job guarantee proposal and how that could maybe fit in with the solidarity economy and cooperative movements that we're into. Before we get into that, we can just do some brief introductions. My name's Josh Davis. I'm the content manager for grassroots economic organizing and speaking to you from the Flathead Indian Reservation, home of the Salish, Kootenai, and Pend Orielle tribes in northwestern Montana. Abe, why don't you give us an intro?
Abe Gruswitz: I'm Abe Gruswitz. I'm on Lenape land here in Newark, New Jersey, and I am a co-editor at GEO Collective.
Josh Davis: And Pavlina, If you would like to introduce yourself any more than I already did, you can.
Pavlina Tcherneva: Good to talk to you. My name is Pavlina Tcherneva. I teach economics at Bard College. I also directed the Economic Democracy Initiative at the Open Society University Network, and conduct research at the Levy Economics Institute.
Josh Davis: Excellent, yeah. So we are interested to talk about the Job Guarantee today, and just to give our our viewers who might not be quite familiar with it a little basic introduction, I just clipped out a little section from one of your papers, Pavlina, now I'll just start us off by reading that and then we can go from there.
"The avalanche of job losses today and mass unemployment tomorrow are of our own making. Created by our seeming inability to conceive of policies that protect and create jobs on demand, there is another option. Instead of capitulating to a world of guaranteed unemployment, we can demand policies that guarantee employment. The government can create jobs directly, by a mass mobilization and a job guarantee. A program that guarantees anyone who walks into the unemployment office can walk out with an employment option that offers a minimum living income with benefits. The job guarantee is a public option for jobs in the public public service sector that offers on the job training and assistance with transitioning to other employment opportunities."
So that's just a very skeletal version of it. What what else would you add to give people an idea — kind of flesh that out proposal out for us.
Pavlina Tcherneva: Yeah. The job guarantee is just the straightforward solution to somebody seeking work, decent work with basic income and benefits. And that is the direct approach. If you are looking, if you're sending resumes, if you're knocking on doors and you're striking out time and time again, you can be assured through this policy that there will always be a public option, that the public sector will craft a program that will be for anyone who wants employment, and it will be guaranteed at these basic wages and benefits.
So what what essentially we're proposing is that we have a direct solution to unemployment. The quote that you read is in a discussion that related to the COVID crisis. And the question that we faced during COVID is what do we do when we shut down the economy? What do we do when businesses stop operating on large scale, that we hadn't seen before? And we understand that in moments of crisis, the public sector has to step in, and step in boldly. But the way we normally address crises is just by sort of throwing money at the problem rather than thinking through what are the precise policies and interventions we might need.
And one of the first things that we understood: one of the first casualties of COVID would be jobs — people losing, jobs being furloughed, businesses closing down. And there was such a looming economic insecurity that comes with this crisis, as we've seen in 2008, as we have seen in previous crises, jobs are the the collateral damage. And so, why do we not have a more precisely crafted approach to protecting jobs or creating jobs where they are missing? That's really ultimately the question that I was asking. And in the face of COVID, you could look around the world how countries responded in different ways. Some countries simply paid payroll. They just guaranteed the jobs which already existed in the private sector. They said, "do not lay off workers. We will cover the wages of threatened workers, or of all workers," depending on where you look. And those countries that protected jobs didn't see the double digit unemployment rates that we saw in the United States.
Countries like Canada and the United States spend proportionately two or three times as much as European countries spent on COVID, but did not protect jobs. They provided unemployment, expanded unemployment insurance, additional checks. But they kind of resigned themselves to the idea that firms are going to be laying off workers, and we're just going to do the right thing, make sure people don't starve, but we won't actually protect jobs. And so guaranteeing jobs can take the form of protecting payroll when we are faced with a crisis and when people are going to be laid off.
But one thing to really consider is that the amount of money that we spend on the COVID response in that very first year, in fact in the very first stimulus package, was sufficient not only to pay the wages and salaries of the entire economy for three months, but also to employ all of the existing unemployed people at living wages. And so you see, it's never really for lack of money that we don't solve our problems. Crisis after crisis, we see that, quite quickly we mobilize our financial response resources to respond, whether it is a hurricane, whether it is a natural disaster, or a financial crisis, or COVID. We have the financing, we just don't have the approach.
So the Job Guarantee, the way I tend to think of it, is actually a policy that is permanent. It's not just there for us in the midst of a severe recession. In fact, more beneficial it would be if it were implemented in good times, and relatively prosperous times, because it becomes a structural support to the economy, a policy that will absorb any people who might be laid off for whatever reason, and thus stabilize the economy through an employment led approach. We don't allow unemployment to develop in these kind of rapid and drastic ways as we observe it. We simply have an employment safety net and that fundamentally transforms the economy and it becomes a more stable economy. People have more stable incomes. They can plan better for themselves and their families. They can patronize their communities. They don't have to face an uncertainties and the kind of problems that come with the uncertain employment and income from health problems to community disrepair to the loss of the social fabric. I mean, employment is essential. And so in a very simple way, the job guarantee says, okay, if there are communities that lack jobs, we will create them right there and then.
Abe Gruswitz: I was wondering how do you see the job guarantee as addressing current market failures beyond just simple unemployment?
Pavlina Tcherneva: Yes. The Job Guarantee is, on the face of it, just an employment program for people who seek work. And I should say that in its formulation, it is a guarantee to anyone. So in a sense, you don't really have to be unemployed necessarily to be able to access the job. In the human rights framework of the right to work, or the right to employment, you can see policies which provide direct employment ,or guarantee employment, that are not conditional on unemployment. So the biggest job guarantee program in the world is in India, and it guarantees 100 days of rural employment that's not conditional on unemployment. So that's number one.
The first thing that the Job Guarantee could potentially ensure is the right to employment to all. But in a market economy, it does address a whole set of problems that emerge from the way the economy functions, and the first one would be it would fix or it would fortify the way the labor market works. So currently the labor market is not a fair game. It doesn't work very equitably. If you consider the question who gets jobs, it's actually usually people who already have jobs. Those who are able to jump from one employment opportunity to another are the ones who have been employed, and they have robust resumes. But if you've been unemployed for some time, the barriers to employment are significant and they are not just the gap in the resume, but that's significant.
So you find employers looking at various candidates, those who have had kind of spotty work experience, and they have been out of the labor market for a while, they are the last to get called. And we see this in the data. Caregivers, their unemployment rates are the last ones to recover. People with disabilities, people who do low-wage work, they are I mean — the labor market works in the way that just throws them out of the out of jobs, and then re-hires them in and out, and in and out. That is an extremely unstable and precarious employment scenario. And so people don't even have the chance to build employment experience, tenure, increase their incomes. So one of the things that the job guarantee will remedy, will provide stable employment opportunities for people who have the most precarious employment life, and those who cannot even find a job.
So you see the official numbers of unemployment, they don't even tell us the whole story. It's a very narrow definition of who's unemployed. We know, and we understand, that there are many people who are looking who would like to have work, but they might not be looking during the survey week. And so the Bureau of Labor Statistics tries to calculate a more expanded definition, but even that doesn't include everyone.
The research of Kyle Moore, research assistant at the Economic Democracy Initiative, shows that on any given day, about 30% of the prime working age people are looking and ready to take a job if one were available. Okay, so normally the unemployment rate hovers between 3.5% to as high as 14% during the pandemic. But even when we look at expanded definitions today, the official unemployment rate is about half of what it would otherwise be. But if you look at people who are outside of the labor market, and are not captured even by the expanded definition of unemployment, far more would take a job if one were available immediately. So the job guarantee will address this hidden unemployment, this kind of pent up demand in employment.
You know, a lot of times we say caregivers, they don't really want jobs because they're taking care of elderly, of young people. But actually, it is really because the employment opportunities are not there to allow them to both take care of the people they have to take care of and to support themselves. And so the choice is not really a genuine choice. If we have employment guarantee, then we will know who for sure is involuntarily unemployed and who is not ready or interested in taking advantage of the employment opportunities.
Another labor market failure that the job guarantee would address is the problem with wages — firming up the wage floor. So today we talk about minimum wage policies which are very important to provide at least some basic decent income. Our minimum wage policy in the United States doesn't provide a living income. You know, $7.25 is the minimum wage. That hasn't changed since 2009 and we're now 13 years later. It's pitifully low. But if you can't find a minimum wage job and you want to work, your effective wage is zero. So the minimum wage doesn't really support the labor market as it should. And for that, we need to have a full employment policy. We need to also have the guarantee that a person would find that employment opportunities.
Now, when I wrote the book — that was two and a half years ago and even earlier — we would propose $15 an hour in order to help the State-led movement for a $15 an hour wage. As you know, there are living wage ordinances across the country that are trying that are aiming higher than the minimum wage. But even that wage is too low today. It's not even — $15 is not enough. And so a job guarantee at $20 an hour will make a world of difference for an enormous proportion of the population, not just those who don't have the job, but those who have a job. Because if there's a public option for $20, your employer has to match that public option in order to keep you on the job. And so there is that other added benefit of raising the floor by establishing a genuine minimum wage and by incentivizing private firms to match that floor.
What about benefits? It's the same situation. You know, we want to have universal health care. We want to have Social Security. You know, Social Security is a pretty good, robust program. But there are still about 4% of people who are working who don't have access to Social Security. They don't accumulate enough hours to qualify for Social Security, and perhaps it's because of the inability to find employment. With the Job Guarantee, we will provide those missing opportunities. What if the Job Guarantee provided health care as part of the package? In the same way, an employer will have to match the benefits of a job guarantee to remain, so to speak, competitive. And so there's another quick way of formalizing some of these benefits throughout the market when we establish the standard for wages and benefits.
And I think the last one that I will emphasize is that the Job Guarantee's a public employment program. And so typically public employment programs do activities for the public good, for public service. And we can recognize care work that is not adequately remunerated. We can recognize volunteer work that is absolutely essential, but it's not paid. The job guarantee can create projects that deal with environmental concerns that are not adequately addressed by private sector activities. So in other words, we have the possibility to support essential work that is not adequately supplied, adequately provided, on the local level and supported with decent wages.
Josh Davis: Yeah. While I'm listening to you there. A couple of other big ones popped into my head that a lot of people in GEO are very concerned with, specifically the problems faced by returning citizens from our quote unquote justice system. You know, it's very difficult to land a job if you were incarcerated ever, or then definitely in the recent past. So, you know, having a guarantee — and I know a lot of the places even just down the road in Missoula, Montana, is not like a massive urban center by any means, there's a lot of homelessness, and it's only been getting worse year by year. And a lot of that starts with a job loss. So, yeah, the benefits are great.
And so can you talk a little bit — because, you know, we're talking about this in somewhat high level terms, I suppose — in terms of the more kind of nuts-and-bolts of it. In your version of this proposal, it's not necessarily local or state governments, or the federal government, administering the program on the ground level. But you envision roles for social enterprises and co-ops and and things like that. Can you talk a little bit about what your thoughts are, and maybe where those kind of organizations might fit into such a program?
Pavlina Tcherneva: Yes, happily. This really addresses the question of how do you do it. There are many different models of direct job creation and public employment programs. And as I mentioned, we typically tend to see them in moments of crisis. The Great Depression, we had the New Deal, and that created projects in every county in the country. And, you know, a lot of these were federal projects. And the government went in and said, "we're going to electrify Tennessee," And that's what we did, and "we're going to build the roads," and that's what we did. "And we're going to build hiking trails and parks." And those were large scale federal projects. We have seen that happen in other countries as well. But there are also many, many, many examples of programs that are organized from the ground up, from the bottom up, where the public sector provides the funding, they provide the guidelines, the general parameters of the kind of work that will qualify for the program. But in the end, it allows communities to self-organize and propose those projects and basically petition the public sector for funds. I find this to be very compelling.
This is a kind of a participatory approach that first seems to be better targeted because folks on the ground know what their communities need. And, you know, just going back to the example of volunteer work, I mean, we rely so much on volunteers for some basic functions in our communities. To have some after school activities for kids, outreach programs for veterans, for the elderly, that people self-organize. They know their environmental projects. But now imagine that this is structured and supported in a much more stable way through wages, through some funds for materials and various other wraparound services, transportation. So if we do it from the ground up again, there are various ways in which this can be done.
Suddenly the municipalities and the localities can be involved in some local projects, more infrastructure projects. Maybe the school sidewalks need to be repaired, maybe proper signage needs to be installed, etc. all useful things. But to be able to have in every corner of the country a project, I think we need to rely on the solidarity networks and allow different community groups to participate actively with with their ideas.
So as you mentioned in the introduction, I studied the program in Argentina and that was again a very large program. It employed about 13% of the labor force in the depths of the Argentinian crisis. And when when we visited a lot of the projects, we found that they were not only self-organized, but they were organized on a cooperative basis, where people use the funds that the government provided for wages and materials, and then they set up shop. You know, they set up little tiny tailoring shops, you know, toy making kinds of ventures. They had a little micro-enterprise, if you will, that did school uniforms. And then they would sell some of the output on the market, and then they'll share the proceeds among themselves. They will allocate some, they'll save some to reinvest.
And so the way I thought of it was as an alternative to microcredit. You know, you know that the microcredit model of development is you provide a micro loan, then the loan gets repaid, you provide another loan, it gets repaid. But actually, this is a micro-grant. You know, you're really investing in that community and you're saying, "okay, here, I'm going to give you the tools. I'm going to give you the seed funding and support you for the first few years." And that's essentially what happened in Argentina, because the program was phased out. And then what do you have left afterwards? Well, you already have some community groups that have been able to organize and potentially have their means to support themselves after the program is phased out.
And the program that I mentioned was the largest one in the world, the one in India that organizes a rural project that guarantees rural employment, is almost entirely self-organized by the villages. And the Ministry of Agriculture, for example, set some guidelines about, you know, providing water irrigation systems, dealing with wells, with soil erosion. But then the village gets together — the Gram Panchayat is what they're called — they get together, they hash it out. They talk about how many people need to be employed in this community, what they need to do, some road work or whatever. And then they propose the project and they get the funding. And so in a certain way, at least in the law, the public sector can't really overrule some of these proposals. At least that's what the intention is.
You know, there are some issues with implementation, but I think the design is very interesting. It's kind of significant. It fosters participatory design from the ground up and it seems to have become a leading program for dealing with water conservation and water irrigation problems. So what would it look like in the United States? You know what if in every county we use what are called the existing employment offices, American Jobs Centers, what if these became job banks? What if our communities went and proposed projects, and their lists that would be listed in these job banks, on the website or in the actual office, to the extent that there's office? And community said, "look, we need people for — we're doing species monitoring here on the Hudson River. You know, we need a lot of people we need people to do planting of trees, or removal of invasive species." And we list: we need child care — and different communities have different needs. You know, some might have a greater proportion of folks with disabilities, maybe people who with elderly, maybe there's a community where there are a lot of former inmates and there are different outreach programs. And so if we had these lists, then that would be the kind of bottom up project design that could be implemented through non-profits, community groups, cooperatives and various various organizations.
I would say that this is public good. This is public money for the public service. So, you know, for profit companies wouldn't be the candidate for project proposals because we don't want to replace the people they will be hiring anyway with some sort of subsidized employment. We really want to support the kind of activity that private firms aren't doing. But I can envision a scenario where some young people can get apprenticeships in local companies just to get going and get some credentialing. So, you know, that would be another kind of opportunity.
Abe Gruswitz: I also think of the economic pressures that many families face a lot, from the loss of a member of the family through incarceration, through the pressure of spouses to stay in a unhealthy relationship because of economic entrapment. You know, there's a lot of scenarios I can imagine this giving a way out for people.
Pavlina Tcherneva: Yeah. And back to your question about market failures. I mean, I almost wouldn't even use the word market failures. It's just the market works this way because we have unemployment and the ability of an employer to harass their employees in large part depends on the fact that the employees don't have another choice. They don't have an option to walk away. And so a lot of these perverse dynamics are actually very much natural to a market that doesn't create enough economic security through decent employment.
And just to go back to the question of funding. You know, the United States, we incarcerate such a large proportion of our population. And incarceration can vary — I think the national average is around $35,000, but in the state of New York, it could be around $100,000 a person per year. Think of how many living wage jobs that is, right? So it is not for lack of resources or funding that we can't support people who experience economic insecurity. When folks are released from prison, very often they re-offend for lack of finding, again, another employment opportunity. And projects that deal with employing former inmates have far lower recidivism rates. So that's just one example. But I think a person who is, like you said, in an abusive relationship — whether it is employer/employee or spouses — be able to walk away because they have a means of providing for themselves, is truly essential.
Abe Gruswitz: And it puts that pressure on the private sector to to do what this job guarantee is doing for communities as well, right? Whether just wage-wise, and in terms of social responsibility, right? This is kind of asking the private sector to step it up a little bit?
Pavlina Tcherneva: Yeah, without a doubt. With respect to how they treat their workers, right now they don't really have this pressure and incentive to do the right thing. You know, we see problems with wage theft. They know that their the workers don't have another opportunity. You know, working conditions — a fully employed economy where people have choices operates in a very, very different way. And companies then have to cater to them a little bit more. We see this now in a sense, after the pandemic. There are sectors in the economy where there are shortages. And we do see that wages are increasing there. Workers are like eaking out the little benefits. You know, I don't want to oversell this, but, you know, we do see that that happens when you have very low unemployment rates.
Now, there are other large swaths of the population that are just not benefiting from the wage increases nearly sufficiently or kind of the stable employment opportunities. You know, mass layoffs are still a tool that companies will use as soon as they see their profits decline. And when we see mass layoffs, we know what happens. They spread like avalanches through these communities because people lose their incomes. They have temporary unemployment insurance, some don't even have that, and then we see that they curb their spending considerably, and then others lose their jobs, without them experiencing mass layoffs, it's just business is not there. So it's just a plague. It's truly got a very — like I describe it as akin to a disease. So we want to really tackle the problem at the heart geographically when we look at the United States. There are communities that have 30 to 40% or even higher — Reservations, you know, even higher unemployment rates on a good day. We don't see the national statistics. We don't see it — Coastal communities, Rust Belt. And we kind of accept this is normal, from a policy standpoint that's considered to be normal. Economists call this structural unemployment. There's nothing normal about this. It has caused the deaths of despair, it has caused the opioid epidemic. It has contributed to so much kind of social disintegration, if you will. And we have choices. We can go into those communities and provide people with alternative, meaningful employment opportunities.
Josh Davis: Now, another aspect I just wanted to maybe highlight, that's specifically for people who are interested in worker co-ops, which is a lot of our audience. A benefit to this from having worked with people setting up worker co-ops — just like any small business, you have to volunteer basically — you're going to be working for free for the first year or so, right? Most businesses don't immediately turn a profit, and that's a huge risk for a lot of people, especially those of us who are more low income. To try to keep our job that we have, and then be doing this other one, or maybe take the risk on quitting the job so we can try to focus on the co-op. If you have a job guarantee where like, "okay, we can try to do this thing if it doesn't work out, we all have a fallback." That, I think, would be for co-op development a huge bonus. That might not be obvious, but that would be like a major side benefit in the same way that we were talking about people stuck in bad relationships do not want to leave for economic reasons. Yeah, same kind of thing. So I think there's all sorts of benefits.
Pavlina Tcherneva: I would say that the job guarantee could just directly support whatever cooperative activity that you're undertaking right now, and basically socialize those risks. Not necessarily as a fallback. It could be a fallback if it doesn't work out maybe doing a community co-op that's doing with elderly care. And and if it doesn't work out you can fall back on some other job in the community. But why not make that part of the job guarantee? That kind of bottom up proposal in design would permit that. And I think that cooperatives democratize work in many more ways than one. It's the relationship among people who are working is very different than the employer-employee relationship, the decision making power that the stakeholders are. And that is kind of what we found, and was a bit surprising to us when we we saw the projects in Argentina. And they weren't transformative. We went to one community, which was called The Hidden City, you know, because they just there were so poor and they believed the government had just forgotten about them and we went and we saw them do family attention centers, they did community kitchens, they did the community gardens, lots of things. And and then a couple of years later, graduate students visited that same community that now benefited from the job guarantee, and they had changed their name. I think, you know it's quite something, not to think anymore that you're a hidden city.
Abe Gruswitz: So, in making this job guarantee a reality, do you have thoughts or ideas on creating the political will or pressure to make such a policy go through Congress?
Pavlina Tcherneva: Well, it is the million dollar question for sure. How do these programs become a reality? I mean, I think ultimately it's pressure from below. I think enough people need to want it and demand it. In the case of Argentina, people just took to the streets and they they bang the pots and pans and they said, "jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs." And that the government heard their call. And previously there was an economist of the Labor Ministry who was trying to push this program for a number of years and was not successful until people went out and they asked for it. I think the Indian experience is somewhat similar, including some sort of backstage negotiation among parties on how to deal with some of the rural mass poverty and riots, really.
In Europe, we do see programs that are smaller and are very interesting in their design and they are once again started from the ground as pilots. There is a project in France called the zero long term unemployment areas, and really it's a group like a social enterprise, is a nonprofit organization that was also formed by citizens. And they created these projects and they had to go from mayor to mayor to convince them that they should create these direct employment programs for the long term unemployed. And then it turned out that it paid off, that mayors understood the benefits because it caused a bunch of cost savings in some of the anti-poverty programs and others. And that eventually went to parliament, and then parliament authorized the bigger budget to expand the program. So there are I think — you know, talking to policymakers and understanding that this is an approach that's for the taking there. It's not like we haven't done it before. We have had experience. And maybe we need to return a little bit more to these direct approaches rather than nudges, incentives, tax credits and a whole complex web of policies that actually don't create jobs. So I would say any and every strategy that that works, but definitely mainstreaming the idea is step number one.
Josh Davis: Yeah, mainstreaming the idea, and I think getting it kind of through everybody's heads, which seems to be happening maybe a little bit more now — that we don't need to worry about indebteding our grandchildren through the federal budget deficit or the federal debt, right? I mean, for any social program spending, that is always the the refrain that we hear, "how are we going to pay for it?" And of course, we don't ask that question when it comes to military spending or anything like that. But as you just pointed out, in Europe, if they're doing something similar in Europe, if they're able to do these sorts of programs in Europe where they don't have the fiscal policy space, right? Because the European Central Bank is in control of their the monetary policy for all of the countries like we have so much more space here in the U.S. If they could do it over there, it seems like a no brainer that we should be able to do it, and that it might actually not — well, I don't want to go there. But you seem to be implying that there's so much cost savings that even on a local level, that a government that does not have its own currency creating power can nonetheless fund a program that does some kind of job guarantee.
Pavlina Tcherneva: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think the very first thing is just to recognize that we have no trouble, like mobilizing enormous budgets on short order for whatever crisis we face, like if we just look at the numbers, I think that takes away this idea that the government doesn't have the money. And back in 2008, you know, I was looking at the budget that was appropriated through the Recovery Act, and that budget was enough to create 20 million living wage jobs. With that budget, we didn't have to create 20 million, we just needed to create five, because then the economy just picks up and makes up the difference. And we barely eked out a million or 2 million created or saved jobs by the official government estimates — very low bang for the buck. If we had had the direct approach, the job would have been done much faster. We didn't have to slog through the longest jobless recovery.
As I said, the COVID calculations are very clear. We could have paid every single wage for every single person in the entire economy for three months, plus employ the unemployed. There are lots of cost estimates on unemployment. And it turns out and all of these experiences that I'm sharing, including a pilot job guarantee pilot in Austria, as well as the French experiment, that the costs associated with unemployment, just the monetary costs are about equal to what the living the wage that is being paid through the program. And so that's the immediate cost.
But as we know, unemployment has a lot of non-pecuniary costs. All of the stuff that we discussed, and they're not just scarring effects for the person who's unemployed. You know, the kids are doing worse in schools. They're malnourished, there's no roof over the head of the family in distress. Health problems are a little harder to quantify. So actually those are far greater than the monetary cost. So if we are able to do recognize that we are already paying these costs ,and indeed the job guarantee is really a cost-saving device, a democracy-saving device. It has all of these other positive social benefits. I think the money question really should not be front and center.
Josh Davis: Yes, I definitely agree on that. Unfortunately, it's something that always comes up. One of the reasons why I did an economics degree was because every time I'd have a political conversation with somebody who didn't agree with me, they'd tell me, "Well, you just don't understand the economics of it."
Pavlina Tcherneva: It would help if people understood that, you know, there are that the public sector is not the same thing as a household sector. And how the public sector spends and pays its bills is very different from how you and I do it. And there are institutions who have designed precisely for the purpose to allow the public sector to face challenges without the money question being at being an issue. And so that is always used to divert us from talking about the real issues, which is like how do we tackle economic insecurity, how do we provide jobs, how do we deal with environmental problems? So the money question is a bit of a — you know, it's like the guardian at the gates that says, "no, no, you can't walk through." We can't think about addressing the important questions because some myth that we don't have money now.
Josh Davis: Oh, one thing I just want to mention: you know, we were talking about involving co-ops in the program and having — why wouldn't we just have the job guarantee program directly fund some co-op, or do things just the— I'll just throw in that, one of the concerns that a lot of cooperators have is that in several countries, in South America and in the U.K., for instance, have had pretty not great experiences with co-ops being created through government funding like that. Too much hand-holding and help doesn't create strong enterprises, and that when the funding goes away, that a lot of times those co-ops don't stick around very long. You know, like in Venezuela that was an issue. And then, like I said, in the U.K., they've had that experience, I think back in the seventies. And so I think a lot of people might be a little bit reticent to have direct federal funding going to co-ops. But it is certainly the kind of debate I would rather be having about it than the kind of ones we have now, about how to pay for it and all that stuff.
Pavlina Tcherneva: Well, maybe I should say that, you know, one of the main features of the job guarantee is that it is a voluntary program. This is not a program where the public sector requires somebody to work for benefits, takes away benefits unless they work. This is just an additional program. And the way we tend to think of it is as a demand driven program. If the co-op doesn't want to apply for it and does not want to propose the project through through the job guarantee, then they don't have to do this. If somebody doesn't wish to take a job in the community and an environmental project, or whatever the community is designed, then they don't have to do this. And maybe that a little bit would address the issue rather than establishing criterias and saying these must be cooperative projects. And then whoever proposes then has to be thinking through how do I do that?
Abe Gruswitz: Right. But part of the issue is some of those projects, too, is a matter of the education for workers. Do you do you think that there's a place in the job guarantee for education for social entrepreneurs?
Pavlina Tcherneva: Without a doubt and I want to preface the job guarantee is really not a panacea for so many problems that we have in our economy and in the labor market. It's just that it is such a direct solution that it does help tackle a whole host of issues, but by no means is going to solve them. And so what I normally say is that we focus on education correctly, but we don't provide the guarantee that that education is going to translate into something. So we train people for jobs that are not there. So why not create the missing jobs? And then if young people want to get trained through the program to install solar panels or just do some infrastructure work, some sort of vocational skills, I think that's a good site for for doing that. If we want to have teacher assistants that shadow teachers and help alleviate the crowded classroom problem, and then get that on the job training, that sounds like a good place to do it. Right now, we train them to be teachers and then they don't get hired. And so we could we could create the jobs and provide that as a— you know, make it serve as a stepping stone to other employment opportunities.
Abe Gruswitz: All right. Well, I think we're probably getting towards the end of our time here. Thanks so much for talking with us, Pavlina. And yeah, it's been great. And I that this policy proposal goes somewhere. And if there's anything that any bills or anything that needs support, we definitely would love to know about it, to help support those. So I don't know if there's any bills in Congress now, or if we're expecting any, but...
Pavlina Tcherneva: Yeah, they're there. I mean, the job guarantee is at least articulated as a key statement in the Green New Deal resolution. There are some draft resolutions. There's a job guarantee grant making bill that's being worked on by Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman from New Jersey. There is there is a job guarantee resolution by Ayanna Pressley and has not been translated into a bill. There was a you know, they have been there is H.R. 1000, which is an older bill that is being not reauthorized, but it's—
Josh Davis: Renamed it and running it through the process again?
Pavlina Tcherneva: Exactly. You know, it gets renewed, basically. So it's not that we don't have some sort of frameworks for thinking. I think the CCC, which was part of the Climate Conservation Corps of Biden's program, that's a framework that one could work with. But it was just it didn't really make it into the I.R.A. and very little money was even entertained in the initial stages. But we have ways of thinking about this. And so hopefully at some point these are all going to converge. So I you know, I thank you also for for giving me a chance to talk to your community and certainly, you know, spread the word. And, you know, we keep chugging along and sometimes policy surprises us. Josh Davis:Yeah, yeah. If all else fails, it sounds like pots and pans out in the street and, just chant "jobs, jobs, jobs!" Until they listen, right?
Pavlina Tcherneva: "Jobs, jobs, jobs," yes. Good luck with your work.
Josh Davis: Thanks.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.
GEO Collective (2022). The Job Guarantee and the Solidarity Economy: An Interview with Pavlina Tcherneva. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO). https://geo.coop/articles/job-guarantee-and-solidarity-economy