SocraticGadfly: Basic income and the gig economy, part 2 vs national health care and other angles

February 21, 2020

Basic income and the gig economy, part 2
vs national health care and other angles

Several years ago, in one of several blog responses (or per Twitter, more subresponse than response) to basic income guru and evangelist Scott Santens, I  said BI should not be used as the primary fix for gig economy problems. Do that, and you open the door to gutting Social Security next because the self-employed pay both employer and employee portions of FICA tax. Beyond that, many issues with the gig economy have arisen because neoliberal Dems, tacitly, and big-biz and libertarian conservative Republicans, openly, have supported the NLRB cutting rules on who's a contractor and who's not.

It's time to expand talk about the "gig economy" more, especially as more and more Democrats, and even a few non-duopoly semi-lefties, mouth the business conservative "e-word" — "entrepreneurship," and also as third-party backers, and even a former leftish third party state leader, think BI is the fix for their issues, even to the point of ignoring the anti-third party stances on other issues many BI pushers hold.

There are three definite classes, and possibly a fourth thrown in by some people, within what is loosely called the "gig economy."

The first is what is often referred to as the "precariat." This is people working a mix of one or more regular part-time and/or less regular freelance jobs because they can't get full-time work, which they prefer.

The second are those who work one job, generally full-time, but it at times may be less than that. They have been defined as "independent contractor" not "employee" by their company. They generally don't want this, and may have fought or tried to fight it. It's these people I refer to in the "beyond that" in the last sentence of the first paragraph. Think somebody like a truck driver.

The third are white collar people, usually with specific skill sets, who have usually made the choice to work as contract labor. From what I can tell, this includes Scott Santens, as well as many others in the IT world. It also includes a number of writers and editors.

The techies have generally made the choice on the idea of selling their services to the highest bidder. They're often young to youngish, at least under 40. That said, I can't find Santens' age with a quick Google but, from what I can tell from his bio, he's definitely over 40 himself. Big companies might hire them, but they may want the money from not paying health insurance — and the money from the employer's contribution as well, which they wouldn't get by being a staff employee and opting out. They often work full-time when on contracts, but can hit dry spells between contracts.

The fourth possible category are people who, even if the business is not full time year round (like Laura Palmer as a wedding-focused videographer) have started their own businesses.

I have the most sympathy for the first class. I have close to that for the second.

I have little for the third, probably less than for the forth in some ways, depending on the size and income flow of the business for people in category four.

Now, let's dive in.

The first class? They're just not making enough money and not getting the opportunity to do so. For them, more money comes before not having health insurance or other benefits. BI could certainly help them. Other things would help as much or more, though. That would include a higher minimum wage, moving to a 35-hour work week to free up working hours, and other things, like Howie Hawkins' proposal to expand the current Earned Income Tax Credit into a full-blown negative income tax.

The second class? Experienced semi drivers can make decent, if not fantastic wages. But, if they're "independent contractors," they're not eligible for unemployment benefits, they're also not covered by workplace safety inspections and many other things. And they're not eligible for company insurance. So, BI might help them somewhat. National health care would help them more, including letting them go full Johnny Paycheck on their bosses. They're often old enough that they don't want to go without insurance if they can avoid it. Fighting harder on NLRB rules plus national health care is the best way to help these people.

The third? Let's go back to that made the choice phrase. If you want the benefits of being your own boss, including with the business wingnuts' e-word, then IMO, per the old "moral hazard" issue of economics, you should accept taking your own risk as well. If you're looking for BI to "tide you over" between six-month or one-year contracts on occasion? I have two options, one current and one that would require a change of law.

The current? Save more money while you're working. And you can do that, in many cases.

The change of law? Rather than, like Santens, ATTACKING (sorry, Scott, but you're trying to steal my pie) my unemployment benefits, I'll let you "opt in." To riff on national health care, it's the "public option" for unemployment bennies. Ditto on workman's comp, if you want to use BI to attack that.

And, I'd offer the same opt-in to the fourth class as well. That, along with national health care, would make it easier for you to be entrepreneurial.

Back to the third class. If Santens, and his disciples, also think Social Security will go broke and that's why he wants to replace part of it with BI? You're ATTACKING again and I will fight you.

Now, back to my piece about former Green Party Texas co-chair Laura Palmer and her YangGanging.

I don't know if she's thought this through or not. But, she may not really be in the same bucket as Santens by employment class. I was going to say their ages might be different, but see above. Maybe at, if not yet over, 45. And, if she really is a Green, she's not in the same bucket as him on things like cryptocurrency, I hope. (That's not to mention Santens being a Davos writer. No, really!)

As for Santens' "the robots will steal all our jobs"? As with Yang, that fear is probably overstated to a degree. Going beyond Politico, though, it's also misfocused to a degree. If computer software can write up sports briefs and county real estate sales into stories, and now, on the video side, Reuters has a VR bot newsreader for teevee, why can't I program a bot to scrape BI postings by others and create Schotte Ohnezehn?

That said, although Santens hasn't maybe written directly about that? I suspect he knows that. Another reason he's writing these BI articles, and as a libertarianish type in Class Three, touting the cures of cryptocurrency as well. Follow the money, even if cybermoney.

Finally, the fact that Santens has a Business Insider piece from 2016 saying that Trump might be the Basic Income Moses leads me even more firmly to the conviction that Santens is politically agnostic on many issues.

He's never, IMO, directly undercutting his idea that BI would fight climate change, addressed the stone cold reality that the energy consumption of cryptocurrency is a huge threat to our climate. (You say go green and renewable even more? Right now, we're just doing little more than running in place on that.)

Oh, back to what I say is much more important than BI — single payer. Santens does support that, but even there, it's ultimately with BI wrapped in it. No. If we go beyond "just" single payer, it's gotta be to a British-style National Health System.

So, to summarize? The "gig economy," without further descriptive qualifiers, is a vague phrase that covers a huge class of people. Subclasses within this have different needs, most of which can be met better by one or more other actions than by basic income.

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