Is Basic Income a good step in a stage of revolutionary socialism?

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dmb85's picture
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May 18 2014 20:16

plasmatelly - aye, I agree. My concerns were about a standalone UBI. I think Agent of the Fl... got it nailed on above, really.

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May 18 2014 22:33
plasmatelly wrote:
My mother earned less than the going minimum rate all her working life. I know if she heard people here explain that it would have been a bad thing to pay her more she would have been more sympathetic to the idea of being skint.

who do you think has done that, and where?

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But that's people on the bottom for you; always think they know better than the boffins.

ignoring your sarcasm, is this really your impression? That the demand for a "universal basic income" is a real demand on the lips of the working class as a whole? Because TBH I have only ever heard it from the lefty "boffins" you seem to be slagging off…

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Sorry but what is wrong with demanding a bottom line of pay, a rent cap, lower fuel/food prices? Just where does this communism thing kick in? Half way up?

no one said any of those things are wrong. Just speaking for myself, all I said was that it's not going to be possible under capitalism (at anything better than an appallingly low subsistence level) and not necessary under communism.

Quote:
No one is going to say it is a steppy stone to revolution, but it is a marked statement of our inability to address revolution if we can't even make realistic demands that improve the welfare of millions of people.

do you seriously think it is a "realistic" demand in the UK at present? We can't even defend the level of wages, conditions and benefits we have at the moment, so how is it realistic to think we can easily get massive improvements?

Quote:
FFS, surely most of us are on crummy wages or worse? Maybe not, but how far removed are people if they think the fight doesn't start at the bottom first?

again, who has suggested that this isn't the case? Personally, I don't think that "the fight from the bottom" is demanding that a government implement and unworkable reform. I think "the fight from the bottom" is organising with our coworkers and those around us where we can in our everyday lives. And from my reading of your blog etc I would have thought that would have been your position as well, so I'm a bit confused as to your views here…

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May 19 2014 06:57

Just to be clear, I have no problem with unemployed people fighting against benefits conditionality and demanding more money. That would be brilliant. If employed people joined in and demanded the same to relieve the insecurity of and pressure to work, even better. And if these are unaffordable, fine, it opens up a revolutionary situation.

That's not what universal basic income is though. It's not a demand emerging from a combative movement forcing concessions from the state. it's coming from some right-wing economists, some centrist oddballs, and some leftist intellectuals. And for the leftists the point seems to be that it's not possible.

I think Kathi Weeks says something like the demand creates the movement. I quite liked her book, but I didn't get this at all. I can't think of an example where it's been this way round. And it's a second leap to then think when everyone rallies to the demand, then finds it's not viable, they say 'oh, better make a revolution then' (rather than say, seeing the UBI huxters as another bunch of politicos promising things they can't deliver).

It does have a transitional demand feel to it*; proles don't know what they want, so we'll tease them in with the prospect of free money, then when that doesn't materialise, a quick bait and switch for revolution. Maybe I'm just a traditional syndicalist at heart, but I don't think you can create movements that way. People need to win stuff, feel their own collective power, and develop their own more ambitious demands out of that process. If there was a shortcut in 'demands create movements' we'd have had a revolution by now.

* Weeks calls it a utopian demand iirc, though i think it's simultaneously too utopian (not rooted in present movement) and not utopian enough (just a modified capitalism leaving key institutions like private property and the state intact).

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May 19 2014 07:49

^ Excellent post, this is exactly what I think

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May 19 2014 09:10
cresspot wrote:
It's liberal sentiments like those that THE DOTP WILL DROWN IN

There is nothing liberal about transferring struggle from internet discussion forums and into the here and now. Far from assuming that upper case tub-thumping will lead the way, history shows that revolutions are built on fighting for and winning improvements to the conditions of ordinary peoples lives. It may be that previous posters have said is true; in truth, I tend to believe them, but this doesn't mean one urgent fight should be shelved because it vaguely tramples on the toes of another. Joined-up class struggle means we recognise these divide and conquer tricks that capitalists play for what they are, and come up with our own terms as how best to improve our lives.

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May 19 2014 09:51
plasmatelly wrote:
Sorry but what is wrong with demanding a bottom line of pay, a rent cap, lower fuel/food prices? Just where does this communism thing kick in? Half way up?
No one is going to say it is a steppy stone to revolution, but it is a marked statement of our inability to address revolution if we can't even make realistic demands that improve the welfare of millions of people. FFS, surely most of us are on crummy wages or worse? Maybe not, but how far removed are people if they think the fight doesn't start at the bottom first?

Grand. Except gigantic strawman. You're alleging that anyone who answers the question "what's the problem with basic income as a demand" in an open and honest fashion is therefore against increasing income for workers. Which is rampantly dishonest. Which you then try to cover up with anti-intellectual, prolier-than-thou hand-waving. This is Owen Jones, Labour party level argumentation.

Meanwhile you still need to explain why you find yourself arguing for the same thing as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and various contemporary right-libertarians. Which you can't do with your basic frame of "everybody who supports basic income really cares about the welfare of the poor", because it's obvious nonsense.

If you actually care about the issues as much as you say you do, you need to stop with the dishonesty, the bad-jacketing and bad faith blather, and start engaging with the difficult questions rationally.

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May 19 2014 09:59

That's a bit heavy Ocelot, don't you think? Dishonest? Bad faith? And what the fucks wrong with me jacket?

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May 19 2014 10:09

It is absolutely dishonest. People have been explaining how basic income could potentially be used by its right wing supporters to undermine existing welfare entitlements, force people on the boundary between joblessness and precarious employment into even worse paid (or unpaid) work and generally undermine income levels and living standards of the class as a whole and you open with:

Quote:
people here explain that it would have been a bad thing to pay her more

In other words, all the comments here critical of basic income as a demand are motivated by the complete opposite - i.e. a lack of sympathy for people on the dole/low income. That's dishonest.

Also when you have clocked up more than the 10+ years I spent on the dole, then feel free to lecture me about poverty, you patronising admin: no flaming . Stop making assumptions about who you're talking to.

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May 19 2014 10:11

Hang on mate! You're going a bit too far now.

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May 19 2014 10:21
plasmatelly wrote:
Hang on mate! You're going a bit too far now.

yeah, ocelot no flaming please.

But plasma, would you care to respond? As ocelot, like myself, is not happy about your strawman. I'm not accusing you of deliberately misrepresenting our views in bad faith, but you still think your dismissive comments were valid?

boomerang
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May 20 2014 18:37
plasmatelly wrote:
Sorry but what is wrong with demanding a bottom line of pay, a rent cap, lower fuel/food prices?

When I was younger, I was a left-liberal who wanted to reform capitalism. One of the reasons I changed my views and became thoroughly anti-capitalist was by learning about how many popular ideas for reforming capitalism come with backlashes when implemented. You solve one problem and create another. Or you try to solve one problem, and then side-effects occur that cancel out any gains.

That's why I mentioned that if there was a universal basic income that was actually high enough to provide a decent standard of living, it would probably create inflation, raising the cost of living, and next thing you know that basic income would only provide poverty.

Price controls create shortages, because the capitalists have less incentive to produce these things if they have to sell them at a below market price. If shortages get bad enough it creates a black market where things are sold at high prices - higher than if there were no controls. I believe this is what's happening in Venezuela right now. That's what happens when you try to fix capitalism - it refuses to cooperate.

Rent control is of course a price control so it's the same thing, there's less incentive for the capitalists to build new housing. Or landlords decide to sell housing instead of rent it. Or, like what's happening in my city, the landlords will refuse to repair anything hoping to push tenants out, then once they leave they can raise the rents for the next tenants.

I'd love to have lower rent, cheaper food, basic income. I'm living on a below the poverty line budget. But if the government did implement these things, it would create new problems for me.

Like I said in an earlier post, I realize the limitations of my understanding of economics, so maybe I'm wrong about this.

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May 20 2014 19:48
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It does have a transitional demand feel to it*; proles don't know what they want, so we'll tease them in with the prospect of free money, then when that doesn't materialise, a quick bait and switch for revolution. Maybe I'm just a traditional syndicalist at heart, but I don't think you can create movements that way.

yes, my sentiments exactly. revolution has to arise organically from a development in the working class of an aspiration to be in control of their lives & work, and thus to change to a system they control.

Usually actual struggles around the social wage have arisen either due to rising unemployment, and people demand jobs or income (as in '30s), or around particular forms of social provision, such as for free schooling.

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May 21 2014 09:26
syndicalistcat wrote:
[...[revolution has to arise organically from a development in the working class of an aspiration to be in control of their lives & work, and thus to change to a system they control.

Really like that summation. Could I suggest a slight tweak -

"the development within the working class of a consciously shared aspiration to be in control of our lives and work, and thus to transition to a system we collectively control."

...which would get my vote for a one-liner summary of the aims of political recomposition, both locally and globally.

JimJams
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May 21 2014 12:56

I'm in favour of basic income but i agree with a lot of what has been said about it being a reform within capitalism, movements etc. On the right wing support, this is usually due to an ideological bias against bureaucratic state processes/waste. But i don't believe right wing support necessitates "eliminating the principle of to each according to their needs" as was previously stated. Firstly in every scheme I've seen disabled people get a larger amount. Also higher rate tax payers are often taxed to either partially or fully recoup the payment, dependent on band.

I also believe (although admittedly have no evidence) that much of the right/center even left support UBI as way of saving capitalism from it's self. Which obviously isn't a great thing but the alternative of an increasingly precarious working class without a basic floor will be worse for workers.Also there are definitely knock on effects like increased rent. But i would point out that rent controls would affect the cost of property so further reforms wouldn't be needed. In a world where UBI would be possible, rent controls certainly would be.

On movements and Weeks I'd mention that Weeks was very much linking the utopian campaigns for "Wages for Housework" with UBI to demonstrate that the wage system doesn't, and can't, give an income to those who provide necessary or useful work (often the old, disabled, or women). For Weeks this goes well beyond mere mere utopianism, a UBI campaign would question the nature of the wage relationship and notions of what constitutes work it's self in the here and now even if the demand isn't realised. Which implicitly property rights and explicitly questions the work ethic. As well as new possible organisational fronts generated from the campaign. So for Weeks a campaign for a UBI is worth it even if a UBI isn't achieved.

I agree about movements starting from below but i would say UBI is maybe a bit of a special case where the demand does need to come first. From informal conversations i've had there is a lot of support for it amongst those with disabilities and mental health issues. But an effective movement of those on benefits is pretty hard to organise. I thought about trying myself but the shame felt from claiming benefits, even with medical certification etc, is so all encompassing i couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm definitely not saying the long term unemployed, disabled etc need people to come to their rescue. I'd liken it to the boycott workfare campaign, largely carried out by those who aren't affected by it but the solidarity from these groups is essential for the campaign to be effective but also for the participation of those whoa are affected.

For myself, i had to leave two jobs due to MH issues but could only claim ESA. Going back on ESA then interviewed and bounced off in-between jobs, each time being signed back on by my doctor. I was too ashamed to appeal (even though i knew i had a good case and there were high success rates). The stress this caused me was immense, even going to the doctor, which could have been avoided with a UBI. I'm sure most who've claimed JSA as well will agree with the misery of the whole situation. UBI would also allow me to try and keep down part time work but not be punished for my inability to do full time work as well as provide a stress free safety net when i'm incapable of either. Also there's the large amount of benefits which aren't claimed every year, all of which would go to help people.

Finally someone mentioned a UBI is unrealistic/impossible because people wouldn't want to work. This hasn't been observed in any large way in any UBI study anywhere. Admittedly most of these have been done in developing countries. However there was an experiment with Mincome in Manitoba Canada. This was a negative income tax which topped up income/benefits to above the poverty level. While this isn't identical to UBI it's pretty similar. The only two groups which worked significantly less were teenagers (who stayed in full time education for longer) and new mothers. They saw 8% drops in hospital admittance compared to control groups. http://basicincome.org.uk/interview/2013/08/health-forget-mincome-povert...

I'm in favour of any reform which could give working people and benefit claimants more control over their lives and make them less reliant on work to reproduce themselves. When this is combined with the questioning of work etc as outlined by weeks I'm very much in favour of it. But i do think many support it as a truly utopian panacea which it definitely isn't. And i also wouldn't expect communists or anarchists to support it as a matter of course.

One last thing, can anyone remember Hardt/Negri's reasoning for supporting UBI in Commonwealth? I imagine it would be about social reproduction, enabling radicalism and questioning work wage etc but can't remember. haven't read it in ages (pretty sure it was commonwealth).

(sorry for the long post)

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May 23 2014 23:20

^ all of that. demand the impossible

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May 24 2014 08:58

So I've been meaning to read this thread forever and, now that I have, there's a ton of good posts on it - although the second page seems to have gotten a bit sidetracked, shall we say. Anyway, I want comment on some of Ocelot's stuff 'cause I think it summarizes really well a lot of the points made by others. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

ocelot wrote:
Perhaps one of the quickest routes to understanding the problematic aspects of basic income is to look at why the neo-liberal right are in favour of it.

At least in America, it seems like the last time UBI was seriously mooted by the political establishment it was by Nixon of all people!

Now, I think what interesting here is that UBI in that instance seemed to be both a response to the social unrest and class struggles of the 60s and an attempt to restructure the welfare system.

So, for me, I view UBI like I view most reformist demands: I'm not opposed to it if it's achieved through the self-organisation and direct action of the masses. And if that's legitimately the case, I actually think a lot of the knock-on problems created by winning one demand can also be counter-balanced by by those same movements. So...

Ocelot wrote:
Basic income would simply be swallowed by rent increases. Want to add rent controls? Ah, but then you have to find some way of controlling property prices, which means controlling the rise in value of rental assets generally, which means controlling the financial system, which means radical change in how capitalism works, which means... you get the idea.

If we had the sort of mass organisation to demand UBI, I think we could also fight back against any rent rises that landlords introduce to compensate. You're right that this may lead to capital's contradictions popping up elsewhere, but I think that's going to be an inevitable part of the development of any revolutionary movement - people, on a mass scale, will have to materially experience the boundaries of capital if we hope to develop a widespread revolutionary consciousness.

Ocelot wrote:
The advocates of BI/GMI say that it will give people the chance to engage in the productive activities of their choice and produce the things they want for each other. Bur from a capital point of view - that's the whole problem. Even without a ruptural break with market relations, how could BI/GMI not lead to a partial de-commodification of social production and thereby a reduction in the overall profit rate?

Again, though, I return here to that point about Nixon - I think when faced with widespread social unrest, the ruling class would probably put up with some degree of de-commodification. They may try to balance it by restructuring the welfare system or implementing a flat tax, but I do think capitalism could survive UBI, much like it survived a whole other host of social democratic reforms.

There's a larger problem that I have with the idea that capitalism can no longer offer social democracy. I think it's unlikely that we'll see a return to social democracy without the massive levels of social unrest that occurred in Europe and North America between the 1930s and 1960s, but I don't think capitalism is so fundamentally transformed (of the rate of return so much lower) that recuperative reforms are off the table entirely.

Jacob Richter
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May 31 2014 13:50
ajjohnstone wrote:
Left Unity voted to exclude it from their platform of demands, whereas the Green Party has accepted it as part of their policies.

Seems the reformists can't agree amongst themselves to its benefits.

dmb85 wrote:
I've been instinctively in favour of UBI for a while - for the reasons you outline - but then I am prepared to listen to leftists who have better knowledge of the working of the economy than me. And if they warn that UBI could lead to massive inflation and/or increased profits for landlords then I don't give over my authority to them, but I respect their superior understanding and take it into account. There are plenty of things we might think are good for us from our individual positions but which wouldn't actually be.

By itself, universal basic income fails to address:

1) Structural and cyclical unemployment
2) Desire to work and avoid the stigma of not doing something
3) Inevitable downward pressure on wages as a result of implementation
4) Privatization of the social wage (welfare being substituted)
5) Class origins of political advocacy and beneficiaries (working-class vs. lumpen)

Points 1 and 2 are already addressed by MMT-based critique (i.e., favouring job guarantees instead). Point 4 has been discussed here already. Point 5 is obvious.

Point 3 cannot be underemphasized, as pointed out by the likes of Paul Cockshott and Francine Mestrum:

http://www.globalsocialjustice.eu/index.php?option=com_content&view=arti...

Quote:
The first one relates to citizenship, this is the idea that all human beings are equal and have equal rights.

[...]

The BI is unconditional, which means that huge targeting and management costs can indeed be avoided.

[...]

The BI also makes an end to ‘the precariat’, people who today have no rights and therefore no interest in defending the rights of social security. Migrants and refugees can now participate in the labour market precisely because they do not respect the social rules and can offer their labour force at a much lower price. By eliminating labour costs above the net paid wages, the BI can make an end to the ‘black’ or ‘informal’ labour market which is based on competition.

By also eliminating the pressure to look for a job or to create jobs, it would no longer be necessary to subsidize companies.

With a BI system, people would be free to participate or not in the labour market. Labour would become much cheaper, not only because non wage labour costs would disappear but also because employers would not be willing to continue to pay the same net wage above the BI.

[...]

A first doubt emerges because neoliberals are among the advocates of the BI.

[...]

It is within this liberal framework that many countries already have a ‘negative income tax’: when your income falls below a certain level, the state will pay you the missing amount. Of course, this is different from what the advocates of the BI defend today, but one should never forget that a minimum income is perfectly acceptable in a neoliberal context, whereas a minimum wage is refused for distorting markets.

[...]

From working in mines to picking fruit or garbage collection, there are some tasks that no one will be prepared to do willingly, out of conviction and with enthusiasm.

[...]

But the responsibility of the State stops when the minimum floor of BI is reached. Social progress through higher incomes stops to be a task of governments and income inequalities can rise.

Questions can also be put concerning the feasibility and the desirability of unconditionality. The freedom given to people is very important, but what if the BI is used for gambling or drinking? Is the State responsible for people who fall off the wayside of minimal protection?

[...]

By eliminating non wage labour costs, labour will become far more cheaper for employers. The advantage for them is much more important than for workers who still will have to fight for decent labour conditions. In whatever way the BI is being financed, it will always be some kind of tax to be paid by everyone. And that means that labour costs which are now paid by workers and employers as part of the wage cost, will have to be paid by the whole of society, possibly through a higher VAT rate. It thus comes down to a shift from labour costs to costs for society. It is obvious that trade unions are not very keen on such a system. It will become much more difficult to negotiate good labour conditions, certainly when the BI is not high enough to live on. If workers do not only want to survive, but also want a car or a holiday abroad, it will become difficult to put pressure on employers. It is clear that trade unions will lose much of their power. The freedom not to work is very relative and is only valid when one is satisfied with a life in relative poverty. Chances are real that wages above the BI will remain very limited. An unconditional income outside of the labour market cannot influence that labour market. Contrary to the thesis that capitalism is being eroded, it is possible that one ends up with a capitalism without a labour market and that employers pass on as many costs as possible to the whole of society.

[...]

The system that will emerge from neoliberal reforms implies a lowering of social assistance and unemployment benefits, in such a way that people will at any rate be obliged to accept a ‘mini job’, even after they are pensioned. This system does not benefit anyone, except employers.

The BI is a system conceptualized by liberals that want to make labour more cheap, without allowing to eradicate poverty. It is conceptualized by the enemies of trade unions. It is also conceptualized by progressive people who think social protection is too complicated and who want to seriously simplify it. There are good arguments to defend such an idea, but the current proposals are highly unsatisfactory.

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May 31 2014 15:06

I don't know though, couldn't this sort of criticisms (at least the first 3) be leveled against the implementation of most types of social democratic measures?

I mean, food stamps, subsidized rent, employment benefits, and even the minimum wage do insulate individuals from the labor market to some extent. It seems to me that capital and the state have offered far higher levels of social support than what's proposed by advocates of BI and capitalism and labour markets have survived just fine.

Quote:
Contrary to the thesis that capitalism is being eroded, it is possible that one ends up with a capitalism without a labour market and that employers pass on as many costs as possible to the whole of society.

This is an interesting point. Even now, though, welfare often ends up subsidizing the low wages of employers like Wal-Mart by passing a large part of the cost of social reproduction from large corporations to the state.

The thing is though, if we're going to consider this in a social democratic context, funding is important. It may come from VAT, it may also come from increased rates of corporate taxation.

I guess for, me, I could see how BI could be used to strengthen workers' negotiating conditions - after all, if you know you'll always have basic level of subsistence to fall back on, it seems folks might be more likely to stick their neck out.

But maybe, maybe not - I'm no economist and the class struggle is never that simple. That said, I know in America folks are very reticent to organise because they're afraid of losing what little medical coverage they may have with their job. In the UK, knowing the NHS is there does provide perhaps a bit more incentive to stir up trouble at work.

Quote:
5)Class origins of political advocacy and beneficiaries (working-class vs. lumpen)
...Point 5 is obvious.

Also, this is far from obvious to me.

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May 31 2014 19:23
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
5)Class origins of political advocacy and beneficiaries (working-class vs. lumpen)
...Point 5 is obvious.

Also, this is far from obvious to me.

Me also. Especially as "working class vs. lumpen" is usually an opener to some pretty serious disagreements, to put it mildly.

Spikymike
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Jun 4 2014 10:27

As an indulgence to myself I have cross referenced this discussion here:

http://libcom.org/library/capitalist-realism-renewed

Stalinski
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Jun 17 2014 04:31

Basic income - depends what the level of it is, compared to general wages - if it were nearly the same then it would be the old 'welfare' problem yet again, ie: why bother to work?

But if it were much lower , then sure why not

redsdisease
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Jun 17 2014 05:56
Stalinski wrote:
if it were nearly the same then it would be the old 'welfare' problem yet again, ie: why bother to work?

I'm failing to see the problem in this problem.

Stalinski
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Jun 17 2014 06:22

The problem would be that gradually more and more people would stop working at the least desirable jobs, or go part time only.

This would then decrease the tax base - who would pay then for the basic income? And of course, the economy would suffer.

IMO, it could kind of work if the basic income were low, say around 200US/month and min wage jobs paid around 1000.

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Jun 17 2014 13:38
Stalinski wrote:
The problem would be that gradually more and more people would stop working at the least desirable jobs, or go part time only.

This would then decrease the tax base - who would pay then for the basic income? And of course, the economy would suffer.

IMO, it could kind of work if the basic income were low, say around 200US/month and min wage jobs paid around 1000.

Oh, I get it. Your a state-capitalist (Stalinist) who plans on taking state power some time in the future. And you need to know how to manage capitalism. And so your here on this site seeking advice. This is wrong place for that.

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Jun 17 2014 17:14

I've seen this piece doing the rounds on UBI: http://piecefit.com/index.php/en/system-failure-all/a-rigged-economy/ite...

boomerang
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Jun 17 2014 21:07
Stalinski wrote:
Basic income - depends what the level of it is, compared to general wages - if it were nearly the same then it would be the old 'welfare' problem yet again, ie: why bother to work?

But if it were much lower , then sure why not

Oh, I'd most definitely not work (as in have a job) if there was a universal basic income high enough to allow me to get by. But I'd be working full-time hours to take down capitalism and the state. smile

It's likely true that people would be less likely to work shitty low paying jobs if there was a decent UBI. Some of those shitty jobs would raise their wage to entice people to work. Others wouldn't be able to afford the wage hike and would go out of business, increasing unemployment. (Though at least the unemployed would have a UBI, so that's a step up.)

This just once again proves to me that capitalism can't be reformed. Try to fix it in one way, and it breaks somewhere else. I'd be happy with a UBI, but my expectations of the degree to which it could improve society would be low. Anarchists aren't interested in fixing capitalism because we know it can't be fixed.

Stalinski
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Jun 18 2014 01:51

ok , I agree there, but if you want no capitalism or Stalinism then it still leaves the question of 'where is the money for the Basic Income going to come from' - seemingly no-one can answer this.

Answers please.

boomerang
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Jun 18 2014 02:22

We want no capitalism, no stalinism, and no "money".

Stalinski
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Jun 18 2014 07:25

and in the meantime - what will you do - or will you just magically puff communism/anarchism into a capitalist country - that's very unlikely

So, in the transition, how will this guaranteed income be paid for? - no way I'm gonna work if I can get my bucks for free, no sir!

boomerang
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Jun 19 2014 00:20
Stalinski wrote:
and in the meantime - what will you do - or will you just magically puff communism/anarchism into a capitalist country - that's very unlikely

Step 1: Find a leader named Stalin(ski) to man the vanguard.

For real though, I don't have all the answers, but studying the history of revolutions, and learning from their successes and mistakes, is a good place to piece together a rough outline, and then attempt to apply those lessons to the present, taking into account all the contemporary and local conditions. Of course this will be a collective project.