A basic income is less than meets the eye

A basic income — the concept of everybody getting a regular check from the government regardless of circumstance — is one of those ideas that sound wonderful on the surface but proves to be much less so once we examine the details.

An idea that seems to have gained more traction recently, a basic income is a liberal utopia. It even has its proponents on the Right, including Chicago School godfather Milton Friedman. That alone ought to require us to pause for thought.

A basic income, also sometimes called a universal income, can be defined as a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirements, paid on a regular schedule. Everybody gets this money, on top of their regular earnings.

Northern lights in Suomussalmi region, Finland (photo by Damon Beckford)

Northern lights in Suomussalmi region, Finland (photo by Damon Beckford)

That sounds good, doesn’t it? The devil, of course, is in the details. And, as just noted, a basic income has support from Friedman and hard-line libertarian outfits like the Cato Institute. Friedman gave a talk on this topic (he called his version a “negative income tax”) in 1968, in which he said:

“The proposal for a negative income tax is a proposal to help poor people by giving them money, which is what they need. Rather than as now by requiring them to come before a governmental official, detail all their assets and their liabilities and be told that you may spend x dollars on rent, y dollars on food, etc., and then be given a handout.”

Conservative economists, and certainly Friedman, who remains an icon of the hard Right, are hardly known for wanting government to help anybody (except capitalists). So what is behind this? We are talking here about the economist who helped military dictator Augusto Pinochet implement “shock therapy” in Chile, the result of which was the poverty rate skyrocketing to 40 percent while real wages declined by a third. One-third of Chileans were unemployed during the last years of the dictatorship and the privatized social security system was so bad for Chilean working people that someone retiring in 2005 received less than half of what he or she would have received had they been in the old government system.

And let us not forget the extreme violence that was required to implement Friedman’s neoliberal dreams, with the total of those killed, jailed, “disappeared” or forced into exile totaling tens if not hundreds of thousands. Friedman claimed that he gave only “technical economic advice” and that Chile’s economic and political policies were totally separate, but also wrote that people who demonstrated in favor of human rights at his speeches were “fanatics.”

A back door to cutting services and wages

A basic income is popular among some right-wing economists because such an income would replace social services and provide a subsidy to employers who pay wages below a living level. The Marxist economist Michael Roberts puts this plainly:

“[P]aying each person a ‘basic’ income rather than wages and social benefits is seen as a way of ‘saving money,’ reducing the size of the state and public services — in other words lowering the value of labour power and raising the rate of surplus value (in Marxist terms). It would be a ‘wage subsidy’ to employers with those workers who get no top-up in income from social benefits under pressure to accept wages no higher than the ‘basic income’ which would be much lower than their average salary.”

Although it would likely be difficult for capitalists to force down wages on current employees remaining in their jobs in the short term, a basic income would enable bosses to cut pay to new hires. A prospective employer could easily offer reduced wages on the basis that the prospective employee already has financial support via the basic income. Few interviewers would likely say that so blatantly, but “market pressure” would cut the price of labor, which would remain a commodity in a fully capitalist economy. With starting wages offered to new employees reduced, eventually pressure would build on longer-term employees to accept wage cuts, too.

A Wal-Mart protester is led away during a Black Friday action in Sacramento, California. (Photo via Making Change at Walmart.)

A Wal-Mart protester is led away during a Black Friday action in Sacramento, California. (Photo via Making Change at Walmart.)

Already, low-wage employers like Wal-Mart receive massive subsidies that enable it both to rack up gigantic profits and pay its workers wages below subsistence levels. The spectacle of Wal-Mart workers holding food drives so they can eat might well be replicated on a much larger scale when the basic income proves to be worth less than the value of unemployment benefits and other social-welfare programs, combined with downward pressure on wages.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain notes that unions would not be able to counteract such downward pressure on wages:

“Unions do have some power, but it is limited to working with favourable labour market forces to get higher wages and better working conditions. When, however, labour market conditions are against them the most they can do is to slow down the worsening of wages and working conditions. If all workers got a basic income from the state of £5000, let alone £10,000, a year, this would change labour market conditions in favour of employers. In pay negotiations they would point to the state payment as evidence that they did not need to pay so much in wages or salaries to maintain their employees’ accustomed standard of living. The workers and their unions would realise this and the negotiations would be about what the reduction in wages and salaries should be.”

It won’t make capitalism kinder or gentler

Bargaining over wages in the best of times is no more than negotiating the terms of your exploitation. “Market forces” — which are nothing more than the aggregate interests of the largest industrialists and financiers — will operate just as pitilessly with a basic income because neither a basic income nor collective bargaining over wages touches in any way the social relations of capitalism. A capitalist’s profit derives from paying employees a fraction of the value of what they produce; the inequality that results from that (and the relentless competitive pressure on capitalists to expand on pain of dying) will exist as long as capitalism exists. A basic income would have no effect on this.

A basic income bears some resemblance to the concept of “block grants,” a particular obsession with right-wing politicians in the United States. Block grants are money that would be handed to lower levels of government by the federal government to be dispersed as local officials wish with no accountability as a substitution for money that is ear-marked for specific social programs. These are continually proposed as a back door to dismantling social programs. Similarly, a basic income would be a cash transfer for recipients to pay for whatever services or needs they might have in a private market system, assuming they have adequate total income to obtain it, rather than having services provided for free or at subsidized cost as a public service on the basis of need, as a civilized society ought to do.

The use of the “market” to determine social outcomes would only increase. In other words, more neoliberalism! More people being unable to meet their basic needs would result as wealth would become more of a determinant of results.

Demonstration for a basic income in Berlin, November 2010 (photo by "PD")

Demonstration for a basic income in Berlin, November 2010 (photo by “PD”)

It is also argued that a basic income could disproportionally affect women. The feminist economist Barbara Bergmann countered advocates of basic income who argue that such payments would enable parents to stay home with young children by pointing out that women disproportionally are the stay-at-home parents, to the detriment of their long-term earning potential. Thus a basic income would make women more dependent, not less, she wrote:

“Many if not most employers have come to see women as likely to be continuous labor force participants, not inevitably destined to leave the work force, and therefore as people worth training, worth putting into jobs leading to promotion, worth considering for promotion. This kind of progress would be reversed if a higher proportion of women withdrew from the labor force when their first child was born. For this reason, the full-blown implementation of Basic Income schemes in the near future should not appeal to those for whom gender equality is an important goal.”

Nor would the weakening of health care systems that would be a likely result of cutting social services do any better in fostering equality. Professor Bergmann wrote:

“Both the welfare state and Basic Income reduce inequality of condition. But the welfare state does so with greater efficiency, because it takes better account of inequalities due to differences in needs. If I need an expensive operation and you don’t, giving both of us a Basic Income grant will not go far to make our situations more equal. Only the provision of health services has the chance of doing that.”

Would governments really increase spending?

Those who advocate for a basic or universal income do so on the basis of affordability — there would not be a strain on the treasury, presumably because a spur to consumer spending would boost the economy. But is this so? A hard look at the numbers is not encouraging.

In all types of capitalist societies, from the neoliberalism of the United States to the social democracy of Sweden, the costs of a basic income would far outstrip current spending on social welfare programs.

In the U.S. an annual figure of $10,000 is often bandied about as the appropriate level for a basic income. If this sum were paid out to every U.S. adult, it would cost about $2.4 trillion. That total vastly outstrips current spending on social programs. A Wall Street Journal analysis (hostile to a basic income for the expected conservative reasons) suggests that scrapping income support for the poor, disabled and unemployed, and eliminating veterans’ benefits, Medicaid, Medicare and other health care subsidies would save a composite $1.5 trillion — and likely be quite unpopular.

It could be argued, as the Journal wouldn’t, that money for a basic income could come instead from other sources, such as eliminating massive corporate subsidies, drastically cutting the military budget and even printing money to go toward people instead of the trillions of dollars conjured out of thin air by central banks for “quantitative easing” programs that do little other than fuel stock-market bubbles and inflate speculators’ assets. But for that to happen an immense popular movement would be required, and the enormous effort that would be poured into such a movement would better direct its energies to much more thorough-going changes.

Thus, realistically, a basic income that could hardly be lived on (likely far less than $10,000 annually for United Statesians if it actually came into existence) would be paid for by an effective elimination of the remaining social safety net. Hardly a desirable outcome.

No better prospects where the safety net is stronger

This dynamic would hold in countries with better safety nets. In Canada, a basic income of $10,000 per person would cost 17 percent of Canadian gross domestic product, more than twice what all levels of government in Canada spend on social benefits. Toby Sanger, a Canadian economist who works with unions, argues that any basic income, due to its expense, would soon cease to be universal. He writes:

“Any fiscally sustainable basic income program with an adequate level of benefits would need to be income tested or subject to relatively high clawback or tax rates and so wouldn’t end up being universal and unconditional.  While such a program would be fiscally feasible, it would be subject to many of the same problems with the existing social assistance system that many basic income advocates want to escape.”

Simply instituting a basic income, even if it were fiscally possible, in itself doesn’t address the structural causes of poverty. Mr. Sanger writes:

“While lack of financial resources is of course a primary aspect of poverty, simply providing more money won’t eliminate poverty alone. Social exclusion, inadequate access to education, public goods, opportunities, networks, lack of political influence and many other factors contribute to a persistent of poverty. Systemic racial, gender, class, and ability-based discrimination have resulted in higher rates and a persistent of poverty among women, racialized Canadians, Aboriginal peoples, differentially abled and among those whose families were poor.”

Even a country with generous social-welfare programs like Sweden would find the institution of a basic income difficult. Professor Bergmann calculated that sending a basic-income check equal to a poverty-line income to all Swedes not already recipients of government programs would require about 15 percent of gross domestic product. Doing that, while retaining current benefits, would require higher taxes. As a result:

“[I]f an extra 15 percent of GDP were added to cash payments by government to households, those extra funds would have to be taxed away from households’ wage and property income now devoted to buying consumer goods, now 32 percent of GDP, leaving households just 17 percent of GDP as their net reward for their participation in the production of the entire GDP. That could hardly be tolerated.”

A previous experiment in Canada

Advocates of a basic income often point to the experiment conducted in Dauphin, Manitoba, in the 1970s. A University of Manitoba economist, Evelyn Forget, recently studied the results (a new Conservative government ended the program and the intended government study was never performed) and found positive results. Hospitalization rates declined, more adolescents stayed in school and workforce participation remained steady.

But the experiment in Dauphin, a town of about 12,000 people, wasn’t actually a basic income. There was an income eligibility rate, meaning that only about 30 percent of the town residents actually got a check. A family of four could receive $15,000 per year on top of whatever benefits were already in place. So this was a case of living in a lucky spot.

Mount Meager volcanic complex, British Columbia (photo by Dave Steers)

Mount Meager volcanic complex, British Columbia (photo by Dave Steers)

The province of Ontario, under a Liberal administration, announced this year that it would conduct an experiment in a basic income, to be conducted in selected towns to be determined. But the provincial government has hinted this may be intended as a way of reducing benefits. Its explanation in the budget for this proposal states: “The pilot would also test whether a basic income would provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas, such as health care and housing supports.”

Finland is going forward with its own experiment. The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is soliciting input on a program that would provide €560 per month tax-free to 2,000 people in a mandatory test case that would run in 2017 and 2018. The ministry, in a press release, first states it seeks to determine if a basic income would “promote employment,” but then hints at a desire to cut benefits:

“The basic income experiment is one of the activities aiming to reform social security so that it corresponds better to the changes of working life, to overhaul social security to encourage participation and employment, to reduce bureaucracy, and to simplify the complicated benefits system in a sustainable way regarding public finances.”

We live under capitalism, and we don’t get something for nothing, regardless of advocates issuing statements calling for a basic income without any cuts to existing benefits. The measures of democracy and social welfare that have been obtained are a direct result of social movements and the work of activists. They are not gifts handed down to us.

Liberals and social democrats ought to be careful for what they wish. Our energies can better go toward the creation of a sustainable economy that provides for human needs with jobs for all who need them, rather than begging for extra crumbs (that might turn out to be fewer crumbs) from capitalists’ tables.

26 comments on “A basic income is less than meets the eye

  1. Steady-State says:

    I believe that you have started out on some false premises. You assume that a basic income is universal regardless of one’s income. A discussion on basic income is separate from that of a minimum wage. I believe that firstly, we have to establish a minimum hourly wage. Only after that can the basic income be applied. Any worker earning above the basic income ought not receive the basic income.

    Another premise you make is “We live under capitalism”. While this is currently the case that is the fundamental flaw of our social system. Capitalism ultimately promotes greed and leads to inequality and social injustice.

    Finally, the third premise which you have ignored is our unconditional faith and acceptance of a monetary system as truth. Money is artificial and a fabrication of human society. The population at large fails to understand that money is created by the elite and accumulated by the elite as a means of enslaving present and future workers. Accumulation of money is the ultimate objective and our supreme idol. Instead of being obsessed with monetary wealth, we ought to focus on the production and equitable distribution of what we need to live and thrive in a just society.

    • On the first, a basic income is universal regardless of one’s income. That is precisely how advocates of it describe it, and what it is intended to be. What you are describing is something different, although, in practice, what you describe is how the 1970s experiment in Dauphin, Manitoba, was conducted.

      On the second, capitalism most assuredly “promotes greed and leads to inequality and social injustice.” We’ll have to get rid of capitalism to have the ability to rid ourselves of those social ills. Although capitalism is reaching its limits and is unlikely to make it to the end of the century, what replaces it is up to all of us. A future system can be better, if humanity mobilizes, or capitalism could be followed by something worse.

      On the third, money is an objective reality and a necessity to possess given that we do live under capitalism. Equitable distribution is an impossibility under capitalism. It would be possible under a different system. So we’re back to the need to transcend capitalism. A gigantic task, to be sure. Although I never argue against reforms, they can and are taken back in a system in which power is so massively unequal. Basic income, even if limited to the basis that you suggest, is a reform that would not be permanent.

  2. Alcuin says:

    O.K. Some liberals (a.k.a. market liberals, in Chet Bowers’ words) are banging the drum for a basic income and you write that they should be careful of what they wish. You make the case for why they are wrong when you write that “a] basic income is popular among some right-wing economists because such an income would replace social services and provide a subsidy to employers who pay wages below a living level.” But then you go on to write that the right wing opposes a basic income, using an article from the Wall Street Journal as evidence: “[a] Wall Street Journal analysis (hostile to a basic income for the expected conservative reasons)…”

    I’m confused. I agree with your objections to a basic income but don’t understand why the Wall Street Journal would take a position counter to “some right-wing economists.” Is the WSJ insufficiently right-wing?

    The WSJ did not endorse a presidential candidate this year and hasn’t done so since 1928 so perhaps the WSJ is “mainstream” conservatism and “some right-wing economists” are radicals.

    • I think The Wall Street Journal is plenty right-wing enough. Most conservatives are very opposed to a basic income, and the Journal here is expressing that viewpoint. But there are exceptions, such as Friedman and the Cato Institute.

      The Journal could be thought as having two identities. One is a newspaper that does have professional journalism standards for its news articles and reporters and editors willing to take on corporate targets (although always as an individual case and never questioning the system that an investigated corporation operates within). The other is the opinion pages that reflect a mad-dog, mouth-frothing extremism. A fellow Left activist once laughed that whoever writes the Journal‘s editorials doesn’t even read their own newspaper.

      Both identities of course reflect the needs of capitalists, although the differing needs of financiers and industrialists can conflict sometimes. The Journal‘s opinion pages have slavishly piled praise on Friedman, but what the opinion writers’ position might be on basic income I would not know.

  3. anarchistwithatoddler says:

    Interesting article, but as a SAHM I find Barbara Bergmann’s argument less than compelling. She seems to be saying that women who take care of their children at home are hurting other women’s ability to be taken seriously in the workforce and pursue their careers; that withdrawing from the workforce is thus anti-feminist. Maybe she should address the devaluation of caregiving instead.

    • Alcuin says:

      That is a most excellent point. In a capitalist economy, if a product cannot be commodified, then it is valueless. Since childcare is only partially commodified (daycare centers), then SAHMs are of no value to the capitalist. It appears that Ms. Bergmann has revealed herself as a capitalist feminist. That should be an oxymoron, but it isn’t.

    • Point taken, AWT. I don’t know if the following would make any difference to you, but Bergmann also wrote: “Perhaps in the future economic, housekeeping, and parenting activities will have become less differentiated by gender. Then Basic Income would affect the behavior of both sexes more equally, and would have lost its anti-equality effect.” Although, I realize, that doesn’t directly address your point about the devaluation of care-giving.

      • anarchistwithatoddler says:

        I kind of suspect that if society placed more value on care-giving (which in a capitalist society would mean all care-giving, including in the home, would have to be well paid, which will never happen), the gender distribution of the activities she mentions would naturally even out to a great extent. So in my opinion, she’s looking at it backwards. She wants to achieve equality of the sexes within the social framework of the market economy; I personally don’t think that’s possible. I don’t think Basic Income is the solution either, though.

  4. Calgacus says:

    Good article. A welcome relief from the absurd children’s crusade of Basic Income, one of the stupidest ideas of all time. It is either a proposal that wheels should be round – a proposal to do what every society ever has done, a proposal to do nothing, or something absolutely impossible: pay everyone enough money to live on & NOT wreck the economic structures and mechanisms of society- for everyone but the super-rich. In reality BIG = Billionaire’s Income Guarantee, not Basic Income Guarantee. Which is why there are many billionaires who love it.

    Basic Income is childish, magical, wishful thinking that springs from a level of economic understanding, an attachment to the real world and to logic & truth which is substantially inferior to Donald Trump & his supporters or even worse – neoclassical mainstream economics. This is saying quite a lot.

    Historians of slavery and some good economists & philosophers observe that comparing modern economies to master/slave economies (in a concise & non-moralistic way, just comparing the structure) can be highly enlightening, clarifying about both. I agree; it should be done more.

    Basic Income as a “solution” to capitalism is parallel to a proposal to: Abolish Slavery by making Everybody a Master! One doesn’t know whether to laugh at the stupidity or cry about how many otherwise sane, even smart people turn their brains off when “Nobody a Slave, Everybody a Master”/ Basic Income is proposed.

    • Greetings, Calgacus. I wound up in a debate on a Facebook group page with someone who was quite offended because I had dared to question his basic income concept. He was annoyed because he and his group advocated that a basic income come with no cuts to any existing social benefits, and why didn’t I see that. I had seen that, but had to point out that the good intentions of advocates was besides the point; the harsh realities of the structures, power relations and inequality of capitalism are what matters. Magical thinking, indeed.

  5. troutsky says:

    You state basic income fails to “touch in any way the basic social relations of capitalism” but I tend to agree with Gordon Peters (http://climateandcapitalism.com/2016/11/29/metabolic-rift-and-ecological-value-the-ecosocialist-challenge/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+climateandcapitalism%2FpEtD+%28Climate+and+Capitalism%29 when he says : “There are numerous technical approaches to basic income, depending partly on different elaborations of welfare state or their absence, and what transitional arrangements will look like and affect groups of people, but essentially they take away the dependence on the exchange relationship of work and its extraction of surplus value to maintain the livelihood of people, fit or unfit, young or old, and replace that with a guarantee of sustainability of the means of life with no-one denied, and rights to earn or accumulate beyond that which may then be regulated (or not) according to prevailing circumstances.”

    Basic income is a challenge to the notion of labor as a commodity whose value can only be expressed through exchange value. I think this is the reason Naomi Klein calls for it in her book This Changes Everything, rather than, as you assert, “on the basis of affordability”.

    I agree that the struggle must be for deep structural change, but basic income could allow workers to go on strike and begin to form an antagonistic relationship to capitalism once again. As for your suspicion that the Ontario and Finland examples are hidden ways to “reduce benefits”, I wonder if those governments aren’t looking into a future of increased automation.

    • Challenging the notion of labor as a commodity is an urgently necessary task. I don’t see a good reason to believe that a basic income would contribute to that. Certainly there are different ways such a supplemental income could be provided, and I grant that advocates have differing arguments for it, but it is no surprise that “affordability” tends to be front and center as the question of “how would we pay for it?” naturalizes arises, particularly from conservative skeptics.

      That a basic income could give workers a better ability to sustain strikes is often put forth by advocates. But if social services and wages are cut to pay for it — and given present capitalist circumstances that is what would happen — workers’ ability to strike would be no firmer then than now. I would argue that if we want to mount a sustained attack on capitalism and its deeply unequal social relations, we’ll have to attack more directly.

      Because a basic income is a reform that can be absorbed by capitalism — and this would be achieved by subverting it through governmental and wage cuts — it is not the sort of reform that is “too big” for capitalism to handle and thus would not be a pressure point weakening capitalism. We might better argue that the “quantitative easing” programs of central banks instead go to direct payments to people, or into public-works and infrastructure programs that would result in the direct hiring of many people. Yes, this is not directly challenging capitalism, either, but at least there would be a direct benefit.

      Advocates might counter that a basic income could be funded through such direct transfers, substituting a basic income for massive buying of bonds, and that the trillions of dollars/euros/pounds/yen that have gone into quantitative-easing programs haven’t caused inflation. That is all true, and I realize that this is more the sort of thing that basic-income advocates have in mind. But we live in our current capitalist reality, and thus a titanic movement would be needed for this to happen, one that could, and in my mind, should, aim higher.

  6. Your criticism of basic income is partly based on the Accounting Fallacy: The intuitive belief that an economy is like a household, all money must come from somewhere, and pots of money should balance by bean-counting. This is the same fallacy that powers arguments for austerity, Of course basic income is not going to work in this model of an economy, and as you’e saying proposing it regardless is either poorly thought-out or is a well thought out proxy for increasing the privatisation and inequality of society.

    Real economies are not households, they have emergent macro effects as one’s spending is another’s income. Basic income would only ever work if its macro effect of boosting demand, including any multiplicative effect it has as the income is circulated, is sufficient to sustain it. The way to introduce basic income would be to phase it in gradually starting at well below living wage, funded by money creation or deficit. Then we’d have to see if its macro stimulus effect on the economy is substantial enough to sustain it. If it is, raise the amount and repeat.

    In an era when labour has no bargaining power (intrinsically, not solely through repression by capitalists) and so can no longer serve as the universal commodity on which to base equality, we badly need an explicitly egalitarian value. We need to give people a ahsare of money for being people, not by asking them to work for it, since their work is not wanted. In this new reality which the right understands but the left kind of refuses to grasp, Universal Basic Income isn’t such a bankrupt thought.

    Of course UBI may still be nonsense, and you may be able to show that it wouldn’t work even theoretically, but that refutation has to be based on an emergent macro model and not static accounting. The concern is where the additional flow of money, once injected and set flowing, would end up. If the long-term effect is sustained circulation of money and goods, well done, we’ve made the economy stronger and poor people less poor. If the flow simply gets captured and sequestered in profits like any other flow of money tends to be, then problem, we just made capitalists richer.

    It’s very hard to politically engineer flows of money, partly because it’s just hard and partly because vested interests get to fight them every fiscal period. UBI would have to fight a political battle each year, like regular taxes.

    Perhaps we need a much more radical solution, a sort of Capitalism 2.0. Instead of universal basic income, we need universal basic WEALTH. Find ways to carve out a share of wealth, be it land, stocks, or anything else, and give an unconditional share of wealth to every citizen in the form of a sovereign fund. Perhaps 40% to 60% of all assets in a nation should belong to “the people” and yield dividends, capital gains, or productivity windfalls to the actual people. Let’s see if capitalism works better when people have universal basic wealth.

    • Greetings, Pavlos. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. But I suppose I’ll be disagreeing, as I seem to be doing in these comments.

      Your point about the “accounting fallacy,” as you put it, is well taken. Margaret Thatcher thought the British government should operate like her father’s grocery store, but a government isn’t a business, neoliberal claptrap that sadly remains a common misconception. Certainly if the “long-term effect [of a basic income] is sustained circulation of money and goods,” that would indeed be good. That effect couldn’t happen without extra money being injected into the economy — in other words, a basic income as advocates envision, one with no cuts to government benefits or wages. But a basic income with those cuts will leave us no better off and, for many, quite possibly worse off.

      Your suggestion that “an unconditional share of wealth, be it lands, stocks, or anything else” with “40% to 60% off all assets … belong[ing] to the people” is a nice idea, but that wouldn’t be capitalism. Capitalism can’t operate with people having universal basic wealth; capitalism is a system whereby income flows upward in a small number of hands. Wealth derives from profits and the investment of those profits, and profits derive from a capitalist paying a fraction, often a small fraction, of the value of what the employees produce. Inequality is hard-wired into the system, and even capitalists are at the mercy of it because they have to fend off competitors trying to put them out of business.

      A better world won’t be “Capitalism 2.0” because such a thing will never exist. A better world is a different economic system, one based on economic democracy and one that is built to provide for human need and protection of the natural environment rather than based on private profit.

  7. Geminijen says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more – time better spent negotiating for better and more public ed and social programs providing childcare for all women for free that is locally controlled by the neighborhood Moms

  8. I have to say I agree with most of the comments on this subject. I do agree with your main premise that a UBI would reduce a section of society to nothing more than a resource of an unmotivated work force. However the introduction of a Universal Income payable to all would have a revolutionary effect on how we live our lives. In the UK I would put this at £25,000. People would not be forced to work however I think they would contribute to society and quickly realize how beneficial it is to get out there and do something.
    The current system is unsustainable if we are to survive to the end of the century.I am currently working on a model to see if this system works. On the face of it, it would seem un-affordable but as you dig deep it becomes feasible. Great work on this blog by the way.

    • Greetings, David. The current system surely is unsustainable, which is why we need a new system. Universal basic incomes, as commonly conceived, seem to me more of an attempt to reform or make nicer what isn’t sustainable, and thus I believe not in themselves sustainable. Your idea of a £25,000 annual payment is much higher than what UBI advocates tend to ask.

      This is an area deserving of further study, but a caveat for me is that such a huge effort would be required to bring about a meaningful UBI (because it would go so firmly against the interest of capitalists) that we might as well put our efforts into moving to a whole new system, even if we’ll have to use some bricks from the old system while the new is being created. Although I stand on what I wrote in the blog post and in the comments, the debate over UBI does service a useful purpose in that the very concept, if argued correctly, at least challenges capitalist ideology. I would argue we should go beyond that.

      • I am not advocating a UBI as proposed by others. I am proposing a share payment of the capitalist system. I kind of believe in the small local businesses that innovate and drive forward some of them providing a valuable service. But not everyone can do this and we have to except jobs are disappearing. But in society there is lots to do that is not profit lead and it is here I see a UI working. No-one would work for a company who abused its work force or a company that made unethical products these companies would disappear. I agree that any system would have to transitional. Can I just ask how did you find time to do this blog and write a book!!.

        • In glancing at your web site, I read:

          “Working in a profit system generally owned by a small minority of people we find ourselves at the mercy of this system. We want to move to a system that gives each citizen a share of the wealth of our nation payable not as a benefit but as an income. This payment will be paid to all and we are suggesting for the UK it be set around £23,000.”

          I see also that your site explicitly states that “Our economic model is not to be confused with a Universal Basic Income.” I don’t wish in any way to discourage you, but I don’t see this as feasible in a capitalist economy and if this is meant to be transitional, then it would arise within capitalism, as the product of a massive reform movement and thus in the form of a UBI even if you are intending something different (among other differences, you are advocating something that would equal most of a living wage as opposed to the mere supplement UBI advocates propose).

          In other words, perhaps you can develop a thesis that demonstrates the difference between a traditionally conceived UBI and the plan you are advocating, and preliminary ideas on how we might bring it about. Perhaps your concept has some commonality with the “Pluralist Commonwealth” concept developed by Gar Alperovitz. He was explicitly attempting to find an intermediate course between reform and revolution. His program is intended to gradually bring large corporations under public control and therefore make them socially accountable through a “Public Trust” system whereby public institutions buy progressively larger portions of corporations’ stock.

          I reviewed Professor Alperovitz’s book on this topic a few years ago (link here). I found the idea intriguing, but came up against the idea that because it would be so against the interests of capitalists, the size of the movement that would be required might as well go for something bigger. Again, I don’t wish to discourage you, or Professor Alperovitz, or anyone else from trying to find a path toward a better world; I just think we have to take the likely pushback into consideration.

          As to my time management, I finished the book before I began writing the blog. No, I couldn’t do both at the same time! A matter of self-discipline I suppose. (As a final note, your comments should now appear without moderation but apologies if they don’t as the WordPress system seems to be persnickety of late. This blog is rigged so that a first-time commenter has to be approved but thereafter should go up automatically.)

          • llanrog says:

            Okay so I agree on the face of it I am advocating a UBI but at a higher starting point. But you have to account for the fact I am suggesting everyone gets it and though I think there will be many people who would not want a cut in pay as such. Where things get interesting is when this share is combined with a partner. Suddenly an income of £50,000 will be achieved. This of course would promote the family unit or perhaps several like minded people to combine their income form businesses or co-operatives.

            A system like this does require citizens to own a share in their country. I think people would be shocked if they knew who actually owned everything and I am making this a priority goal.

            I believe this kind of system could run along, or inside the “Capitalist” system. I also think it is the Monetary System, World Banking and the wholesale corruption of our Corporate businesses that need to be done away with.

            I think this income should as one of your commentators has suggested, be thought of as a wealth share which is something I am advocating on my site.

            I have had several people contact me regarding the whole “Affirmation” thing. I am setting out to build a movement and think it is important to explain to people what we are about and what we stand for. I want people to build this new world to come together and bring their talents. My role is to make it accessible to all. I want people to enter the site and get straight to the heart of what we are doing.

            The end game is really to reduce that figure to as low as possible to walk lightly on the earth to maintain and preserve our resources for future generations.

            Too many people want it all to fail and then we can revolt and take over but how can we achieve that if we don’t know how to live without it.

            I have sat on this for a couple of years thinking it is just impossible to achieve any of my goals but in the end we must try.

            Sorry for the delay in replying I have been away from civilization for a few days.

  9. blacksocialist says:

    As to costs, you don’t seem to acknowledge that the US is monetarily sovereign. The US dollar is a fiat currency, we ceased having a commodity currency in ’71. The federal government stopped funding its expenditures through taxing and borrowing (bonds) when it moved to a fiat currency. The only constraint on federal govt spending is inflation. States and cities, however, are not monetarily sovereign and must tax and borrow to fund their expenditures (the same applies to the Eurozone countries which ceased being monetarily and fiscally independent when joining the Euro). This distinction is obviously important because the masses win when the govt spends (unemployment benefits, SS, medicare, infrastructure spending, etc.). By maintaining the myth that money creation is limited by taxing or borrowing (commodity currencies) the oligarchs win and extend the wealth gap.

    • The U.S. has an extra advantage that no other country possesses by virtue of being the world’s reserve currency: The ability to run deficits indefinitely (at least until the dollar loses its current status). So that is an additional reason in favor of social and infrastructure spending. Other countries who retain their own currency could, even without that privilege, spend for social good. Eurozone countries, of course, can’t do that because they have given away their fiscal independence.

      As I alluded to in the article, if those trillions of dollars had gone to the programs and purposes you correctly suggest, instead of to buying bonds that do little beyond fueling stock-market bubbles, the economic downturn would already be well in the past. But that isn’t how capitalism works, and thus the myths that spending or deficits are bad are calculated shibboleths for the benefit of oligarchs.

      • blacksocialist says:

        And that’s why I have no faith in anything happening. I can’t even convince the lawyers and bankers I know here in NYC that the US dollar is fiat, or what it means as to spending. Most people, educated or otherwise, still believe that the federal govt funds as if we were still using a commodity currency, as if it were non monetarily sovereign. I can’t stand Nixon or Kissinger, but they were smart to take the dollar off gold while negotiating with OPEC to have oil paid in dollars (with an acknowledgment to Bretton Woods of course). The masses want to be ignorant, it’s easier. They can stare at their iphones and watch as Trump bombs Syria illegally because they are incurious. I’ve long since moved from politics, given the entrenched duopoly, and believe that the only way to turn things is to educate the masses about modern money. But, if I can’t even influence so called educated “minorities”, what’s the point.

  10. […] Pete Dolack Guest Writer, Dandelion Salad Systemic Disorder, December 1, 2016 April 24, […]

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