A 21st Century Jobs Program

Sick pay pays sick people to stay home but to defeat the virus we also want lots of healthy people to stay home. We also want to support people who are at home because they can’t find work. We can accomplish these goals by subsidizing work using services like Upwork or Mechanical Turk. Jobs on platforms like Upwork are the shovel-ready work of the 21st century. A 21st century jobs program would pay people to stay home and isolate, support people without work, and produce some useful output all at the same time.

Instead of paying people to dig and then fill ditches we could pay people to help train machine-learning apps, enter data, subtitle videos. take surveys, maybe even fold proteins to disrupt viruses.

More generally, how about paying people to take online courses? i.e. an income support program and a human capital investment program at the same time. Of course, not everyone would do well and people would cheat but think of these programs as a combination of paying people to isolate, maintaining aggregate demand and providing a source of income when low-wage restaurant and other service-jobs are declining but with a work requirement.

Hat tip: Discussion with Nate Baker. See also John Horton and Arindrajit Dube.


The simpler way to accomplish the same result more quickly and using the existing skill set of government is to close all businesses by law, except perhaps groceries and pharmacies, and maybe disburse cash to everyone (optional). Government is not good at designing solutions to complicated problems. It is good at using force, and at paying money. Keeping people out of the streets for a month is certainly something that government can do.

End all H1b and send them home. Actively search for people here illegally and deport them. result: jobs and homes for all citizens.

Evidently it has nothing to do with coronavirus, but thanks for participating.


Much of the crazy stuff they're shrieking for has been on the agenda/menu for decades.

If this ends, when it ends, the 327,000,0000 survivors will need to make huge changes.

First thing we do, let's kill all the globalists.

@Saul. Naïve xenophobia and smug cruelty. The actual net effect of immigrants is more jobs for everyone. All their income goes back into the economy, creating demand. They balance out the labor market in key ways that create net economic development. They are highly motivated, with similar consequences. They commit fewer crimes than the natives, reducing the drain on the economy of law enforcement and incarceration (with the obvious exception of them having been recently criminalized). There are really good reasons why, despite the political fallout, the governments of many developed European countries are working to welcome migrants.There is tons of good research. Read it. But I guess, only if you're the kind of person who believes in research and in the utility of a framework of shared facts.

You are correct that the pundits spread those beliefs but it isn't true. The unfettered immigration only helps millionaire and billionaire business owners become richer while putting middle class people out of job and keeping wages low. While xenophobia is a popular slur from the left it is just a made up propaganda to try to keep the hoi polloi from resisting the take over. There is research that proves this if you are the kind of person who believes in research...

All good ideas. It would help if the big MOOC platforms just made classes free again, for a time.

The sound of a thousand Chinese Gold Farmers clapping...?

More generally, how about paying people to take online courses?

Some people might indeed build human capital from this. My gut feeling is that most people won't. Moreover, to the extent that Bryan Caplan and people like him are right, the human capital that schooling builds is mostly the ability to pass a degree screen. For most people, taking the courses won't do them any good unless it is part of a traditional school screen. I.e., if it's college students taking online courses as part of their degree program, it helps them. Otherwise, not.

This is also a way for indirectly paying the person who created the online course.

Better proposal would be for state governments to make their in person classes that are being taught today FREE online.

And, there are already FREE online classes through coursera.org and edx.org or orc.yale.edu

What we probably need though is certification programs...so that if you take a number of online classes, you take a test (not based on any one provider, but on the subject matter) and get a certificate or score you can then use to sell yourself to an employer.

"And, there are already FREE online classes through coursera.org and edx.org or orc.yale.edu"

I believe Coursera, and possibly others, have drastically reduced the power of the free account. I think it is it is an audit now, possibly without grading, and without full class participation.

I take many online classes via both Coursera and EdX.

I don't pay for any of them. If you don't pay you don't get a certificate. I don't think the certificate is worth much in the market. In econospeak, it doesn't have much signalling value. In my case, several courses have direct application to my current profession and the additional knowledge is self evident to my colleagues, customers, and employer. It is also source of great personal satisfaction.

One big change with EdX is if you don't pay your access to the course expires. Previously, the entire course was equivalent to a textbook sitting on your bookshelf. I still have access to all the courses I took prior to the policy change.

I think Coursera and EdX are so good right now that I fear any involvement in that market by the government would just f*ck it up. Just leave it alone!

I forgot to say, most of the courses are $50 to $100. Less than the cost of a college textbook or a meal for 4 in a decent Chinese restaurant.

Coursera and EdX are WAY underrated.

It absolutely does not deliver certification, which is what I'm saying should be at least free, even if you can't pay people.

You may not have understood what I said.

Let's say you take a free course on network analytics on coursera, declining to pay for the certificate. Another person takes a similar course on edx.

Both persons get tested on their knowledge of network analytics--regardless of how they learned it--from a third party. It might even a would-be employer who would be the person who would write and score the test. Or, maybe employers would jointly fund such a project to recruit persons. Or, linked.in might sponsor it and indirectly charge.

The bottom line is that people today can learn differently than in the past.

Great idea!

You are spot on!

Both EdX and Coursera do provide certificates and Coursera has "degree" programs. Maybe EdX too - I am too lazy to check right now. The problem is that the certificates don't have much signalling value.

Well proctored exams with effective identification methods might solve that problem. It would be the equivalent to professional certification of lawyers, architects, etc.

I am not saying the status quo is bad, but to do ranked order choices:

1) The government pays people for successfully completed certificates.

2) Coursera etc throw open their system and abandon fees during the crisis. (With or without a benefactor or government grant.)

3. Status quo.

The status quo is fine but it isn't as good.

Waste of time and resources unless there’s a verifiable proctoring method.

EdR is correct.

And that problem is different than yesterday how?

You are so busy trying to shit that you don't even think.

These are the *same* certificates with the *same* rules as yesterday.

Re: Instead of unemployment insurance " we could pay people to help train machine-learning apps, enter data, subtitle videos. take surveys,"

Sounds like requesting a subsidy for MRU projects...give me some free labor to help me with machine learning for my book software, enter subtitles for my video lectures, take surveys for me, and enter data on my projects....

Why should the government pay for this?

Just publicize to unemployed people that these are the jobs they can do for you and get paid for it.

Now, that said, maybe we should look at giving people on UI the option to participate in these types of programs without reducing their benefits or eligibility.

Do you think pushing people into the gig economy is a good idea?

Most of these ML training “jobs” earned about $2 an hour, prior to the landing of Corona-chan.

What do you think has happened to the labor supply and demand curves since then? What’s the equilibrium new wage?

Take a Coursera course Bill, and then tell us.

I've taken many/ but I don't know what you mean by ML.

The labor market is differentiated. My labor is priceless and very expensive.

I like how Dems think there is all this money just lying around, waiting to be handed out, with absolutely no repercussions whatsoever to anyone.

They just sit there all day, dreaming up ways to hand it out.

Indeed, don't they realize that the banks vacuum up any current (and future) loose change that's lying around!

I know it's fun to make jokes about digging & filling trenches. But the WPA/CCC in fact yielded a tremendous long term benefit - nearing 100 years now and still going strong - of public infrastructure (dams and roads, post offices and government buildings), public facilities (community centers, schools), public amenities (parks and trails), along with am enormous flowering of public arts that is still treasured to this day.

More importantly, a century ago pretty much everyone knew those in most need did not live in cities where is was "easy" to provide services which provided workers with wage income.

Today, Alex represents the overwhelming number who not only ignore the 50% of live in 80% of the land of the US, but does not even know they exist.

How can any of the jobs Alex imagines be done on dial up Internet, or on cell phones that have spotty voice and texting's virtue is it uses less bandwidth than voice and automatically retires until the message gets through to the server sitting in part of the 20% of land with great communication services.

Interstate highways are not dense enough in 80% of the land area to provide good cell to most of that 80%'s population to support Alex's proposal with smartphones.

The cable systems made money selling hundreds in services monthly to customers, so the cable companies picked their customers who had good reliable jobs. The cable companies saying they won't disconnect for the next two months is merely a filter to prevent driving customers with good incomes into cord cutters. The cable will be cut off for those earning too little to pay past hundred dollar plus cable bills.

The US in 1970 provided world class telecomm to 95% of homes.

Today, less than 50% of homes have the telecomm needed for Alex's proposal because Milton Friedman's policy of limiting telecomm service to ensure high rents are extracted by rationing service access is now in full effect.

Friedman argued from Chicago, the home of Western Electric, that anyone who wanted the quality of telecomm in cities like Chicago should move to the big cities because the cost burden on telecom customers in the big cities was too high to provide the same quality serve everywhere for the same price. He argued it was reasonable for the price of Alex's home Internet service in the majority on American homes be thousands of dollars per month on a long term contract.


Is there a Mechanical Turk option so people can get paid to do contact tracing calls?

I doubt this would ever go over well in the court of public opinion......but what about paying young, healthy, underemployed people to get infected?

The disease really doesn't seem that harmful to the young, and I imagine the government could buy up access to hotels to put them in, and assuming after two weeks they're well, they could be re-deployed back into the workforce.

Assuming a lot of these people worked in the service sector, it'd allow them to keep establishments open that would otherwise have to go out of business, and they could get financially renumerated in a way that would be much more generous than the lost income from work.

It'd also have the knock on effect of perhaps being able to keep certain meeting spots open that would otherwise be closed, which will probably be helpful once the lockdowns inevitable come to a close in western countries.

Because it's a new disease and we don't know the long term consequences of having it. There is some evidence of lung scarring.

Fair enough. I won't argue, except for the fact that 'success' in this case is probably going to be choosing from options that are very unpalatable, and should some evidence bear out that this is feasible, it shouldn't be ruled out.

That said, the PR for this would be awful, so I can't imagine it would ever come to pass.

Upon second thoughts:

The point about people getting long-term lung damage is valid, and I agree that if it looks like lots of young people are destined to have reduced life outcomes from being modestly infected then the idea is a no-go.

However, it's worth noting that I doubt the cases that experience severe lung damage are arbitrary and occur randomly. My guess is that there's a particular sort of disease progression that leads to that, and perhaps under controlled conditions where quarantining could be instant, mild, and monitored, it's possible the chances of that happening are negligible.

If that's the case......this seems like a plausible idea if the economy is falling apart and other measures aren't having the desired impact.

I do not understand why you guys do not push for people to do useful things, unencumbered by bureaucracy. According to the news here in the North of Italy, there are three bottle-necks:

1) doctors to screen patients
2) microbiologists to “interpret the tests”
3) ventilator units in hospitals.

1) you do not need a doctor. The screener has just to understand if the sick might have coronavirus, he does not have to make differential diagnosis. Almost any person can follow a check list: fever: check, cough: check, send him to x-rays, x-rays with a shadow, send to testing,. Or something like this.

2) you do not need a fully trained microbiologist to interpret the tests. As far as I was told, it is a test where you put something from the swab and the machine tells you if there is the infection or not. What can it take to learn to use just that machine? Two days, 16 hours? I suspect less. This guy is not supposed to recognize with the microscope amoebas in people stool, he has only to know how to operate a single machine.

Ventilators: I checked in Ali Baba, and I found suppliers in India, today, for 3.000$. My guess is that many countries cannot buy them because of some regulations. Fuck the regulations, let privates to modify hotels adding to beds whatever ventilators they can find or build, or having humans to push air or whatever in the ventilators, if the mechanical ones are not available. Let these private agents charge whatever they want. Better than nothing, nothing being what is happening here in the North of Italy. Of course, if the ventilators are fake, that is fraud, and it should be punished as such. Anyway, reputation will kill charlatans much earlier than when the moronic carabinieri show up.

Again, both on the demand and supply side, I think the State is making the situation worse. Fuck them, here people are dying en masse.

I would love to see the people promoting MTurk actually try working there. MTurk is filled with endless surveys that can pay up top a dollar if you are lucky. However, most tasks only pay a few cents. On top of that the number of participants in each task is often limited and you have a set amount of time to complete the task for it to be valid. You can put in 5 hours and maybe make $5. It's similar to how politicians mention ebay as a way to start a business and work from home. It's nice in theory but it doesn't work that way in reality.

I hate having to wait for someone else to pump my gas in New Jersey. However, right now it would be a great way to employ people around the country and keep some germ sharing down. The only reason I'm hesitant to propose it is that it might be hard to undo. And it's actually terrible when there is no plague.

When a republican is president Tyler wants direct subsidies. When a democrat is president Tyler thinks subsidies should be cut.

*Alex* the even more partisan hack

see also Seth Godin's blog: The problem for freelancers



"The problem with that race to the bottom is that you might win. Compliance and commodity pricing can’t possibly work well for an independent freelancer, because there’s always someone cheaper than you.

And clients? Well, every once in a while a good client encounters a freelancer who is worth sticking with. The marketplaces, though, want to be sure to get paid for every hour worked, not simply surface the good ones. Upwork is trying to slip through a change in their terms of service (effective in four weeks) that will subject any client who hires a freelancer they found on their site to a fine of up to $50,000–per freelancer. That’s not good for either the freelancer or the client."

UpWork have been squeezing workers for some time now so I'm not sure they're a good platform to recommend.

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