At The New Republic Jonathan Masalic makes the case for one, while also illuminating a similar proposal, that for the universal guarantee of a job. The universal employment proposal, which was suggested by Jeff Spross, would work like this:
Spross argues in the current issue of the journal Democracy, they ought to counter President Donald Trump’s rhetoric with a concrete offer to every American who wants dignity and a decent living: a federally funded job. Spross, an economics and business writer for The Week, makes a thorough case for a universal job guarantee, writing that “a job is not merely a delivery mechanism for income that can be replaced by an alternative source. It’s a fundamental way that people assert their dignity, stake their claim in society, and understand their mutual obligations to one another.” ...
Spross proposes that someone with a full-time job in the federal program would work on infrastructure and community development projects and be paid $25,000, plus full benefits. The proposal has precedent, not only in the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, but in Argentina within the past decade. With jobs of last resort paying well above the current federal minimum wage, unemployment would drop to nothing and workers higher up the income ladder would gain tremendous bargaining power. The “dignity deficit” would disappear immediately.
Masalic, by contrast, proposes a Universal Basic Income:
But because basic income is the more inclusive program—encompassing children, the disabled, and everyone else who cannot work—it promotes a kind of justice that a make-work program cannot. Moreover, in an economy that can substitute machines for human labor, a job guarantee could transform into a de facto basic income guarantee anyway. As Avent notes, the more expensive human labor is, the more appealing machine labor becomes. With a high wage floor and no slack in the labor market, it would make economic sense to automate jobs that humans currently do for low wages, like customer service, transportation, and sales. This would push even more people to take the guaranteed jobs. At some point, there might not be enough productive work to go around. Once people find themselves doing pointless make-work just to keep busy and qualify for a paycheck—in other words, once guaranteed jobs become bullshit jobs—we may as well call it art.
I've been persuaded for a long time that we need to find a workable mechanism to establish a Universal Basic Income in the United States. As Masalic notes, it would provide support for parents who want to stay home with their children, it would give workers the same kind of leverage that Spross's universal jobs program would, and it would allow those whose understanding of "work" does not correspond to the demands of post-industrial capitalist society. It could allow for a new well-spring of creative activity, from artists and musicians who are willing to live at the modest level a universal income would allow, while also allowing those who wish to strive to make more.
Here's the fundamental problem, which I think Masalic identifies well: When did we ever agree as a society that our lives should depend on our willingness to take crappy, dead-end jobs, and whittle our lives away on meaningless work? Why is it better to do that than to detach the need to survive from the need to "work" in the capitalist/acquisitive sense of the word? And, fundamentally, who benefits from the existing system? Not the lowest paid workers. Not even those in the middle class. This is a system which is set up to perpetuate itself by convincing anyone who isn't willing to take literally any job they're offered because they alternative is starvation that they are immoral, lazy bums.
The dignity of work is found finally in its meaningfulness. I'd ultimately be happy if we implemented a program like Spross's. But it ultimately needs to be a gateway to the far more radical, and far more necessary, guarantee of a basic income.