May 2, 2021
Welcome to episode 74 of Activist #MMT. Today I talk with Chris McArdle (Twitter/@ChrisMctwtr) on the politics and pitfalls of implementing the MMT-designed job guarantee. Chris was politically active in the 2000s, and an early and strong supporter of then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dannel P. Malloy. Chris later joined the Malloy administration during its two terms, conducting policy research and providing public and governmental relations around economic development, housing, and workforce.
[Here’s a link to part two of this episode.]
While traveling around Connecticut in 2010 with candidate Malloy, Chris encountered other candidates at all levels of government. One of them was running for the then-open seat for US Senate, first attempting to earn the Democratic nomination, and ultimately running as a third-party candidate in the general election. What set this candidate apart was his unique policy proposals, highlighted by the promise of a job for anyone who wanted one. That candidate was Warren Mosler.
After the campaign ended, Chris joined Warren and his son for lunch, noting the fancy car out front that Warren himself had built. Warren bought lunch and Chris bought two of Warren’s books (Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds Of Economic Policy and Soft Currency Economics). The two stayed in touch, and Chris was introduced to the then still-small community of economists and students of MMT. He soon spent many hours reading MMT papers and posts, and learning key concepts like Wynne Godley’s sectoral balance identity, Abba Lerner’s functional finance, and Georg Fredric Knapp’s state theory of money.
In 2018, MMT economists released their paper Public Service Employment: A Path to Full Employment. Chris used the paper as an opportunity to introduce the possibility of a job guarantee to the Commissioner and staff of the Connecticut Department of Labor.
Chris praises the authors of the paper for its acknowledgment of political realities. An example is how it considers existing Prevailing Rate structures in a number of states, including Connecticut. This is important because it avoids unnecessarily alienating the building trades unions, therefore increasing the chances that they will support the proposal. He’s also proud to have made a small contribution to this particular aspect of the proposal.
The other concept Chris and I discuss regarding the job guarantee is one I struggle to grasp during this episode, but became more clear of in follow-up conversations. The job guarantee as designed by MMT economists would be a federal law that is federally funded and locally designed and administered. This means that state, county, and municipal governments would design the implementation they deem appropriate for their communities. Chris remembers well the pitfalls and potential abuse of a government-run jobs program such as those endured by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) of 1973. One of those pitfalls is the stigma associated to having a "government job."
What Chris recommends is that the actual hiring and management of those jobs be placed into the hands of, for example, non-profits and public-private partnerships. As is already the case in areas such as for the provisioning of social services and construction of housing, governmental and quasi-governmental entities would provide professional selection and oversight, while avoiding creation of a large new government workforce and bureaucracy. Finally, it should also be noted that in Chris’ state (Connecticut), there is no county government – implying that the job guarantee would most likely be delivered at the state level. Where I live in New Jersey, county governments are more prominent.
This episode is part one of a two-part conversation. In part two, Chris and I discuss online activism, and also the concept of "Truth" versus theory. MMT is not "the truth about economics" as I have, admittedly, often said, it is simply the most convincing economic theory (to both me and Chris). Truth is an inherently-subjective term and using it is therefore not conducive to encouraging others to look into MMT, let alone be convinced by it.
We end by giving a rundown of our lists of important sources that we find valuable to pass on to others interested in learning more about MMT, both from an introductory point of view, and for those wanting more detail. Many links to these sources and more can be found in the show notes.
Now onto my conversation with Chris McArdle.