Should the unemployed have to work for their benefits?

Providing 99 weeks of unemployment insurance is an extreme repurposing of a statute that was passed into law decades ago.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/File
People wait in line to enter the City University of New York (CUNY) Big Apple job fair in New York, in this file image from April 23, 2010. With extended unemployment benefits still at 99 weeks, some argue that a community service requirements should accompany aid.

Keynesian macroeconomics is a pretty simple affair and especially well suited to those with a penchant for policy making.

The primary rule goes something like this; “If the free(ish) market can’t do it, then government policy must be enacted to do it until such time as the free(ish) market can do it for itself again.”

The “it” in this case is whatever a Keynesian policy junkie or their host elected representative, particularly one with a seat up for reelection deems “it” to be.
An important corollary to the above rule reads more or less like the following; “If no government policy is enacted to do what the free(ish) market won’t do, then all is lost.”

With these basic “truths”, policy wonks in the Keynesian camp can propose a litany of government sponsored market functions while elected officials scramble to enact those most politically viable, popular and advantageous to reelection bids.

Take unemployment insurance, for example.

The Keynesian point of view tells us that there are five unemployed (maybe even close to ten) for every available job and thus the free market simply can’t absorb the unemployed.

Since the free market can’t adequately provide the unemployed a wage, then government policy must step in or else all is lost.

Not extending this important government policy would be “cruel” say’s master Keynesian Paul Krugman, since, in his mind, four out of five unemployed would have no ability to earn a wage.

The implication of Krugman’s dire circumstance, of course, is that without government policy, there will inevitably be four homeless starving individuals for each newly employed worker… it is a foregone conclusion.

Despite these claims though, one might wonder whether the individuals that make up the macro-economy aren’t a bit more capable than the Keynesians give them credit.

Would four out of five workers really fail simply because the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there is a shortage of jobs? Is there no dynamism on the part of the individual?

Nevertheless, providing 99 weeks of unemployment insurance is nothing short of an extreme repurposing of a statute that was passed into law many decades ago.

With this level of exaggeration of the original intent of the law should have come a comparable change in the expectations of the beneficiary.

Recipients receiving extended benefits should have been required to perform at least a nominal amount (10 to 15 hours) of community service each week in order to earn their stipend.

Since the enacted unemployment insurance policy currently assumes that there is no choice on the part of the worker, four out of five are doomed to failure as the Keynesians argued, then this policy is simply providing a salary for which some work should have been required.

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