The great British economist the late Joan Robinson once observed that the only thing worse than being exploited by capitalism is not being exploited by capitalism. This truth is felt acutely by anyone who is unemployed and looking for work. As the pain of the economic crisis continues and millions struggle to find employment there is an obvious imperative to create jobs—any jobs. But we shouldn’t stop there. In Back to Full Employment, Robert Pollin makes the essential point that “a workable definition of full employment should refer to an abundance of decent jobs.” Poor jobs that keep workers minimally employed but leave them in precarious circumstances and unable to participate fully in civic and political life are better than no jobs at all. But in terms of public policy we can and should aim higher—especially as decent jobs not only benefit the workers that hold them but also the communities in which they live. Absent a stable economic base, community itself is compromised.
Gar Alperovitz is Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland. He has made important research contributions in a range of political economy areas. Most recently, one of his main areas of focus has been how to create alternatives to capitalism out of the framework of the current situation. This work is incorporated into his recent book America Beyond Capitalism and his forthcoming book, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution.