Richard Dien Winfield is quick to point out that he was born in Queens, the same borough of New York City as Donald Trump. Now he wants to represent Athens, Georgia, and its rural, heavily conservative environs in Congress. “Republicans in this district were willing to support someone with no Georgia roots, a guy from Queens, talking about bringing jobs back to America,” he reasoned, so why not him?
Winfield’s slogan for his campaign is “Guaranteed Jobs, Fair Wages.” He appears to be the first candidate in the 2018 cycle to run on a federal guarantee of a job for every able-bodied American adult who wants one. Winfield, a philosophy professor at the University of Georgia for 35 years and the author of The Just Economy, will kick off his campaign the weekend before the Martin Luther King holiday, and that’s no accidental timing. King endorsed “employment for everyone in need of a job” during the civil-rights era, and his widow, Coretta Scott King, co-founded the National Campaign for Full Employment in 1974.
“After winning back political and civil equality, King realized a new chapter had to be opened, the struggle for economic rights,” Winfield said in an interview. “King wanted to transform the entire society so everyone could benefit. That struggle has fallen into oblivion.”
The district, Georgia’s 10th, is currently represented by Republican Jody Hice. He didn’t have an opponent in 2016, which was true for a shocking number of Republican officeholders in the state. And Trump easily carried the district. But this era of resistance has brought out a new crop of Democrats. Most foreground the need to reverse the president’s destructive policies. Few speak about comprehensive policy frameworks that would truly change America. For this reason, Richard Dien Winfield’s long-shot bid is drawing attention from academics and activists who have longed for big ideas.
“A new social bill of rights could help transform the political and economic discussions we’re having in this country,” said Mark Paul, a visiting fellow with the Roosevelt Institute who has co-authored some of the major job-guarantee studies. “Richard Dein Winfield could deliver model legislation, setting a viable path towards achieving full employment and economic security for all.”
Progressive economists have latched on to the idea of a federal jobs guarantee, a Depression-era chestnut associated with programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. Under this concept, the government would provide jobs with a decent wage and benefits similar to those enjoyed by public-sector workers. The open-ended program would be funded as needed, expandable in recession, and contractable when the economy recovers. Government would effectively become the employer of last resort.