Guaranteed Living Income and the Battle for the Future

Well, I tried to be involved in an interesting discussion taking place at https://thawvictoria.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/an-open-letter-to-sarah-sheridan-and-jean-swanson-responding-to-guaranteed-annual-income-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-the-volcano/comment-page-1/#comment-311

I am not going to reproduce the other posts here. You will have to go to it yourselves, assuming it stays up. It was brought to my attention by Cynthia at Livable4all. I wrote out my own take on it, below, but I can’t seem to post it. This is another reason why I generally dislike the internet as a forum. It silos people off. People start hearing only other people just like them.

It starts with an article written by two Vancouver poverty activist types, one of whom I know, Jean Swanson. It gives pretty much the stock argument against any kind of GLI; that it is something rich people want, so it must be something bad. It does have a rather condescending tone. Speaking for an income guarantee is not like “ waiting to win the lotto”.

Someone who describes herself as “multi generational impoverished” ripped into this. She said that the minimum income movement “came from the poor” which is not quite accurate. But it was something advocated by Martin Luther King, who did plan to make it a core of his campaign.

What I have to say is, simply, that there is no way around having some kind of BI system. You can have a good one or a bad one. The present welfare system was never a good policy and is not worth defending.

This is the text;

Yes, thanks for writing this, @KymHothead. Thanks, @Livable4all, for bringing it to my attention. This exchange exactly puts the finger on what the real debates about GLI are about. Sheridan and Swanson also come across as exemplars of the big problem with every kind of “anti-poverty organization”. They presume to know what is best for poor people.

They do point to the problem with any sort of Basic Income scheme, but I do not think they actually realize it. We know that rich exploiters of the poor have long been advocating their version of a BI. We know that government bureaucrats are coming up with bait and switch versions of a BI which will not really help anything.

But nothing except a BI/GLI is going to solve the problems of living in the post industrial world. There is no other way out for the growing “outclass” of people for whom the post industrial world has no use and offers nothing.

Yes, post industrial, post capitalist world. Nobody seems to have really read or believed old Karl Marx, including even the “Marxists”. Marx did not have any “labor theory of value”. He had a theory of the organic composition of capital. Capitalism makes profits when the labor component of capital is high; the human, the organic capital.

As technology advances and humans are less needed to run the productive system, the organic composition falls and the rate of profit falls. This causes the repeated cycles of booms and depressions. This used to be solved by new technologies as well as imperialism, meaning conquered captive markets, rising living standards, reduced work times, etc. Lately it has been patched up with make work jobs.

As we read in the latest works from Jeremy Rifkn, especially “The Zero Marginal Cost Society”, we are now at the stage where it costs very little, in terms of labor or resources, to produce everything we need. Marx is thumping in his grave, saying “told you so!”

However, he may have been optimistic about what follows from the end of the line for capitalism. Rather than just disappear and let us all develop a socialist society, they will likely try to create some sort of neo-fuedal society. Andy Stern, the American union leader turned GLI advocate, calls this the “hunger games” future.

More optimistic futurologists have talked about the “Star Trek” future, where “replicators” make everything we need. We can then devote ourselves to great thoughts and deeds. Boldly go where we haven’t gone before, zoom!

These are the two models of the future before us. What we are entering is the age of struggle for the Star Trek versus the Hunger Games future. Checking out of the struggle is not an option. The Sheridens and Swansons of the world want our present avant Charles Dickens world to just be a more “Ebeneezer Scrooge after the Ghost of Christmases Future” future. That will not happen.

We are going to have a post industrial, post capitalist society. This will inevitably require some form of a Basic Income. Most of the population will simply not be needed full-time, year-round in the productive economy. Unless the capitalist ruling elite find some way to wipe out about eighty percent of us, and no doubt some of them will try, they will have to provide for all of us.

However, the other option is for us to do what old Karl advised in the first place; take control of the means of production. No, that does not mean to turn it al over to a Soviet style bureaucracy. Modern production is becoming more and more decentralized, requiring knowledge, not huge equipment inputs. It is really about taking control of the benefits of production away from the capitalists and committing it to meet human needs.

In the twenty first century, the dope who does not get it that there is class war, is pitiable. Likewise, the cretin who believes we will win or even break even at class war by trying to reform the existing welfare system is pathetic. The fight is not about whether to have a Basic Income but whose kind are we having.

It is the Star Trek future versus the Hunger Games future. What side are you on? To fail to perceive the real nature of any conflict is always to choose the wrong side by default. To refuse to fight on the terrain of a Basic Income is to accept a hunger games, neo-feudal kind of future world.

By the way, the kind of income guarantee I want to live in I call a Guaranteed Living Income (GLI). It is a predictable, stable, flat sum delivered at frequent intervals. Basic Income seems to have become a catch all term. The distinguishing feature of a bad BI is that they want to run it through the tax system as some form of variable tax rebate or credit.

If you want to abolish poverty this is where the battle is fought. Join the battle.

My web site is at www.livingrant.ch

Submission on Voting Reform

Here is what I sent in to the Electoral Reform committee. I think it is worth a read and I hope they actually read it. I actually sent it in  about ten o’clock on Friday.  That was actually the date for verbal submissions but I see no need to do that.

11:59 Special. Read this Paper! Voting reform must be understood in the context of democratic evolution

Here is my submission regarding voting reform. My name is Tim Rourke. I live in Toronto and come originally for Alberta. I have a degree in Political Science from the University of Toronto. I live on a disability pension and have for most of my life. This gives me some time to be involved in voting reform organizing, and with democratic reform more generally.

I worked with Fair Vote Canada for some years. I attended most sessions of the Ontario Citizen’s Assembly as an observer. I have been involved with the much studied participatory budgeting process within the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, the city’s social housing arm. It seems to me that voting reform in Canada must be understood within the context of the long process of developing and deepening democracy all over the world.

Modernizing

I think most of the problem with Canada is with obsolete institutions which have never been updated since colonial times. Fixing the voting system would be only a first step to a more thorough overhaul of government. Moving to a more consensual legislature like most other advanced countries did long ago would make it easier to begin reforming other aspects of government. It will be harder for interest groups who simply do not like democracy to obstruct public initiatives.

As a democracy deepens it goes from a representational model to a deliberative one. That is, one that is both direct and participatory; in which the public participates in discussing and forming policy and then votes on measures directly. There is also the concept of a delegative democracy, whereby local assemblies in which everyone participates select delegates, not representatives, to higher ones, which might then choose delegates to yet higher ones. As opposed to a representative, a delegate is directly responsible to the body which points her and serves at its pleasure. This eliminates most of the problems with electoral and partisan politics.

A delegative system is found in a few places where the public really got a chance to set up their own system; it seems instinctive to people. In places where democracy is well advanced, referenda and various forms of public consultation are commonly used. There is a science to conducting proper referenda and they are hard to do where strong party politics and privately controlled media try to manage public perceptions.

Process

There are many forms of citizen consultation, some genuine. and some bogus. They are called Citizen’s Assemblies, Citizen’s Juries, Planning Circles, Participatory. Budgeting, etc. The basic idea is to choose some level headed people by a random process and let them listen to experts on a matter, debate among themselves, usually with the help of a professional facilitator, and reach a decision. It may be an allocation of limited budget resources, the formulation of a referendum question, or a decision on an administrative matter.

There is no really good process of deciding the voting reform issue that would not involve some form of participatory democracy. A referendum question would need to be formulated by some form of Citizen’s Assembly. Parliament just deciding on its own would smell of a conflict of interest. The result would lack validity and thus be open to being undone by the next parliament. It has been wisely said that the voting system belongs to the people, not to the parliament. Thus it needs to be legitimized by some consultative process which is seen as valid and fair.

Among the problems we are facing with this voting reform process is that Canada does not have much experience at real democracy. We do not know how to go about things like referenda and Citizen’s Assemblies. We have also got ourselves stuck in this severe time constraint. It seems to be that the way out of this would be to do the best public consultation possible given these limitations, come out with the best solution within the constraints, and go with it. But, mandate a consultation and referendum on it after two elections.

However, it should be possible to do a decent Citizen’s Assembly within the time frame, about a year. We do have some experience at it, in Ontario and B.C. In both cases, they were done rather well but partisan politics deliberately sabotaged them at the end. The objections raised to a CA, that it would be hugely expensive, or that there is no way to select or manage such a large group of people, are not serious. All these problems could be overcome within the time needed with a bit of common sense and a willingness of politicians to give it a chance to work.

And of course, a CA would cost some money. If it is expensive, then expensive compared to what exactly? Democracy is always too expensive for people who do not really accept democracy.

Senator Axworthy has proposed a CA. The electoral reform committee has heard from Professor Thomson, who very ably led the Ontario Citizen’s Assembly. I attended most sessions of the Ontario CA as an observer and was impressed by it. Below are my own thoughts about how a federal CA could work.

suggestion

The CA should be 100 people, half of each gender of course. Google tells me that 22 would be francophone, 4 aboriginal, and 21 immigrants. We can only go so far with getting a “representative” Canadian population, or we will end up with something like the genius ideas on the Fair Vote Canada discussion boards, like having to find someone who is one quarter of a transgendered person. The group should also be roughly proportional to geographic areas, for example 18 from the Prairies.

These people could be found through jury rolls and a selection committee. It would not be all that hard. The problem would be in getting 100 people who can commit for two months and could travel to Ottawa. The Ontario assembly met on weekends. People were flown or bussed, some from the far reaches of the province, put up in hotels and flown back sunday evening.

A better solution might be to bring them to Ottawa for a solid month and pay them their usual incomes while they are there. Then you bring the usual experts to them. If the logistics of shipping them around the country is too much the public consultations could be done by teleconference. You then finally let them come to a decision with the help of professional facilitators.

So the problems of a Citizen’s Assembly are not all that great. They should be surmountable by an entity with the resources of the federal government. There will have to be the will to face down the yowling of the conservative party. The other parties must agree to pass whatever the assembly comes up with, and abide by it.

Urban-rural model

To conclude, as to the type of voting reform I would like to see, I am impressed by the model developed by the former Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, J.P. Kingsley. It seems to me to be the best compromise between the realities of Canada and the needs for a collaborative legislature.

Some will complain that it is not fully proportional. There is no way to have enough “overhang” or compensational seats given the set number of seats each province can have. But the idea of strict proportionality comes from the “Mathematicians” who have controlled Fair Vote Canada in Past.

What is really important in voting reform is to have multi member constituencies. Single member constituencies are very undemocratic and are what is really wrong with our present system. One person cannot “represent” an entire district; that is absurd. Multimember districts create some competition between representatives which reduces opportunity for abuse and corruption. It gives many more people a representative whom they actually voted for.

Finally, it seems to me that the process of voting reform is itself a learning process. Canada is not really very democratic. Its institutions are frozen in the colonial age. We are starting to run up against this inability to manage reform, and in a grievous way. In learning how to fix the voting system, we create the knowledge by which further citizen driven reforms become possible, including ones which require constitutional amendment.

It is said that the most dangerous idea to democracy is that we already have one. Let us go on with establishing and developing our democracy in Canada.