Why a Federal Jobs Guarantee is better than UBI

Photo by Ryan Thorpe on Unsplash

According to Hegel, freedom doesn’t mean being able to do whatever you want. This would be caprice, being enslaved to your whims and desires. True freedom lies in humanity being able to shape the world to reflect their ethical consciousness. So true freedom is gained by the institution of Law, precisely by constraining our ability to be capricious. To Hegel, the highest agency of human freedom and ethics is the State, because it writes and keeps the Law.

However most of us don’t see the State that way. Our attitude towards our governments is mostly hostile. We take it for granted that it’s corrupt, serving only a powerful elite. We just expect it to maintain a basic order and not get in our way too much.

This is the concept of a liberal government: an administration that provides a neutral frame, a safe playground, for individuals to do what they want, within reason. But the government itself is free of any ideology, any ethics. From its citizens it only asks they follow the rules and pay taxes. In fact, the Law has lost its claim to ethics, it is now reduced to a social contract designed to maximise individual freedoms.

In such a society, the public sphere slowly disappears. Public services constrain individual freedom since they are paid for by taxpayer money. It also produces selfish people. Only in times of crisis do we realise how much we depend on each other, when the neutral frame the government provides threatens to lose its transparency.

A universal basic income is often proposed to solve today’s problems of inequality. But at the same time, a UBI would also work as a kind of subsidy for the private individual, to be spent on whatever he wants. Do I want that? Or do I want a government that demands I work for the good of the State, on some project that will benefit the public? That is what a federal jobs guarantee would offer.

I’ve been against a federal jobs guarantee because I don’t trust the government to provide meaningful work. But UBI is no solution to that, we’re still disconnected from each other, just living in a safer playground. What we should fight for instead is the ability to recognise in the State our own hopes and dreams for humanity. Then I wouldn’t mind being called into service.

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