Guaranteed Minimum Income, Mana and the MSM

One of the most galling aspects of this election to me was the ganging up on the Mana Party and Hone Harawira by the entire political establishment. As far as I know, even the Greens were silent. Not only did the other parties conspire to remove Harawira from his Te Tai Tokerau seat, the media completely ignored Mana’s policies with the one notable exception of the Internet-Mana cannabis reform proposal and the manufactured beat up over supposed differences. I called Patrick Gower and the rest of the MSM out over it in Patrick Gower – “Harden Up!”

I don’t think Patrick Gower is particularly biased, certainly not as openly partisan as many of the shills in the media. He is a competitive, ambitious reporter though and his actions are defined by the media system he works for. What I took exception too was the storm in a teacup over marijuana reform, a trivial issue in the election, and how instead of asking Harre and Harawira about their poverty policies or the great unspoken, their full employment policy, he trivialised both their party and the important issues kiwis should be thinking about. That’s not an elitist view. The reason so many have turned off politics is because they are fed a constant diet of trivial crap, manufactured disputes and minor conflicts.

One of Mana’s proposals, that like its full employment policy, was never covered by the media, was a Universal Basic Income. This concept is an old one covered brilliantly here by Dylan Matthews in Vox. The Greens would like to investigate it and it formed a central pillar of Gareth Morgan’s Big Kahuna, replacing most welfare transfers (and the government departments that administer them) with a universal payment much like the pension. But like Morgan’s book, the MSM have ignored the idea. Why? Is it that fringe and wacky? Read Matthews’ summary. You will be surprised by the diversity and substance behind some of the proponents.  Milton Friedman, James Tobin, John Kenneth Galbraith and Martin Luther King Jr to name a few. There are grassroots movements advocating for it all over the world.

Matthews makes a point of mentioning the concerns I have expressed in other posts  (here) (here) (here) and (here) about the future effect on employment, the economy and society of AI and robotics.

Many analysts believe that improvements in artificial intelligence and robotics will decrease the demand for human labor going forward. Whether or not that’ll happen is disputed, with skeptics noting that centuries of technological improvement have thus far failed to permanently reduce employment levels. But if this time is different, and automation leaves a huge chunk of working-age adults unemployed, a basic income would prevent mass suffering among those left out. It would essentially mean “taxing the owners of the robots to support the people who are put out of work by them,” as John Aziz put it in The Week.

It’s also possible that capital will realize a basic income is in its interests if technological unemployment leaves too weak of a consumer base for them to which to sell their products. Former Secretary of Labor and liberal commentator Robert Reich has called a basic income “almost inevitable” on these grounds: “as productivity increases, technological change provides us with great benefits but requires fewer and fewer people to actually do the work…who’s going to be the customer?”

Gareth Morgan points out;

Paying universal transfers acknowledges that every individual has the same unconditional right – to a basic income sufficient for them to live in dignity. The Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) provides this.

With this basic protection in place people are then free to add to that income through paid work if they choose. Equally, they can live on the UBI and pursue other activities – doing the unpaid work of caring for children or others in their community for example, or studying full time, or pursuing new business ventures. The UBI offers the prospect of ensuring everyone has the means to live while giving them the freedom to live their lives as they choose.

I combined all these ideas in a positive vision of the future if it is done correctly.

This all sounds a bit grim. It can be turned into a positive if everyone agrees to accept lower levels of consumption. Automation and robots in particular can be used to do much of our work, freeing up leisure time for most. People will be able to job share the remaining jobs and top up with a Universal Basic Income. Business owners  and shareholders will still derive a higher income but cannot be allowed to take all the surplus. To do so would be self-defeating in the long-term as they require human customers with disposable income. Job sharing and a UBI would allow many to spend more time with family and friends, do charitable or unpaid work and generally interact more with their local community. Utopian? Perhaps but the alternative of a Bladerunner type dystopia is too bleak to contemplate. What is almost certain is that the current financial/consumer capitalist model we have that relies on ever increasing growth, will not survive. We can plan for that now or wait for the sudden stop.

Why do ideas like these not appear in the MSM outside National Radio on a weekend morning? They aren’t wacky. They are deserving of consideration. They just aren’t part of the two main parties agenda and the narrative of the MSM circus.

As I said on Twitter the other day; “The centre is where all good ideas go to die. Banal, status quo nothingness”

It is small parties like Mana that are thinking beyond self imposed intellectual straight jackets. Their proposals deserve more than ridicule or being ignored in favour of trite sensationalism and vicious personality politics most of the media default to. As John Aziz put it – “we won’t get there while policymakers and journalists are still stuck on 20th-century solutions”.  We need better. Much better.


One comment

  1. “Suppose I decided to provide a basic income for my neighborhood. I don’t have enough justly acquired money to do this, so I extract the needed funds from my neighbors by threatening them with kidnaping and long-term imprisonment if they fail to hand over the funds I require,” he muses. “Sometimes a neighbor evades my efforts, usually by lying to me about his income. I kidnap these neighbors and hold them prisoner in small cells for years at a time.” That’d be immoral. So why wouldn’t the version where the government does the threatening?

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