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The idea of Basic Income

As for the ATTAC meeting on Basic Income at 519 Church on February 24th, ATTAC stands for something in French to do with establishing a financial transactions tax.

I have heard of Dix Sandbeck and his ideas about "labor intermediation" before. He is holding a series of meetings on different political-economic topics that he tries to draw into this "labor intermediation" idea. He also sees his "ATTAC" as a branch of this French Group. His web site is at http://attac-ontario.org/texts.html

I have read about his labor intermediation scheme before. He wants some sorts of non profit agencies to act as intermediaries between workers and employers. He is not clear how this would work but says he gets the idea from the "flexicurity" policies of some European governments.

The point is to allow people more job security and ability to take time off from employment by taking control of fitting people into available jobs. This would create an intrusive bureaucracy which both workers and employers would soon come to hate. In Canada labor unions or temp agencies perform this mediation function.

Nine people attended this event. Some of them were very knowledgeable about the topic and made for an interesting discussion. There was too much to post on this newsletter so I am going to move it off.

I encountered one old Marxist whom I had not seen since the Montreal BIEN congress in 2014 when we had some lively discussions. I hope some of these people show up at the Salon I am organizing for next week. It is the kind of discussion I want.

Dix has a fair handle on the history of the Income Guarantees concept. It has existed at least since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It has kept popping up since capitalism started to develop in the 1500s. It was proposed as a way to help the peasants who were being thrown off the land by the enclosure of the commons.

In this century there have been different and successive types. The idea of the "citizen's wage" started about 1970, he says. I think it started a bit before that, in the 1960s. During the 1970s in Canada a Liberal party resolution adopted the idea as a way of "poverty reduction". The "social dividend" idea developed in the 1980s. This was a revival of the old Social Credit idea from the 1930s in Alberta, of shameful history. He went through the Manitoba Mincome experiment and the foundations of BIEN in Europe in the 1980s.

He gets to the present Ontario pilot. Segal will deliver his report next month based on the consultations. It might include the idea of $1320 for everybody. But he finds it absurd to propose a set amount of money at all.

Sandbeck thinks a BI will only work within an isolated society. His alternative, Labor Intermediation, is about seeking to spread the available spark among he whole labor force. But when asked why everyone has to be employed, he has no real answer. He says that human needs have to be covered, but there are many ways of covering human needs.

At this point things got lively. My communist friend wanted to abolish the idea of "jobs"- really just wage slavery. When politicians like Hugh Segal embrace something that used to be a "left" position, he gets suspicious. Segal's speeches over the years show he sees BI as a way to get rid of other programs. The liberal idea of BI is probably to avoid social unrest which is starting to scare them.

However, the Liberal version of BI is just about "sending the unemployed to a corner"; to shut up in return for a paltry BI to keep starvation at bay. As well, under the rules of "rentier economics", if there was an adequate BI, landlords would simply jack up the price of everything.

Someone else was worried about the Finnish experiment. How can you live on the equivalent of C$775 a month in Finland? One answer; Finland is a lot more cohesive than Canadian society; families look after each other. But is it?

Some of those present worried about growing nationalism due to the lack of economic security. They hoped a BI would help.

But 70% of remaining industrial jobs can be automated. And what will al these new immigrants do?

Someone thought that unlike Manitoba in the 1970s, today we live in a distracted world. Many people would accept BI in order to pursue their absorption in social media and gaming. There is a "social disappearance" that benefits the elite.

Someone dissented from that. He did not think young people today were all that bad.

Finally, we got to the subject of funding a BI. Dix wanted to start the stock spiel about how banks create the money. But our Marxist piped in that money comes from what gets funded. Private money derives from that, not from taxes. There is the ability to fund anything.

Dix finally came up with three reasons why BI is proposed;

  • 1. to address poverty
  • 2. to address inequality
  • 3. to address unemployment
  • The final objection to BI centred on the third aim. If you just gave people money in lieu of a paying job, it would not work, with 10% working and 90% idle, because they would hate and fight each other.

    But why? Because they are told to resent each other? There is no real reason to. Work and a job are not the same thing. People who have no job but an income can find themselves work to do.

    The concluding note was, that there is clearly a left and a right wing version of BI. There is no convergence between the two.