The political aspects of unemployment payments


Trump could coast to a win in November if he would embrace his inner Keynes.

Unfortunately he’s constrained by Republican orthodoxy, and right-wing think-tank ideologues who reject government interference in the so-called “free market”.

This ideological opposition is nothing new and was spelled out in 1943 by Polish economist Michael Kalecki in Political Aspects of Full-Employment. “…There is a political background in the opposition to the full employment doctrine, even though the arguments advanced are economic…. The reasons for the opposition of the ‘industrial leaders’ to full employment achieved by government spending… [are]: (i) dislike of government interference in the problem of employment as such; (ii) dislike of… public investment and subsidizing consumption… (iii) dislike of the social and political changes resulting from the maintenance of full employment….

Capitalists [have] a powerful indirect control over government policy: everything which may shake the state of confidence… [might] cause an economic crisis…. The social function of the doctrine of ‘sound finance’ is to make the level of employment dependent on the state of confidence…. The dislike of business leaders for a government spending policy grows even more acute when they come to consider the objects on which the money would be spent…. Public investment… be confined to objects which do not compete with the equipment of private business… suits the businessmen very well. But the scope for public investment of this type is rather narrow….

The maintenance of full employment would cause social and political changes which would give a new impetus to the opposition of the business leaders. The ‘sack’ would cease to play its role as a disciplinary measure. The social position of the boss would be undermined, and the self-assurance and class-consciousness of the working class would grow…. ‘Discipline in the factories’ and ‘political stability’ are more appreciated than profits by business leaders. Their class instinct tells them that lasting full employment is unsound from their point of view, and that unemployment is an integral part of the ‘normal’ capitalist system…”

Presently millions of laid-off American workers are receiving generous unemployment payments, with quite a few a lot more than their shit-jobs, but as Kalecki noted, this state of affairs is anathema to the capitalists and their political lackeys. Governors in red states are already moving to reopen their economies in the teeth of the pandemic in order to end such payments. Make no mistake, the arguments about “freedom” are simply cover for their opposition to government largess.

Trump actually ran as a populist Republican, voicing critique of many of the neoliberal shibboleths embraced by politicians on team red and team blue to the dismay of Beltway pundits. However, since his surprise election he’s governed like a typical Republican, with tax-cuts and extreme opposition to workplace regulations and environmental protections. In the process he’s kowtowed to the “free market” ideologues who populate our nations capital.

It’s darkly humorous to see Trump in the bind he’s in, where he could beat the despicable Biden like a gong if only he were to commit economic heresy.

In this environment, where millions of laid-off Americans stand to lose their jobs, insurance and now unemployment benefits, Trump could gain enormous support by simply doing the right thing.

Crazy, I know.



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