The coronavirus epidemic has brought about an unprecedented level of unemployment and destitution in the US. Without significant structural change, it could affect people’s lives for decades to come. In this interview, Pavlina Tcherneva talks about the roots of the problem and lays out the kind of imaginative yet practical solutions that we need.
Pavlina’s new book, The Case for a Job Guarantee, will be published later this month. It is a call to rethink the assumption that unemployment is unavoidable and that there’s little we can do about it. As a primer on the Job Guarantee, it documents all the benefits of the proposal. It confronts the narratives on competition, the market, and personal responsibility. The book exposes what Pavlina calls a major failure of her profession of economics. Economists have validated unemployment, structuring our thinking about the economy, markets, and their behavior, around the fallacious concept of a “natural rate of unemployment.” This validation brings massive failure at the theoretical, policy, and moral levels.
At the time of this interview, ongoing demonstrations across the globe have been erupting -- spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US -- expressing discontent with inequality in country after country. The spotlight on racial and economic inequality, compounded by the public health crisis, makes this an ideal time to look at the Job Guarantee. In addition to providing economic security for individuals, it centers on the creation of jobs that are geared to the needs of each community. This is a time to think long and hard about preparedness for future crises of all types, and environmental rehabilitation is long overdue. The Job Guarantee has a significant place in all of these plans.
In the current economic paradigm, work that doesn’t generate profit is undervalued. Yet on a human level, these are the jobs that matter the most: education, health care, environmental protection, and care for the young or elderly are the true essentials of life.
The interview is vibrant with the depth of understanding and empathy that we’ve come to expect from Pavlina. Our social, political, and economic problems are not intellectual problems to be played out on charts. Unemployment and underpaid jobs take a devastating toll on individuals, families, and communities. Nobody understands this as well as Pavlina.
PAVLINA R. TCHERNEVA, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Economics at Bard College and a Research Scholar at the Levy Economics Institute, NY. She specializes in Modern Monetary Theory and public policy.
Check out a recent op-ed crafted by a group of international female scholars. It’s been published in 26 languages. https://democratizingwork.org/