Guaranteed Living Income and the Battle for the Future

Well, I tried to be involved in an interesting discussion taking place at

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.

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