Basic Income Challenge

I stumbled over some new names during my journey of discovery into Basic Income. The old names are fascinating too, Thomas Paine and Martin Luther King. Some of Martin Luther Kings passages in Where do we go from Here? Chaos or Community read like Walden Bello’s recent articles. I still haven’t tracked down Thomas Paine’s thoughts on the subject but I found the list of links that will get me started.

I had no idea Negri of the Post-Modernish overly complicated sounding Empire and Multitudes fame was offering concrete proposals. That’s something I can wrap my head around.

‘The multitude must be able to decide if, when and where it moves. It must have the right also to stay still and enjoy one place rather than being forced constantly to be on the move. The general right to control its own movement is the multitude’s ultimate demand for global citizenship.’ In keeping with its ontological background, Empire does not develop any sustained programme for the injured and insulted of the world. Logically, however, its most distinctive proposal (the right to a guaranteed basic income occupies second place) is for abolition of all immigration controls: papiers pour tous! For Hardt and Negri, this is a demand that opens up the possibility of rejuvenating the politically stagnant core of global capitalism.

I doubt it’s what Hardt and Negri had in mind I’ve been thinking that one of Japan’s problems, no one to live in and maintain rural villages might be alleviated with a Basic Income. You can pretty much feed yourself in the country – people are always giving you vegetables, things they harvest from the mountains and rivers. Why bother moving into the concrete jungle for the rat race (hear Bob Marley) if you can have a cash income while enjoying the Japanese countryside hike, surf, kayak while maintaining the crucial Satoyama and local communities.

The review quoted above leaves the impression that Hardt and Negri are trying to fix ‘global capitalism’ by ‘rejuvenating the politically stagnant core’ but I’m guessing there’s a misunderstanding here somewhere.

Erik Olin Wright came up to. His Wikipedia page made me think he’d agree with Albert, Ehrenreich and Hahnel about the  ‘coordinator clas.’

Wright has stressed the importance of 1. control over and exclusion from access to economic/productive resources, 2. location within production relations, 3. market capacity in exchange relations, 4. differential control over income derived from the use of productive resources and 5. differential control over labor effort in defining ‘class’, while at the same trying to account for the situation of expert, skilled, manager and supervisory employees, taking inspiration from Weberian accounts of class and class analysis. According to Wright, employees with sought-after and reward-inelastically supplied skills (due to natural scarcities or socially constructed and imposed restrictions on supply, such as licensing, barriers to entry into training programs, etc) are in a ‘privileged [surplus] appropriation location within exploitation relations’ because, while they are not capitalists, they are more precious to the owner of the means of production than less skilled workers and harder to monitor and evaluate in terms of labor effort. The owner(s) of the means of production or their employer in general therefore has to pay them a ‘scarcity’ or ‘skill/credential’ rent (thus raising their compensation above the actual cost of producing and reproducing their labor-power) and tries to ‘buy’ their loyalty by giving them ownership stakes, endowing them with delegated authority over their fellow workers and/or allowing them to more or less be autonomous in determining the pace and direction of their work. Thus, expert, executive manager, and expert manager employees tend to be closer to the interests of the ‘bosses’ than other workers.

His name sounded familiar, I think he edited a Noam Chomsky book, and Michael Albert just critiqued Wright’s write-up of Parecon. But for one nuance Envisioning Real Utopias gave a good synopsis of Parecon. He wrote a paper on Basic Income (.doc file) as "broad socialist challenge to capitalism." It sounds like he wants to do what Albert and Hahnel did with Participatory Economics.

I feel that it is still meaningful to talk about a socialist challenge to capitalism even in the absence of a clear, well-articulated model of the design of socialist institutions. What we can try to do is articulate a set of anti-capitalist socialist principles and use these to indicate movements away from capitalism in a socialist direction even if we lack a clear understanding of our destination.

When I first read of Basic Income from Yoshiharu Shiraishi, the first thing that came to mind was Znet ‘non-reformist reform’ or a change for the better that you can build on. And as I read and thought of the reasons to argue against a basic income it’s probably pretty much the same pattern you’ll find with the eight hour work day. People will just jerk off and do drugs or something. They’ll have lots of babies to populate their Cadillacs. (I digress.) I also thought it might be common ground that that everyone could work on while debating and testing the merits of their economics models.This came to mind while reading the comments debate between Michael Albert, Carl Davidson and various sustainers.

Mostly I just think Basic Income should make it easier for people to participate in the ‘public sphere’ that Chomsky talks about, and this is A Good Thing – to put it in cool Geek speak.See Perl Best Practices Discussions, perlmonks.

Erik Olin Wright’s paper mentions three principles for a "Socialist Challenge to Capitalism"

  1. Strengthening the Power of Labor relative to Capital
  2. Decommodifying Labor Power
  3. Strengthening the power of civil society to shape the priorities for the use of the social surplus and the organization of economic activity.

It was Yoshiharu Shiraishi’s description of Basic Income giving people the right to refuse work putting them on better terms to ‘bargain’(Michael Albert) with ‘capital’Yoshiharu Shiraishi that made ‘non-reformist reform’Michael Albert pop into mind.

Toru Yamamori has a special column in his book Basic Income 101(Nyumon/Beginning Basic Income) Won’t Basic Income separate labor from income. People raise this issue for and against the policy. He points out that this is already true, homemakers aren’t paid for their labor, and rich kids are paid regardless. Although wage labor won’t disappear with the implementation of Basic Income the wages for some jobs would change. Popular jobs would pay less, disliked jobs would pay more.(p 62-63) This sounds like movement towards renumeration for effort if not the balanced job complexes of a functioning Parecon. Why not move on this and hammer out the details with people as we go along?

I think a strong moral and economic case can be made for a Basic Income, so even if it will never get past a filibuster in the Senate now it could draw together a broad worthwhile movement. I’m just guessin here, hoping an economist or intellectual will ride in on a white horse and argue this for me.

Here’s Marting Luther KIng on the moral and economic sense of Basic Income. He sound like this month’s Walden Bello, but it was 1968. Where do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?

 We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.

We have come to the point where we must make the nonproducer a consumer or we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of consumer goods. We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution. Though there have been increases in purchasing power, they have lagged behind increases in production. Those at the lowest economic level, the poor white and Negro, the aged and chronically ill, are traditionally unorganized and therefore have little ability to force the necessary growth in their income. They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to the larger society.

The problem indicates that our emphasis must be two-fold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available.

In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote, in Progress and Poverty:

The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased."

We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.

Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life and in his own hands, when he has the assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he know that he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts between husband, wife and children will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on a scale of dollars is eliminated.

Two conditions are indispensable if we are to ensure that the guaranteed income operates as a consistently progressive measure. First, it must be pegged to the median income of society, not the lowest levels of income. To guarantee an income at the floor would simply perpetuate welfare standards and freeze into the society poverty conditions. Second, the guaranteed income must be dynamic; it must automatically increase as the total social income grows. Were it permitted to remain static under growth conditions, the recipients would suffer a relative decline. If periodic reviews disclose that the whole national income has risen, then the guaranteed income would hgave to be adjusted upward by the same percentage. Without these safeguards a creeping retrogression would occur, nullifying the gains of security and stability.

This proposal is not a "civil rights" program, in the sense that that term is currently used. The program would benefit all the poor, including the two-thirds of them who are white. I hope that both Negro and white will act in coalition to effect this change, because their combined strength will be necessary to overcome the fierce opposition we must realistically anticipate.

Our nation’s adjustment to a new mode of thinking will be facilitated if we realize that for nearly forty years two groups in our society have already been enjoying a guaranteed income. Indeed, it is a symptom of our confused social values that these two groups turn out to be the richest and the poorest. The wealthy who own securities have always had an assured income; and their polar opposite, the relief client, has been guaranteed an income, however miniscule, through welfare benefits.

John Kenneth Galbraith has estimated that $20 billion a year would effect a guaranteed income, which he describes as "not much more than we will spend the next fiscal year to rescue freedom and democracy and religious liberty as these are defined by ‘experts’ in Vietnam."

The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.

The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

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More Recent Walden Bello on ‘Overproduction’…

This is the tendency for capitalism to build up tremendous productive capacity that outruns the population’s capacity to consume owing to social inequalities that limit popular purchasing power, thus eroding profitability.

The Fundamental Crisis: Overaccumulation

Orthodox economics has long ceased to be of any help in understanding the crisis.  Non-orthodox economics, on the other hand, provides extraordinarily powerful insights into the causes and dynamics of the current crisis.  From the progressive perspective, what we are seeing is the intensification of one of the central crises or "contradictions" of global capitalism: the crisis of overproduction, also known as overaccumulation or overcapacity.  This is the tendency for capitalism to build up, in the context of heightened inter-capitalist competition, tremendous productive capacity that outruns the population’s capacity to consume owing to income inequalities that limit popular purchasing power.  The result is an erosion of profitability, leading to an economic downspin.

And in 1879 Henry George is writing about problems with falling wages and speculation – Could follow Thomas Geoghegan to biblical times probably..

Why do wages tend to decrease to subsistence level, even as productive power increases?


We will begin with depressions and recessions, which affect every modern society. We have shown how land speculation inflates land values, reduces wages and interest, and thereby checks production. There are other reasons as well, such as: the complexity and interdependence of production; problems with money and credit; the artificial barriers of protective tariffs. Nonetheless, it is clear that land speculation is the primary cause producing recessions. We can see this either by considering principles or by observing phenomena.

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