Winnipeg congress sessions Part one

Before we even started we had a snag. Somebody with mobility problems tripped coming down the stairs into the plenary room. They had to call an ambulance for her, but I was informed that she was all right.

I also have some walking problems and was still using a cane at the time, but I did not have too much trouble with these steps. The venue was supposed to be accessible but one wheel chair bound person was not too happy with the ‘access’ arrangements.

I noticed her often at the back of the hall, sometimes having difficulty getting noticed in order to ask a question. I talked with her at the airport. It seems the wheelchair lift was a rickety affair that she did not trust at all.

identity politics

The next calamity to befall the conference was to insult the aboriginal community who had supported the congress strongly. This is what I do not like about identity politics; it leads to hypocrisy.

Yes, we were on the ‘traditional’ territory of the Anishnaabe nation. Six other ‘first nations’ also live in Manitoba, which has the highest proportion of aboriginals in the country. Yes, Canada is a ‘colonial settler’ country.

Once upon a time the ground Winnipeg is built on was the traditional territory of whoever the Anishnaabe chased out or annihilated. A cursory reading of evidence suggests to me it was the old “mound builders” who were likely ancestors of todays Dakotas. London, England was founded as an imperial and settler colonial project of the Roman Empire on the traditional land of the Celto-Germanic tribe of Belgae.

History is not kind to people who are sitting on land more powerful people want. We are not all going to give the land back and go back where we came from. But the Injuns of Canada rarely resisted European civilization and usually tried hard to find accommodation with the ascendant culture. What was done to them was totally unnecessary.

The worst was the aggressive effort at cultural extinction and assimilation. Do not call it genocide, that word should not be cheapened. It was a disastrous social engineering experiment which has left the first people psycho-socially dislocated. They now cling desperately to the shreds of their previous culture, to try to regain a sense of themselves, and should be encouraged to do so.

However, I find the current trendy practice of inviting some Uncle Tom-Tom to come and play his drum at liberal-progressive functions to be condescending. The individual thus engaged for this event had travelled abroad conducting talks on aboriginal culture. He had some things to say about the significance of indian rituals and I wish he had more time to say them.

But we all stood up as he did a Lakota ‘honor song’ of the kind once played to greet delegates of an assembly. It does indeed put you in the mood for serious deliberations, even if you do not know the words. But then he was hustled out, to come back at the end and give us a good-bye theme. I assume some money got put in his jar, like he was a hired performer.

Then the shit hit the fan. Some people had some serious objections to the wording of an instruction sheet for the bus trip to the Neeganin center the next day. We were told that nobody could take their cars and we all had to keep together for “safety concerns” because of “risks in the neighborhood”.

This all sounded to me a lot like the slurs against the old Regent Park, before it got redeveloped. I used to live near Regent park, attend community events in Regent, and walk home from there after midnight. I never had the slightest trouble.

The next day I walked out of the Neeganin center despite orders and took a short walk around the neighborhood. It was drab but very quiet, almost uninhabited. In fact there were few aboriginals even inside the center, other than the ones speaking, dancing, or cooking and serving dinner. Maybe the police swept them all up for our visit, like we were the Olympics.

We heard some speakings about how the pre- white man aboriginals had run their economy on Basic Income principles. The material wealth was drawn into a common pool and distributed according to a “from each according to ability, to each according to need” basis.

Actually, most societies since the dawn of time have operated that way. Western civilization since the advent of capitalism has most seriously deviated from that. But such civilizations are an exception and generally do not last long.

I noted one very good line in this. If the aboriginals had kept control of the resource revenues which were taken from them, they would be today as wealthy as arab sheikhs; except they would not act like Arab sheikhs. They would use the wealth to look after everyone.

We were told that we needed to be part of the decolonization process. That is, to make a society for “needs, not exploitation by people living somewhere else.” No arguments there.

Then we got exposed to some aboriginal high culture. I really enjoyed this, because each performance came with a talk on the significance of the art form, and the skills required. We went from Inuit throat singing to Metis fiddling and the students of an aboriginal cultural dance school.

The plains indians seemed to have a special dance for just about everything. Some of them require great skill and athletic ability developed over years of practice. I hope the school prospers and is able to revive these almost lost art forms.

The existence of a Basic Income would make it possible for more people to pursue them as a vocation.

As for BICN, it has the problem of groups run mostly by volunteers. That is, things get done by amateurs when they really need to be handled by professionals. We get needless mistakes which harm the cause we are trying to promote, such as needlessly offending social elements we want to be aligned with on one hand. Then on the other hand trying to be politically correct with them and coming off as patronizing.

the Kingston group

Kingston has one of the earliest established and most active local BI groups. I understand they were the first group to get their local council to endorse the idea of a BI. This is now being imitated all over the country. Now, however, they are awake to adoption of such BI resolutions as “cheap support” which is often a substitute for supporting the “living wage” campaign.

A second speaker from Kingston spoke about “Essentialism and Feminism”. Essentialism is another of the old ideas from Aristotle that have so messed up western civilization, that everything has its one correct use. This includes women who are supposed to stay home and raise kids while their husbands support them.

But she did not like identity politics either. As an example of the way it leads to abuses, she talked about the radical leftist tactic for disrupting meetings which we do not see so much of anymore. She recalled when a university students union held a conference on feminism and brought in some pricey speakers.

The super lefties crashed it by bringing lunatics in to rant and then giving them cover when the chair tried to bring them to order. “I will not allow you to silence this [ black woman, Lesbian, etc]”. Finally they had to close the meeting. Some of the student organizers were left literally in tears.

I wonder how well BICN would cope with an attack of this kind. I know a couple of occasions where speakers for BI have been “bushwhacked” by leftists ranting that BI is an excuse to abolish all social programs. They do not seem to deal with it well.

But her point was that some degree of essentialism is necessary and women really do need someone to provide the economic security within which to be able to raise children in this time of economy. She now recognizes the irony in the relation between feminism and the need for a husband.

The object of feminism is economic independence. BI best serves that aim. But she still does not like the idea of full time mothers.

Of course, this gets into one of the criticisms of BI, that it breaks up families and eliminates the role of the male provider. I wonder how you would square the social conservative view with a BI; give it only to the husband? The point of her presentation seems to me to be that essentialism means there are no possible compromises about some things.

continuing on

Spending ten hours a day mostly listening to people talk gets wearing. The talks start to blur in together. Only the strongest points stand out.

Someone asked rhetorically; are we and Milton Friedman talking about the same thing? When we talk about jobs do we mean labor or work? Labor is the commodity which capitalists buy. Work is what people do, paid of unpaid, to keep society going.

The left critique of BI has always been that it is not sufficient in itself. In the 1970s, BI was supported by the right and “castigated” by the left.

Now the aim of BI is to create more “equality” between people but now jobs are migrating offshore, creating an unequal power balance between owrkers and employers.

I decided to say something about this. The time honored solution for technological unemployment and job offshoring has been;

1) Reduce the work week without loss of income, by increasing hourly wage.

2) Bring offshore jobs back onshore. And fuck the World Trade Organization.

The response to me; well, people are working less hours at particular jobs now, but they are having to get two jobs in order to live.

I had no opportunity to respond to that. Sigh! What did they do thirty years ago, when overtime was not paid? Charge the employer! Back then wages from one job were sufficient, but some people still wanted more and worked two jobs.

The limitations of “one question each” is that you cant follow up and get into a dialogue.

Another example of this is where someone talked about reducing work weeks to thirty hours. One of these libertarian types jumped up all red faced and barked “would the state decree this?”

This was totally stupid. Why should ‘the state’ not decree something like this? It decrees there will be no child labor. It decreed maternity leave. It decrees a minimum wage.

But people there just ignored him.

More papers

Someone informed us that a reason used in Manitoba for denying a raise in the welfare rate, was that some welfare families would be better off than than some working families. This sounds a lot like the “less eligibility” doctrine of workhouse times. However, the obvious counterargument is that if this is so, then wages are obviously far too low.

John Rook from Calgary gave his talk about Maslow’s hierarchy. Sometimes called Maslow’s ladder, this has become a set piece of sociological discussion. When people’s physical needs are met, they turn to being concerned about safety, when they become safe they become concerned about love and acceptance, then about self actualization.

I think he delivered pretty much the same spiel at the Toronto conference in 2012. The effect of a BI would be to shift the underclass from ‘ survival ‘ mode, and I think he means here, from meeting physical needs, to self actualization mode. I think that is a bit optimistic. My own experience has been that you have to get used to one level, which takes a little while, before you start thinking about the next one.

Rook also notes that the big problem with the present system is the overlap and duplication of services. I thought, he should talk to somebody like John Stapleton in Toronto, who thinks our present welfare system is a brilliant creation brought about by many generations of enlightened progress and innovation, which should not be lightly tinkered with.

now buy some of our papers

At the end of the first day, we all came back to the plenary room and were urged to check out the Basic Income Studies Journal, by one of its coeditors. Yes, it is a nice little journal, but in the internet age you are not going to get too many people to pay $40 for a ten or twenty page article. There is stuff just as worthwhile online for free.

I have an idea for the BI studies journal; get away from the academic publishing racket and just put out a free electronic newsletter. Oh, no, he did that too. He even tried recruiting me into it at the Montreal congress in 2014. The trouble with that has been that it contains little that is of any interest. It is just cheerleading for BI.

There is a need for a better communications medium for BI. More about that.

in the hallways.

One guy I chatted with while nibbling brownies, thought that there were too many old people there. I suggested to him that it was only old people with the money and time to get there. He seemed to buy that.

I talked with Karl Widerquist about my problems getting and keeping in contact with people. He said he had a lot of problem communicating with people on the net as well. He thought the problem was spam filters.

As well, some people will try to ban whatever they do not like. At one point he had to change his e-mail address, which for some reason had been tagged as a spam source. Perhaps because he, like I , often send out messages to a lot of people at once.

He suggested I change my own e-mail. However, I would have to do that regularly and then people would have to find me again. Perhaps I should have a second address just for high volume sendouts.

Friday the 13th

This auspicious day started off with me trudging across the campus against strong winds and some snow. I do not want to disparage Winnipeg weather to greatly. It was quite balmy the evening I arrived, but deteriorated into the weekend.

Then I was treated to a totally disgusting account of of U.S. welfare “reform”.

There is the EITC program; Earned Income Tax Credit. All it does is subsidize bad jobs and keep people tied to bad employers. This is what American conservatives came up with as an alternative to a Basic Income when it was seriously proposed in he 1970s.

Canada has its own version of EITC, the Working Income Supplement WIS, though it is not as obnoxious as the American version.

Even more disgusting is the “Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” created by the Clintons in 1996. This is the idea that people would be able to get only a few years of welfare assistance in their lives. There was little control over how states actually spent the money. Some used it to fund programs to promote marriage.

The policy never did really come into effect. It has been fiercely resisted by the poor and their advocates in the U.S. It also runs up against the reality that cutting the poor off welfare does not make them disappear.

the caring economy

This was the next talk I attended; not quite so grim as the first. There is a need for a new “caring economy” in which both children and the natural environment are cared for.

It is hard to get people to take this idea seriously. Some economists say the idea is too simplistic. Others say it is too complex.

There is still the problem of people trying to over intellectualize the concept of caring economy. Yet other people think at a bumper sticker level.

Getting specifically to poverty elimination, the American presenter from Minnesota said that most welfare reform in the U.S. was about forcing women to get married and have kids.

Specific to the Manitoba mincome experiment, she noted that the problem with its design was that it did not consider social interactions. It was all about labor reductions, as if these do not interact with business decisions.

In other words, if the hours worked declined as a result of a guaranteed income, is it because some people said “fuck you, boss, I’m gonna stay home and watch TV ” or because some employers said, “fuck it, this mincome is making people too uppity, so I am moving out of this town.”

She concluded by recommending the book; “moral Economy” by David Calnitsky. She described it as excellent about why people “join” welfare of mincome. You will have to read the book to discover just what she meant by that.