» basic income ¦ What You Can Get Away With

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.

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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…

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This was the future, once.

This was the future, once.

Amidst all the coverage of the Greek election last week, one line from a report stood out for me:

The ruling New Democracy party is still wondering how its platform of Endless Suffering For Everyone was defeated by Syriza’s competing message of Maybe Not That.

Yes, it’s from the Mash, but as so often one line of satire gets closer to the truth than thousands of pieces of punditry. When traditional politics and traditional parties neglect to offer a positive vision of the future, there’s a natural appeal to anyone who can offer something that resembles a vision. Even if it’s just ‘Maybe Not That’, it’s much more appealing than offering people nothing more than the status quo, perhaps with slightly better gadgets.

This links to what I was saying yesterday – if all that mainstream politics can offer is a red, blue or yellow-tinged version of the elite consensus, and that consensus doesn’t offer a positive vision of the future, then why are we surprised that people are looking for alternatives?

What we don’t have, and what no one seems to be offering in the upcoming election, is a positive vision of the future. David Cameron has been touting the ultimate uninspiring managerialist vision of ‘Britain living within its means’, while Ed Miliband offers ‘maybe that, but not quite that’ and Nick Clegg promises ‘that or that, but perhaps slightly less of it’. Meanwhile, when confronted with any vision of the future, Nigel Farage runs screaming to the past and while the Greens at least acknowledge the future is likely to be radically different, their vision for it is short of hope.

We used to dream about the future. Yes, there were things in those dreams that were never going to happen like flying cars, jet packs and double-digit Jaws sequels, but there was hope in those visions. We had futures where the whole wealth of world knowledge was at our fingertips, instant worldwide communication was simple and the need to work was reduced or even eliminated by robotics and automation. We’ve got those, but the world we live in now resembles a cyberpunk dystopia rather than the utopian dreams of the future we had.

What we need is to reclaim and reinvent the idea that the future can be better and different than today. Our politics and culture aren’t offering that vision anymore, instead retreating into expecting tomorrow to look much like today and offering purely managerial solutions to try and keep things running much the way they have been. The problem, I think, is that even if people can’t articulate it, they know that vision doesn’t work. It might not be as obvious in Britain as it is in somewhere like Greece or Spain, but keeping things the same equates to keeping everyone at the same level of insecurity they’re already feeling. That’s not a future anyone would want to sign up for. Merely offering people endless workism from now until the end of time isn’t a vision, it’s a punishment for sins we never committed.

This is why I think ideas like basic income are important. As Paul Mason explains here, it’s too often seen through the prism of our current system, not as a transformative idea that would change the way our society works. It’s getting back to those old visions of the future, where technology has made fulfilling our basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, heat, light – such a simple task that they’re available to everyone without question or effort, just something you get by dint of being you. Instead, we often end up discussing it in terms of how we’d implement it through current systems as though they’re the only way of doing things.

The future doesn’t have to be about basic income, but I think there is a yearning out there for someone, be it politician or artist, who can provide a vision of something different and better, a future that we hope will come about, not one that we dread finally coming to pass. We have occasional moments when we recognise the importance of hope – even the audacity of it – but then we forget about it, or think that what people hope for is more management and more targets to regulate their lives. That might be some people’s vision of the future – a human finger, clicking off the items on an assessment checklist, forever – but surely we can come up with something better?

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Why the Tech Elite Is Getting Behind Universal Basic Income – Because they understand a world of more automation and fewer jobs needs it.
The hypocrites have jumped aboard the Magna Carta bandwagon – Peter Oborne on good form: “Mr Cameron’s Government has launched something close to an out-and-out attack on the rule of law. The idea that either he or his ministers give a damn for the principles that underlie Magna Carta is preposterous.”
Why I am not Charlie – “This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do.”
We have been here before – “The awkward reality is that Europe is faced with a choice. We can single out and target our Muslim citizens, or we can accept and treat them as we treat everybody else and fight the terrorists as simple criminals.” Jason O’Mahony argues for the second option.
This Week In Panic-Stricken Commentary – Flying Rodent on his usual great form, looking at the reaction to what happened in Paris from Nick Cohen and others.

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Political Illiteracy – Chris Dillow wonders about the connections between economic crisis and political crisis.
Custard Creams Are Cheaper Than Cous Cous, But You Can’t Expect A Fucking Baroness To Know That – Eating healthy isn’t as cheap as some think, and just being poor is expensive.
The legend of the free labour market – the idea that there was a period when governments didn’t interfere in labour markets is a myth, according to Flip Chart Fairy Tales.
The next affluent society – “The problem of capitalism is no longer making enough stuff but, rather, finding consumers affluent enough to buy it.”
Another open letter to Russell Brand (this one’s shorter and not shit) – Stavvers on the real problems with Russell Brand, which aren’t anything to do wit how hot or cold someone’s lunch might be.

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mphbasicFirst of all, let me just say thanks to everyone for their response to my post yesterday about basic income. There clearly are a lot of people out there interested in the idea, so I’ve been spending a bit more time thinking about how we can take it forward.

I think there’s two main areas that we need to work on, though within those areas there are lots of other issues to be dealt with: policy and promotion.

Policy is the discussion of just what type of basic income we want to see, from the question of do we want a universal basic income, guaranteed minimum income, negative income tax or any of the other variants that have been proposed through what sort of level it should be set out to how does it get paid for and implemented? From what I’ve seen in the last day, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the basic idea, but perhaps a lot of differences about the detail, and that’s something we need to discuss.

Promotion is the question of how do we get from where we are to getting a basic income policy adopted by the party. There are educational issues of how we get information out there to people about what basic income is and issues of how do we want to go out and take the discussion to people to win the argument for basic income. It’s also about getting supporters on side who’ll take up the idea in Parliament and out in the press, as there’s a bigger argument to be won than just the one in the party.

Both of those issues are linked, and we have to be careful not to get into a chicken-and-egg situation where we discuss ourselves into permanent inaction: ‘we can’t go out and publicise basic income to people until we have our policy right, but we can’t get our policy right until we talk to people and find out what version they want’

So, to move on the discussion from the ‘that’s a good idea’ stage we’ve reached, I’ve created a couple of groups to discuss the issues some more and hopefully get us moving on.

There’s an email list on the Lib Dem list server which you can find out more about by clicking here. If you’re registered with the list server you can subscribe there, otherwise you can do it by emailing sympa@lists.libdems.org.uk with ‘subscribe basicincome’ in the main body of the email and no subject line.

There’s also a Facebook group called Liberal Democrats For Basic Income, which you can join by following that links and clicking ‘join group’.

Hopefully, those two should cover most people’s preferred options for discussing, sharing and planning, but if you have any other suggestions or proposals then please speak up and let us know as I don’t want to exclude people from discussions, but hopefully we can now start to move forward and get some things done!

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basicincome

We will work towards the eventual creation of a new ‘Citizen’s Income’, payable to all irrespective of sex or status… Unpaid work will at last be recognised as valuable. Women caring in the home, for example, will receive an independent income from the state for the first time. The Citizen’s Income will be buttressed by a single benefit for those in need, unifying income support and family credit, with supplements for people with disabilities and for child-care support. These reforms will ensure that every citizen is guaranteed a decent minimum income, whether or not they are in employment.

So what bunch of crazed radicals came up with that policy? Well, it’s from the 1992 Liberal Democrat manifesto.

Yes, Citizen’s Income (also known as Basic Income and many other names) was Liberal Democrat policy for a while, until it got dropped in 1994. Despite some people wondering if it might make a return under a previous leader, it’s remained in the Home for Former Policies ever since.

(If you what to know more, the Basic Income Earth Network and Citizen’s Income Trust are good places to start)

Recently, though, I’ve noticed lots more people talking about the idea, especially in terms of thinking of new ways to run and organise the economy, and the more I read and think about it, the more I think it’s not only a good idea, it’s a great liberal one. What better way to free people from poverty, ignorance and conformity than guaranteeing a basic income for everyone? If you want opportunity for all, why not free them from worrying about how they’re going to meet their basic needs? A fairer society where people have the chance to use their opportunities to develop new ideas can lead to a stronger economy because people had the chance to get on in life rather than being ground down as they sought to simply support themselves.

And I’ve run out of party slogans to use here, but I think you get the point. What we need, though, isn’t just to sit around and agree that it would be a good idea, but work to actually make it happen. I think it needs to be more than something that just floats around in the ‘that would be a good idea’ cloud, but to get it into party policy, let alone getting popular support for it and making it happen, is going to require work to do so.

So, to try and push it forward, I think we need to find a way to get supporters of Basic Income within the Liberal Democrats together and talking about it so we can set out a path to achieving it. I’m open to suggestions on how we go about doing that – email lists, Facebook groups, blogs, forums, Twitter hashtags, posted newsletters, conference meetings and whatever else are all possibilities, depending on interests – but I think the important thing is getting organised and doing it, not waiting around for something to happen.

So, if you’re interested, say so in the comments here, or let me know some other way – there’s links to my varied social media contacts at the side – and we’ll come up with some way of getting us all talking and planning. If there’s enough of us, who knows what we might achieve?