SocraticGadfly: #BasicIncome is NOT a magic wand

July 17, 2017

#BasicIncome is NOT a magic wand

I've already done one long blog post noting that basic income, guaranteed income or universal income is just ONE tool in addressing automation, other employment concerns of the future, the power of labor in general and more.

It looks like I need another.

When the likes of basic income guru Scott Santens are uncritically retweeting claims that basic income could fight climate change and more (and no, I'm not linking to it), it's time to write.

First, BI may, or may not, bring about non-employment changes, including social and environmental ones.

Second, if Indiana is an example, it could exacerbate global warming.

We know this from a temporal experiment that state did, when it transitioned from year-round Standard Time, with the exception of the Gary and Evansville areas, to adopting Daylight Saving Time.

With more people going home near the heat of the day, home AC use shot up, for an overall rise in state electric use.

If BI led more people to be at home even more, something like this could happen nationwide. That's VERY true if we had 15-hour work weeks, per something else Santens retweeted.

Could it reduce stress? Possibly, or replace it with more marital / partner stress from couples being together more. Again, don't make unwarranted claims.

This doesn't even address the fact that many Americans would go nutsy Fagan in general with a 15-hour work week, between addiction of workaholism and guilt of the Protestant work ethic.
Santens also uncritically retweets conspiracy theorist, 9/11 Truther and alt-right fellow traveler of sorts Caitlin Johnstone.

The big issue? Rather than calling him a "guru," perhaps it would be better to categorize Santens as an "evangelist" for basic income.

And, evangelists stretch the truth. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

That's why I am not only a secularist, but, at the same time, I'm not a Gnu Atheist.

Basically, at bottom line, evangelists are salespeople.

Hey, Og Mandino said that about Paul of Tarsus. Don't be saying that I, a secularist, am slurring evangelists.

This will probably be the last thing I write on it for a while.

Santens and others also know that the level of basic income necessary to actually have a chance at work-related stress reduction absolutely won't happen in the US and is unlikely even in western and northern Europe.

And, on the sales side? It may even be injurious to the promotion of the cause of basic income to present it as a magic wand when it's not.

Santens also approaches being simplistic in other ways.

He notes the problems with food stamps (TANF) and Medicaid being made into state block grants by "the politicians." Well, first, they didn't start that way, and second, who's to say that, without strict "lockboxing," that basic income couldn't end up that way?

This is another reason basic income is just one tool.  Fix the various parts of the safety net, too.


Sidebar: Dylan Matthews, in a wide-ranging, mostly good sometimes iffy piece, notes other problems.

There's the Charles Murrays of the world, who want to gut the existing safety net even more than liberatarians, for example. Surely, other economic-thinking paleoconservatives agree. And, even allegedly liberal union leader Andy Stern wants to use BI to cut at least parts of that net, and cut Social Security. That said, this is far from the only reason I put "alleged" in front of liberal with him.

Stern has other issues. He, along with Murray (with Murray the reasons are obvious) doesn't want a BI that includes kids.

Overall, Matthews brings a good deal of largely well-placed pessimism. And, part of his solution is well-based on that. That's both for a targeted version of BI within the US safety net perhaps being a better starting point, and a more comprehensive BI in the developing world helping both it and the whole world.

That said, Matthews has his own neoliberal interpretation problems with our current economy and labor system. Does automation raise wages? For computer and robot programmers, sure. For the employees who work with the robots? Maybe. For those replaced by robots? Not at all.

We should have his pessimism about elements of BI, yes. But, they shouldn't be run through his own version of a neolib filter. And, yes, it is some sort of a neolib filter. He didn't expressly use the word "Luddite" in attacking worriers about automation, but the idea was there.


New update:

I don't make Twitter a total echo chamber, but, Santens make me wonder yet more how much he's in the libertarian tank when he follows both Turning Point USA and its founder, a founder who is an extremely hardcore libertarian.

Per my "one tool" and per Turning Point's Charlie Cook vehemently opposing single-payer national health care, it's at least time to put back up my Twitter filters about basic income. And I may mute Santens.

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