Basic income

The Politics Of Love: Where To From Here?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 26/08/2018 - 7:00pm in

There has been a resurgence of interest in love and politics. We now regularly hear the word ‘love’ in activism and political analysis. In the lead-up to the 2016 US Presidential election, for example, a Love-Driven Politics Collective was formed; and following the election of Donald Trump, Van Jones mobilised a #LoveArmy. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared […]

The post The Politics Of Love: Where To From Here? appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Basic Income’s Politics Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/08/2018 - 2:04am in

The rising interest in Basic Income, and its being put on the political agenda in countries ranging from Canada to South Africa to to Finland, is driven by a number of economic and political factors. There remain the old concerns about the administrative costs and paternalism of welfare bureaucracies, and these have been joined by observations about the increasing precariousness of the labor market, caused in part by increased automation, the growth of the informal labor sector in both the Global North and Global South and the sense that, at least at a global level, the old problem of economic scarcity may have been overcome.

Basic Income, from this perspective, represent a potential way of dealing with the fallout of massive changes within the economic structure of countries whilst also allowing individuals to retain autonomy and acting in contrast to the often-homogenizing biopolitical structures of the post-World War II Western welfare states. It is also argued that its very simplicity imbues the program with a flexibility which would allow it to work in a wider variety of economic and political contexts. Recently, both the province of Ontario in Canada and the nation of Finland have experimented with welfare delivery reforms in the direction of basic income, whilst in South Africa there is wide-ranging social push for implementation of a basic income grant program.

This rising interest has, however, led to a number of questions from both skeptics of basic income and those open to it. A number of such concerns could be classified as practical matters which are particular to the political and bureaucratic systems of each particular government concerned with implementation. There is also another set of questions which concern the basic income project at a more general level, which could be classed as pertaining to the philosophical and ontological underpinnings of such a policy.

 

The Subject Complication:

To begin with, there is the problem of exactly whom the basic income will apply to; in other words, what is the subject for claims to social justice in the world of basic income. In most formulations, from Thomas Paine forward, a basic income is conceived of as having a condition of citizenship attached to it. Though this would be a relatively straightforward in a world of limited interstate migration, the reality is that individuals and families currently exist in a wide variety of positionalities vis-à-vis the state in which they physically inhabit. In addition to citizens, there are permanent residents, refugees, students on visas, temporary foreign workers and more. The danger with a citizenship-conditional basic income, as it is unlikely that every country would implement such a policy at the same time, and certainly not at the same monetary level, is that it would further deepen the divide between citizen and non-citizen inhabitants of particular countries.

There is, of course, a  counter-proposal, of opening basic income to all living within a country, regardless of status. However, given the already fraught nature of immigration and integration policy, this would most likely prove politically damning of both the government who implemented the policy and Basic Income itself.

 

The Scarcity Complication:

This points to another potential issue with basic income, namely, that of scarcity. The compulsion to work in order to receive income, either within the market in a capitalist society or in some other arrangement, such as a communal obligation or kinship system in a non-capitalist one, has traditionally been justified on grounds of resource scarcity. In essence, the idea that one must contribute one’s labor or resources, adding to the overall “pie” of the society, in order to make a claim on taking resources out later on.

However, in practice, societies tend to exempt certain classes of people from the labor compulsion, such as the elderly and children, if sufficient resources exist to allow these populations to exist as “free riders” of a sort. The argument for basic income, in relation to the scarcity question, is that, at least at the global level, scarcity has been overcome by technological advances, productivity gains and automation, such that a labor compulsion is no longer strictly necessary.

At the national level, however, even setting aside questions of effective governance and level of citizen trust in government which affect many states, governments may be capable of deploying resources, but not all governments have the same level of resources to deploy. Given the citizenship-focused nature of most basic income projects, the scarcity question will continue to trouble such proposals absent a mass nation-to-nation wealth redistribution or the establishment of a level of transnational government capable of effectively taking on the task of administering such a program.

 

The Sustainability Complication:

Finally, there is the question of whether or not a basic income program would be sustainable in the political sense in the manner in which the growth of the social democratic welfare state was in the 20th century. The key to this growth of the welfare state, and the notion of decommodified consumption (via free-at-point-of-use services such as health care) was the mobilization of working-class political power resources, primarily trade unions and left-wing parliamentary political parties usually associated with them. By contrast, until very recently, basic income tended to be a subject of interest to academics and policymakers rather than a concrete demand made by a mobilized political power grouping, either in the traditional sense of trade unions and political parties, or in more modern social movements.

To some degree, this may be legacy of libertarian strands of support for basic income which were explicitly aimed at taking down aspects of the welfare state that such movements viewed as their major achievements. With the exception of South Africa, where there was a broad social push for the BIG, that even those social justice movements which exist outside of the traditional social democratic framework have not yet made basic income into a clearly articulated demand. Organizations explicitly concerned with labor issues, such as Fight for 15, have placed emphasis more on rights-at-work and raising wages, rather than a right-to-not-work implicit in at least the progressive, as opposed to libertarian, interpretation of basic income. In a way, this indicates that such organizations may still be stuck, to greater or lesser degrees, in the old social democratic model, with its emphasis on labor rights, albeit with some new elements.

 

A Way Forward:

With that said, the notion of basic income continues to express a certain truth about the collective stake in the commons and the ability to demand a just share of social wealth, free of restrictions or paternalistic impediments, and without the, increasingly unnecessary, compulsion to engage in the formal labor market. With both the increasing interconnectedness of global economic production, and the increasing precarity of many forms of work, the case for basic income on both moral and practical grounds has rarely been more compelling than it is now.

However, in order for basic income to be implemented in a progressive fashion, a recognition and a concrete convergence of action (as opposed to a notional convergence of interest) must be had between basic income advocates and political movements both of the precariat and the traditional working class. Just as the welfare state of the 20th century was largely built on the political muscle of the workers of its time, if basic income is to be the welfare cornerstone of the 21st, it will need a similarly strong mobilization behind it.

By Carter Vance

 

Carter Vance has a Masters of Arts from the Political Economy program at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He has also published his work for Jacobin on water rights protests and has written on a variety of topics for publications such as Truthout and Inquires Journal.

 

The post Basic Income’s Politics Problem appeared first on Economic Questions .

A very British disease

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/06/2018 - 3:35am in

The desire to judge people's motives rather than addressing their needs is a “British disease”. We have been suffering from it for hundreds of years, cycling endlessly through repeated cycles of generosity and harshness. Each cycle ends in public outrage and an abrupt reversal: but the memory eventually fades, and the disease reappears in a new form. In this post, I outline the tragic history of Britain's repeated attempts to "categorise the poor".

For centuries, successive British social systems have recognised that there are people who cannot work, whether because they are too young, too old, too ill or too infirm. These people need to be provided for by others – in the first instance families, but where family support networks break down, support must be provided by the wider community.

And for centuries, successive British social systems have also recognised the existence of people who are perfectly capable of working but are not doing so. Most of these people are unemployed due to economic circumstances. But a small minority are not working because they don't want to. And an even smaller minority pretend to be ill, infirm or unfortunate in order to claim benefits, often while working on the sly.

In mediaeval times, most social support was provided by the Church, through the monasteries and the parishes. But after the dissolution of the monasteries, far more of this responsibility fell on the parishes. Welfare provision in Tudor times became patchy and inconsistent – good in some places, less good in others. Eventually, the Poor Laws of 1601 recognised and codified “good practice” in the care of those who could not provide for themselves. Poorhouses were established, in which the old, ill and infirm were cared for, and orphanages were created to house, feed and educate children.It all sounds very civilised.

But there was a darker side. People who were physically unable to provide for themselves were not the only people without work in Tudor times. Unemployment was already high at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, and it was accompanied by persistently high inflation. A growing number of able-bodied people were either not working or not earning enough to support themselves.

There had been a history of vagrancy in England ever since the Black Death. Once feudal ties were loosened by the shortage of able-bodied workers, some people got into the habit of moving from place to place looking for the best-paid work. The first law controlling wages and restricting movement of labour appeared in 1349 and was reinforcedin 1351. But these were poorly enforced and ineffective. And they did not address the growing number of “sturdy beggars” travelling from place to place, supporting themselves with a mixture of casual work, petty crime and begging.

Such itinerant workers were regarded with fear and suspicion, much as modern-day “travellers” are. The first law outlawing “wandering” appeared in 1388. Initially the punishment amounted to public humiliation: the offender was to be put in the stocks until he could persuade someone to pay for him to return to his “hundred”.

Yet many wanderers were repeat offenders: as fast as they were sent back to their hundreds, they left again. There is little doubt that to start with, many were simply migrating around the country in search of better-paid work, while others were professional beggars (and in the case of women, prostitutes) who knew they could make more money in a place where they were not known – rather like today's homeless man in a doorway, accompanied by obligatory dog, who takes the Tube back to his flat in Mill Hill at the end of a successful day's begging*. But once unemployment started to rise in Tudor times, their ranks were swelled by men, women and children who were genuinely unable to find steady work.

The trouble was that no-one distinguished between the genuinely unemployed and the professional vagrants. Punishments for vagrancy became increasingly harsh: in 1530, the Vagabonds Act licensed begging by the old and infirm, but provided for any able-bodied person found wandering outside their hundred to be “whipped until bloody” then forcibly returned to their hundred and compelled to work. The only people excused from this were heavily pregnant women and children under seven.

The legislation was strengthened in 1536, when provision was made for mutilation, imprisonment or execution of repeat offenders. And in 1547, a law was passed allowing for enslavement of vagrants. These laws proved too much for the magistrates: neither law was ever enforced. The 1547 law was repealed in 1550, and the death penalty for vagrancy was abolished in 1597. Imprisonment was as far as magistrates would go. Thus were born the first “workhouses”.

They weren't called workhouses at that time. They were known as “houses of correction”. The idea was that “sturdy beggars” were choosing not to work and therefore had a bad work ethic, which needed to be “corrected”. This was done by imposing hard physical work and a spartan regime.

The Poor Laws codified this distinction. Poorhouses were for the “deserving poor” - those who, through no fault of their own, were incapable of working. “Houses of correction” were for the “undeserving poor” - those who were perfectly capable of working but were choosing not to do so.. But not many of the unemployed actually ended up in houses of correction. Belatedly, Poor Law legislators realised that unemployment was not necessarily wilful, and so chose to support the majority of unemployed with “outdoor relief”, or what we would now call unemployment benefit.

“Outdoor relief” was originally introduced to support agricultural labourers suffering seasonal unemployment. Usually it involved some form of workfare, which was supposed to be socially useful but unfortunately included such beneficial activities as parking the unemployed on benches and leaving them there all day. Finding useful work for the unemployed to do was not always easy for parish administrators in times of high unemployment: modern proponents of a countercyclical job guarantee system might like to take note. They also faced the problem known as “hysteresis”, where the skills of the unemployed degenerate over time.

All manner of creative solutions to the twin problems of unemployment and hysteresis were adopted. The so-called “labour rate” was a property tax specifically used to fund the employment of agricultural labourers. The “roundsman” system was a job guarantee system funded by parishes to ensure that all agricultural labourers were productively employed: it depressed wages, but at least it kept people busy. Philanthropists, too, did their bit to relieve unemployment: one clergyman with more money than sense even built a completely useless tower near Rothbury, Northumberland, purely to keep local stonemasons occupied. And the Speenhamland system of income support attempted to ensure that periods of unemployment and under-employment coupled with high inflation did not leave families struggling to afford bread.

The Poor Laws were in many ways a benevolent institution, reversing the harshness of Tudor times. But the cost of all this assistance grew higher and higher as the population increased in the Industrial Revolution, raising concerns about its affordability. And there was a growing belief that supporting people with benefits destroyed people's incentive to work and was therefore a bad idea from both an economic and, more importantly, moral point of view. Rather than discouraging work with benefits, therefore, people should be compelled to work, if necessary with the threat of starvation.

Driven by both moral and economic concerns, the Old Poor Laws were replaced in 1834with a new systemdesigned to ensure that people took responsibility for providing for themselves and their families. No more were parishes to provide unemployment benefits or income support (although in practice many continued to do so). No longer was there to be any attempt to distinguish between those who would not work and those who could not. Poorhouses and houses of correction merged to create a single institution – the workhouse. And into the workhouse went the old, the ill, the infirm, widows, orphans, the unemployed and their families.

Conditions in workhouses were deliberately harsh. It was believed that “work should pay”, and therefore workhouses should be a last resort for the desperate. Work itself was believed to be virtuous. So workhouses provided just that – work. Hours and hours of it. Pointless, boring, demeaning work such as breaking stones, picking oakum or – stupidest of all – walking a treadmill. The regime was harsh, food was basic and there was no leisure time. You were not in a workhouse to enjoy yourself. Nor were you there to be cared for if you were incapable of work: the old concept of the benevolent poorhouse had gone. Everyone, old, young, ill, infirm, widows and unemployed, were subject to the same regime. Regardless of the circumstances, you were in a workhouse because you had committed the crime of worklessness. There were no mitigating factors.

Because it was believed that worklessness was caused by moral defect, steps were taken to prevent such moral degeneracy from spreading. People who entered workhouses often died there. Children were separated from their parents, often never to see them again. And husbands and wives were separated, usually permanently.

And yet, for all their harshness, Victorian workhouses had benefits. They provided basic healthcare and education, which many people “on the outside” could not afford. This rudimentary safety net made them particularly attractive to the old and those with children. Because of this, they failed in their basic aim, which was to force everyone to support themselves.

The Victorian period was a time of bizarre contradictions: of appalling cruelty inflicted with the best of motives, and of real social improvements coupled with grinding poverty for far too many. The foundation of the modern welfare state was laid during that time, as campaigners and politicians genuinely concerned about the hardships of the poor enacted legislation to improve their lot.

But the moral beliefs that drove both the harsh treatment of vagrants in the 16th century and the unintended cruelty of the Victorian workhouse system persist to this day.

The idea that “work must pay” encourages politicians to make claiming benefits extremely difficult for the unemployed and – more worryingly – for those who are unable to work due to illness or infirmity, just as in Victorian times, workhouse conditions were made deliberately harsh to discourage people from entering them.

Politicians castigate “generational worklessness”, promoting the idea that a tendency to worklessness is somehow inherited, passed on from parents to children. It was this idea that led to the brutal separation of families in the workhouses.

Above all, there remains a strong belief in the moral virtue of work. Work is indeed important for human dignity, so making it possible for people to work is important: but in what way mind-numbingly boring, pointless and demeaning work is dignifying and virtuous is hard to imagine. Nonetheless, the idea that people should be forced to do basic work to “earn” their benefits – even if their time might be better spent looking for a job that actually uses their skills - is electorally popular.

Underlying this lies the unwarranted assumption that all jobs are intrinsically of value and therefore anyone who turns down work because it is poorly paid, socially useless and utterly boring is lazy. It was this idea that led to workhouse inmates being forced to work long hours in dreary, pointless jobs. Today, we impose benefit sanctions on people who turn down the dreary, pointless jobs we assign to them in the name of “work experience”. Giving it a different name doesn't change its nature. It's the workhouse work ethic all over again.

It is perhaps understandable that we feel angry when we see people we think should be working but aren't. And it is also understandable that when times are hard, we resent paying benefits to those we feel don't deserve them. I suppose the anger that we feel towards those we regard as “scroungers” and “shirkers” will never go away. But categorising the poor is not only difficult – it is harmful, not to the shirkers and scroungers, but to the genuinely deserving. And it is also economically damaging for society as a whole.

Compelling people to work depresses wages for everyone. Harsh treatment of the workless enables employers to bid down wages to the floor in the certain knowledge that people will accept any work, at any price, rather than face the consequences. In Victorian times, fear of the workhouse depressed wages on the outside, forcing workhouses to respond by making conditions inside even worse. There was a race to the bottom in grimness which culminated in the famous Andover workhouse case, where starving inmates were reduced to eating the bones they had been assigned to grind down to make fertilizer. Today, we withdraw unemployment benefits from people who refuse even unpaid “work”. Is it any wonder that real unskilled wages have been falling?

Falling wages mean reduced demand in the domestic economy and lower tax revenues. If there are in-work benefits, falling wages also mean higher benefit bills. The “roundsman” system resulted in unsustainable benefit bills, as employers under-employed at market rates in the knowledge that they could pay less for the “reserve army” of unemployed labourers auctioned off by the parishes. These days, we prevent Dutch auctions in unskilled labour by imposing minimum wages. Ostensibly, this is to “make work pay”: but as benefit withdrawal for people on minimum wages can mean marginal tax rates of 100% or more, work at the minimum wage may not actually pay at all, though it does limit the benefit bills. But we haven't addressed the root cause of the problem: because we still subscribe to Victorian ideas that people will prefer to live on benefits than work to improve their lot, we are still – nearly two hundred years later – trying to compel people to work. The result is spiralling regulation and intervention in labour markets to limit the race to the bottom that such compulsion causes. We have learned nothing from our history.

But worst of all, using rules and sanctions to compel the genuinely work-shy to work diverts attention and resources away from those who really need help. And it unfairly stigmatises the vast majority of those who are not working, or who are not working as many hours as we think they should, whether through unemployment, sickness or disability. Study after study has shown that in general, people want to work. The problem is that suitable jobs aren't always available. And yet there remains a prevalent view, even among people who should know better, that people must be compelled to work, or to work harder, with harsh treatment. But today's sanctions for those who won't or can't work are mild compared to the punishments of old: why should they be any more successful? We would do better to concentrate our attention on helping those who genuinely want to work to find fulfilling, productive and well-paid jobs.

And we should also stop trying to decide whether someone “deserves” social support. We have been trying to distinguish between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor for eight hundred years, and we are no better able to make that judgement now than we were in the fourteenth century, or the sixteenth, or the nineteenth.

It is time to give up this fruitless attempt to judge people's motives. Simply provide everyone with a basic income so that they can afford to live, then let them get on with whatever they want to do.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Related reading:

Rolling out Universal Credit - National Audit Office
Productivity and Employment - Coppola Comment

* I do not mean to suggest that all homeless beggars in London are frauds. But we should recognise that professional begging exists today just as it did in the fourteenth century. Some things never change.

Image is The Andover Bastille, a cartoon from the time of the Andover case. Courtesy of Wikipedia

This post was originally published on PieriaView in 2014, under the title "Categorising the Poor". 

United States: Andrew Yang is running for President in 2020 on the platform of Universal Basic Income

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 08/04/2018 - 4:00pm in

Tags 

News, Basic income

Andrew Yang is a young entrepreneur who is running for president on the platform of Basic Income. As an entrepreneur, he started and led several technology and education companies. More recently he founded Venture for America, “a nonprofit that places top graduates in startups in emerging U.S. cities to generate job growth and train the next generation of entrepreneurs.” Because

The post United States: Andrew Yang is running for President in 2020 on the platform of Universal Basic Income appeared first on BIEN.

New Book on Universal Basic Income

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 31/03/2018 - 11:44pm in

A new book on universal basic income (UBI) will include a contribution from Brian Eno, the well-known musician and composer who has collaborated with artists such as David Bowie, U2, and Damon Albarn. The book, It’s Basic Income, is a collection of essays from a variety of contributors, including Eno, who argues that UBI will “nurture and support creativity”, according

The post New Book on Universal Basic Income appeared first on BIEN.

Thursday, 7 September 2017 - 6:21pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Thu, 07/09/2017 - 6:21pm in

I've been meaning to go through the literature on every thrust and parry in the ongoing argument between proponents of a Job Guarantee and those of a Basic Income, and put together a thorough response. That's not going to happen in the next month or so, so in case I get hit by a bus, here's two paragraphs of where I stand (or don't stand) in the debate, lifted from a comment I just posted on Neil Wilson's blog:

Basic income vs. job guarantee is a false dichotomy that ill serves anybody who takes sides. There is undoubtably some overlap in that they both aim to reduce hardship and stimulate demand, but as far as I can see they’re mostly orthogonal in the range of problems they can potentially solve. Also they’re both programs that we already run, in the sense that we (in developed sovereign currency economies) already have a labour buffer stock program — unemployment — and a basic income, set at the level of zero.

I’m totally sold on (at least my understanding of) the job guarantee as a better implementation of a labour buffer stock, but I don’t think that “with a job guarantee in place, no matter what the particular circumstances may be, anywhere and forever, no level of basic income other than zero could be justifiable” is a defensible argument. And it runs counter to the general MMT stance of “these are the economic policy tools available; how you choose to use them is a political decision”.

Brian Eno on basic income

Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 24/10/2016 - 5:00pm in

From an item in this weeks reading (transcription provided by the author of the item):

"I often get asked to come and talk at art schools, and I rarely get asked back, because the first thing I always say is, ‘I’m here to persuade you not to have a job.’ … My first message to people is: try not to get to a job. That doesn’t mean try not to do anything. It means try to leave yourself in a position where you do the things you want to do with your time, and where you take maximal advantage of whatever your possibilities are. The obstacle is that most people aren’t in a position to do that. I want to do anything to work to a future where everybody’s in a position to do that. … [T]he concept [of basic income] is the closest thing I’ve heard to achieving the kind of future that I would like to live in."

What should Labour be talking about?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/02/2016 - 9:43pm in

The Labour Party is a joke at the moment. The Corbyn side seems to be trying to steal the Green Party’s manifesto at the moment with it’s talk of basic income guarantees and “Democracy Days“. Meanwhile, the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party seems focused on ensuring it performs terribly in the May elections, with a … Continue reading What should Labour be talking about?