SocraticGadfly: Once more, Scott Santens is deconstructed

May 06, 2020

Once more, Scott Santens is deconstructed

Unfortunately, as Politico noted with Andrew Yang, more than two years ago I noted in the past with Scott Santens, pictured above — he doesn't have the math.

And, he doesn't necessarily have the dope otherwise. (And, both he, and then UBI grifter Tulsi Gabbard, endorsed Biden rather than Sanders.)

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?

Doug Henwood weighs in more on this at Jacobin.

That said, although Santens hasn't maybe written directly about that? I suspect he knows that. I suspect reason he's writing these BI articles, and as a libertarianish type in Class Three of different economic classes, 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. As does the idea that he is a listed writer for the World Economic Forum. As in Davos, where all the neoliberal rich people play.

He's never, as far as I know — thus directly undercutting his claim 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.)

Related? His past citing of Alaska's Permanent Fund of a good example of basic income is also problematic, or should be, especially to Green types. It's based on a non-renewable natural resource, Alaska's oil production, and one that is a direct contributor to climate change. Beyond that, as North Slope oil declines, Alaska governors have tried to cut the Permanent Fund but have failed to make major changes stick, with the result that Alaska has cut other services instead.


As for Santens saying many people eligible for TANF or housing vouchers don't get them? That's indeed true. As it is to a lesser extent (more the need to re-apply than never getting it) with SSDI. The easier solution, rather than creating a new bureaucracy, seems to me to be to fix those programs. The second half of the easier solution seems to me to be expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit as Howie Hawkins wants to do. As for other problems with SSDI, like the sharp cutoff in benefits? Again, fixing that program is the easier answer.

Contra Santens' false dilemma, I would prefer proper fixes to the various parts of the current system, which would definitely be cheaper, would not partially rob Social Security (Santens' BI plans propose this), would not totally rob disability (per that link above), and would not totally rob unemployment benefits (which he has said elsewhere he wants to do).

Santens may indeed really care about the racial issues behind food stamps today, and other things. But it's disingenuous to claim that slashing Social Security, junking SSDI and trashing unemployment benefits for an idea that's never been tried long-term and large scale anywhere in the world is "progressive." It's doubly disingenuous when, IMO, Santens ideas are designed in part to help skilled white-collar contract workers (and at the margins small business owners) who have consciously decided to accept the freedom of the contract world because they have in-demand job skills, but want protection against fallow periods.

He's wronger yet on other things.

Anybody who actually knowns anything about driverless tech knows that the idea that driverless cars on city streets will replace anybody in the next decade is sniffing Elon Musk's Tesla-tinted butt crack. It is true that small numbers of autonomous semis are "out there," but as of right now, and surely for years to come, they're "out there" only on desolate stretches of rural interstate.

As I indicated elsewhere, it's more likely that Santens as BI writer will be replaced by a web-crawler bot than that a driverless taxi will replace an Uber gig worker.

And, I haven't even talked about Santens' bad math. Oops, I did above. And I will again. A BI of $1,000 per month for a adult plus $300 per month for child will NOT "eradicate childhood poverty." It might not in two-parent households; it certainly won't in one-parent ones, especially if, per Santens, it's replacing rather than supplementing the current "safety net." From that same link, talking about BI for kids as vaccinating them against childhood poverty, with an explicit analogy to the polio vaccine? I now think we're in official intellectual dishonesty range. Ditto when he compares basic income to seniors on Social Security, which is means-tested and is at least somewhat linked to workforce employee and employer contribution amounts.

As for Santens' other mantra, that "Unconditional basic income is not left or right. It's forward."? First, that sounds like it could come out of the mouth of McKinsey Pete Buttigieg or some other tech-neoliberal type. Second, it's simply not true. A version of BI like Santens proposes is definitely not left. Since I consider it punitive in some ways, it's right. And thus, the phrase is again intellectually dishonest.

And yes, I'm at that point, more than I was two and a half years ago, the last time I dived deep on this issue. Beyond just bad math, I think Santens is ultimately guilty of intellectual dishonesty.

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 National Health System. (Overall, a Google of "Scott Santens" plus "single payer" got less than 100 hits. Substituting "Medicare for All" got less than 80.) And, as for Santens' claim that BI is neither capitalism or socialism? Well, I'm socialist enough to support a British-style National Health System in America. And that isn't even on Santens' radar screen. At all.

Overall politically? Santens may be on the left edge of tech-neoliberalism, rather than being more libertarian. But, it's no more than that. Beyond what I've said elsewhere, laughing about his claim that BI will help climate change? To the degree he has other ideas there, they're all tech-neoliberal salvific technologism.


If you can give me BI with honest math that doesn't penalize seniors, the unemployed or the disabled, and only AFTER the big apple bite of national health care, I'm with you.

Besides, in the coronavirus collapse, the self-employed are being made eligible for unemployment benefits. I'm OK with this in the future, with a national disaster declaration, one that's either nationwide, or for a specific area, say the Texas Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey.

Beyond that? There's a better option. It's Howie Hawkins' idea of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit into a full negative income tax. And, under "neither capitalism nor socialism"? Hayek supported it too, as Reason notes in a rebuttal to Santens.

Santens would probably counterargue that a negative income tax is a form of means testing. He's right. But, if he rejects even that (and, like the current EITC, racist strings aren't attached to it, like they may be with food stamps), well, then the game is clearly up as to why Santens wants basic income.

And, if a negative income tax were also used as the basis to reduce withholding for lower-income wage earners, and also raise the income threshold for withholding, then that would put more week-to-week money in people's pockets, without the additional bureaucracy of BI.

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