Worth Reading 187: Californian murder

Workplace coercion – “Why are people who profess to be classical liberals apparently so indifferent to workplace tyranny?” asks Chris Dillow.
Why the 2016 Election Will Be One of the Most Pivotal Moments of Our Time – It’s fun to laugh at the clown car the US election resembles at the moment, but there are important things at stake.
Claims of the increasing irrelevance of universities are ideology masquerading as evidence – Three political science professors present “the difference between lazy journalism and quality social science research: the former pontificates, the latter take the time and trouble to create and test the evidence.”
In support of a universal basic income: introducing the RSA basic income model – The RSA has come out in favour of a basic income and presents a very interesting model of how it could be implemented.
Do candidates dream of electric sheep? – This is the age of the American uncampaign, where candidates routinely evade election laws through ridiculously funded Super PACs that are ostensibly not part of their official campaign.

Basic Income is the key to creating a liberal society

mphbasicMark Pack has written about his thoughts on whether Basic Income (or Citizen’s Income, as it was called when it was party policy in the 90s) should be Liberal Democrat policy again. He’s going off the idea of it, because he thinks you can achieve the same aims in welfare terms with modifications to Universal Credit, but I think he’s missing the wider implications of basic income and why I, and others, think it is the best option for creating a liberal society.

The principal problem with Mark’s approach is that he’s looking at basic income mainly as a welfare issue and how it would compare to the current system. For me, that misses the point about basic income: it’s not about making tweaks to the current system, but instead about proposing a completely new way of looking at issues of how we use the state to support and empower individuals. Part of this, I believe, comes from the way ‘welfare’ has replaced ‘social security’ over the last couple of decades, with all the connotations of it being handouts to the poor rather than providing a necessary security for everyone in society. To treat basic income as merely a ‘welfare’ policy is to miss the wider point of it.

Liberalism, for me, is about providing everyone with the opportunity and the power to live their lives to the full and a liberal state exists not just to protect people from the harm caused by others but to be proactive, distribute power and enable opportunity. A universal basic income, where society through the state provides a minimum standard of living to everyone without qualification, is the logical progression of other universal provision (such as education and healthcare) that was once seen as utterly utopian but is now widely accepted. A basic income is an inherently liberal idea because it creates opportunity for everyone by reducing risk. It gives people the ability to take entrepreneurial and creative risks because they know that the system is there to support them if they fail and give them the opportunity to try again.

One of the important questions we need to face is whether the vision we put forward of a liberal society is something that’s just a few tweaks away from what we have now, or something much more radical and different. The problem with the tweaking approach is that it ignores the widespread changes we’re going through with the advent of mass automation. (See, for instance, Scott Santens on the wider effects of self-driving trucks) Committing to widespread basic income coupled with other traditionally liberal ideas for redistributing power like Land Value Tax gives us the ability to set out an optimistic vision of a liberal future where automation is a good thing because it frees us from drudgery and gives all of us the opportunity to do more with our lives than merely toil away at work.

Basic income may not seem attractive when considered purely as a solution to ‘welfare’ issues, but it is so much more than that. We need to promote it not just as a policy idea amidst everything else remaining the same, but as part of a wider liberal reimagining of society. It’s a radical proposal to achieve liberal ends in the vein of Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge, and it won’t be something easily argued for or conceded by those who would see their own power drastically reduced by it. Formulating and explaining a fully liberal vision for the future isn’t going to be an easy task, but basic income needs to be seen as part of a set of policies that will bring radical change, not just as another way of keeping things close to what they are now.

(And if you want to do more, there’s the Liberal Democrats for Basic Income group on Facebook)

Worth Reading 183: Survived by his elephants

Politics is too complex to be understood just in terms of Left and Right – Some interesting research on the position of party supporters on a two-dimensional scale.
Uncovering The Secret History Of Myers-Briggs – I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover that the famous test has a very murky past.
Dear Friends – The trials and tribulations of book promotion.
Robots are coming for your job. That might not be bad news – “If our economic system defines the basis of human worth as the capacity to do drudge work for someone else’s profit then the question that has troubled science fiction writers for a century is solved: not only are robots human, they may soon be more human than us.” How basic income might be the only thing that can save capitalism.
Backing the fiscal charter = abandoning opposition – “Any opposition MP that votes for it might as well just take the next five years off.” Why the Government’s fiscal charter is a silly idea, and the Opposition agreeing to it would be even sillier.

Worth Reading 173: Special Containment Procedures

The Overall Benefit Cap – a little time bomb under UK buy-to-let housing – Not only is the benefit cap a terrible idea for the people subjected to it, Daniel Davies shows that it has the unintended side effect of causing terrible ripple effects through the rest of UK housing provision.
The Seven Hurdles for Repeal of the Human Rights Act – David Allen Green goes through the hurdles that need to be surmounted before Tories would be able to push through their plan. It’s almost like they didn’t think this through before promising it.
There was an alternative: three things the Lib Dems could have done differently – James Graham on the alternative decisions the party could have made during the last five years.
The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit – “The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.”
Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck – Scott Santens on a looming threat to the structure of the US economy as we know it.

Worth Reading 168: Perfection multiplied

Tony Blair is right on Europe – Jonathan Calder makes some wise points on how a referendum on Europe would be a disaster for this country.
Try, try again – Why forcing tests on children and telling them they’re failures repeatedly, isn’t good for them.
Mediocre Failures – Another take on why expecting some children to be branded as failures is a terrible idea.
Is the future of America a crummy service job stamping on a human face, forever? – When Presidential candidates from both sides seem to think nobody is complete without a job, is there another way?
‘Distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind’ – Interesting Guardian interview with writer Matthew Crawford about how quiet space has become another commodity available only to the wealthy.

New polling evidence: Who is basic income most popular with in the UK?

mphbasicA few weeks ago, I mentioned that a poll had shown 36% of people in the UK supported the idea of a basic income and promised to look in some more detail at the results when ComRes released them. Unfortunately, that slipped my mind for a while thanks to other things going on, but I’ve now found the details of the poll and a PDF file of the more detailed results, broken down by demographics.

The question asked was one of a series of Green party policies that respondents were asked if they supported or opposed (there was also a don’t know option) but the policies were presented without any party labels attached. The general question was “Do you support or oppose each of the following possible future Government policies?” with basic income posed as “Introducing a ‘Citizens Income’, giving every single person in the country £72 per week irrespective of their working status or income”. There don’t appear to be any questions before this that would have primed or influenced respondents to answer that in a certain way. There were just over 2000 respondents, which is a decent sized sample and means the margin of error for the full sample is around 2.5%. As we saw, the result here was that 36% were in favour, 40% against.

What the details of the poll give us is some information on how different demographics responded to the question, and that’s very interesting. However, we do need to be slightly sceptical of the results at this level, as they’re small sub-samples of the larger set which means the margin of error is bigger (much bigger in some cases) but I think they’re still interesting.

First up, there’s no real difference between men and women on the issue: men respond 37% in favour, 41% against, women are 35% in favour, 40% against, which are so close they’re well within the margin of error and show us nothing significant.

Where things get interesting is when we look at the breakdowns by age, which are broken into six groups:

  • 18=24 year olds are 39% in favour, 36% against (total sample 240)
  • 25-34 year olds are 50% in favour, 31% against (total sample 339)
  • 35-44 year olds are 42% in favour, 28% against (total sample 339)
  • 45-54 year olds are 41% in favour, 34% against (total sample 358)
  • 55-64 year olds are 33% in favour, 45% against (total sample 299)
  • 65+ year olds are 18% in favour, 61% against (total sample 438)
  • Again, the smaller sample sizes mean these aren’t as reliable (the margin of error is around 5 or 6%) but the trend they show is very interesting with those up to 54 having a slight tendency to be in favour of basic income, while those 55 or above tending to oppose it.

    We also see a pattern in the breakdown by social class (for those not familiar with this system of classification, some details are here). These break down like this:

  • AB social groups are 30% in favour, 51% against (total sample 539)
  • C1 social group are 35% in favour, 41% against (total sample 558)
  • C2 social group are 41% in favour, 35% against (total sample 438)
  • DE social groups are 41% in favour, 33% against (total sample 478)
  • There’s not as much variation here, but there’s still a trend for those in the ‘lower’ groups to support it more. As these groups tend to correlate with income, that indicates that those on lower incomes are more likely to support the idea of a basic income.

    A final breakdown indicates that those working in the private sector are possibly more likely to support basic income (41-35) than those in the public sector (37-37), but the sample sizes there don’t make that a very reliable result.

    I thought the original result was interesting, and this extra information confirms that. The important thing to remember here is that most people have had no information about the idea of basic income as it’s something rarely discussed in the media. However, the general idea does have support, and even seems to appeal to a plurality of younger people. We’d need some more detailed polling with a larger sample to know more, but this suggests that there could well be a receptive audience out there for basic income and arguing for it and promoting it may not be as hard as we might think.

    Now, is there anyone out there who wants to fund some more detailed polling to find out?

    (Update: Have changed image at the top of the post. As someone pointed out, a similar slogan has been used by fascists and I wasn’t comfortable with the possible implications that might be drawn from that)

    Worth Reading 161: A stoic in purple

    Doorsteps, Dogs and Doughnuts – A Dozen Worst and Best Election Moments – I think many of us will have sone election memories similar to the ones Alex Wilcock recounts here.
    Could a ‘citizen’s income’ work? – A long and detailed report looking into the issue from the Joseph Rowntree foundation.
    Global warming and the death of a magical sports tradition – How a change in the climate has made an epic Dutch ice skating challenge very unlikely to ever happen again.
    Wherefore art thou, Honest Abe? – It’ll take more than a few words from a Great Man of history to keep the United Kingdom together, according to Lallands Peat Worrier.
    Why UK politicians could learn a lot from the Pirate party – I personally think the Pirate bubble has burst (not that it ever inflated much in Britain) but the wider points Paul Mason makes here about the people having vision while the politicians are obsessed with minutiae are good.

    New poll: 36% of Britons support a basic income

    Here’s something interesting I noticed on Twitter earlier today:

    It appears to come from a ComRes poll testing support for Green Party policies while doing some other polling on the party for ITV news. However, from what I can see, this is a poll based on the general voting population, not Green Party supporters or any other subset, but I’ll need to wait until the full data is on ComRes’s site to confirm that.

    However, for those of us who are supporters of basic income, it’s a very interesting statistic, especially as there are only 40% opposed to the idea (a further 23% are of no opinion, making the breakdown of those who expressed an opinion something like 47% in favour to 53% against). What it shows, I think, is that there is a substantial amount of people out there who are amenable to the idea of a basic income, and that it can be a policy that could get widespread support for a party that proposed it. (I’m looking here at my fellow Liberal Democrats For Basic Income)

    I’ll write some more on this when I’ve seen some more of the data behind it, but it is worth noting that the question is phrased in a very positive way for basic income, by mentioning actual cash rather than keeping it theoretical. However, that’s also a lesson to those of us who support it about how important it is to get the messaging right when promoting the idea. If only we had a basic income-supporting version of Lord Ashcroft who’d fund a series of survey questions on the issue…

    Worth Reading 156: Gongs per day

    Anti-Business – Chris Dillow on why being ‘anti-business’ isn’t a bad thing, and the difference between business and markets.
    Universal Basic Income as the Social Vaccine of the 21st Century – An interesting new way of thinking about the idea of basic income.
    The narrow politics of slogans and symptoms – Alex Marsh follows on from one of my posts and looks at the lack of content behind the slogans.
    The tyranny of the short-term: why democracy struggles with issues like climate change – Not sure how much of this I agree with, but an interesting look at some of the problems with our current mode of democracy.
    The mystery of Mingering Mike: the soul legend who never existed – Fascinating tale of a made up musical career that’s now an art exhibition.

    And as a visual bonus, take a look at this graphic of exploration in the Solar System.

    The Greens, Citizens Income and how journalists still don’t understand how political parties work

    After it flared up into media prominence over the last week, the Telegraph today eagerly covered the news that the Green Party won’t be including Citizens Income as a policy in their General Election manifesto.

    However, there seems to be a problem with that news: it’s not true. Reading an account from a Green Party member, it seems that the party’s conference has insisted that the policy is included in the manifesto, and the Telegraph’s report is merely extrapolating wildly from some comments by Caroline Lucas. The member’s account suggests that she has opposed the inclusion of it in the manifesto, but even with that news, the Telegraph appears to be stretching her words. It reports that she said:

    “The citizens’ income is not going to be in the 2015 general election manifesto as something to be introduced on May 8th. It is a longer term aspiration; we are still working on it,”

    The key point they’re not factoring into their story is ‘as something to be introduced on May 8th’, instead focusing on the first part of the sentence. Let’s be honest, I don’t think even the most hardened support of a basic income scheme thinks it could be introduced quickly, and it helps to show the ignorance of reporters who believe that is the case.

    However, I think this comes back to the point I made a couple of weeks ago about how journalists don’t understand how policy making within parties actually works. As someone with experience of seeing similar things in the Lib Dems, it’s almost pleasant to see another party being similarly misunderstood. Journalists like to believe that all political parties are run from the top down, not the bottom up, and of course ‘senior party figures’ are always happy to encourage this impression. So, when Caroline Lucas says something (and it’s misheard) it’s easy for them to leap to ‘the party has changed its policy!’ rather than ‘hmm, better check that for accuracy.’

    It does make me think about the Iron Law of Oligarchy – the idea that all political organisations will progress from democracy to oligarchy over time – and whether the media have a role in encouraging and fostering that process. Could one even argue that social pressures and the expectation that an organisation will be run from the top are as much a pressure making it happen as the role of bureaucracy concentrating power in the organisation? Something else to add to the list of things I need to think about and write about some more…