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Universal Basic Income

I was going to bring some notes on this subject, Universal Basic Income, along to the pub meeting in London tomorrow (20.07.2016.)
It's a lot to read out, and being a little prone to stage fright anyway, I thought I'd post it here instead.
I'm still up for discussing some of the points in the pub though if anyone would like to.

At first, Universal Basic Income seems like a crazy idea. (Giving the public unearned money.) But behind it, is a desire to create a space of practical freedom for everyone. People are free to do many things in theory, but in actual practice, they aren't free at all, due to worldly exigencies. So Srnick and Williams advocate synthetic freedom, in their book*. I suppose what they mean by this term is artificial, manufactured freedom, as opposed to the pseudo-"natural" law of the jungle. It's to do with the belief that "a formal right without a material capacity is worthless." (p.79) So, for example, "we are formally free not to take a job, but most of us are nevertheless practically forced into accepting whatever is on offer." So, if the public were all paid a Universal Basic Income, it would mean employers wouldn't be able to effectively starve them into low paid crappy jobs, or use the dread of not being able to pay the rent, and ending up homeless. The problem of the "working poor" has been well known for the last fews years, people who work hard, but are still broke. Employers would have to raise the bar. There's nothing wrong with being in business to make a profit, but it should be worth it for workers too. The Universal Basic Income would have to be enough to not end up as just an employers' low wage subsidy, but not so much that employers couldn't tempt employees to work if they did pay reasonable money. (Paul Mason in his book** suggests £6K per year as a U.B.I., and a minimum of £20K for anyone in work- I suppose this £20K would be through a similar sort of mechanism as the national minimum wage.)

Srnick and Williams stress that a principle of the U.B.I. is that it shouldn't be means-tested at all, it should be paid to everyone. The U.B.I. has to be seen to be fair. Otherwise people will succumb to corrosive resentment if they're not getting it. As Srnick and Williams put it, they will feel "negative solidarity": " 'Negative solidarity'...more than mere indifference to worker agitations- it is the fostering of an aggressively enraged sense of injustice, committed to the idea that, because I must endure increasingly austere working conditions (wage freezes, loss of benefits, a declining pension pot), then everyone else must as well." (p.20) I remember the GLC in London in the 1980's and there was a lot of resentment towards it because there was a perception it only gave money towards it's pet causes.

Where would the money come from to pay U.B.I.? Srnick and Williams give a list of possiblities:
reducing duplicate programmes;
raising taxes on the rich;
inheritance taxes;
consumption taxes;
carbon taxes;
cutting spending on the military;
cutting industry and agriculture subsidies;
and cracking down on tax evasion.

(It strikes me that it might be desirable to cut taxes on high risk investments in robotics , I.T., chip manufacturers, etc., which lessen the need for hard manual labour.)

Wouldn't presently poor people given free money just waste it? Not necessarily.
There are a couple of interesting example of experiments in Bregman's book.***
In Kenya an organisation called GiveDirectly deposited $500 in the bank account of Bernard Omondi, who was working in a stone quarry on $2 per day. He invested it in a Bajaj Boxer motorbike from India, and then made $6-$9 per day ferrying people around as a taxi driver. Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the effects of GiveDirectly's cash grants. They found they spurred a lasting rise in incomes (up 38% ), boosted home ownership and the possession of livestock (up 58%), and reduced the number of days children went hungry (down 42%.)
An example closer to the pub we'll be in tomorrow, in May 2009 a London-based aid organisation called Broadway tried an experiment with 13 homeless men. They were all long-term street sleepers, sleeping in the Square Mile, some for 40 years. They were a big nuisance, the 13 of them were costing £400,000 per year in police expenses, court costs and social services bills. So Broadway bailed them out with £3,000 each free money, no strings attached and they could spend it as they wished. They could opt to use an advisor but they didn't have to. They spent it on things like a telephone, a dictionary, and a hearing aid. After a year the average spend was £800. One of them who'd been on smack for 20 years got clean and started gardening classes. After 1 1/2 years 7 out of the 13 rough sleepers had got somewhere to live, and 2 more were about to move into accommodation. The total cost was £50,000 per year including social workers' wages. So it worked out 1/8 the cost of the previous bill for police expenses+court costs+social services.

Benefits of the Universal Basic Income

Less hours worked, more time to for a creative life... experiments . Time for hobbies and backyard projects. Pipe dreams realised! Road trips!
It might even be the "magic bullet" which ricochets into unsatisfying sexual relationships:
"It[the U.B.I.] enables experimentation with different forms of family and community structure that are no longer bound to he model of the privatised nuclear family. And financial independence can reconfigure intimate relationships as well: one of the more unexpected findings of experiments with UBI has been that the divorce rate tended to rise. Conservative commentators jumped on this as proof of the demand's immorality, but higher divorce rates are easily explained as women getting the financial means to leave dysfunctional relationships." (Srnicek and Williams, p.122)
And for men, not having to put off things you wanted to do until retirement (or mid-life crisis) after having spent most of it in the rat race.

Books used:
*Inventing the Future:Postcapitalism and a World Without Work:Demand Full Autonomation.Demand Universal Basic Income. Demand the Future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, (Verso.)
**Postcapitalism:A Guide to Our Future, Paul Mason (Penguin)
***Utopia for Realists Rutger Bregman (The Correspondent.)


  • More than happy to discuss UBI. Seems like the sort of thing most pirates should be in favour of
  • Should also add, there are certain tax cuts or rebates available for tech R&D already. My company's just been through a phase of writing off 2 years of work as tax rebate, or something of that ilk. Though I must add I'm not an accountant, so I don't know the specifics behind that scheme
  • Great meeting! It was a pleasure to chat about U.B.I., and other subjects, with such friendly and knowledgeable people.
    I was thinking about reading up on fiscal stimulus, as a method to crank up the economy , next, and do the same thing again, post it here in policy discussion. Then we could chat about it in the pub if there is enough interest.
    I don't know if I'll be able to make it to the next meeting (6 Aug), but if not, I should be able to make it to the one after that (17 Aug.)
  • ThyPirateDaveThyPirateDave South Wales
    I know that we have a Citizens Income as policy. Perhaps it could do with updating?

  • Great, I can write a new draft policy for the next time I get to the pub.
    BTW, how do updates to PPUK policy get approved?
    Would we email the membership, and ask, do they approve the new policy, or want the Citizens Income policy to remain as it is, unchanged?
    (Then take a majority vote?)
  • ThyPirateDaveThyPirateDave South Wales
    edited August 2016
    Strictly there isn't any constituted or code of practice... or any kind of written in stone method of approving policy other than it falls under the NEC. In the past the NEC have opted to use crowd sourcing but it isn't necessary, for example the Local policies were added without a membership vote as there was zero engagement from the membership for several months on the forms and it would have been a wasted process.

    Policy curation (merging similar policies and a general clean up) simply falls under the policy team too, by virtue of whoever the secretary is and them assigning them to that role.

    Ideally crowd sourcing and membership vote would be my suggestion but it isn't always practical.
  • There's a new book out from Jacobin Press, in the USA, on the subject of Post-capitalism (and Universal basic Income, as a politcal feature of one possible form of Post-capitalism.)


    It looks like an interesting take on the subject, the author looks at various SF-type utopias/dystopias as models for the form Post-Capitalism might take.
    I've ordered one direct from the publishers in the States, as Amazon UK don't seem to have any copies yet.
  • edited October 2016
    This video of a talk given by the author is from the publisher's facebook page:

    Four Futures: Life After Capitalism

    One thing we can be certain of is that capitalism will end. Maybe not soon, but probably before too long; humanity has never before managed to craft an eternal social system, after all, and capitalism is a notably more precarious and volatile order than most of those that preceded it. The question, then, is what will come next?

    Posted by Jacobin Magazine on Thursday, 13 October 2016

    A few highlights!
    28mins; He discusses a consequence of the UBI would be that work could be refused, and therefore it would be politicised (subject to debate, not overlooked) who does it,
    and 36mins; discusses how even now their work is a labour of love for some people, the question is "is this something you want to do, or being forced to do."
    44mins says communist variety of Post-capitalism would have its own problems- "imagine if everything was a Wikipedia edit war", but they would be better problems than we have now.
    1:10 As to reasons for the UBI, it would go along with other measures such as increased minimum wage and decreased working week. He says "the only thing I would kick out of the boat is the guaranteed jobs crap."
    1;12 He wants "the liberation of the working class from being the working class."
  • edited October 2016
    Here's another article by Peter Frase, which discusses festering resentment, as an impediment to political and economic progress. The argument is similar to the one about "negative solidarity" in Srnick and Williams' book. Frase is dismissive about libertarians in this article, but at least he's got "rights" in the title which is a good old-fashioned liberal concept. As pirates, obviously we needn't adopt Frase's communistic political program automatically. Anyone with, or who aims to have, an income from a pension invested might find his "rentier" type of post-capitalism (discussed in the book and video, above) more appealing, at least short-term. It's all up for discussion :-)

  • edited November 2016
    This is from an article in the Huffington post, by a former democratic congressional candidate, and written following the US election result:

    Consider this: in 29 states, truck driving is the number one job and it is one of the few jobs left that can provide a middle class living for high school grads. What will happen to the 1.5 million families who get their daily bread from a truck driver when all of those jobs are eliminated by driverless trucks? It’s not a matter of if but when. Are we going to teach all those drivers to code or retrofit windows or whatever other pathetic nonsense we’ve held up as a solution? This new reality is upon us. The markets are not going to magically fix it. Trumpism is nothing but a con by a charlatan who’s spent his life figuring out how to screw people. So it is up to us to figure out what a radically new social compact looks like that keeps America from devolving into a broken zero-sum game. Radical thought is required. Ground-breaking coalition-building between working class whites and people of color is the only path forward.

    It's a great point about the driverless trucks but "Ground-breaking coalition-building between working class whites and people of color" is a bit general. What issues might working class whites and people of color campaign around? If their livelihoods are threatened by driverless trucks, maybe they could campaign for, for example, a toll charge each trip a driverless truck takes on a public highway, to go into the UBI fund for the state they're passing through? It would be easy to do automatically, through number plate recognition. Every time a vehicle registered as a driverless truck trips a camera, the company owning the truck gets charged a fee. If the company don't want to pay the fee, fine! They can either send the truck around that state, or employ a human driver. That way the driver is either employed earning a wage, or at home playing guitar (or doing whatever they want to do) while waiting for the UBI check to hit the doormat.

    Full article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-democratic-party-deserves-to-die_us_58236ad5e4b0aac62488cde5

  • edited November 2016
    Frase's book has arrived. Some of it, I think some PPUK members and sympathisers aren't going to appreciate that much, like one bit where Frase is full of glee at libertarians losing their money in BitCoin scams. But overall, I'd recommend it. it's not a massive weighty tome, just 150 pages, you can read it over a couple of evenings. And the science fiction examples Frase uses for illustration make it an easy way to absorb some social theory.

    There are a couple of things worth quoting from the book on the Universal Basic Income.

    In a society of equality and plentiful resources, the UBI might be what is, as the title of a 1986 essay by Robert van der Veen and Philippe van Parijs call it, "A Capitalist Road to Communism":

    Entitlement to a substantial universal grant will simultaneously push up the wage rate for unattractive, unrewarding work (which no one is now forced to accept in order to survive) and bring down the average wage rate for attractive, intrinsically rewarding work (because fundamental needs are covered anyway, people can now accept a high-quality job paid far below the guaranteed income level). Consequently, the capitalist logic of profit will, much more than previously, foster technical innovation and organizational change that improve the quality of work and thereby reduce the drudgery required per unit of product. (quoted in Frase, p.55-6)

    So as labour power becomes more expensive, capitalists would be forced to innovate and make the productive process more efficient.(Which is surely what they're supposed to be doing anyway?) So instead of e.g. delivering the pizza on a clapped out Honda Innova in the p*****g wet, you could be a pizza delivery drone pilot, operating it from the comfort of your own home! As much fun as a video game.

    However, if in a future society there were equality but limited resources, maybe if there weren't much left in the way of natural resources left, after the environment had been screwed up, the UBI could be a form of rationing to ensure fair sharing. (In my opinion, this is where the state is necessary. In other words, UBI is a policy that needs to be voted in. Banging a drum in an Occupy camp won't do it.):

    ...if we posit a world in which everyone is allocated the same basic income and nobody has control over vast pools of wealth...Think of the basic income as the ration card that gives you access to your share of all that is scarce in the world. Rather than allocate specific amounts of each scarce resource, the pricing mechanism of the market is used to protect against overuse.
    To illustrate what this means, consider a mundane example: parking. In American cities, street parking has traditionally been free in most areas or available at a small fixed price. This is a dramatic underpricing, in the sense that it leads people to overconsume the limited resource of parking spaces, leading to a shortage of free spaces and many cars cruising around looking for spaces. In some areas of New York, most of the traffic on the streets is people looking for parking, wasting their time while creating pollution and congestion.
    As an alternative, some cities are experimenting with various schemes for pricing street parking, often under the influence of UCLA parking theorist Donald Shoup. One of Shoup's key themes is that urban governments should avoid under-pricing street parking, because to do so leads to Soviet-style shortages as described above, along with tedious rationing rules such as two-hour limits and the like.
    Under the influence of this theory, the city of Los Angeles decided to implement a wireless smart-metering system called LA Express Park. Sensors are installed in the pavement below each space, and they detect the presence of cars in a given area. The computerised system then automatically adjusts the price of parking depending on how many spaces are filled. When spaces are in high demand, the price can rise as high as $6 per hour, and when many spaces are available they can be as cheap as 50 cents.
    The LA Express Park scheme has been widely discussed and promoted as applying the "free market" to parking. This naturally grates on those of the Left who equate the market with capitalism and with inequality. But in this case talk of "markets" is more than just an ideological subterfuge to further enrich the powerful; it gives some hints at the potential of markets as limited technologies separable from capitalism.


  • From today's copy of The Guardian:
    "Benoit Hamon, the staunchly leftwing rebel outsider who wants to introduce a universal basic income, legalise cannabis and tax robots has been chosen as the French Socialist party’s presidential candidate." :smile:
    Full article-https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/29/french-socialists-leftwing-rebel-benoit-hamon-elysee-manuel-valls-francois-hollande-presidency
  • edited February 2017
    I am a huge fan of UBI if you are looking for articles of the trials, supporting evidence etc let me know I have a load of links stashed for when we do policy review or for the meet up in March depending on what happens. I also have an ebook or two on it.
  • Great!, I'm going to try to get to the meet up in March.
  • Sorry guys! I didn't make it. But here is a podcast that might be pertinent to the subject-


    In the broadcast,a professor of economics, Steve Keen, discusses the issuing of government bonds (which just seems to involve a double-entry book-keeping operation between the government and the central bank.) Such virtual money printing would cause inflation, but (if I've followed the argument correctly) inflation is necessary in an expanding economy anyway. In an expanding economy, when more goods and services are produced with the same money in circulation, that money has to buy more, including making previous debt worth more ( and harder to pay off.)

    Most of the discussion is on issuing bonds to fund job creation. But I think Prof. Keen mentions it could be used to fund U.B.I. as well.

    In other podcasts he also moots the idea of a modern Debt Jubilee - instead of a bank bailout next time there is a financial crash, the money would be better spent divided up between the population, and just credited directly into everyone's individual bank account. Those in permanent debt would be able to get out of the stranglehold of paying off only the interest each month. Anyone with zero or a positive balance would be able to buy more consumer goods. Which would crank-start the economy again.
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