mfioretti: ubi*

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  1. nailing the evil ways of oligarchs hardly demolishes left-wing arguments in favor of an unconditional, universal basic income which, so far, is the only policy being mooted as a way of universally guaranteeing the most basic right of all: the right to material existence. Moreover, basic income, while not a universal panacea, is one way of strengthening vulnerable members of society in their struggle against the oligarchs.

    Then again, the respected Marxist economist Michael Roberts has a different take in his recent blog (which we’ll cite at length to cover all the points):

    But what to do, as jobs are lost to robots? Some liberal economists talk of a ‘robot tax’. But all this would do is slow down automation – hardly a progressive move in reducing toil. The idea of universal basic income (UBI) continues to gain traction among economists, both leftist and mainstream. I have discussed the merits and demerits of UBI before. UBI is advocated by many neoliberal economic strategists as a way of replacing the ‘welfare state’ of free health, education and decent pensions with a basic income. And it is being proposed to keep wages down for those in work. Any decent level of basic income would be just too costly for capitalism to afford. And even if UBI were won by workers in struggle, it would still not solve the issue of who owns the robots and the means of production in general.

    A more exciting alternative, in my view, is the idea of Universal Basic Services i.e. what are called public goods and services, free at the point of use. A super-abundant society is by definition one where our needs are met without toil and exploitation ie a socialist society. But the transition to such a society can start with devoting socially necessary labour to the production of basic social needs like education, health, housing, transport and basic foodstuffs and equipment.

    Roberts’ text provides a good starting point for getting to the nitty-gritty of some key aspects of the debate about basic income.

    1) A basic income can be financed in several different ways. The difference between left- and right-wing proposals is easily ascertained by asking who gains and who loses. A left-wing proposal would entail progressive tax reform which brings about a major redistribution from the richest citizens to the rest of society. Hence, in a financing proposal resulting from an extensive study which is detailed in the final chapter of our book Against Charity, we specify that, with our version of basic income, the richest 20% would lose and the other 80% would gain. This would mean a redistribution of income which, in Gini Index terms, would become one of the most egalitarian in the world (about 0.25).

    2) Any basic income that contemplates dismantling the welfare state is a right-wing ploy. The fact that Milton Friedman—who, in fact, rather than basic income, favored a negative income tax (NIT) which is similar to basic income in some ways but also significantly different in others—and other more recent right-wing economists are ostensibly basic income supporters has led some left-wing critics to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Friedman wanted the NIT as a sop when he was aiming to dismantle public social services in the United States but it’s pretty reductionist to conclude from this that all basic income supporters want to do away with welfare. Far from it,

    Poverty is viewed as a personal aberration. The norm is having a job and earning a respectable living, which flies in the face of today’s reality that having a job is no guarantee against poverty, as the burgeoning numbers of working poor testify.
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  2. They say UBI is expensive. Paying all UK citizens the current Jobseeker's Allowance amount of £73.10 per week would cost almost £250bn per year - 13 per cent of the UK’s entire GDP.

    By contrast, widening the social safety net through more comprehensive services would cost around £42bn, which can be funded by lowering the personal income tax allowance from £11,800 to £4,300, according to the IGP’s analysis.

    The experts say an expansion of basic services to everyone is highly progressive because those who rely on them will be disproportionately the least wealthy in society.

    Almost half of the world's jobs, paying almost $16 trillion in wages, could be automated just by adapting existing technology in robotics, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, a recent report by McKinsey estimated.

    Professor Henrietta Moore, director of UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity, said: “Without radical new ideas that challenge the status quo, we face a future where the changing shape of our society and labour market leaves more and more people struggling simply to achieve the basics – let alone having the resources and mental energy to allow themselves and their families to flourish.”
    Business picture of the day

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    She said that UBS was a logical extension of the widely accepted principle that health and education should be free at the point of use to everyone.
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  3. Nobody has created the cryptocurrency we actually need just yet.

    You see, Satoshi understood the first part of the maxim, the power to print money. What he missed was the power to distribute that money.

    The second part is actually the most crucial part of the puzzle. Missing it created a critical flaw in the Bitcoin ecosystem. Instead of distributing the money far and wide, it traded central bankers for an un-elected group of miners.

    These miners play havoc with the system, holding back much needed software upgrades like SegWit for years and threatening pointless hard forks in order to drive down the price with FUD and scoop up more coins at a depressed price.

    But what if there was a different way?

    What if you could design a system that would completely alter the economic landscape of the world forever?

    The key is how you distribute the money at the moment of creation.

    And the first group to recognize this opportunity and put it into action will change the world.

    The problem with all of the plans before now, from UBI to socialism (high taxes on the rich to spread the wealth across the game) is that to redistribute the money after it’s already been distributed is nearly impossible. The people with that money rightfully resist its redistribution. And as Margret Thatcher said “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

    But what if the money is NOT already distributed?

    What if we don’t have to take it from anyone at all?
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  4. I interpret the growing interest in a Basic Income across the political spectrum as a positive development. Here is how I see it: the demand for a Basic Income is, depending on the terms of the demand, a left-wing demand; however, the politics of the demand are not by any measure straightforward. Whether or not it can improve the lives of a broad crosssection of workers depends on several specifics, most important, on the level of the income that is provided. If it is too low, it risks further subsidizing low wage employers by offering their workers a wage supplement. The demand I support is for a miminal livable income that, insofar as it enables workers to opt out of waged work even temporarily, would force such empoyers to offer better wages and conditions. That said, the politics around this are tricky at best, as it is not unlikely that once won, a Basic Income will be first instituted at a low level. The struggle to then raise the level of income will require additional efforts.

    But even if or when it is secured in the form of a minimal livable income, it should be clear that a demand for Basic Income is not a proposal to replace the wage system, but only to loosen its grip on us a bit by providing income for those now shut out of or rendered precarious in relation to waged work, and for those whose contributions to social (re)production that are not now remunerated with wages. It would also give individuals a stronger position from which to negotiate more favorable employment contracts and better enable us to make choices about what kinds of households and intimate relationships we might want to form. While these are not insubstantial benefits, they do not add up to some revolutionary postcapitalist vision.

    Basic Income is the only way capitalism will be able to sustain itself materially and ideologically.

    On the contrary, I think a Basic Income is likely to be the only way capitalism will be able to sustain itself materially and ideologically in the near future as the wage system and family model continue to reveal themselves inadequate to the task of distributing income and organizing productive cooperation. Instead, what a Basic Income could provide is material support for the time and effort necessary to fight for additional reforms and a conceptual opening to think more critically about work and nonwork and more imaginatively about how they might be further transformed. It is in that sense a rather modest demand, but one that I think will enable further political thinking and action.
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  5. with things like self-driving cars, 3D printers and AI just over the horizon, more and more of the economy is going to become subject to rapid technological deflation.

    This is a deep point. No existing economic model knows how to deal with the accelerating pull of technological deflation.

    But Gada has a recommendation. And for folks who have been following Basic Income, it is a doozie. He recommends that by far the best, and perhaps the only, way to deal with technological deflation is to counteract its pull with a large and rapidly growing guaranteed income to every adult citizen.

    How large? Well, he reckons that right now in late 2016, the right number would be $5,000 a year per US citizen. Which is nice, but the real kicker comes when he looks at how quickly this stipend would have to grow just to keep pace with technological deflation. The answer? About 20% a year.

    For those who can’t be bothered with math, at an annual growth rate of 20%, this Basic Income would build to $25,000 a year by 2025 and over $100,000 a year by the early 2030’s.
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