Universal Basic Income: freedom for workers?

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A post on why workers should oppose automation unless we can carry it out in our own interests and why a Universal Basic Income is not going to be the answer to the resulting immiseration

What freedom is there in the wage system, the system of propertied and propertyless people, when the majority must sell their physical and mental faculties, their time with their families and friends, their freedom to be who and what they are, in order to obtain what they need?

What justice is there in a system where those who do the vast majority of the work see little of the product of that labour? Where do we find justice in a system where the workers who create the wealth see hardly any of it?

The idea of a Universal Basic Income posed as a solution to this problem is alluring. It’s a recognition that human life and existence has value beyond a person’s ability to perform labour. And while, like the benefits system and the NHS, it might be a welcome concession granted to working people, it is not the salve to cure all ills. Certainly not if it’s posited as a wholesale replacement for the current benefits system.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) at its heart is little more than a change to the benefits system that already exists. It does little to address the need for real change in relations of production. There is little that is truly radical about UBI on these terms.

It may, by a relatively small amount, possibly raise the lot of the worst off, but we ignore the opportunist and anti-humane nature of capitalism at our peril. Capitalism has a habit of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Production will still occur on the basis of profit and not need. A small number of people will still be accumulating more and more wealth at the expense of those living on the UBI crumbs that fall under the table. How would we ensure that UBI is and remains enough for people to not just get by on, but live a full life if production is still carried out for profit and if capitalists are still willing and able to fleece people for what little crumbs they get?

At the end of the day, the benefits we gain in freedom to pursue our own leisure will only change in degree and not in kind. We will still be limited to what we can afford, and what we can afford may not change as much as we think it would. Our lives would still revolve around the prices and availability to us of things. Even the basic necessities of life would still be treated as commodities to be produced, bought and sold on the basis of profit and not produced and distributed freely on the basis of need. UBI won't democratize the workplace where human labour is still required. It won't democratize production and distribution where this labour has been automated. It won't reorganize production on the basis of need rather than profit. UBI isn't the solution we need to the problem of production relations between capitalists and the people who are currently forced to sell their labour in order to live.

The people who will need UBI to survive are still reliant on a political and capitalist class being willing to allow them the means of that survival. There is a danger in selling UBI as a solution to poverty and inequality. UBI is nothing of the sort. It doesn't change the relationship between the propertied and propertyless classes nearly enough, and radical change here is necessary if we are to safeguard our freedom to live against propertied vultures. We need to be in charge of our own destiny.

What happens if a change of circumstances comes along where automation of labour is no longer cost-effective or viable, or when new industry comes along which requires a significant supply of human labour? Capitalists will be under pressure to find this supply of labour and will place pressure on politicians to make changes which make this supply easier to procure. Would we be in a position to resist the partial or total withdrawal of our means of life that might result from this, forcing us back into wage labour?

With current trends in the cost of education, healthcare and transport to workers, will a large part of our UBI be spent on getting this education for ourselves and our children? Will we be using it to pay for privatized healthcare, and more expensive bus and train fares? Will it be an excuse to cut further help for those who would still be in need even with the UBI? Or to cut pensions?

And with more voices on the right of the political spectrum coming round to the idea of a Universal Basic Income on their terms, we need to recognize that UBI appears to be simply an adjustment to the way capitalism currently functions. It doesn’t offer a foundational challenge to capitalism. If it did, no self-respecting advocate of capitalism would consider it. So let’s briefly examine the foundation on which capitalism is built.

The basis of capitalism rests on the relationship between the capitalist and the worker. The worker must sell his or her labour in order to live. The capitalist needs that labour to produce things to sell. So a capitalist will buy and own the raw materials, tools etc. necessary for production and will then hire workers to work with the tools and the raw materials to produce what the capitalist tells the workers to produce. The workers will then use the tools to turn the raw materials into something the capitalist then sells.

So far, so logical. But let’s look a bit more closely at the relationship and how it benefits the capitalist. Let’s say the capitalist owns a factory that makes wooden tables. This means he needs to buy an amount of wood and the tools to make the tables (hammers, nails, glue etc). He also needs workers to come and use the tools to turn the wood into tables he then sells. Let’s say he spends 10 on the raw materials for one table and when it’s finished the table is worth 20. The worker who comes in to turn the raw materials into a table uses his or her skills and energy, takes the raw materials and adds value to them in the form of a finished table. The capitalist then pays the worker. The table immediately belongs to the capitalist and the capitalist sells the table for 20.

Now let’s look at the process in its simplest terms. The capitalist has spent money on tools and raw materials and on a worker to build the table. The worker has used brain power and muscle power to turn the raw materials into a table (which immediately belongs to the capitalist and not to the worker), adding 10 units of value to the raw materials in the form of labour. The capitalist then sells the table. But something is missing. What did the capitalist pay the worker?

If the capitalist paid the worker the value of his or her labour, this adds up to 10. The capitalist has spent 10 on the raw materials and tools, and 10 on the labour to use these up and produce a table worth 20. The capitalist then sells the table for 20. What’s in this for the capitalist? He’s spent 20, and at the end of the process he’s received 20. So what was the point? The capitalist hasn’t got anything out of this arrangement.

But what happens if the capitalist pays 10 for the raw materials and tools, but only pays the worker 8 for his or her labour? The capitalist sells the table for 20, but it only cost 18 to produce. The 2 left over is the capitalist’s profit.

So the key is in the nature of the relationship between the worker and the capitalist. One capitalist isn’t likely to sell wood or tools to another capitalist for less than what they’re worth. So where does a capitalist find a reason to be in production in the first place? The reason is profit, and that profit is found by the capitalist paying the workers less than the value of their work.

To make this a little bit clearer, consider that the capitalist rarely pays a worker based on the number of finished items they produce. The capitalist pays the worker to come to work and work as hard as they possibly can for a set amount of time. This obscures the real relationship between worker and capitalist somewhat and leads to the situation where the worker works half the day to meet his or her own immediate needs, and the rest of the day works to create wealth just for the capitalist.

It is this relationship between the worker and the capitalist that is central to how the capitalist system functions. It is in work done by the worker above and beyond that needed to meet his or her own immediate needs that the capitalist finds a reason to be in business. This relationship is the basis of profit. We can see it most clearly, and it begins to explain the situation, where labour is cheap and where it produces expensive commodities, places where the weekly wage of a person sewing sports shoes isn’t enough to buy a single pair of the shoes they’ve been working on all week.

Any campaigning for UBI must be done with the future of workers in mind and not simply just an improvement in immediate conditions. Conditionality must be refused. This is not to downplay the importance winning a UBI might have for working people, but to stress that the fight must go beyond just this concession.

With those on the right who are open to the concept using UBI as a means to prop up and reinforce existing socio-economic relations between capitalists and workers by making the relationship slightly more palatable to workers without jeopardizing too much the capitalist's privileged position in society, and simultaneously balking at the idea that the UBI would be enough to live comfortably on, a consensus on the nature of UBI is likely only going to be a compromise. In essence we as workers have been reduced, by the capitalist class and the politicians who support them, to tools of work; a cog in a machine; essentially born to work for them, and have our work make them money.

If we're going to be truly free, we need to have the freedom to pursue our goals where and when and how we see fit. Wage labour is fundamentally incompatible with this. The right's vision for UBI is as a replacement for the benefits system already in place. Just enough for the absolute basics of survival and only because dead workers can't be exploited. This is clearly of limited value to workers. The left's vision for UBI must be as a step on the path to true freedom for working people and not seen as the solution to poverty and inequality. And not as a necessary step, but one possible step.

What is needed is a fundamental shift in attitudes towards work and the relations that make work necessary; a left that is much less concerned with the plight of the capitalist. In this we've got at least a head start because most people already hate work and resent having to do it. People feel undervalued and underpaid because they are. People can see the inequity in their relationship with their bosses. What isn't seen so well is the fact that we're literally selling our ability to work and a good third of our lives, giving up our freedom in the process, in order to live. But people weren't born simply to work. We instinctively know this and we value our lives more than this because none of us really likes work, but this is balanced against the necessity of work for the vast majority. If we don't do it, we can't really live at all. These are conditions imposed on us by capitalism.

We need to continue the task of attempting to reconstruct society and recognize reforms of capitalism for what they are: helpful stepping-stones on that path. We also need to recognize threats to the conditions of working people, such as those posed by automation and those posed by an unfavourable compromise on the question of UBI. Capital is bound to try to take advantage of the opportunities offered by automation while also trying to safeguard its dominant position in production and distribution. And while automation offers hope of one day ending labour, we have to recognize that automation as carried out by capitalism is ruining lives and making many destitute, forcing millions into precarious, low-paid and ever more demeaning labour. While automation remains a capitalist project, workers will not be allowed to benefit from it.

We can’t ignore this. We can’t put our eggs in one basket where UBI is concerned and allow capital to automate millions of jobs out of existence. If the battle for what is essentially a reform of the benefits system is lost (and there is every reason to suspect it could easily be), then the potential for the immiseration of swathes of workers is very real. The political establishment has shown no real signs of being concerned with the lot of workers. The past 40 years have seen continuing and intensifying attacks on welfare and social security programs throughout the developed world and these have shown no sign of slowing down. The environment isn’t exactly ideal for the introduction of a Universal Basic Income favourable to the working-class. It would be naïve to think that UBI wouldn’t quickly become entrenched in the same ideological war, and bureaucratic and legislative nightmare the current benefits system is caught up in and has been for the duration of the neoliberal project. With publicly funded welfare and health programmes under constant attack all over the neoliberal world, it would be naïve to believe that the introduction of UBI would favour working-class interests over those of the capitalists in this environment.

Universal Basic Income offers no concrete alternatives to the current wage system. It doesn’t point a way to overturning existing property relations. It is designed specifically to work within those social relations, to prop them up and to at best offer the most meagre of concessions to the people who are forced to sell their capacity to work. Many will still need to top up this income by performing wage labour. It also makes no effort on its own to address the differing needs of people who may have disabilities or who may have a larger family to support, for example. With all its faults, and there are many, this is something the current benefits system does actually address.

Simply nationalizing a business or service or industry isn't going to help deliver economic democracy either. The people who work there, and workers generally, would have no more control over how the business is run or what happens to the product of their labour than they would if the business was in private hands. Nationalization without addressing the relationship between employer and employee is simply a case of swapping one group of expropriators and facilitators for another.

What is needed is a full reappraisal of what the aims of the left should be. The trade union movement is concerned with higher wages, sometimes with shorter hours (or at least limiting increases in hours), protecting jobs, but these days never, it seems, with the way production and distribution is organized. Such concerns are pushed to the fringes of left-wing discourse. Universal Basic Income is still a fringe concern for the mainstream left, but is increasingly gaining traction in liberal circles. However, it doesn't go anything like far enough in addressing the real economic problem facing workers and society at large: the problem of how we should organize production and distribution of what workers produce. In fact, it makes no attempt to address this problem at all.

We need to make economic democracy a cornerstone of left-wing thought again. We have to offer workers a future where they decide democratically, and in collaboration with the community at large, what to produce, how to produce it and then how to distribute it. We can’t simply settle for automation and UBI, or for the nationalization of industry. To really change capitalism, we need to change its core: the relationship of workers to the production, appropriation and distribution of the surplus they create. Looking at the problem this way, it’s much easier to see how the capture of the state by electoralism or force isn’t really a necessary step on this road. Indeed, where the state has been captured by a vanguard party, very few steps on this road to economic democracy were taken in the decades afforded those regimes. The basic relationship between the workers and their employers and facilitators remained largely unchanged.

It seems we've got a long way to go with persuading unions who haven't even got the vision to offer an alternative to the renewal of Trident. It's here that contemporary social democracy may offer one of its few positive lessons, with the battle over the nature, influence and politics of the British Labour party in the previous couple of years. The story is far from written but it at least shows that such change within a formerly condemned house, and in the face of obvious opposition from the media, may at least be possible.

With the continuing capitalist drive towards automation in order to reduce labour costs, the capitalist system lurches towards a great contradiction: with fewer and fewer workers being paid less and less money, how does capitalism maintain and reproduce the markets for what it’s producing? Here we can see a situation where capitalists might favour UBI, at least for workers in the developed economies, where the cost of a worker’s wage makes the most compelling case to the capitalist for increasing automation or the offshoring of jobs. Accelerating automation as a capitalist project, continuing to erode the organized workforce, will also make organizing industrially in the developed economies an increasingly difficult prospect. There is no reason why capitalists would not think they’d be able to reproduce the conditions of early-mid capitalism in the developing economies and continue to accumulate profit from these economies. A Universal Basic Income in the developed economies may be seen by capital as another concession, just a way to keep the lowest of the populations of the developed economies away from its door while capital carries out this project.

This is essentially a continuation and intensification of the exploitation of these developing economies largely to the advantage of capitalists in developed economies but also of some benefit to workers here, who because of this can at least in the short-to-medium term continue to benefit from cheap goods made in these developing economies. In the long term, there’s no reason why capital can’t roll back such concessions once profitable markets have been established in the economies currently classed as developing. It would be a mistake to think that the introduction of a Universal Basic Income in the developed economies would be, or from the point of view of capital, would need to be a permanent state of affairs. The past 40 years of neoliberal hegemony provides the lesson here, with the post-war concessions made to the working-class now under constant attack. In the long term, with a Universal Basic Income being funded from increased taxation of the rich and corporations, it’s hard to see capital being happy with a situation where they’re essentially propping up Western markets, paying consumers in developed economies to buy from them without receiving something substantial like productive labour in return. Capitalists are more likely to abandon the developed economies in much the same way as communities like Britain’s former mining centres and Detroit have already been, in favour of developing and expanding markets in Asia and South America.

Realistically, without extreme pressure from a rank-and-file labour movement threatening something the capitalists see as worse, a flat-rate Universal Basic Income will be proposed as a replacement for the current benefits system either in full or in part and would only be implemented in the interests of capital. Replacing the current benefits system with a Universal Basic Income could be seen by capital as a favourable exchange. While the introduction of the Universal Basic Income without cuts to existing benefits would be a welcome concession for workers, this is very unlikely in the current climate. A compromise version that takes little to no account of the individual needs of recipients would be no more than a means to prop up existing relations of production, providing another leg for capitalists, rentiers and the banking sector to stand on.

Workers need more radical solutions. The ultimate aim must be not to prop up capitalism but to destroy it. To overturn the relationship between employer and employee. To abolish the root cause of our economic misery – the employer, the rentier and the banker – and to take control of our own working lives by whatever means necessary. This should begin with a fight to control the ground on which this battle is being fought but the focus overwhelmingly seems to be on fighting for a few extra crumbs from the table. With the conditions of so many workers at stake, ceding ground to capital over the issue of automation and hoping capitalists and governments step in to mitigate its effects is a dangerous ploy for the left. It looks like a gambit. But it’s a gambit that millions just can’t afford. We’re in danger of being subject to yet another layer to the contradictions and cyclical whims of the capitalist system. What is needed is not a concession of the ground to capitalists and politicians where automation is concerned but a vision of workers taking control of the process themselves so we can free ourselves from the misery of wage labour.

Posted By

Dec 13 2016 00:26


  • With the conditions of so many workers at stake, ceding ground to capital over the issue of automation and hoping capitalists and governments step in to mitigate its effects is a dangerous ploy for the left

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Tom Henry
Dec 13 2016 07:09

Yes, this development (UBI) is really interesting. Good to bring it up here.

Of course it originates from sectors of society that wish to make capitalism work better. Think Welfare State, rising wages, unemployment benefits, minimum wage, consumer society, TV, technological advance.

Of course, it is the result of economists and the like thinking about how to cope with automation. In this sense it seems uncannily like a step toward the Marxist vision of communism. Communism, remember, is the logical next step for capitalism. The proposal of a universal basic income may be part of the dialectic that moves society ‘forward’ – it is a proposed ‘solution’ to automation, it is also a proposed incentive to re-invigorate economies by providing a baseline for the precariously poor and a possible means for areas of the generationally unemployed to hoist themselves up (!). (Still it may just be a fad in the mediasphere – like the promise of the three day working week in the 1970s.)

Remember, also, that capitalism historically appears to run the smoothest in the West when the workers are paid well and there is a minimum of unemployment, and in democracy, when workers have more freedom… to buy products, to go on holiday, etc.

These are some recent thoughts about the idea from an economist writing in an Australian newspaper:

What if the right to an income was as basic as the right to vote?

In Australia you don't get money unless you work, or can prove you've been trying to find work or are disabled or jump through some other sort of hoop. At 65 you get the pension.

In Alaska every citizen gets $US2000 a year, no questions asked. It's a dividend from royalties from oil extracted in the Arctic Circle.

In Kenya a $30 million trial is about to give 6000 citizens a basic income for 12 years to find out what difference it makes. An earlier trial found it lowered their stress hormones, improved their psychological health and cut their spending on alcohol and tobacco. A trial in Uganda found those who got automatic payments invested more in education and starting up their own businesses. Four years on they earned 40 per cent more than those who hadn't.

That shouldn't be surprising. Many of us who start up businesses or enrol in courses rely on the income of a partner or parent to make it possible. Those denied that support can't do it.
Yet in Australia we seem to believe that if we simply hand out money, people won't work. Social Services Minister Christian Porter revealed on Friday that in the past year 3000 Newstart recipients had turned down offers of employment – that's 3000, out of roughly half a million. Even if we can accept that most people on benefits actually do want to work (either in paid employment or in equally valuable voluntary caring roles) many of us still seem to feel there's something morally wrong in delinking rewards from work.

Yet if we are honest, those of us with good jobs should probably admit that we have them largely through luck and the accident of where we were born. Much of our income isn't the result of our own efforts, it's a dividend from our society – a dividend we deny those without those jobs.

Switzerland just had a referendum on providing each of its adults with a basic income of $3450 per month. It failed. Finland, Canada and the Netherlands are about to run trials. In Australia, and New Zealand where the idea is being promoted heavily, the basic income might be $12,000 per year – not enough to live on, but a fallback that would enable hard-up jobseekers to turn down potentially dangerous or illegal jobs such as prostitution.

Yes, it would also go to the most well-off, Gina Rinehart and James Packer among them. But that's how it is with rights – they're universal. And we already hand those well-off Australians benefits such as tax-free thresholds. If a basic income replaced the tax-free threshold and was extended to all of us, Rinehart and Packer would be no better off and the payments wouldn't be too expensive.

The French poet Victor Hugo famously proclaimed there was "nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come". As automation steadily eliminates even the kind of well-paid jobs most of us have always wanted, that time may be approaching.

In our opposition to the UBI will we be defending the factories, defending the right to work, defending work itself? Of course, the UBI is not designed as a way of abolishing work (despite the fears of some) it is designed as a way of creating new avenues for work, for new forms of accumulation. Clever stuff. What was it that created the welfare initiatives and mindset in Europe after the Second World War – Light industry? Half a century of fairly intense class conflict? The collapse of 1926 and the example of the American New Deal and what Stalin and Hitler did in their respective countries? Or a combination of all this? Did the revolutionaries oppose the Welfare-ism and National Health system in the UK when it was proposed?

[I have just realised that this has been discussed before , as Spikeymike pointed out in another thread:

There is a long thread here: http://libcom.org/forums/theory/basic-income-good-step-stage-revolutionary-socialism-11052014 That thread also includes three more links to similar mostly useful discussions helping to debunk the bollocks talked by it's left-wing proponents.


Dec 14 2016 08:02

I'm interested in the notion, directly advocated here and suggested as a question by spikymike in the 'worker's movement' thread that it may become necessary--for basic survival-- that the worker's movement begin advocating for a 'neo-Luddite' position as it relates to automation. I don't know where I stand on it, but it is an interesting thought worth discussing.

In this article, I appreciate the focus on the 'libertarian-right' advocacy of a UBI. I think in many cases, left-wing proponents envision an alliance that could make a UBI a political possibility. However, the business-oriented, small-government view of UBI is that it will replace most, if not all, current social programs. Were such a UBI to pass into law, the result would likely be a decrease in the social wage for most recipients. Fighting such measures would likely break-up the UBI coalition, making potential adoption far-less likely in the near-term than it may appear at first glance.

That said, assuming the rate of automation either continues at the current pace or increases, a UBI will likely be in the cards as a necessity at some point, simply for the preservation of capitalism. As Tom Henry states above, stable societies tend to have a relatively well-paid working class. If automation eliminates most jobs, within the confines of capitalism only a UBI would stave off a descent into total dystopia .

To be clear, as there seemed to be a misunderstanding in the earlier thread, I am not suggesting communists should advocate for a UBI. That said, I do think there are a couple of potential silver-linings for communists if a UBI is implemented in the future:

1) If people worked less and had more free-time, they may be more likely to engage in (anti) political projects. Additionally, militancy on the job may become less risky if one's continued survival isn't directly tied to their employment.

2) If capitalism was to itself decouple income from work, the leap to a moneyless, gift economy may appear to be more realistic and within the realm of possibility to those who currently go cross-eyed at the suggestion.

Conversely, I imagine that it is just as likely that, if not already implemented, a UBI could be used as a final concession to a revolutionary class. It's not hard to imagine reformists declaring the UBI as an ultimate victory, perhaps even calling it communism.

Dec 14 2016 16:01
To be clear, as there seemed to be a misunderstanding in the earlier thread, I am not suggesting communists should advocate for a UBI. That said, I do think there are a couple of potential silver-linings for communists if a UBI is implemented in the future:

1) If people worked less and had more free-time, they may be more likely to engage in (anti) political projects. Additionally, militancy on the job may become less risky if one's continued survival isn't directly tied to their employment.

2) If capitalism was to itself decouple income from work, the leap to a moneyless, gift economy may appear to be more realistic and within the realm of possibility to those who currently go cross-eyed at the suggestion.

Conversely, I imagine that it is just as likely that, if not already implemented, a UBI could be used as a final concession to a revolutionary class. It's not hard to imagine reformists declaring the UBI as an ultimate victory, perhaps even calling it communism.

This has definitely been at the back of my mind when writing this. Point 1 I think could be a double-edged sword in that while people might have that free time and reduced risk when it comes to political work, some of the things that might cause them to become politically active in the first place when it comes to class and the means of production are sort of once-removed from their lived experience, so to speak. We could be looking at the destruction of a proletariat without a significant change for the better in those people's material conditions. People would also be physically once-removed from the things they're trying to take control of, i.e. the means of production, to an even greater extent than they are now. This might also have the knock-on effect of reducing even further their ability to empathize with, and thus feel solidarity with, workers still being exploited here and to an even greater extent in the low-wage economies

Point 2 is sort of a looking-glass situation. We'd likely only be able to see the results once it's happened but I agree it's a possibility.

I think in the end we could only consider UBI a concession if the aims of our fight go beyond asking for that and into the realms of threatening the existence of the capitalist class. Otherwise it's just a compromise. If it's all we're asking for and we get it, it's certainly likely to be declared a victory by liberals. A radical vision needs to go much further than this. The feeling I get from the Fully Automated Luxury Communism bunch is that they'd be willing to trade increasing automation by capital for a favourable Universal Basic Income and wait for capitalism to collapse after that. It's not a revolutionary program and I see nothing but misery for workers everywhere if and when the battle for that Universal Basic Income doesn't turn out as hoped.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 14 2016 16:23
Additionally, militancy on the job may become less risky if one's continued survival isn't directly tied to their employment.

Just on this, I find it very likely that UBI could not become so universal and could be turned toward disciplining the class. Get fired? Lose your UBI for x months. Get arrested? Lost your UBI for x months. Take unlawful industrial action? Lose your UBI during that time. Etc, etc.

Dec 14 2016 16:59
Additionally, militancy on the job may become less risky if one's continued survival isn't directly tied to their employment.

Just on this, I find it very likely that UBI could not become so universal and could be turned toward disciplining the class. Get fired? Lose your UBI for x months. Get arrested? Lost your UBI for x months. Take unlawful industrial action? Lose your UBI during that time. Etc, etc.

A definite likelihood. It's overwhelmingly likely to me that any future concession will be just as conditional as those made in the past and will be tied directly or indirectly to how profitable/exploitable the individual is to the capitalist or to how disruptive the individual is or has been to capital or the state, or whether and for how long you've been resident/naturalized in that state. Migrants are I think going to be very vulnerable here. I doubt the state would be movable on this point unless under extreme duress and if we're reliant on the trade union movement as it stands to protect migrants on this point, migrants are going to be in a lot of trouble.

fingers malone
Dec 14 2016 19:08

I agree with the last two points, look at councils saying they would evict anyone arrested (not convicted, arrested) in the 2011 riots, or even if the tenant's kid was arrested, and also attempts by Blair govt to bring in benefit sanctions for people as part of the criminal justice system. iirc this failed because it's illegal to have a criminal penalty that only applies to some people.

Dec 14 2016 20:26

Just to say, Chilli's point occurred to me right after I posted! As you guys say there's already form for that. Where I live a person cannot get SNAP benefits (food stamps) if they have a felony drug-related conviction. So yeah a conditional UBI seems far more likely, dividing the class between the 'deserving' and 'undeserving.'

AnarchoDoom-if you haven't already, definitely check out that 'Is the workers movement dead?' thread. Some of what you address in both the article and subsequent posts was brought up there as well.

What do others think about the idea that we should fight against automation?

Dec 15 2016 03:24

Double post

Dec 14 2016 20:48
AnarchoDoom-if you haven't already, definitely check out that 'Is the workers movement dead?' thread. Some of what you address in both the article and subsequent posts was brought up there as well.

Will defo have a look. Thanks.

Tom Henry
Dec 15 2016 03:11
What do others think about the idea that we should fight against automation?

The answer to this question might go something like this:

If we fought per se against automation then we might end up as anarcho-primitivists, or simple-lifers, or deep ecologists, or in joining the Amish. Communism is only possible because of the dramatic advance in technology – helping create the possibility/immanence of global wealth and abundance - that has been provided by capitalism. This fact does not diminish our recognition that this process continues to be a long and torturous road. So, we should, like the original Luddites did, only promote the fight against specific uses or implementations of automation in order to protect present conditions or to attempt to prevent a worsening of conditions. That is, to give workers some leverage in struggle. As revolutionaries we need to approach changes in the economy such as the increase in automation and the ensuing social effects as they arise and with flexibility. To be either totally for automation or totally against it would be a mistake.

So it follows that we should form a similar approach to proposals such as the Universal Basic Income, or Fully Automated Luxury Communism, or Left-Accelerationism. That is, we should critique these proposals when they arise and we should highlight the problems that may be inherent to them, and be sure that we don’t get swept up in a misguided enthusiasm for these proposals.

However, this very sensible approach to developments within capitalism is, in actual fact (I kid you not), as tedious as fuck. What it says is that we should ride the waves of events and keep our heads above the water so that we can still feel we are engaging in the formation of opinion - commentator or journalist style – and basically form part of the flow of history like everyone else.

The question: “What do others think about the idea that we should fight against automation?” is another of the beautifully deep questions that goes to the heart of what ‘our theory’ rests on, the difference between what we might say and what we actually do, and who we actually are. This kind of question, by-the-way, is, in my opinion, as poorly answered by everyone from Trotskyists to anarcho-primitivists, but I hope others respond here to your question

My answer to the question is that I have no answer. Not because I can’t work one out, but because I refuse to come up with one – because any answer that I came up with would always ultimately be a capitalist solution. Along with this, I don’t think that I have the power to fight automation, even if I got together with three or four other people. I also don’t think that the working class has the ‘power’ to fight automation since, on the one hand, history shows that this has never happened in the long ascent of automation (the Luddites weren’t fighting automation as such, and the gains they did make in their own conditions were very short-lived: http://libcom.org/history/machine-breakers-eric-hobsbawm) and, on the other hand, automation is now crucial to supplying global needs, so who in their right mind could be against it? The revolutionary working class is supposed to take over the means of production, not set it all alight…

Dec 15 2016 03:49

I bet it will be tied to citizenship/migrant status as well if adopted in the current climate.

Dec 15 2016 05:39

Thanks for the thoughtful reply Tom Henry.

Dec 16 2016 17:15

This has now been translated into Spanish btw..

Dec 17 2016 01:43

>Some extracts from Ken Knabb's book: http://www.bopsecrets.org/PS/index.htm

A lot of traditional leftist rhetoric stemmed from obsolete work-ethic notions: the bourgeois were bad because they didn’t do productive work, whereas the worthy proletarians deserved the fruits of their labor, etc. As labor has become increasingly unnecessary and directed to increasingly absurd ends, this perspective has lost whatever sense it may once have had. The point is not to praise the proletariat, but to abolish it.

The most serious drawback of capitalism is not its quantitative unfairness — the mere fact that wealth is unequally distributed, that workers are not paid the full “value” of their labor. The problem is that this margin of exploitation (even if relatively small) makes possible the private accumulation of capital, which eventually reorients everything to its own ends, dominating and warping all aspects of life.

The more alienation the system produces, the more social energy must be diverted just to keep it going — more advertising to sell superfluous commodities, more ideologies to keep people bamboozled, more spectacles to keep them pacified, more police and more prisons to repress crime and rebellion, more arms to compete with rival states — all of which produces more frustrations and antagonisms, which must be repressed by more spectacles, more prisons, etc. As this vicious circle continues, real human needs are fulfilled only incidentally, if at all, while virtually all labor is channeled into absurd, redundant or destructive projects that serve no purpose except to maintain the system.

If this system were abolished and modern technological potentials were appropriately transformed and redirected, the labor necessary to meet real human needs would be reduced to such a trivial level that it could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, without requiring economic incentives or state enforcement.

It’s not too hard to grasp the idea of superseding overt hierarchical power. Self-management can be seen as the fulfillment of the freedom and democracy that are the official values of Western societies. Despite people’s submissive conditioning, everyone has had moments when they rejected domination and began speaking or acting for themselves.

It’s much harder to grasp the idea of superseding the economic system. The domination of capital is more subtle and self-regulating. Questions of work, production, goods, services, exchange and coordination in the modern world seem so complicated that most people take for granted the necessity of money as a universal mediation, finding it difficult to imagine any change beyond apportioning money in some more equitable way.

Abolishing money

A liberated society must abolish the whole money-commodity economy. To continue to accept the validity of money would amount to accepting the continued dominance of those who had previously accumulated it, or who had the savvy to reaccumulate it after any radical reapportionment. Alternative forms of “economic” reckoning will still be needed for certain purposes, but their carefully limited scope will tend to diminish as increasing material abundance and social cooperativity render them less necessary.

A postrevolutionary society might have a three-tier economic setup along the following lines:

1 Certain basic goods and services will be freely available to everyone without any accounting whatsoever.
2 Others will also be free, but only in limited, rationed quantities.
3 Others, classified as “luxuries,” will be available in exchange for “credits.”

Unlike money, credits will be applicable only to certain specified goods, not to basic communal property such as land, utilities or means of production. They will also probably have expiration dates to limit any excessive accumulation.

Such a setup will be quite flexible. During the initial transition period the amount of free goods might be fairly minimal — just enough to enable a person to get by — with most goods requiring earning credits through work. As time goes on, less and less work will be necessary and more and more goods will become freely available — the tradeoff between the two factors always remaining up to the councils to determine. Some credits might be generally distributed, each person periodically receiving a certain amount; others might be bonuses for certain types of dangerous or unpleasant work where there is a shortage of volunteers. Councils might set fixed prices for certain luxuries, while letting others follow supply and demand; as a luxury becomes more abundant it will become cheaper, perhaps eventually free. Goods could be shifted from one tier to another depending on material conditions and community preferences.

Those are just some of the possibilities.(4) Experimenting with different methods, people will soon find out for themselves what forms of ownership, exchange and reckoning are necessary.

In any case, whatever “economic” problems may remain will not be serious because scarcity-imposed limits will be a factor only in the sector of inessential “luxuries.” Free universal access to food, clothing, housing, utilities, health care, transportation, communication, education and cultural facilities could be achieved almost immediately in the industrialized regions and within a fairly short period in the less developed ones. Many of these things already exist and merely need to be made more equitably available; those that don’t can easily be produced once social energy is diverted from irrational enterprises.

Take housing, for example. Peace activists have frequently pointed out that everyone in the world could be decently housed at less than the cost of a few weeks of global military expenditure. They are no doubt envisioning a fairly minimal sort of dwelling; but if the amount of energy people now waste earning the money to enrich landlords and real estate speculators was diverted to building new dwellings, everyone in the world could soon be housed very decently indeed.

To begin with, most people might continue living where they are now and concentrate on making dwellings available for homeless people. Hotels and office buildings could be taken over. Certain outrageously extravagant estates might be requisitioned and turned into dwellings, parks, communal gardens, etc. Seeing this trend, those possessing relatively spacious properties might offer to temporarily quarter homeless people while helping them build homes of their own, if only to deflect potential resentment from themselves.

The next stage will be raising and equalizing the quality of dwellings. Here as in other areas, the aim will probably not be a rigidly uniform equality (“everyone must have a dwelling of such and such specifications”), but people’s general sense of fairness, with problems being dealt with on a flexible, case-by-case basis. If someone feels he is getting the short end of the stick he can appeal to the general community, which, if the grievance is not completely absurd, will probably bend over backward to redress it. Compromises will have to be worked out regarding who gets to live in exceptionally desirable areas for how long. (They might be shared around by lot, or leased for limited periods to the highest bidders in credit auctions, etc.) Such problems may not be solved to everyone’s complete satisfaction, but they will certainly be dealt with much more fairly than under a system in which accumulation of magic pieces of paper enables one person to claim “ownership” of a hundred buildings while others have to live on the street.

Once basic survival needs are taken care of, the quantitative perspective of labor time will be transformed into a qualitatively new perspective of free creativity. A few friends may work happily building their own home even if it takes them a year to accomplish what a professional crew could do more efficiently in a month. Much more fun and imagination and love will go into such projects, and the resulting dwellings will be far more charming, variegated and personal than what today passes for “decent.” A nineteenth-century rural French mailman named Ferdinand Cheval spent all his spare time for several decades constructing his own personal fantasy castle. People like Cheval are considered eccentrics, but the only thing unusual about them is that they continue to exercise the innate creativity we all have but are usually induced to repress after early childhood. A liberated society will have lots of this playful sort of “work”: personally chosen projects that will be so intensely engaging that people will no more think of keeping track of their “labor time” than they would of counting caresses during lovemaking or trying to economize on the length of a dance.

Absurdity of most present-day labor

Fifty years ago Paul Goodman estimated that less than ten percent of the work then being done would satisfy our basic needs. Whatever the exact figure (it would be even lower now, though it would of course depend on precisely what we consider basic or reasonable needs), it is clear that most present-day labor is absurd and unnecessary. With the abolition of the commodity system, hundreds of millions of people now occupied with producing superfluous commodities, or with advertising them, packaging them, transporting them, selling them, protecting them or profiting from them (salespersons, clerks, foremen, managers, bankers, stockbrokers, landlords, labor leaders, politicians, police, lawyers, judges, jailers, guards, soldiers, economists, ad designers, arms manufacturers, customs inspectors, tax collectors, insurance agents, investment advisers, along with their numerous underlings) will all be freed up to share the relatively few actually necessary tasks.

Add the unemployed, who according to a recent UN report now constitute over 30% of the global population. If this figure seems large it is because it presumably includes prisoners, refugees, and many others who are not usually counted in official unemployment statistics because they have given up trying to look for work, such as those who are incapacitated by alcoholism or drugs, or who are so nauseated by the available job options that they put all their energy into evading work through crimes and scams.

Add millions of old people who would love to engage in worthwhile activities but who are now relegated to a boring, passive retirement. And teenagers and even younger children, who would be excitedly challenged by many useful and educational projects if they weren’t confined to worthless schools designed to instill ignorant obedience.

Then consider the large component of waste even in undeniably necessary work. Doctors and nurses, for example, spend a large portion of their time (in addition to filling out insurance forms, billing patients, etc.) trying with limited success to counteract all sorts of socially induced problems such as occupational injuries, auto accidents, psychological ailments and diseases caused by stress, pollution, malnutrition or unsanitary living conditions, to say nothing of wars and the epidemics that often accompany them — problems that will largely disappear in a liberated society, leaving health-care providers free to concentrate on basic preventive medicine.

Then consider the equally large amount of intentionally wasted labor: make-work designed to keep people occupied; suppression of labor-saving methods that might put one out of a job; working as slowly as one can get away with; sabotaging machinery to exert pressure on bosses, or out of simple rage and frustration. And don’t forget all the absurdities of “Parkinson’s Law” (work expands to fill the time available), the “Peter Principle” (people rise to their level of incompetence) and similar tendencies that have been so hilariously satirized by C. Northcote Parkinson and Laurence Peter.

Then consider how much wasted labor will be eliminated once products are made to last instead of being designed to fall apart or go out of style so that people have to keep buying new ones. (After a brief initial period of high production to provide everyone with durable, high-quality goods, many industries could be reduced to very modest levels — just enough to keep those goods in repair, or to occasionally upgrade them whenever some truly significant improvement is developed.)

Taking all these factors into consideration, it’s easy to see that in a sanely organized society the amount of necessary labor could be reduced to one or two days per week.

Transforming work into play

But such a drastic quantitative reduction will produce a qualitative change. As Tom Sawyer discovered, when people are not forced to work, even the most banal task may become novel and intriguing: the problem is no longer how to get people to do it, but how to accommodate all the volunteers. It would be unrealistic to expect people to work full time at unpleasant and largely meaningless jobs without surveillance and economic incentives; but the situation becomes completely different if it’s a matter of putting in ten or fifteen hours a week on worthwhile, varied, self-organized tasks of one’s choice.

Moreover, many people, once they are engaged in projects that interest them, will not want to limit themselves to the minimum. This will reduce necessary tasks to an even more minuscule level for others who may not have such enthusiasms.

There’s no need to quibble about the term work. Wage work needs to be abolished; meaningful, freely chosen work can be as much fun as any other kind of play. Our present work usually produces practical results, but not the ones we would have chosen, whereas our free time is mostly confined to trivialities. With the abolition of wage labor, work will become more playful and play more active and creative. When people are no longer driven crazy by their work, they will no longer require mindless, passive amusements to recover from it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with enjoying trivial pastimes; it’s simply a matter of recognizing that much of their present appeal stems from the absence of more fulfilling activities. Someone whose life lacks real adventure may derive at least a little vicarious exoticism from collecting artifacts from other times and places; someone whose work is abstract and fragmented may go to great lengths to actually produce a whole concrete object, even if that object is no more significant than a model ship in a bottle. These and countless other hobbies reveal the persistence of creative impulses that will really blossom when given free play on a broader scale. Imagine how people who enjoy fixing up their home or cultivating their garden will get into recreating their whole community; or how the thousands of railroad enthusiasts will jump at the chance to rebuild and operate improved versions of the rail networks that will be one of the main ways to reduce automobile traffic.

When people are subjected to suspicion and oppressive regulations, they naturally try to get away with doing as little as possible. In situations of freedom and mutual trust there is a contrary tendency to take pride in doing the best job possible. Although some tasks in the new society will be more popular than others, the few really difficult or unpleasant ones will probably get more than enough volunteers, responding to the thrill of the challenge or the desire for appreciation, if not out of a sense of responsibility. Even now many people are happy to volunteer for worthy projects if they have the time; far more will do so once they no longer have to constantly worry about providing for the basic needs of themselves and their families. At worst, the few totally unpopular tasks will have to be divided up into the briefest practicable shifts and rotated by lot until they can be automated. Or there might be auctions to see if anyone is willing to do them for, say, five hours a week in lieu of the usual workload of ten or fifteen; or for a few extra credits.

Uncooperative characters will probably be so rare that the rest of the population may just let them be, rather than bothering to pressure them into doing their small share. At a certain degree of abundance it becomes simpler not to worry about a few possible abuses than to enlist an army of timekeepers, accountants, inspectors, informers, spies, guards, police, etc., to snoop around checking every detail and punishing every infraction. It’s unrealistic to expect people to be generous and cooperative when there isn’t much to go around; but a large material surplus will create a large “margin of abuse,” so that it won’t matter if some people do a little less than their share, or take a little more.

The abolition of money will prevent anyone from taking much more than their share. Most misgivings about the feasibility of a liberated society rest on the ingrained assumption that money (and thus also its necessary protector: the state) would still exist. This money-state partnership creates unlimited possibilities for abuses (legislators bribed to sneak loopholes into tax laws, etc.); but once it is abolished both the motives and the means for such abuses will vanish. The abstractness of market relations enables one person to anonymously accumulate wealth by indirectly depriving thousands of others of basic necessities; but with the elimination of money any significant monopolization of goods would be too unwieldy and too visible.

Whatever other forms of exchange there may be in the new society, the simplest and probably most common form will be gift-giving. The general abundance will make it easy to be generous. Giving is fun and satisfying, and it eliminates the bother of accounting. The only calculation is that connected with healthy mutual emulation. “The neighboring community donated such and such to a less well off region; surely we can do the same.” “They put on a great party; let’s see if we can do an even better one.” A little friendly rivalry (who can create the most delicious new recipe, cultivate a superior vegetable, solve a social problem, invent a new game) will benefit everyone, even the losers.

A liberated society will probably function much like a potluck party. Most people enjoy preparing a dish that will be enjoyed by others; but even if a few people don’t bring anything there’s still plenty to go around. It’s not essential that everyone contribute an exactly equal share, because the tasks are so minimal and are spread around so widely that no one is overburdened. Since everyone is openly involved, there’s no need for checking up on people or instituting penalties for noncompliance. The only element of “coercion” is the approval or disapproval of the other participants: appreciation provides positive reinforcement, while even the most inconsiderate person realizes that if he consistently fails to contribute he will start getting funny looks and might not be invited again. Organization is necessary only if some problem turns up. (If there are usually too many desserts and not enough main dishes, the group might decide to coordinate who will bring what. If a few generous souls end up bearing an unfair share of the cleanup work, a gentle prodding suffices to embarrass others into volunteering, or else some sort of systematic rotation is worked out.)

Now, of course, such spontaneous cooperation is the exception, found primarily where traditional communal ties have persisted, or among small, self-selected groups of like-minded people in regions where conditions are not too destitute. Out in the dog-eat-dog world people naturally look out for themselves and are suspicious of others. Unless the spectacle happens to stir them with some sentimental human-interest story, they usually have little concern for those outside their immediate circle. Filled with frustrations and resentments, they may even take a malicious pleasure in spoiling other people’s enjoyments.

But despite everything that discourages their humanity, most people, if given a chance, still like to feel that they are doing worthy things, and they like to be appreciated for doing them. Note how eagerly they seize the slightest opportunity to create a moment of mutual recognition, even if only by opening a door for someone or exchanging a few banal remarks. If a flood or earthquake or some other emergency arises, even the most selfish and cynical person often plunges right in, working twenty-four hours a day to rescue people, deliver food and first-aid supplies, etc., without any compensation but others’ gratitude. This is why people often look back on wars and natural disasters with what might seem like a surprising degree of nostalgia. Like revolution, such events break through the usual social separations, provide everyone with opportunities to do things that really matter, and produce a strong sense of community (even if only by uniting people against a common enemy). In a liberated society these sociable impulses will be able to flourish without requiring such extreme pretexts.

Technophobic objections

Present-day automation often does little more than throw some people out of work while intensifying the regimentation of those who remain; if any time is actually gained by “labor-saving” devices, it is usually spent in an equally alienated passive consumption. But in a liberated world computers and other modern technologies could be used to eliminate dangerous or boring tasks, freeing everyone to concentrate on more interesting activities.

Disregarding such possibilities, and understandably disgusted by the current misuse of many technologies, some people have come to see “technology” itself as the main problem and advocate a return to a simpler lifestyle. How much simpler is debated — as flaws are discovered in each period, the dividing line keeps getting pushed farther back. Some, considering the Industrial Revolution as the main villain, disseminate computer-printed eulogies of hand craftsmanship. Others, seeing the invention of agriculture as the original sin, feel we should return to a hunter-gatherer society, though they are not entirely clear about what they have in mind for the present human population which could not be sustained by such an economy. Others, not to be outdone, present eloquent arguments proving that the development of language and rational thought was the real origin of our problems. Yet others contend that the whole human race is so incorrigibly evil that it should altruistically extinguish itself in order to save the rest of the global ecosystem.

These fantasies contain so many obvious self-contradictions that it is hardly necessary to criticize them in any detail. They have questionable relevance to actual past societies and virtually no relevance to present possibilities. Even supposing that life was better in one or another previous era, we have to begin from where we are now. Modern technology is so interwoven with all aspects of our life that it could not be abruptly discontinued without causing a global chaos that would wipe out billions of people. Postrevolutionary people will probably decide to reduce human population and phase out certain industries, but this can’t be done overnight. We need to seriously consider how we will deal with all the practical problems that will be posed in the interim.

If it ever comes down to such a practical matter, I doubt if the technophobes will really want to eliminate motorized wheelchairs; or pull the plug on ingenious computer setups like the one that enables physicist Stephen Hawking to communicate despite being totally paralyzed; or allow a woman to die in childbirth who could be saved by technical procedures; or accept the reemergence of diseases that used to routinely kill or permanently disable a large percentage of the population; or resign themselves to never visiting or communicating with people in other parts of the world unless they’re within walking distance; or stand by while people die in famines that could be averted through global food shipments.

The problem is that meanwhile this increasingly fashionable ideology deflects attention from real problems and possibilities. A simplistic Manichean dualism (nature is Good, technology is Bad) enables people to ignore complex historical and dialectical processes; it’s so much easier to blame everything on some primordial evil, some sort of devil or original sin. What begins as a valid questioning of excessive faith in science and technology ends up as a desperate and even less justified faith in the return of a primeval paradise, accompanied by a failure to engage the present system in any but an abstract, apocalyptical way.(5)

Technophiles and technophobes are united in treating technology in isolation from other social factors, differing only in their equally simplistic conclusions that new technologies are automatically empowering or automatically alienating. As long as capitalism alienates all human productions into autonomous ends that escape the control of their creators, technologies will share in that alienation and will be used to reinforce it. But when people free themselves from this domination, they will have no trouble rejecting those technologies that are harmful while adapting others to beneficial uses.

Certain technologies — nuclear power is the most obvious example — are indeed so insanely dangerous that they will no doubt be brought to a prompt halt. Many other industries which produce absurd, obsolete or superfluous commodities will, of course, cease automatically with the disappearance of their commercial rationales. But many technologies (electricity, metallurgy, refrigeration, plumbing, printing, recording, photography, telecommunications, tools, textiles, sewing machines, agricultural equipment, surgical instruments, anesthetics, antibiotics, among dozens of other examples that will come to mind), however they may presently be misused, have few if any inherent drawbacks. It’s simply a matter of using them more sensibly, bringing them under popular control, introducing a few ecological improvements, and redesigning them for human rather than capitalistic ends.

Other technologies are more problematic. They will still be needed to some extent, but their harmful and irrational aspects will be phased out, usually by attrition. If one considers the automobile industry as a whole, including its vast infrastructure (factories, streets, highways, gas stations, oil wells) and all its inconveniences and hidden costs (traffic jams, parking, repairs, insurance, accidents, pollution, urban destruction), it is clear that any number of alternative methods would be preferable. The fact remains that this infrastructure is already there. The new society will thus undoubtedly continue to use existing automobiles and trucks for a few years, while concentrating on developing more sensible modes of transportation to gradually replace them as they wear out. Personal vehicles with nonpolluting engines might continue indefinitely in rural areas, but most present-day urban traffic (with a few exceptions such as delivery trucks, fire engines, ambulances, and taxis for disabled people) could be superseded by various forms of public transit, enabling many freeways and streets to be converted to parks, gardens, plazas and bike paths. Airplanes will be retained for intercontinental travel (rationed if necessary) and for certain kinds of urgent shipments, but the elimination of wage labor will leave people with time for more leisurely modes of travel — boats, trains, biking, hiking.

Here, as in other areas, it will be up to the people involved to experiment with different possibilities to see what works best. Once people are able to determine the aims and conditions of their own work, they will naturally come up with all sorts of ideas that will make that work briefer, safer and more pleasant; and such ideas, no longer patented or jealously guarded as “business secrets,” will rapidly spread and inspire further improvements. With the elimination of commercial motives, people will also be able to give appropriate weight to social and environmental factors along with purely quantitative labor-time considerations. If, say, production of computers currently involves some sweatshop labor or causes some pollution (though far less than classic “smokestack” industries), there’s no reason to believe that better methods cannot be figured out once people set their minds to it — very likely precisely through a judicious use of computer automation. (Fortunately, the more repetitive the job, the easier it usually is to automate.)

The general rule will be to simplify basic manufactures in ways that facilitate optimum flexibility. Techniques will be made more uniform and understandable, so that people with a minimal general training will be able to carry out construction, repairs, alterations and other operations that formerly required specialized training. Basic tools, appliances, raw materials, machine parts and architectural modules will probably be standardized and mass-produced, leaving tailor-made refinements to small-scale “cottage industries” and the final and potentially most creative aspects to the individual users. Once time is no longer money we may, as William Morris hoped, see a revival of elaborate “labor”-intensive arts and crafts: joyful making and giving by people who care about their creations and the people for whom they are destined.

Some communities might choose to retain a fair amount of (ecologically sanitized) heavy technology; others might opt for simpler lifestyles, though backed up by technical means to facilitate that simplicity or for emergencies. Solar-powered generators and satellite-linked telecommunications, for example, would enable people to live off in the woods with no need for power and telephone lines. If earth-based solar power and other renewable energy sources proved insufficient, immense solar receptors in orbit could beam down a virtually unlimited amount of pollution-free energy.

Most Third World regions, incidentally, lie in the sun belt where solar power can be most effective. Though their poverty will present some initial difficulties, their traditions of cooperative self-sufficiency plus the fact that they are not encumbered with obsolete industrial infrastructures may give them some compensating advantages when it comes to creating new, ecologically appropriate structures. By drawing selectively on the developed regions for whatever information and technologies they themselves decide they need, they will be able to skip the horrible “classic” stage of industrialization and capital accumulation and proceed directly to postcapitalist forms of social organization. Nor will the influence necessarily be all one way: some of the most advanced social experimentation in history was carried out during the Spanish revolution by illiterate peasants living under virtually Third World conditions.

Nor will people in developed regions need to accept a drab transitional period of “lowered expectations” in order to enable less developed regions to catch up. This common misconception stems from the false assumption that most present-day products are desirable and necessary — implying that more for others means less for ourselves. In reality, a revolution in the developed countries will immediately supersede so many absurd commodities and concerns that even if supplies of certain goods and services are temporarily reduced, people will still be better off than they are now even in material terms (in addition to being far better off in “spiritual” terms). Once their own immediate problems are taken care of, many of them will enthusiastically assist less fortunate people. But this assistance will be voluntary, and most of it will not entail any serious self-sacrifice. To donate labor or building materials or architectural know-how so that others can build homes for themselves, for example, will not require dismantling one’s own home. The potential richness of modern society consists not only of material goods, but of knowledge, ideas, techniques, inventiveness, enthusiasm, compassion, and other qualities that are actually increased by being shared around.

Dec 19 2016 04:22

I appreciate thinking through these issues. However, I feel like this is more left purism - rather than figure out how to make basic income part of a platform/movement that is scary to the capitalists, as the 8 hour day fight was, as the $15/hr fight could be despite the liberals who created and run it, we are taking ourselves outside a potential struggle without having viable radical alternatives of the same level.

Revolution is obviously better, but it is not a demand in the present. The question is can UBI be used as a revolutionary demand. I think it can. If you think it can't I'd ask for alternatives that are better, and I'd surely embrace them if they were better!

So often though I think we are out to prove why something is unrevolutionary rather they use it to be revolutionary.

Dec 19 2016 07:08

Hi _db, just quickly to say i don't think most people here are opposed to the idea due to revolutionary snobbery, though that does exist for sure. I for one would personally love to have an unconditional income. But as a class, the question is at what cost?

Like pretty much every reform in the history of capitalism, if an UBI were on the cards due to a strong, revolutionary worker's movement (instead of say, to stave off dystopia), it would be presented as a reform designed to placate, head off, divide and or derail a revolutionary moment. That is to say, if we were strong enough to make such a demand on Capital, why settle for less?

There's a lot more to say, more nuance to discuss, but I don't have time atm. . .

Dec 26 2016 00:41

Given that UBI is a scalable means to an end, I wouldn't worry too much about whether we'd be able to demand more as a concession. The sizing and implementation of a UBI has enough variation to be adjustable as a bargaining chip.

I could see criminal history and citizenship being conditions on UBI, but not job performance, as that is specifically the point of UBI, to decouple quality of life from labor.

As a means to an end, I imagine it'd begin as a supplementary income and overhaul of a current benefits system, basically implementing social security for all citizens. A Ubi could eventually negate the need for a minimum wage, as it would begin to set its own wage floor and put upward pressure on labor income. The endgame progression is for more and more of the productivity to be returned to society as opposed to the capitalist.

Eventually, once everybody makes the maximal amount of UBI that society's productivity can support, money and class start to become sort of meaningless on their own.

My only concern is how globalization and capital flight plays into it, as I think maximal implementation would need to go beyond borders. But light supplementary implementation has tangible benefits.

Chilli Sauce
Jan 1 2017 12:37

Article here about potential UBI trials in Scotland:


I don't think any of it will come as a shock to anyone on this thread: the usual weird compromise between trying to reinvent the welfare system for the gig economy and an attempt simplify the benefits bill. Interesting nonetheless.

I also came across this a while ago about a UBI experiment in Canada in the 70s:


Apparently, it really helped in terms of reducing poverty, improving educational achievement, the overall health of the population, etc. That said, I imagine that's the result of installing any baseline social democratic infrastructure, as opposed to anything specific to UBI.

Jan 2 2017 06:43
chilli sauce wrote:
That said, I imagine that's the result of installing any baseline social democratic infrastructure, as opposed to anything specific to UBI.

really insightful comment, CS. i can't say i'd considered that before but i'm sure it would be the case.

Mar 29 2017 15:08

An interesting interview focussed on the current popularity of the UBI.

Mateo Alaluf is the author of the book Universal Basic Income. New Label of Precariousness (Allocation Universelle. Nouveau label de précarité), and co-editor of the anthology Against the Universal Basic Income (Contre l’allocation universelle).


Chilli Sauce
Apr 20 2017 14:25

That was a really interesting read, thanks AJ.