Tuesday, July 13, 2010

the moral and economic imperative of full employment

From Alex Keyssar, Out of Work (Cambridge University Press, 1986).
To preserve American capitalism, enhance the well-being of workers, and restore the health of the social and political order, the men and women who belonged to the AALL [American Association for Labor Legislation] and the Massachusetts Committee on Unemployment advocated a multipronged approach to the problem of joblessness. They urged both that steps be taken to prevent unemployment from occurring and that the state assume responsibility for aiding and subsidizing those workers who did lose their jobs. John B. Andrews's Practical Program for the Prevention of Unemployment in America, an extremely influential manifesto first published in 1914, called for public employment exchanges, the expansion of public works projects during depressions, alterations in the productive rhythms of seasonal industries, and state-sponsored unemployment insurance. Andrews's Practical Program, which was the intellectual starting point for reform agitation in Massachusetts and elsewhere, also advocated a reduction in the hours of labor, an immigration policy sensitive to the dangers of an oversupply of labor, the stimulation of an agricultural revival in the United States, the development of industrial training programs, and the prohibition of industrial employment for boys and girls under the age of sixteen. By acting on most or all of these fronts, reformers believed that state and federal authorities could dramatically reduce the incidence and impact of unemployment.
EDIT: I should have given some reasons why I posted this. First, it shows that Keynes' policy prescriptions were not contingent on the forces occurring during the Great Depression. Second, it identifies very nicely the conservative character of full employment policies. Third, it demonstrates nicely why and how the state attempted to interact with labor markets prior to the New Deal. Finally, does it not prove how old some of these ideas are? Shouldn't we be searching for a new set of policies that might actually change workers' positions to really alleviate them of the ails of unemployment or other system-related problems?


  1. I actually view this post as a hopeful one in that it admits the conservative character of Lord Keynes' recommendations. The more common reflexive reaction is to paint the man as a communist and/or an idiot. He was neither.

    In terms of a new policy, what is the current one? We clearly are not in a Keynesian epoch, we're in the realm of Hayek and Friedman, where all roads load to serfdom.

    In terms of searching for a new set of policies, I think the first place to start is recognizing that these folks don't want to be "alleviated" of anything, they just want to earn their own way. Give them a chance, and they'll show you what they can do. Treat them like fools in need of charity, and they'll show you what they can do, too, but you may not like it, hence the "Tea Party," the most politically incoherent "movement" of all time.

  2. He wasn't viewed as a communist, but some did view him as a socialist.

  3. I know that Keynes was accused of being a socialist while he was alive, but with the passage of time socialism has been conflated with communism in the popular lexicon. (Heck, most people don't even know what socialism is any more.) I have, in fact, seen some right-wing screeds accusing Keynes of being an outright communist.

    Regardless of what anyone might think of Keynes and whether or not his prescriptions would help things given our current circumstances (I think the debt problem is too large to be effectively addressed through stimulus, although I do think fiscal policy was a better starting point than monetary policy), the one thing I admire about the guy is his tenacity in offering up a practical but non-intuitive solution to the problems facing the world at the time. The man put himself out there to advocate something that, in hindsight, wasn't necessarily all that radical, but which the banksters in particular have successfully painted as the worst possible solution.