Cory Booker’s Big Idea

The thing about gloom and doom–a venue in which I increasingly reside–is that it makes you question some basic assumptions. Privileged people who wake up each day to depressing news about our country’s governance and prospects for social progress have a choice: we can take an “I’ve got mine” approach, ignoring the effects of social disintegration on those less fortunate, or we can try to figure out what went wrong and why, and what it might take to fix it. Obviously, I believe the latter option to be the moral one.

I have concluded that the major, underlying problem we face–in America and the world– is tribalism. Us versus Them. Suspicion of the “Other.” Tribal identities and interests–racial, religious, political–make it infinitely harder to solve other pressing problems.

Rapid social change operates to harden those tribal affiliations.

If my conclusion is correct, we need to determine how a different approach to U.S. social policies might ameliorate tribal antagonisms, rather than exacerbating them.

Look, for example, at America’s (inadequate and patchwork) social safety net. Critics of “welfare” are everywhere. How many times have you heard someone accuse “those people” of abusing the system, how often do you hear someone complain about paying taxes to support “those people” who don’t work? (Yes, I know the data contradicts these assertions, but data rarely convinces those who don’t want to be convinced.)

Now try to think of the last time you heard similar criticisms of Social Security recipients. Crickets, right?

Social Security is a universal program. We all pay taxes into it; we all are entitled to benefit from it. It undercuts those “us versus them” scenarios. Social welfare programs that are universal are less likely to stoke tribal resentments and feed stereotypes; that is one of the appeals of proposals for a Universal Basic Income. But the UBI goes against the ingrained American belief that people should work for what they get.

And that brings me to Cory Booker’s big idea. As Vox reports,

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has a big idea: give 15 local areas federal money so they can guarantee all their residents a job.

The Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act, announced by Booker on Friday, would establish a three-year pilot program in which the Department of Labor would select up to 15 local areas (defined in the bill as any political subdivision of a state, like a city or a county, or a group of cities and counties) and offer that area funding so that every adult living there is guaranteed a job paying at least $15 an hour (or the prevailing wage for the job in question, whichever’s higher) and offering paid family/sick leave and health benefits.

Booker’s bill is a pilot project to test the policy outcomes and political practicality of a jobs guarantee. The Vox article has a lengthy discussion of the merits and risks of such a proposal, and notes that, ideally, such a program would both improve the lives of lower-income Americans and support Americans’ belief “that people should work to earn their crust.”

“The job guarantee asserts that, if individuals bear a moral duty to work, then society and employers bear a reciprocal moral duty to provide good, dignified work for all,” Jeff Spross added in the influential center-left journal Democracy.

As Amanda Marcotte wrote in Salon,

While universal basic income has become a hip talking point, it would be a lot easier to implement if it was attached to a job guarantee program. The reality is that most Americans value work, for themselves as well as others.

Right now, the United States is experiencing massive conflicts of values and interests and world-views. These conflicts are especially dangerous due to the widening gap between the rich and the rest, the predatory behaviors of the political class, and the disintegration of democratic norms.

We comfortable folks can shrug our shoulders, note that Rome fell too, and go about our individual lives–or we can begin the very arduous process of reimagining and reinvigorating American social and governing institutions.


  1. I think the idea needs more structure. How about a limited test of State capitalism where the means of production are organized and managed as state-owned business enterprises? For a primer in how this works around the world see Ian Bremmer’s “The End of the Free Market”.

  2. Obviously one needs to read the bill. I agree with the idea. However, I am concerned that, somehow, members of the Republican Party will attempt to divert monies for guaranteed jobs in “faith-based” work of some type.

  3. I would like to think that Cory Booker’s idea will be tested, but my realist mind tells me that it will fall flat.

  4. What’s the rate of jobs being lost to automation/technology? Many of these innovative ideas come from the public sector…meaning we all fund the research via universities, etc.

    Then, what happens once the idea or concept becomes reality?

    The asset becomes privatized for profit and we lose even more jobs to innovation. Socialize the costs, privatize the profits.

    I agree with Einstein, “Capitalism is evil.”

    Sheila poses an excellent question, “We comfortable folks can shrug our shoulders, note that Rome fell too, and go about our individual lives–or we can begin the very arduous process of reimagining and reinvigorating American social and governing institutions.”

    Einstein laid out the framework for this in the 50’s by addressing the instincts of humans.

    As a businessman, we always start with goals and objectives. What is the goal or meaning of life? Work? Leisure? Happiness? Education? Wisdom? Caring for others? Quality of life?

    There is a World Happiness Index and the USA ranks 19th or 20th. Our goal for the past forty years or longer has been economic growth/prosperity.

    It’s not making us happy…

    UBI is becoming a global topic because most leaders realize the direction we are heading…see Macron’s speech to Congress and the latest condemnation by the EU’s president of Trump/USA.

    Capitalism isn’t sustainable. Profit-seeking and competition do nothing for nation-building. It also works against our instincts. The point is UBI cannot coexist with capitalism and free markets as espoused by Wall Street and American’s Elite.

  5. Sounds good but…my primary concern is “would establish a three-year pilot program in which the Department of Labor would select up to 15 local areas” be established using the same selection process as gerrymandering is being forced on districts? How can we, with this chaotic administration further separating us on all levels, believe anyone in any department at the federal level will not be using this program to further their own interests and increase their own wealth? If specified that the funding would be concentrated on small, locally owned businesses, rather than established corporations or big-box stores, it could mean advancement at all levels of selected areas. These areas are primarily in neighborhoods and communities where need is the greatest but where infrastructure all improvement has been ignored for years.

    Or am I misled and misunderstanding the term “any political subdivision”?

    “Tribal identities and interests–racial, religious, political–make it infinitely harder to solve other pressing problems.”

    Those “tribal identities and interests” are the foundation of the Trump administration and I see no sign of it abating; it escalates daily, some days hourly, as his power and control increases. Look at what that one man has brought about in the middle east; the rising number of deaths over his opinionated option to move the capital city of Israel while ignoring the racial, religious, political and economic deterioration in American cities and towns.

    I see Cory Booker as a “dreamer” at this point; trying to regain his political stature earned by his speech at the DNC. Maybe the memory of Mr. Booker getting Big Pharma donations is part of my questioning his reason for offering this program. We know what Trump and his administration have planned for all “dreamers” in this country and anyone who supports them. Maybe the paranoia which deeply infected me during Goldsmith’s mayoral administration here in Indianapolis is still a personal issue with me. I fully admit to operating under an “Us versus Them” view; but based in our political system of “Them” with race and religion being “Us”.

  6. “The job guarantee asserts that, if individuals bear a moral duty to work, then society and employers bear a reciprocal moral duty to provide good, dignified work for all.”

    Until the people of the United States take on that “reciprocal moral duty” as a tenant of our economic structure, programs and plans and pipe dreams will remain on the drawing board.

    The real obstacle to the UBI rests in religious teachings, most notably those religions of the far right be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish. The attack on the Social Gospel by evangelicals is one such example.

  7. John Neal’s suggestion, nationalizing the means of production, won’t work. President Truman tried that during the Korean Conflict, and the Supreme Court struck it down.

  8. I forgot to ask what tax incentives would be part of the program…there are ALWAYS tax incentives. Even during Mayor Hudnut’s administration here it took tax incentives in the form of abatements to keep some businesses here as well as lure new business.

    Uppermost in my mind is the interference of president ELECT Trump with vice president ELECT Pence into the Carrier job situation. Hundreds of promised job maintenance, paid for with a $6 million tax payoff, are gone but WE still owe Carrier that $6 million.

  9. Captialism is a system. Democracy is an institution among human beings, a social contract. But the world can run on a capitalist system, as long as it is not a capitalist democracy and is instead a democracy with a capitalist economy – at least it worked in theory, according to CAPITALISTS. There has to be more social, societal engagement and therein lays a problem: In the fragmented society we have come to, our best chance of reorganizing and regaining a human aspect to government is to do so by State or by regional governments. We have to remember WE are what makes this WORK. We no work – Nation no work! Get it. Now to formulate the agenda, I have this piece of paper that has as its title: “The Constitution of the United States”.., sounds like if we reinstitute it FULLY.., and get rid of all the special powers the pres. has thanks to the ‘Patriot Act’, that would be a good start.

  10. P.S. While we are at it I think we need to readdress the matter of the ‘Electoral College’ too, this is not the 1830’s!!!

  11. I would suggest a two year planning and implementaion period before the three year program takes effect. If you start a three year government program and it takes two years to shake out the details of how it will work, you won’t be able to prove anything in the one year you have left. I know this from experience. Most government research grants are for three years and the research is actually the easy part.

    BTW, if the Republicans have their way they will change Americans’ thinking about Social Security. Paul Ryan has been working toward that end for years.

  12. 1. Native American Social Security numbers are just as owned as any others in the Northwest Territory SOIL produced by your mother,but not encoded until 1957 BASIC Reserves at Fort Knox started the Basic Reserves system on I.B.M. machines at any place you put your anticipated retirement year from your I.R.S. card=label date.
    2. New Jersey is not where Native Americans won the attavists’ fights TO maintain with their Households for the 2020 THIRD Rome Census with the faculty here for Japan Foundations as with IU Foundations UNDER the structures. You must be 24 to enter Congress, but only 13 years old to look at your tribal records at HOME on your Facebook line at work as a consenting adult.
    3. Look at the American Factfinder California Race & Ethnicity Ranks for New Jersey (Dayton) in another list. On that one Hoosier Politician does not appear, but White ranks 10 & 13 for the forced choices among 13 total copyrighted since 1957 BR numbers.

  13. I believe that the next mountain to climb, to us dedicated flatlanders, is perhaps the biggest one ever for the US. The reality that very few have grasped is that it is not optional. Capitalism has run its course and is no longer viable in the way that always worked for us before. That means that it is failing and we can adopt a softer or harder landing. The softer one would have to be by design. The harder one is by default. By doing nothing we add considerably to the trauma.

    Are we politically capable collectively of choosing the softest landing? To date certainly not. In fact to date we not only are incapable of choosing by design we are choosing to make the default choice much more painful by trying to avoid it.

    Our bandaid must be ripped off or the pain caused by leaving it on will be greater by far and absolutely unavoidable for everyone but the 1%. The aristocracy is the most insulated from the coming trauma but many of them seem to believe that they can turn it into the benefit for them of returning to what we violently ditched hundreds of years ago and that is real aristocracy rather than virtual. Turn the Senate into a House of Lords.

    Is Cory Booker’s toe in the water the best approach? Probably not but there is only one way to start this journey. Take a step. Dive in. Start painting, prep is over.

  14. Pat de Caprariis,

    Nationalizing is not the same as State capitalism. I should have been more clear. I did not mean that and should not have used the word “all” means of production. The State simply owns or partially owns a business enterprise that is important for strategic or social reasons. We already have some e.g. USPS. Bremmer’s book explains it more completely.

  15. It just could be the easy solution would be to increase the Federal Minimum Wage. Right now it is $7.25 an hour. Congress hasn’t voted to raise the minimum wage in more than a decade. Some states have a higher minimum wage. Indiana, of course does not, in fact Indiana’s minimum wage is applicable to all employers with 2 or more employees. A special training minimum wage of $4.25 per hour is can be paid to workers under 20 years of age for the first 90 days of employment.

    I recently drove by one of our Big Box fast food restaurants and a hiring sign was out $12 an hour for a manager and $10 and hour for the proles. A living wage in Marion County from what I have found is $11.00 for one adult.

  16. In 1948, former General George Marshall was put in charge of a plan to rebuild our vanquished foes in Europe for the sole purpose of returning them to the world community – and markets. In my previous book, “Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism”, I describe how this plan can be resurrected for our inner-cities, for example, where most of the poverty resides.

    Basically, it says hire retired or unemployed tradesmen and women to train the unemployed denizens of those cities to do the kind of work that rebuilds neighborhoods and provides gainful employment, skills and income for the chronically unemployed and institutionalized poor. Hello?

    Our inner-cities sometimes resemble a war zone of crumbling everything. What better laboratory could we find to practice this idea?

  17. Another shooting today in a Texas school. Thoughts and prayers from Ted Cruz and Trump. How is it that these bastards have normalized the slaughter of our children?

  18. Vernon,

    “Another shooting in a Texas School.” How is it that these bastards have normalized the slaughter of our children”

    As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say, “It’s because we lack the CIVIC COURAGE to do anything about it.” We would rather discuss Cory Booker’s “pie in the sky political rhetoric” than face the FEAR of the present political reality presented by Trump, Pence and Bannon. Without the proper amount of FEAR, there isn’t the proper amount of MOTIVATION to take appropriate action. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE is the central problem. Can we overcome it in time? Probably not.

  19. Every politician in South Carolina campaigns on a platform of jobs (or guns or Bible thumping or some combination thereof). Yesterday we learned from the Charleston Post and Courier, courtesy of a speech by Governor McMaster, that 60,000 high paying jobs are going begging in the state for lack of qualified workers. Two years ago I pleaded with local politicians to set up job training centers to qualify county workers for opportunities in the soon-to-be-built $500 million Volvo factory about 45 minutes away. In yesterday’s Post and Courier article, Volvo executives are raising hell and saying that South Carolina lied to them about worker availability. These are jobs that require specialty machine skills, but not a college education. The local tech school that provides the appropriate training has a falling enrollment.

    Locally we have abut a 4.4% jobless rate – pretty close to full employment. So maybe the job seekers never existed in the first place and perhaps politicians were just paying lip service to a problem they knew nothing about. So it appears that we could not participate in any meaningful way in Booker’s proposed program. Yet we have every problem – from crime to spousal abuse to homelessness to drugs to school dropouts, etc. – that arises when poverty prevails in a given region. Despite the fact that the War on Poverty can’t claim much by way of accomplishments (like most wars since WWII), I don’t believe in insoluble problems. Maybe if every school day, beginning in kindergarten, started with a mandatory 30 minute class called “How to Analyze and Deal with Life’s Problems”, we would have a shot at more progress, less tribalism, and a nation of adults able to identify their own self-interests.

    The above comments are made in the full knowledge that capitalism will survive only as long as ignorance is fostered and wages are kept as close to zero dollars as the times allow. Don’t get me started on teachers’ wages, third from the bottom nationally, in South Carolina.

  20. When we play the game of monopoly we all start with 200. , and what we do with the money is up to us, and how the dice roll. In the current enviroment UBI, would be shark fodder, for the alternative fact folks! I think getting rid of citizens united, and getting single payer healthcare would be good starts to make life better for everyone!

  21. I have blogged dozens of times that I still cling (if fleetingly) to the idea that capitalism can work – but not as currently practiced. The problem is not that such a system cannot provide income and wealth to society but that (as practiced) it provides a grossly undeserved and unequal shares of such production to only one of its participants – the rich and corporate class. Capitalism can work if, for instance, present wages paid to corporate workers were doubled, and without an undue burden on corporate profits (since the huge increase in aggregate demand – with government restrictions on rates of inflation – would keep their profit position excellent to better than before). So is this likely to become policy? Fat chance. Is Booker’s plan likely to become policy? Fatter chance. The currently favored class likes their position on the economic map and are buying the political class to keep their good times rolling.

    Let’s not forget that Nixon tried “to get rid of welfare” with a proposal for a GAW (guaranteed annual wage) but that it was quickly shot down as an affront to the Puritan Principle of “no work – no eat,” a principle, by the way, that is necessarily due for extinction with ever more sophisticated means of production via AI. Unfortunately, I think that the rich and corporate class will not decide to share the bounty (my idea) or Booker’s idea (a half-way proposal that tries to retain the Puritan Proposal for political purposes).

    Something has to happen as this economy moves into new and unknown territory, but what? I don’t know; I’m not that smart. I just hope that the solution (if any) comes from experts and not politicians fronting for this or that interest group as tomorrow’s economy is once again captured by yesterday’s thinking.

  22. My 7 year old was doing a report on cars. We googled that there were over a billion cars on the road in the world. He asked me a question that rocked my world. How many people would it take to build them. I cannot answer that question no one can. As I look out my window I feel sick and afraid. All the automobile companies in the world couldn’t make a billion cars. Are we just a computer simulation?????????

  23. I, too, root for capitalism; but given its ever worsening mal-distribution of income, success is elusive. Some of the other reasons it can’t succeed long term include:
    – Anything good that happens for workers is bad for capitalists and vice versa (see stock market returns on a day when large numbers of workers get a raise or when a strike is broken)
    – Capitalism’s core assumption is a free, self-regulating market, a myth that exploded the day that lobbying was invented
    – Capitalism focuses on short-terms goals and ignores long term company health
    – About 1% of shareholders own 2/3 of all shares
    – Capitalism is devoid of a social conscience (see Detroit, Youngstown, Cleveland)
    – Capitalism is unstable based on the frequency of recessions and depressions
    – America’s most powerful and generous (when it come to campaign contributions) captains of industry control tax policy and tax policy has a lot to do with business success
    – When workers are let go, society, not the employer, assumes the social costs
    – Externalities: the Koch brothers would be worth billions less if they were compelled to pay the actual costs of the pollution their industries create
    – If one business in a market ceases paying a benefit, all must stop offering the benefit or become non-competitive – bye bye defined retirement plans
    – Capitalism contains no mechanisms or methodologies for confronting problems like jobs that disappear due to automation
    – Salaries and bonuses of executive are seldom linked to performance
    – In countless cases crime pays in a capitalist enterprise
    – In a capitalist society, wars are profit-making opportunities
    But the ultimate death knell of capitalism (assuming Trump proves unable to start a nuclear war) is its requirement for endless growth in a finite, overcrowded world. Three hundred million Chinese are now prospering. That leave one billion screaming for a break. The number for India is not that different. That’s why we are making serious plans to take up residence on a faraway planet where the temperature is around minus 55 degrees centigrade.

  24. “The problem is not that such a system cannot provide income and wealth to society but that (as practiced) it provides a grossly undeserved and unequal shares of such production to only one of its participants – the rich and corporate class. ”

    Gerald; like city utilities, they are monopolies. The small handful own everything; leaving us nowhere else to buy anything or get services on what we buy. If corporations and businesses we patronize for all our needs were required to post who in actuality owns them we would still be left with the same 1% who own all goods and services. This now includes our medical care in all areas of treatment and the evangelicals are after our souls. It has been said before, but now may be the truth; we are living our hell here on earth.

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