The need for further exploration of the economic injustice of unemployment should be obvious. Unemployment is currently at historically high rates and these high rates may be becoming structural. Aside from inequality, unemployment is accordingly the problem that is most likely to put critical pressure on our political institutions, disrupt the social fabric of our way of life, and even threaten the continuation of liberalism itself. Despite the obvious importance of the problem of unemployment, however, there has been a curious lack of attention paid to this issue by contemporary non-Marxist political philosophers. Non-Marxists typically view unemployment as a technical matter, and doing something about it a question of means not ends, with the solution to this question depending on the kind of empirical determinations about what causes what that are best left to economists, not political philosophers. But I think this is a mistake. Because work is a major part of our social life, as well as something that for a great many people grounds their sense of who they are and provides the basis of their sense of self-respect, those unable to find work are missing out on a great deal of what makes for a meaningful life, and not just the economic benefits that social cooperation has to offer. Those who are unemployed accordingly have something to complain about, even if we do not let them starve, and the rest of us (or at least the institutions that represent us) may have some sort of moral obligation to take action to increase the number of employment opportunities currently available regardless of any uncertainty surrounding the effects that any actions open to us might have. The nature and extent of this moral obligation is what On Unemployment is dedicated to exploring.
Volume I gives an overview of the current unemployment problem, discusses how the rate of unemployment is calculated and how the concept of unemployment should be understood, explores why we should treat unemployment, like inequality, as a proper object of moral concern, and develops a moral principle and ten related axioms that can help guide us when deciding which proposals to address unemployment we should reject and which we should pursue. The volume then devotes some attention to the problem of technological unemployment, the meaning and ramifications of Say’s Law, and the extent to which we should be concerned about the stickiness of wages as a cause of unemployment. The volume closes with a comparison of the Keynesian approach to addressing unemployment and the neoliberal and neoclassical approach, and argues that the latter are both empirically unsupportable and morally unjust.