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Justice for all...

However much I support increasing Social Security -- and let's lower the eligibility age to 60, while we're at it -- doing that is definitely not justice for all. Freddie DeBoer writes:

What becomes of America when the social contract can no longer be fulfilled? Generations of parents taught their children about deals that they thought were immutable aspects of the American condition; they now watch their adult children struggle in a society where those deals are not honored. The current employment crisis in the U.S. can be understood only in light of this basic social contract, the central theme of the American myth, the moral of our national fable: If you work, you will survive. Not only will you survive but you will prosper. All our propaganda begins here. Young Americans are promised that work will translate to an ever-improving lot in life, within and across generations — a bigger house when you’re 40, and your children in a bigger house than they were raised in. You might say that this is a lot to ask of any social order. But then, it wasn’t my idea.

A country that has made its self-definition utterly dependent on the ubiquity of paying work now has an insufficient number of jobs. This is not short-term economic cyclicality; labor-force participation has dropped, fairly steadily, for decades. ... And all these people desperate to work or for more work undermine the bargaining power of those currently employed. Who asks for a raise when there are 50,000 young graduates who will do your job for two-thirds of what you make now? Who complains about discrimination, harassment, and other workplace immiseration when relief for employers is a round of pink slips away? This is what an employment crisis means. The unemployed suffer, and their suffering causes the employed to suffer. Each person’s precarity is instrumental in another’s.

It is hard to overstate: This country, in its current condition, has no other option but something close to full employment. Our pathetic social safety net, even absent the contracting effect of austerity measures, can’t fill in the gaps caused by the demise of ubiquitous employment. Even the counterrevolution has no other idiom; the most common epithet directed toward Occupy protests, after all, was “Get a job!” That the near impossibility of getting a job was the point for many who were protesting was too destabilizing a notion to be understood. In the short term, I have no doubt that the unemployment rate will fall. The question is the long-term structural dependability of a social contract built on mass employment.

It's pointless -- except in the sense of purchasing constituents -- to address the needs of the no-longer-young with Social Security increases while not addressing the needs of the not-yet-old with who are struggling with lousy prospects while laden down with debt.

A party that wasn't morally and intellectually bankrupt would focus on people, not programs, and would think about whole systems, not tweaks. But then, in the political class, there's always money to battle over program funding, one way or the other, for or against, pro or con, and so it goes.


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nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Let's go for a guaranteed minimum income for all. I actually think this is more doable than making even half-decent jobs available for everyone. Guaranteed decent jobs threaten employment practices much more strongly than a minimum income, so the oligarchy wouldn't fight it as hard. I mean, they'd fight it tooth and nail, but probably not tooth, nail, and nuclear bombs.

And the income is far, far, far easier to administer. It's like welfare vs. Social Security; or Medicaid vs. Medicare; or most similar, Obamacare vs. Medicare. You get the income, period. You don't have to deal with employment issues that range from matching jobs with skills to absenteeism to justification for quitting/refusing work. People who want to participate in the paid work force can do so as now, but inability to find a suitable job would not result in desperate straits.

Submitted by hipparchia on

so you want to think about systems, eh?

let's look at this -

It's pointless -- except in the sense of purchasing constituents -- to address the needs of the no-longer-young with Social Security increases while not addressing the needs of the not-yet-old with who are struggling with lousy prospects while laden down with debt.

i have a friend, a single mom in her early twenties, who is supporting herself, her small child and her unemployed not-yet-65 parent... with just a few tweaks geared entirely toward the old-folks constituency --- increase the social security payout, lower the retirement (and/or medicare) age to 55 or 60, make medicare totally free --- she would benefit HUGELY.

i'm also in favor of free college and free child care for working parents (or those attending school). other countries do this, we can too. and there's no reason any of these programs you deride need to be systemically coordinated in order to benefit both individuals and society.

the free college and free child care would directly benefit my young friend but they wouldn't touch me at all... except that my friend and some of her friends might go to college, become doctors and humanists and historians, and i could live out my old age well-cared-for in a land of not-theocracy and with some small but possibly realistic hope that maybe slightly fewer past mistakes would be repeated in my nieces' and nephews' lifetimes.

free college for the twenty-somethings and free retirement for the fifty- and sixty-somethings, and maybe accidentally there will be more jobs for the thirty- and forty-somethings.

also, one of the very nice things about setting up bloodless, soulless programs, instead of focusing on people, is that individual people who might be less likable or "deserving" do not have to depend on making themselves likable in order to get the same benefits of living in a society. going back to my friend, medicare for all would treat both her cute little child and her crazy unemployable parent equally if they both were to develop leukemia, say, but if, instead of having that program, the community were to hold a charity fund raising event or two, whose leukemia would get treated and who would get left to die?