November 24, 2017

#BasicIncome and the 'gig economy'

Approximately a seven minute read; part of an ongoing occasional series on basic income issues.

I appreciate the work Basic Income evangelist Scott Santens does. I would like for us to have some sort of basic income — with certain caveats about what type of basic income, what it will include or not, and how effective it will be.

One big concern of mine, related to many touters of basic income and their actual or perceived political leanings, relates to where our economy has been headed more and more in the last 10-20 years, especially with the rise of Net 2.0.

I'm talking about the "gig economy."

Even if it's not outrightly libertarian, but more, say, tech-neoliberal, the gig economy raises issues for basic income. And, the libertarian basic income and the socialist one are NOT THE SAME. That piece is a must-read, as it talks about how UBI in Silicon Valley is based on the gig economy.

The first is how much your version of basic income is actually going to pay out.

If basic income isn't set at $1,500 a month or more, people will still need to work. They may have more options if they have income assistance, but they're still going to need to work. It's going to take some massive shifting to have half of Americans or more working primarily as freelancers. That's going to have to start with getting them in the right mindset. It's also going to have to include a higher minimum wage, and other protections for freelancers.

And, none of that's any good without single-payer national health care. Remember, the gig economy doesn't offer health insurance bennies.

And, that, in turn, gets me back to what I see as the single most important tool and aid for working America today. It is single-payer national health care.

For that matter, the gig economy doesn't offer bennies in general. There's no paid vacation time. In fact, there may not even be unpaid vacation time, as in "You say you're unavailable for a week, we say we don't want you any more."

Of course, even the non-gig economy doesn't offer guaranteed-by-law paid vacation rights. Yet another way we're behind every other "developed" nation in the world.

There's also the issue of regulating businesses in an ever-more-freelance economy. Federal laws for timely payment of freelancer checks (already needed now) come to mind. Enforcing federal fraud on bogus employment ads.

And, as the Equifax scamming has shown, laws for control of information in a Net 3.0 information services economy are vital.

In short, we're looking at a lot more moving parts in a lot more places than a first-level impression of basic income might make you think.

The likes of Santens probably says that BI will, of itself, empower employees that much.

Nope. Not as long as you're still that focused on work and not that focused on employer regulation.

I said in that earlier post that Santens seemed caught between two stools. One is an Alaska Permanent Fund type "supplement," whether its $200 a month or slightly more. The other is between true income replacement, which, even in more rural areas, probably needs to be more like $1,500 a month, with Santens' $1,000 a month an attempt to straddle those two stools. (He'd be eyeing true replacement income at closer to $2,000 a month in metro areas perhaps, and $1,000 just about splits the difference between $200 and $2,000.)

But, behind that is two different stools of philosophy.

Does Santens merely want to give employees more leverage within the current system, even while knowing that this means more people will have to get better at hustling up gigs, since that's where the current system is headed in the US? Or does he, per the original "Fuck Work" title of James Livingston's "The End of Work," really want to attack, ultimately, the full sociological infrastructure of labor and markets in the US?

He's said before that BI is "neither capitalism nor socialism." Well, that may or may not be true. But, he, even with some social justice emphases, seems to tilt more capitalism.

Livingston is adamant, per this Baffler interview, that we need to break the current sociology. The subhead to the story specifically attacks the Protestant work ethic, after all. If you want to read more, the book is here in PDF.

From my own current employment path, I can tell you that we need something more radical than I think Santens theorizes.

Matt Bruenig offers up supporting evidence. Getting outside of the big picture of income inequality, similar differentiations exist within different age groups, and different educational levels. The most logical conclusion in my world is that this is structural.

And, the failure to think outside the box inhabits the corporate world, too, to be sure.

The media industry, at the corporate level, remains glued to capitalism, even as its capitalism, plus its own mistakes within a radically shifted, yet still quite capitalistic, playing field, that literally decimates it. (Per the actual Roman meaning, the media world is expected to lose another 10 percent of employment in the next decade or so.)

A gig economy, like that to which more of the media is moving, plus $1,000 a month of basic income, even as the gig economy swamp gets larger and employers bid would-be employees off against each other more and more, is no answer.

And, true empathy of Santens aside, and noting that his website notes he's been self-employed for several years, he's an IT-type person. He's been in the gig economy by nature of his profession. At the same time, the IT world, and related Internet-driven career paths, are more and more transnational. That may make it easier to look outside current nation-state boundaries, but it also makes it easier to overlook that, for all of its faults, the nation-state still has relevance in today's world.

Let's look at, say ... the low-seniority person on a two-man trash truck, out of a job when the city goes to new one-man trucks. He's not an IT person, and a month's worth of training at the unemployment office isn't going to change that. Besides that, other people, even if they're work-at-home telecommuters, still want the stability of a regular full-time job with a single employer.

And that's not all.

I mean, businesses that aren't losing jobs, at least not yet, have already been shoving people into "gigs." In the US, if you drive a truck, you're now a "contractor" and not an employee.

Is that the fault of nation-states in general? No, it's the fault of the US, where conservative Republicans have pushed this mentality and tech-neoliberal Democrats have stood by and accepted it, or in some cases, helped push.

Transnational labor protections? Let me know when the International Labor Organization, for the good it actually does do on occasion, writes world-wide labor safety laws and other protections and has the teeth to enforce them.

Until the United Nations becomes something like a world government, I'll take the 500-year-old nation-state over libertarian or tech-neoliberal alternatives.

Otherwise, along with Branko Milanovic, yes, I know the nation-state as welfare state is going to struggle further with more globalization. I also, and again along with him, know that answers aren't going to be easy. And, he, along with Rutger Bregman, agrees with me that we need to rethink work, and do it before going too far down the BI path.

And, cryptocurrencies (separate post in the future) won't help either. Indeed, to the degree they undermine nation-states, they'll be part of the problem. And, Santens has repeatedly on Twitter supported not just Bitcoin, but cryptocurrencies in general.

And, Santens also follows on Twitter both Turning Point USA and founder Charlie Kirk. Now, follows, and even retweets, don't mean endorsements, with most of us. But, one can quote-tweet, or now, with the new 280-character limit, easily add commentary. The fact that TPUSA considers Black Lives Matter a terrorist group should tell one enough about it.

Meanwhile, Santens, who says in his bio that he's been self-employed since 1997, even before the start of today's gig economy, has reasons to support a libertarian version of BI that kills workman's comp and makes at least part of Social Security replaced by BI. The self-employed pay the "double share" of FICA taxes, so that's the Social Security angle. They're also not eligible for worker's comp, which explains that angle.

And?

Fix that, along with fixing other things, like how ever more US states are becoming "right to work get fired" states, making worker's comp worth ever less. Fix that, and allow the self-employed to be eligible for worker's comp with whomever they're contracted to at the time.

Update: WeWork, as profiled by the Guardian, seems like a hypercapitalist gig economy partial overlap with a gig economy version of BI, or at least swimming in the same circles.

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