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Why Has Labor Not Demanded Guaranteed Employment?

Listed author(s):
  • Jon D. Wisman
  • Michael Cauvel

Unemployment has almost always been traumatic for its victims. In earlier times, it threatened extreme privation, if not starvation. Still today, it dramatically decreases its victims' standard of living, human capital, social standing, and self-respect. It is associated with poorer health, suicide, and family dissolution. Unemployment also entails considerable costs to society such as lost output, increased crime, decayed neighborhoods, and when extreme, political unrest. Why, then, is it tolerated? Why, especially, have workers and their advocates not demanded that employment be guaranteed to all? This article explores why what has always been foremost to workers' interests -- security of employment -- has not remained one of labor's foremost demands. It finds that the reasons have been complex and varied over time, including degrading work houses, workers' focus on alternatives to capitalism, the fact that unemployment typically is suffered by a small portion of the workforce, the local character of most worker demands, the eventual provision of safety nets, and most importantly, the dominance of ideology that blames workers for their unemployment or holds that full employment is impossible to attain.

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File URL: http://www.american.edu/cas/economics/research/upload/2016-02.pdf
File Function: First version, 2016
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by American University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 2016-02.

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Date of creation: 2016
Handle: RePEc:amu:wpaper:2016-02
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.american.edu/cas/economics/

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  1. Jon D. Wisman & James F. Smith, 2011. "Legitimating Inequality: Fooling Most of the People All of the Time," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 70(4), pages 974-1013, October.
  2. Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1992. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34.
  3. Vickrey, William, 1992. "Chock-Full Employment without Increased Inflation: A Proposal for Marketable Markup Warrants," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(2), pages 341-345, May.
  4. Jon Wisman, 2010. "The Moral Imperative and Social Rationality of Government-Guaranteed Employment and Reskilling," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 68(1), pages 35-67.
  5. Jon D. Wisman & Aaron Pacitti, 2014. "Ending the Unemployment Crisis with Guaranteed Employment and Retraining," Journal of Economic Issues, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 48(3), pages 679-706, September.
  6. Daniel Kostzer, 2008. ""Argentina--A Case Study on the Plan Jefes y Jefas de Hogar Desocupados, or the Employment Road to Economic Recovery," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_534, Levy Economics Institute.
  7. Lennart Erixon, 2010. "The Rehn-Meidner Model in Sweden: Its Rise, Challenges and Survival," Journal of Economic Issues, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 44(3), pages 677-715, September.
  8. Ruth Ellen Wasem, 2013. "Tackling Unemployment: The Legislative Dynamics of the Employment Act of 1946," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number tu, June.
  9. L. Randall Wray, 1997. "Government as Employer of Last Resort: Full Employment without Inflation," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_213, Levy Economics Institute.
  10. Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson, 2000. "Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality, and Growth in Historical Perspective," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(4), pages 1167-1199.
  11. William Darity, 2010. "A Direct Route to Full Employment," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 37(3), pages 179-181, September.
  12. Spengler, Joseph J., 1968. "Right To Work: A Backward Glance," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 28(02), pages 171-196, June.
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