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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Basic Income Politics Are Not "Beyond Left and Right"

Some advocates of a basic income guarantee declare the proposal "beyond left and right." Certainly, there have been proposals for basic income from people who identify with both the left and with the right (not to mention many libertarians who dis-identify with the right even though they are a part of it). But it is crucial to be clear on this point: Either basic income secures the democratizing scene of consent from which to bargain in private or demand redress in public, or basic income becomes the pretext for the anti-democratizing dismantlement of the provisions of general welfare and public investment. In the first case basic income is a left wing campaign for equity-in-diversity, in the second a right wing deception for incumbent elites. Far from being beyond "left and right," basic income from the left is emancipatory and basic income from the right is reactionary. Unless basic income advocates are very clear about this distinction they are not clear about anything and of little use to anyone.


Lorraine said...

I've no opinion one way or the other re. leftist support of basic income. Rightist interest in the subject obviously consists entirely of crafty counter-offers which I think of as Faustian bargains. Particularly scary to me is basic income as advocated by the so-called Bleeding Heart Libertarians. My take is that their intent is to offer basic income so as to silence once and for all the question of whether economic leverage due to desperation, relative to employment offers, constitutes "coercion." Clearly they want a "contract" which exchanges basic income support for total deregulation of business. They relish the idea of pushing the contract in our faces and saying "you agreed to this." In other words, same as the payday lenders, "sharing" "economy" operators, penny stock pushers and other con artists.

Dale Carrico said...

Right wing advocates usually propose basic income as a "more efficient" alternative to the welfare state, which they would dismantle in exchange for lump sum payments.

As you imply, this lump payment would obscure the collective character of all production and social order by foregrounding the post-facto re-distribution of wealth from "makers" to "takers" which would then be rhetorically framed as straightforward theft, and hence provide the justification for endless reforms to render the income never quite adequate and hence a form of serfdom or ever more ripe for eventual elimination altogether.

Obviously, under such a scenario there would remain many situations in which hard luck and bad conduct would leave fellow citizens radically precarious (a terrible disease costly to treat after a string of debts left one without savings, insurance, or chances of a loan, for example) in which case the libertarian would encounter the relevant basic quandary they always seek to disavow: are you beholden or not, responsible or not to people with whom you share the world whatever their differences and circumstances? If you say no, you shouldn't get to pretend to be a nice sensible person who happpens to have a different view about implementing justice, you shouldn't get to pretend to be anything but a sociopathic asshole facing well nigh universal censure from the fellows you disdain.

In the absence of explicit supports to food, shelter, water, education, healthcare, income, reliable information, equitable recourse to law, responsible public investment in and stewardship of common and public goods, wealth will tend to concentrate into elites and states tend to police incumbent order.

I personally advocate a basic income as part of a constellation of entitlements to basic healthcare, life-long education and retraining, long-term unemployment insurance, food assistance and public housing in diverse walkable neighborhoods, public retirement pensions, a living wage, paid overtime, and vacation, mandated paid sick-leave and family leave, and public grants for public domain scientific and academic research, public criticism and cultural expression. This view is of course perfectly equanimously compatible with ownership of property and with the likelihood that some lucky people will be filthy rich though most people will not.

Dale Carrico said...

Reddit has linked to this post in which I point out that basic income proposals from the right are usually pretexts for dismantling general welfare while from the right they are usually efforts to provide equity-in-diversity.

This shouldn't be a controversial claim -- for example it simply straightforwardly describes the difference between actual basic income proposals from the right like Milton Friedman's as against actual basic income proposals from the left like Erik Olin Wrights' (these are both famous and representative examples, but there are endlessly many others), and on their own avowed terms not through some arcane interpretative shenanigans on my part, not to mention the fact that these different assumptions and applications are exactly what you would expect given what the priorities of right against left politics also actually are.

I might be wrong about what I think to be good, right, possible in the linked paragraph the reddit readers are responding to -- or in other public talks or published essays I have written on the subject of basic income, for example, p2p Is Either Pay-to-Peer or Peer-to-Precarity. As it happens, I welcome contrary assessments when they have substance, and I enjoy being compelled to change my mind for the better.

But nobody in the thread (at least not yet) is actually disagreeing with my claims or providing any reasons to disagree with them. Most of the commenters seem unhappy that I refuse to pretend that differences that make a difference don't make a difference. One tut tuts me for "bias" -- but can't say how this bias makes me actually wrong about anything. Perhaps this is an expression of distaste for strong opinions as such? Not that I expect much substance from a reddit comment thread, but presumably people are reading the forum in question because they care about the policy or want to know more about it? How can you care about a proposal without caring about people using the proposal to achieve incompatible results? How can you want to know more about something without caring about what can be known about it?

A few commenters on my post seem very sure that the only way to take problems like inequity or climate change seriously is to pretend people fighting against inequity and fighting to preserve parochial profits whatever the resulting inequity are really the same when they are not, and to pretend people fighting against climate catastrophes and fighting to preserve parochial profits whatever the resulting climate catastrophes are really the same when they are not. It should go without saying that denying the difference between those fighting with you and those fighting against you is not a way to show how serious you are about the problems you are fighting over.

Dale Carrico said...

Look, people are different from one another, stakeholders occupy different positions, and implementing problem solving legislation in even notionally representational democracies demand constant compromises. But recognizing these basic conditions of the political should impel us to the greatest possible clarity about what it is we think we want and what it is we think we are doing -- pre-emptive capitulation over what we want and evacuation of assessment over what we are doing constitutes an effective endorsement of the status quo. Ethics is not politics: ethically, what matters about the lesser evil is that it is still evil, politically, what matters about the lesser evil is whether or not it makes a different or sets the stage for a step forward. But to grasp that difference or that step one requires the compass of ethical ideals and factual analysis. Politic requires you to walk and chew gum at the same time, to grasp the values at which you aspire and the factual consequences of policy, as well as to grasp the best opportunity for change for the better or the best occasion for improved outcomes given the stakeholders and circumstances at hand.

The problem here is general. "Bipartisanship" does not define the sensible but depends on the good sense of the parties involved, "moderation" is not reasonable when one moderates the reasonable in favor of the unreasonable, especially for no good reason. False equivalence -- in journalism for example -- provides a superficial performance of objectivity but crucially at the cost of an actual refusal of objectivity, the genial plea for everybody to "just get along" provides a superficial performance of tolerance but crucially at the cost of an actual assessment of the substantial differences at hand on which any tolerance or compromise would actually depend.

Nobody is going to get anywhere by pretending it doesn't matter that people are trying to go to different places in different directions. Refusing to have convictions is not having the courage of a conviction, to be open to compromise requires having a position on the table, to be open to changing your mind requires having something in mind to change.

Dale Carrico said...

A comment: "I just read it as stuff like 'Climate Change Politics Are Not "Beyond Left and Right"'. Yes they are. YES they so very much are... the same goes for basic income. You don't need to be a Republican or a Democrat or a Communist or a Socialist or a Libertarian to realize basic income is something that makes sense."

What an extraordinary analogy, given that almost every politician supporting policy to respond to climate change is a Democrat while almost no Republican does while every loud denialist is in the GOP. Sure, addressing climate catastrophe should be bipartisan, but it actually ISN'T. And if you care about climate catastrophe it is insane to deny these actually existing differences.

I distinguished between right proposals of basic income as pretexts to dismantle welfare and left proposals to increase equity-in-diversity. The proposals actually exist, the differences actually exist, the differences reflect differences in ideology that also actually exist.

Do you want to deny that these proposals have been made? You want to deny the ideological positions from which they are advanced? You want to deny their representativeness? You want to deny the different outcomes they justify?

Come on, let's hear it! Try it, I'd love a serious effort at rebuttal. But don't try to pretend that denying facts respects facts, that refusing engagement is a form of engagement, that there is something principled about disavowing principles.

Dale Carrico said...

Another comment: "the important distinction for BI is between authoritarian and anti-authoritarian, not between left and right. The two dichotomies are orthogonal. Anti-authority/pro-liberty types typically require only a brief explanation of BI before enthusiastically signing up; this is true of principled libertarians as much as it is of the counter-culture. As for authoritarians, I don't think the UBI movement has yet had to stare into the howling abyss of left-wing authoritarian hatred of BI and all it stands for. Not everyone who is allergic to individual independence and self-rule is a right winger. Many of them are working class... So yes, I agree with you; but only because I think that right vs. left is not the dimension that counts for BI."

Where to begin! The authoritarian axis introduced here obscures much more than it reveals, and it comes from a very interested right-wing rhetorical position. Market libertarian ideological proselytizing via the "World's Shortest Political Quiz" but also via mainstream pundit commonplaces about "independent" majorities who are presumably "culturally or socially liberal but fiscally conservative" provide the key context here.

These frames seek to obscure the relevance of left-right analysis to certain right-wing politics in order to support the status quo and the incumbent-elite interests aligned with it. Libertarians like to pretend they are "beyond left and right" because they can no more prevail with majorities than conventional Republicans can if they are explicit about their alignment with plutocratic minorities.

Market libertarianism is a right-wing ideology -- it claims to be anti-authoritarian while endorsing corporate-militarism, and to advocate non-violence while endorsing contractual outcomes as non-violent by fiat whatever their terms of misinformation and duress. Since "fiscal conservatism" always cashes out in deregulatory and privatizing schemes dismantling affordances of equity and tolerance this means the "cultural/social liberalism" they always also proclaim has no substance.

It is no accident that the anti-authoritarianism of market libertarians always plays out as hostility to all government but armies/police to keep the wage slaves from revolting. It is no accident that market libertarian ideologues only impact actual politics when they provide selective justifications for GOP positions.

People manifestly mean different things by BI depending on whether they are coming from left or right, but it isn't exactly surprising that someone who falsely imagines right-wing libertarianism to be beyond left or right would imagine BI figured through a libertarian lens would be the same.

The commenter declares "the UBI movement has yet had to stare into the howling abyss of left-wing authoritarian hatred of BI and all it stands for" -- but the reason for this non-event is that the left-wing authoritarian buzz-saw conjured here is a paranoid fantasy -- not unlike "working class" folks "allergic to independence," smell the makers-v-takers race/class politics of "liberty"! I'm sure Stalinist industrial-militarism and Maoist feudalism will leap to libertopian minds at this assertion, but it really isn't difficult to grasp that the totalitarian impulse is a right-wing or to grasp the left impulse is democratizing toward equity-in-diversity once one sets aside market fundamentalists pieties and the GOP Cold War playbook.

Comparably fantastical is the confident assertion that "pro-liberty types typically require only a brief explanation of BI before enthusiastically signing up" ... yeah, except when they don't, which is pretty much always, except for a chance to demolish the New Deal and not to actually end wage slavery, the poverty draft, and duressed contracts or anything so socialist as that! No doubt it is biased tribalist immoderate unreasonableness to ask anybody to face these awkward facts.