Full Employment: The First Principle Of New Populism

Dave Johnson

Word is there’s an economic recovery going on. The New Populism ConferenceBut approximately 99 percent of us have no reason to believe that.

The public sees that the government bailed out the biggest banks and that the “recovery” is going really well for a very few people. But most Americans are actually falling behind, and know it. Wages are still stagnant at best and the minimum wage has fallen so far behind that people working full time remain in poverty. Unemployment is down largely because of people “leaving the workforce.” And all along government services are being cut and cut and cut.

People see the government working for a wealthy few at the top, and against the rest of us. People see the rigged game at work against them. This is not just an economic and human catastrophe. With an election coming, key Democratic constituencies have simply been left behind during the Obama administration. “Are you better off now than you were 4 or 8 years ago? HELL NO!”

So this could become a political catastrophe as well, potentially bringing the return of the very people and conditions that got the country into this mess.

An Ongoing Catastrophe For Regular People

What Washington has done since the “Reagan Revolution” and especially since the 2008 crash has benefited the few, usually at the expense of the general public. Washington rescued the big banks, and left homeowners and the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Anti-inflation monetary policy has been a catastrophe for regular people. (Protecting Wall Street at the expense of Main Street? Really?)

Washington’s austerity, budget-cutting fixation has been a catastrophe for regular people. (Laying off hundreds of thousands of public employees, cutting public investment and cutting back on the safety net during an unemployment crisis? Really?)

Washington’s “free trade” policies have been great for giant, multinational corporations but have been a catastrophe for regular people, sending millions upon millions of jobs out of the country. (Not even confronting blatant currency manipulation that is costing 5.8 million jobs? Really?)

Washington’s corporate tax policies have been a catastrophe for regular people. (Giving companies huge tax breaks for moving jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country? Really?)

One catastrophe after another hitting regular people. And people see it coming from a system that is rigged against them, working just fine for a wealthy few.

We did get the “stimulus.” The stimulus reversed the terrible plunge in jobs and showed that our government could fix the jobs emergency.

But that was all it did, and that was it. It worked but it was just not enough to get things going again. And now it’s five years later. As most people can see, after the stimulus the Obama administration capitulated to Republican/Wall Street demands for austerity – and outright budget blackmail. The President even at times reinforced the right’s ideological position by boasting about government progress in balancing its books rather than emphasizing the human cost of not boosting government resources to drive job creation. Democrats even voted to cut food stamp spending and the president signed the bill! (Cutting Food Stamps in the middle of a national jobs and poverty emergency? Really?)

We Demand Full Employment

The New Populism Conference on Thursday will demand full employment as the first principle of the new populism.

We demand full employment! Full employment means there is a job for everyone who wants a job. There is simply no reason whatsoever that we can’t have full employment – except for policies that are intentionally keeping us from having full employment.

We demand full employment! Why isn’t our government stepping up and just hiring all of the people who need jobs? It’s not as if there are not enough things that need to be done. Our infrastructure is in serious need of repair. We need to retrofit millions of buildings and homes in the country to be energy efficient. We need to build a modern energy grid to bring energy from wind farms that we need to build in the plains states (where the wind is) to the cities and industrial centers (where the need is). We need to cut the number of children per classroom in half. We need to do … so many things. Why isn’t our government the employer of last resort, just hiring people to do those things we need done – in the middle of an employment emergency?

We demand full employment! Unemployment is a human and economic catastrophe. There are so many things our government could do besides direct hiring (which they should be doing). Our government could fix our job-sucking trade deals and balance the trade budget. Our government could demand that corporations return the trillions of dollars they are holding outside of the country to avoid paying the taxes due on that money. That’s a double whammy; take away the huge incentive to move jobs out of the country because of the tax break – and use the money they already owe to just hire millions of people!

The New Populism Conference

Two speakers at this week’s New Populism Conference, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and economist Jared Bernstein will talk about the importance of growth and jobs in order to bring about a rapid change in inequality.

Rep. Ellison will talk about the Progressive Caucus investment strategy for full employment. Bernstein will talk about full employment and his recent book, “Getting Back to Full Employment: A Better Bargain for Working People,” co-written with economist Dean Baker.


The New Populism Conference on May 22 in Washington (featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren) will discuss ways to fight for an agenda for economic change that strong majorities of Americans already support. (See the Populist Majority website containing polling numbers showing that Americans support this New Populist agenda.) Click here to register or to watch the conference live online.

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