Skip

A BIG Idea
August 9, 2012 6:44 AM   Subscribe


 
I've been thinking about this a lot recently, so this is very timely for me. Looking forward to reading all the links properly in a bit, and the debate that's sure to ensue!
posted by howfar at 6:49 AM on August 9, 2012


It's simultaneously fascinating how well that worked and depressing how impossible it would be to implement a system like that in today's political climate
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:49 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]




GenjiandProust, the Crooked Timber bloggers actually don't look at the BIG. They seem unwilling to give it a serious hearing, in part because their version of progressive politics is profounding backward-looking, obsessed with previous successes (unions and regulations) instead of, you know, progressive.

This is a self-link responding to that post: Another Badly-Aimed Attack on the Basic Income Guarantee from Crooked Timber
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:54 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Jeremy Waldron piece on homelessness mentioned in the first link is really excellent and worth a read.
posted by subtle-t at 6:55 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this is a fascinating idea - and I'd never known there was an actual well-known idea attached to it, just me fantasizing about how the country could be made better if everyone was guaranteed a basic income.
posted by arnicae at 7:03 AM on August 9, 2012


Where does he calculate what it actually costs and how it's affordable?
posted by shivohum at 7:10 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regulations are backward-looking?
posted by adamdschneider at 7:25 AM on August 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Milton Friedman was a big fan of this idea, which is why the US has an earned income tax credit.
posted by atrazine at 7:29 AM on August 9, 2012


Yeah, wow. I think BIG is interesting because it's an idea that crosses left and right political ideas, but giving CT a hard time for supporting unions and regulations is all kinds of silly.

Here's a good article from James Ferguson the politics of BIG in Namibia and South Africa. He's written more on the subject, but most is paywalled, I think.
posted by col_pogo at 7:29 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, we've got a pretty well-regulated workplace, at this point. It's an old battle and we won. What's next?

Then, too, there's this.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:30 AM on August 9, 2012


giving CT a hard time for supporting unions and regulations is all kinds of silly.

I only give them a hard time for that because they've been actively opposing a BIG in favor of more unionization and regulation. That stuff is very important, if you have a job. But it doesn't help the least advantaged quite so much.

Modern progressives should settle for a BIG and get to work on ending mass incarceration, IMHO. Maybe not so humble.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:33 AM on August 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


The fundamental problem with our economic system is that we have too many people. Overpopulation always leads to the exploitation of the masses, since supply and demand makes human capital cheap. As an example of this, just look at how the Black Plague altered the medieval economy. It probably did more to eliminate serfdom than any other factor.

The Basic Income Guarantee is a good idea (in my opinion), but it would only be a temporary fix, since inflation would eventually negate its impact. If we really want to fix the underlying economic factors causing huge disparity of wealth, we need to enact some form of population control, and that kind of legislation is just really unlikely to happen.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:35 AM on August 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


The idea that inflation is caused by people having money is pervasive, strange, and pretty much unfounded. Inflation is caused when the face value of the money in the system grows faster than the wealth in the system. As long as you did not fund a basic income by printing money, it would not cause rampant inflation.
posted by Nothing at 7:42 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Population growth in the US is fine. Central Africa? Maybe not so much.

Our problem is that we have enough energy and sand as inputs for a technological society that needs fewer and fewer people to actually function and provides enough to support, in a mostly corrupt way, our most basic needs to 98 percent of the world and fantabulous privilege to the rest.

Take away sand and oil, and most of civilization as we on metafilter know it collapses back to the 17th century.

How about a basic energy garauntee also?
posted by roboton666 at 7:43 AM on August 9, 2012


Where does he calculate what it actually costs and how it's affordable?

ummm yeah...
posted by Theta States at 7:44 AM on August 9, 2012


I too have been thinking about this a lot lately, or, having not RTFA, what I think this idea is. Think about how much more productive our workers would be, and how much less constant economic growth we would need, if the only people who were working were people who really wanted to be working at something, rather than having to work to survive.
posted by Windopaene at 7:48 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea that inflation is caused by people having money is pervasive, strange, and pretty much unfounded. Inflation is caused when the face value of the money in the system grows faster than the wealth in the system.

What? Did you miss the last three years of monetary policy and the complete lack of hyperinflation?
posted by Talez at 7:49 AM on August 9, 2012


Where on earth (I mean, literally) is there a prospect of progressives "settling" for a BIG? I think BIG is a great idea, but in SA and Namibia, which are the two most advanced plans I've heard of, the issue is pretty much dead in the water. Elites are agin' it.

It seems misguided to claim that there is any significant debate which poses BIG against things like unions and regulations. In reality, there is the overwhelming actually-existing and ideological dominance of neoliberal free-market capitalism versus everyone else, including the desperate rear-guard actions of old-style leftists and social democrats trying to defend what is left of the welfare state. In the case of BIG there is an interesting overlap between leftists and libertarians and, for once, some agreement between mainstream economists and progressive activists. Other progressives are more skeptical. But they're not the main thing standing between the idea of a BIG and its realization.

In the US--where the right wing that finds "99%" rhetoric an assault on basic American values and a mainstream media for whom the term "inequality" is only worth mentioning when there's an active social movement pushing it in their face--arguments between progressives and libertarians and leftists about what precise form income redistribution are almost a sideshow, as far as BIG's prospects go.
posted by col_pogo at 7:51 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where does he calculate what it actually costs and how it's affordable?

Back of the envelope for Australia:

Population of Australia: 23M
Cost of BIG @ $100/wk for every man, woman and child in the country: 23M * 52 weeks/year * $100/week = $120B/year
Total income tax collected in Australia in 2009–10: $187B
Total welfare spending, 2010-11: $130B

So a population-wide Australian BIG would cost about as much as is currently spent on all forms of welfare. Based on nothing but gut feel I'd expect it to displace enough existing welfare spending to leave BIG plus other welfare somewhere around the $180B mark. So income tax would need to be increased to finance it, but for most people I'd expect the increase in tax to be mostly offset by the BIG payment itself.
posted by flabdablet at 7:54 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the BIG falls under the idea umbrella that first and foremost truly subscribes to the idea that a government is "of the people".

Once you support that notion, it's easy to begin looking at risk in society as having multiple owners.

Now, since taking risk is a fundamental way to grow wealth, if we believe the government is truly "of the people", then offsetting certain risks to the government free the individual.

If you believe the government is a cancerous growth killing America, then the government assuming any risk is akin to enslavement.

So basically, single-payer healthcare, BIG, social security, etc all fall under the "I'm not scared of the government" worldview.

If we want to do something towards this aim, then marketing the message that the government is not evil would probably be a good first step.
posted by roboton666 at 7:58 AM on August 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


So basically, single-payer healthcare, BIG, social security, etc all fall under the "I'm not scared of the government" worldview.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:01 AM on August 9, 2012


This idea seems like a baby step towards Star Trek's Federation economy, so it sounds good to me.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:03 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Uh, crap, I hit post by accident:

So basically, single-payer healthcare, BIG, social security, etc all fall under the "I'm not scared of the government" worldview.


This is actually untrue. As noted above, Milton Friedman was a proponent of this idea, and I've often seen libertarians advocate it (witness anotherpanacea's railing against "unions and regulation" and an offhand link to how OSHA totally didn't do anything). This makes me wary of the idea because generally when libertarians are holding up an idea as "promoting liberty" it really means stripping away protections and rights for the non-rich. But there does seem to be something to the BIG idea.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:05 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where does he calculate what it actually costs and how it's affordable?

There are a few ways to ask this question:

“How much would we have to raise taxes in order to pay for this policy?”
“How much productivity would we lose under this policy?”
“What would the effective tax rate be under this policy?”

It’s important to note that these are separate questions. We would certainly have to raise tax rates to pay for a basic income: there is not a currently a revenue stream devoted to it. These higher taxes might reduce people’s propensity to work, and still more productivity might be lost because people choose not to work when their needs are met. However, depending on how those taxes are collected, such an increase might not increase the effective tax rate: the difference between the tax rate and the services supplied. The early Crooked Timber discussion totally confused effective rates with headline rates, in much the same way that people pretend that the rich actually paid 91% under Eisenhower. They didn’t.

The best way to ask this question would be:

“What is the dead-weight loss of a basic income guarantee and its associated taxation, compared to what we have now?”

The answer is that, on the most plausible accounts, a basic income guarantee is actually cheaper than the current system.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:10 AM on August 9, 2012


So a population-wide Australian BIG would cost about as much as is currently spent on all forms of welfare. Based on nothing but gut feel I'd expect it to displace enough existing welfare spending to leave BIG plus other welfare somewhere around the $180B mark. So income tax would need to be increased to finance it, but for most people I'd expect the increase in tax to be mostly offset by the BIG payment itself.

Australia already stuffs the middle class full of money through the welfare system. FTB A and B, Baby Bonus, Education Tax Refund, Single Family Income Supplement, Childcare Benefits. Not to mention it has an excellent minimum wage regulations, excellent (although watered down) job protections and an excellent welfare system.
posted by Talez at 8:14 AM on August 9, 2012


I've often seen libertarians advocate it (witness anotherpanacea's railing against "unions and regulation" and an offhand link to how OSHA totally didn't do anything)

Eh? I'm not a libertarian. The point is that this is a policy that's better than what used to count as progressive. I don't "rail" against the Voting Rights Act, either; I just think there's more work to do.

It it helps, I'm a Rawlsian liberal, a Pettitian civic republican, an Andersonian egalitarian, and a Poggeian cosmopolitan.

If it helps.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:17 AM on August 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Milton Friedman was a big fan of this idea, which is why the US has an earned income tax credit.

Even stopped clocks.

My SO was arguing about this with his mother the other day - if it weren't for family peace, I would email her the article on the Canadian/Manitoba experience where they found that people do not work less, except for mothers with new babies (who want to spend time with their baby) and teenagers, who are then more likely to attend high school and graduate.

Those sound like terrible results. Also, health care costs went down.

It's weird when you realize that your parents who were once liberal/socialist have become conservative in their old age. My MiL was never a radical, but she went to university in the UK when it was free, even received living expenses from the government and thus had no debt whatsoever, and she studies health - so you think she would be aware of how important a strong social safety net and social spending is to any society. But for the last 30+ years, she's been isolated from actual poverty, and forgotten where she would have been but for government spending. My own mom lived on welfare for years, but then couldn't translate her experience of being unable to find work (with kids, without high school diploma) in a big city to the experience of people on native reservations who have much bigger economic challenges.
posted by jb at 8:27 AM on August 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'd never heard of the Dauphin Mincome project, and I am now looking forward to further analysis of the data. Two points particularly stuck out to me:

"Only two segments of Dauphin's labour force worked less as a result of Mincome—new mothers and teenagers. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies. And teenagers worked less because they weren't under as much pressure to support their families."

And, "hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent. Fewer people went to the hospital with work-related injuries and there were fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. There were also far fewer mental health visits."

It is unfortunate that the program didn't last a few more years—over the long term, the effects might be different. (Would those teenagers have started working when they became adults?) On the other hand, I'm also interested in what the long term costs would be, if fewer people are needing healthcare and more are, presumably, liberated to find and/or do work that they find genuinely stimulating and rewarding, or go back to school, or start their own businesses, and so on.
posted by synecdoche at 8:37 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


from first link: “For millions of years no one interfered with our ancestors as they used the resources of the world to meet their needs. No one failed to wash because they were too lazy to find a stream. No one urinated in a common thoroughfare because they were too lazy to find a secluded place to do so. Everyone was free to hunt and gather and make their camp for the night as they pleased. No one had to follow the orders of a boss to earn the right to make their living. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were not rich, but they were not poor as we know it today.”

Exactly zero of those sentences are actually true. This is the old nostalgic yearning for a Golden Age of Noble Savages. I don't know if I believe in progress, but I sure as hell don't believe that the past was a wonderful heaven on earth devoid of problems.
posted by koeselitz at 8:39 AM on August 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


My SO was arguing about this with his mother the other day - if it weren't for family peace, I would email her the article on the Canadian/Manitoba experience where they found that people do not work less, except for mothers with new babies (who want to spend time with their baby) and teenagers, who are then more likely to attend high school and graduate.


I wouldn't be too hasty to say that a small, Manitoban town is representative of the larger Canadian experience or is applicable to anything other than itself. In this one instance, hourly work went down 2%, but this is one very small data point of a very small town.

The dynamics of a small town and a big city are so different when it comes to a whole host of issues that I think we can't call the debate on this one over...especially when you consider the broader Employment Insurance program in Canada which in many small, seasonal-industry driven communities, effectively makes it impossible to hire for low-paying, year-round jobs.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2012


Not to mention it has an excellent minimum wage regulations, excellent (although watered down) job protections and an excellent welfare system.

Ask anybody who has ever been on Australian unemployment benefits how excellently the welfare system works for them, though, and you'll get less than glowing answers.

Being on the dole actually acts as a massive disincentive to find work, or to do anything much beyond sinking into hopelessness and depression. If you're on the dole, then if you don't jump through all the hoops that Centrelink requires to show you're serious about accepting the first shitty job that's offered to you, they will breach you and withdraw your payment. And if you're among the minority of dole recipients who does manage to find work and you do accept the first shitty job that's offered to you, then you're no longer unemployed and your benefit goes away even if your shitty job nets you less than the benefit did.

With a BIG, getting even a shitty job would always leave you better off because you'd end up with your BIG payment plus what the shitty job pays.
posted by flabdablet at 8:42 AM on August 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


Modern economics is based on the idea that the shared illusion of money is more important than human life itself, so it will always fail as long as a person can be equated with a monetary figure. When you deregulate economies and pretend that exquisitely powerful people will remain honest behind closed doors, you're just adding more problems.

In truth, our economy is in search of needs that do not exist. We market poison snacks to children, guns to dictatorships, fashion and cosmetic surgery to anyone with a pulse, and pills to people who need to consume less to get healthy. Instead we tell them to try to work more hours to consume more unproven chemical cocktails when it's actually the work that is killing them.

People on the left and right refuse to acknowledge that every single material object they own that isn't necessary to their wellbeing is proof of their indifference to the suffering of others. Sure, we need cars to get around and computers to work, but who needs a 7 series and a five or six spare bedrooms outfitted with giant flat screens and bidets? Who needs a new laptop every year? Why have we decided that an economic system that rewards stupid, short-sighted behavior is the best choice for our society?

(I will stop here and say that I am just as guilty of this behavior, if not more guilty, than many people who will read this.)

There's a sensible bridge to the resource based economy we will be forced to move to eventually, and the broken capitalist system that we are in now, and that's a hugely progressive tax system. Rich people do incredibly stupid and wasteful things with their money. Their chief enjoyment consists in the parading of riches, as Adam Smith pointed out, and our cultural acceptance of luxury items like a pair jeans that could have fed an entire family for a month is one of the most appalling aspects of our society. I can barely go inside a mall anymore without thinking about all of the people we are flushing down the drain so a small minority can stare at tasteful posters of starved models fooling them into believing that "retail therapy" is going to heal them. The hard truth, and the real source of the hole in their heart, is that they have abandoned others for the lowest calling humanity has ever had: gathering rare items, hoarding them, and pretending that they have meaning of power because of their hoard.

Fundamentalist capitalism is a virus that is right now wiping itself out, and if we don't accept the shortcomings of markets for things like assets and health care, it's going to wipe us out as well. Taxing the rich — who literally don't need the money they gathered by wiping out the middle class and our manufacturing sector — and using it to improve the lives of every single person would be an amazing accomplishment. We could be the generation that wipes out poverty, but first we have to make the choice to consume less, share more, and find fulfillment in helping others instead of ourselves.
posted by deanklear at 8:45 AM on August 9, 2012 [29 favorites]


I've been thinking a lot lately about how our society values the things that contribute to it. For example, childcare holds little value: paid childcare workers are often minimum wage employees and rarely paid more than 150% of minimum wage (around here, anyway), while parents who care for their children at home are paid nothing.

The common social view has childcare in high-income households defended as having value to the family (see Ann Romney, for example), while in low-income or no-income households, it's decried as laziness, a failure to contribute to society (as if the advantages of having a stay-at-home parent to small children are only valuable to society when those advantages are conferred on children from higher-income households).

Likewise, people contribute to society in a number of ways that are unpaid labor: volunteering, artistic contributions, blogging and other voluntary knowledge contributions, etc. I see these as having unrecognized value, and have been thinking that a BIG would serve to encourage more of these unpaid labor contributions to society, as well as encourage people to diversify their labor ("If I didn't have to spend 50 hours a week at paid labor to support my family, I could volunteer to teach, work in the community garden, spend more time raising my children").

I don't think we'd actually have much of a net loss of productivity under such a scheme; I think we'd have more redirection of labor into currently undervalued/unpaid work. Most people don't want to spend all day on their asses watching tv; they want to do things and interact with people and go places. They just don't necessarily want to do the things that they are currently able to get financial compensation for.
posted by notashroom at 8:52 AM on August 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


Modern economics is based on the idea that the shared illusion of money is more important than human life itself, so it will always fail as long as a person can be equated with a monetary figure.

What? No it isn't. I'm an economist, studied at a two pretty good universities, work in local economic development and on building strong communities, fostering entrepreneurship, helping immigrants integrate with the community and students find meaningful work in our community, as opposed to another. I believe a strong community which helps its hardest done by gets stronger over time and produces more wealth for everyone. That's why I do what I do.

This purported line that modern economics is X is such a farce. No discipline has a singular viewpoint, a reached consensus or a secret cabal telling it what to do. In fact, many of the proponents of a better welfare system that stops being about pure wealth generation are economists (go look at the list of nobel economists who believe BIG works, for starters), and most of the people droning on about the things you're concerned with are elitist non-economists and politicians. To be blunt, those people don't give a flying fuck about modern economics, evidence or reason. They are concerned with keeping their position and their supporters happy.

Pure capitalism is not the mainstream economic view (if there even is one; I'm not so sure); these right-wing nuts who believe in pure free markets are either bought and paid for puppets or ideologues who aren't studying a damn thing. Economics seems like the one discipline where you have trained people and total boneheads talking about the same subject and being given equal footing in terms of their rigour. I may have a little confirmation bias there, but jesus it's frustrating to over and over hear blanket statements about what economics is, what it isn't, when half the time you put 5 of us in a room and get 6 answers to a problem.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:58 AM on August 9, 2012 [27 favorites]


There are all these entities devoted to keeping capital moving. We just had a post about one such company, when they had a computer glitch that cost them some large sum of money. It is considered pretty much a proven fact that keeping money in motion is vital for a modern economy.

So why not with labor?

I think about it this way: with no BIG, best case, you work in a job until something better comes along. You then make a switch. The timing might be bad for the place you are leaving: what if it is right in the middle of a time critical delivery? Well, you can't be blamed, because the new job is available now, and you've got to take it when offered or it goes to someone else.

But with a BIG: You want to make a change in your job. You let them know, finish up your work, and quit when it is a good time to do so. You then take a new job when you are ready. You probably have to adjust your expenses to stay within your lower means, but it isn't a "spend all your savings on survival" situation.

End result: easier flow of labor means a more efficient economy, just like with money. It's a benefit to everyone who works, doesn't work, and owns.
posted by BeeDo at 9:02 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Economics seems like the one discipline where you have trained people and total boneheads talking about the same subject and being given equal footing in terms of their rigour.

You are sadly mistaken here, my friend. As an attorney I can assure you that the frustration when reading online discussions of any legal topic is equal, if not greater.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:04 AM on August 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


trained people and total boneheads talking about the same subject and being given equal footing in terms of their rigour

That's a completely general description of the modern media landscape, surely?
posted by flabdablet at 9:05 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


our cultural acceptance of luxury items like a pair jeans that could have fed an entire family for a month

Sounds delicious.

Modern economics is based on the idea that the shared illusion of money is more important than human life itself, so it will always fail as long as a person can be equated with a monetary figure.

Which is it? Either money is more important than human life or there is a value that can be assigned to a human life, it can't be both.
posted by atrazine at 9:05 AM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I had a really long post lined up, but it wasn't necessary: what happens to someone who fails to provide for themselves using the BIG money?
posted by cromagnon at 9:17 AM on August 9, 2012


No discipline has a singular viewpoint, a reached consensus or a secret cabal telling it what to do.

Except for the scholars of Victorian English Literature. The cabal is headquartered in Missouri - but you didn't hear it from me.

shit, now they'll be looking...
posted by jb at 9:21 AM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


what happens to someone who fails to provide for themselves using the BIG money?

Depends on the reason. In a well-functioning society there will also be universal healthcare that includes comprehensive mental healthcare. Many (most?) people who cannot provide for themselves are physically disabled, mentally ill, mentally disabled, or suffering from addiction, which is also best understood as a disease. So they would be taken care of by the healthcare system. Someone who needed full-time care could have their BIG suspended, effectively spending it on their care. If they recovered then the BIG would resume.

What the BIG supplants is the minimum wage (which distorts the labor market), pretty much all other forms of welfare (e.g. food stamps), and social insurance (i.e. social security). It could also supplant quite a few business subsidies. Since the employer and employees will all have a BIG, there's less need to subsidize the business because the damage caused if the business fails is lower.
posted by jedicus at 9:29 AM on August 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


what happens to someone who fails to provide for themselves using the BIG money?

Something less bad, one would think, than would happen to the same person deprived of any income whatsoever.
posted by flabdablet at 9:38 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


What? No it isn't. I'm an economist, studied at a two pretty good universities, work in local economic development and on building strong communities, fostering entrepreneurship, helping immigrants integrate with the community and students find meaningful work in our community, as opposed to another. I believe a strong community which helps its hardest done by gets stronger over time and produces more wealth for everyone. That's why I do what I do.

You're absolutely correct... I should have said fundamentalist capitalism, not economics.
posted by deanklear at 9:53 AM on August 9, 2012


Modern economics is based on the idea that the shared illusion of money is more important than human life itself... person can be equated with a monetary figure... pretend that exquisitely powerful people will remain honest... we market poison snacks to children, guns to dictatorships, fashion and cosmetic surgery to anyone with a pulse... every single material object they own that isn't necessary to their wellbeing is proof of their indifference to the suffering of others... the broken capitalist system that we are in now... they have abandoned others for the lowest calling humanity has ever had...

Oy vey. So, filtering out all the unnecessary fluff designed to get people to "favorite" your comment, all you're basically saying is that we need a higher luxury tax, right? Because I see a surfeit of diagnosis and a distinct scarcity of prescriptive remedies in your manifesto.

Yes, life sucks, the powerful don't care, yadda yadda. We already know this. Now why don't you say something useful and offer a workable solution, rather than simply starting up the koombaya drumcircle?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:20 AM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


No discipline has a singular viewpoint, a reached consensus or a secret cabal telling it what to do.

Except that privileges are extended to members of that discipline to the extent of their socialization - without which whatever they say or do would be universally and studiously ignored - and which they, therefore, adhere to rigorously, often subconsciously, while asserting continuously that they have been the authors of their own success.
posted by Twang at 10:23 AM on August 9, 2012


Either money is more important than human life or there is a value that can be assigned to a human life, it can't be both.

Congratulations, you win the False Dichotomy of the Day award.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:30 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Being on the dole actually acts as a massive disincentive to find work, or to do anything much beyond sinking into hopelessness and depression. If you're on the dole, then if you don't jump through all the hoops that Centrelink requires to show you're serious about accepting the first shitty job that's offered to you, they will breach you and withdraw your payment. And if you're among the minority of dole recipients who does manage to find work and you do accept the first shitty job that's offered to you, then you're no longer unemployed and your benefit goes away even if your shitty job nets you less than the benefit did.

Have you even ever been on the dole?

I was on the dole for quite some time back when I graduated from uni. You don't need to apply for jobs you're less than skilled for (i.e. flipping burgers). I filled in their forms, applied at the requisite number of places relevant to my experience, accepted the first "shitty job" that showed up which was a touch above minimum wage and earning twice as much as the dole since it was $400/ft back then and I was grossing $1140/ft.

Not to mention if you get part time work it phases out the benefit gradually so when I did accept casual project work and I was below the threshold I still received a Centrelink benefit and if I wasn't below the threshold I ticked the box that said "this is only for that fortnight don't stop my benefit" and they dutifully resumed it the next fortnight.

Things like "you end up with less than your benefit" are completely fallicious. The only way you could seriously end up with less value for money than your benefit is if you were spending your entire benefit on medicine and public transport.
posted by Talez at 10:39 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The moral reasoning of BIG is absurd, but the practical reasoning is appealing, as long as accompanied by a true and final deregulation of labor markets and abolition of welfare, and not confiscatory of the incrementally higher incomes due people who have made above-average Social Security contributions.

I am actually not terribly concerned about the inflationary impacts. The outlays and taxes would be in approximate balance. Deregulating low-end labor would be massively deflationary. While some low-income people would have more money, even localized inflation would be muted because we'd be removing the big (inflationary) inputs of food stamps and housing programs.
posted by MattD at 10:48 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


And I am the most right wing person on MeFi, mind you.
posted by MattD at 10:49 AM on August 9, 2012


The idea that inflation is caused by people having money is pervasive, strange, and pretty much unfounded. Inflation is caused when the face value of the money in the system grows faster than the wealth in the system.

What? Did you miss the last three years of monetary policy and the complete lack of hyperinflation?


There is a difference between monetary inflation and price inflation. The two do not necessarily have a strong correlation, especially when the vast majority of increased money supply remains in the possession of "1%" of society -- who may have little use at all for much of the other "99%."
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:57 AM on August 9, 2012


Yes, life sucks, the powerful don't care, yadda yadda. We already know this. Now why don't you say something useful and offer a workable solution, rather than simply starting up the koombaya drum circle?

You already know this. Americans oppose welfare and are terrified of anything that can be possibly labeled as socialism.
Although most would agree that social and political structures shape government policy toward the welfare state, Gilens argues that there is less general acceptance about the influence of public opinion. Using data from 10 different public opinion polls over an almost ten year period (1986 - 1995), Gilens examines the public opinions of Americans in relation to increasing or decreasing spending on social welfare programs (Table 1.2, p. 28). In almost every program area, the majority interviewed believes that spending should be increased. The data indicate that the general support for social welfare is not limited to just programs benefiting large numbers of Americans, such as social security and education but also for more targeted populations, such as the poor - 71 percent polled believe that spending should be increased to fight poverty (Table 1.2, p. 28). The results would seem to indicate that Americans do support social welfare programs but when asked about whether welfare spending or support for people on welfare should be increased, Americans indicated they were strongly opposed to these general programs. Sixty-three percent believe welfare spending should be decreased and 71 percent indicate spending for people on welfare should be decreased. These two results are essentially contradictory - Americans support helping the poor but do not support welfare, the primary program designed to help the poor.
If your best contribution to this discussion is calling the desire to make a better society a "koombaya drum circle" then perhaps I'm not the one who should spend their time doing something else somewhere else.
posted by deanklear at 11:23 AM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


A basic income guarantee is one of the planks of the FairTax (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FairTax#Monthly_tax_rebate), which was promoted in the last presidential election by former Democratic Senator Mike Gravel, and is being promoted in this election by former Republican Governor (and now Libertarian candidate) Gary Johnson.
posted by Alt F4 at 11:27 AM on August 9, 2012


"The fundamental problem with our economic system is that we have too many people. Overpopulation always leads to the exploitation of the masses, since supply and demand makes human capital cheap. As an example of this, just look at how the Black Plague altered the medieval economy. It probably did more to eliminate serfdom than any other factor."

Those two pieces you linked are actually fairly misleading in terms of what actually happened to the "labor market" during and after the plague, and glibly compresses about two hundred years of history — meaning that if over-population was truly the problem (and it's hard to argue that it is in the developed world), a die off wouldn't be effective under the plague model at least until the 2200s. I plan to be dead by then anyway. (But the argument that peasants were somehow empowered to pick and choose landlords is a pretty farcically modern interpretation of pre-industrial economic norms through the lens of post-industrial economic theories. It's a just-so that's appealing but, at least in the links you proffered, really poorly supported.)

At any rate, I think JB would be better equipped to speak to this argument.
posted by klangklangston at 11:41 AM on August 9, 2012


Interesting - that "Fair Tax" program seems to think that families can only have up to two adults in them.

I've been married for 7 years, but only lived in a household consisting of my husband and myself and not other adults for 2 of those 7 years. In the past 15 years, I've lived in households with
- one adult
- two adults
- three adults (not all related, but sharing groceries)
- four adults (all related)
- four adults and one child

I interview people for research and I've talked to people living with in just about every arrangement you can imagine - with elderly parents, with adult children, with adult children and grandchildren, with other relatives, with non-relatives.
posted by jb at 11:44 AM on August 9, 2012


Re Black Death: as far as I know, it was a major factor in the breakdown of serfdom in western Europe (aka Britain, France, Netherlands, etc).

I'm most familiar with the English case. In England, serfdom was dealt a serious blow by the Black Death because the labour shortage did mean that people could leave to look for other circumstances - other landlords were eager to offer free tenancies. Also, serfdom in England wasn't exactly a personal status but attached to the occupancy of certain tenancies -- so if one of your unfree tenancies was taken up by someone more socially powerful (eg a merchant or well-to-do farmer), you had a harder time enforcing the labour requirements that were the hallmark of an unfree tenancy. (I might have details wrong - this is all based on a long-ago reading of The Decline of Serfdom in Medieval England).

Not that landlords didn't try. I've read the most fascinating legal disputes between landlords and tenants from c1600 -- there were a couple of different landlords who tried the same thing: they demanded the revival of certain feudal rights (labour duties, egg rents, etc) that had lapsed, but then magnanimously let go of these rights in exchange for a big enclosure of some of the common land of the manor (which is what I suspect that they wanted all along).

But that doesn't mean that high pop=serfdom and low pop= end of serfdom -- since just as serfdom was declining in western Europe, it was taking off in Eastern Europe in areas of relatively lower population density than western Europe.

also, I still need to learn more about the Origins of Peasant Servitude.
posted by jb at 11:58 AM on August 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


My girlfriend and I have been discussing this frequently lately and I feel pretty strongly about it.

I don't see many jobs "coming back". Jobs are going to follow low wages around the world until they are all mostly done by machines

When that happens we are going to live in "socialist" societies. There will be no choice. It will be that or bloody revolution and the result of the revolution will be... socialism.

I am hoping for a world with free, clean energy and all necessities supplied by robots, replication and nanotech.

A basic income will guarantee dignity and life. Capitalism will not be outlawed - it will be there for anyone who wants to raise their standard of living above the BIG.

Coincidentally, I just finished "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" by Cory Doctorow. In this view of the future, people attain "more" by getting points or "likes". A reputation-based economy.

posted by mmrtnt at 12:15 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


I admit to not having read this rather large discussion, but I had to come in and note that a basic income guarantee levels the bargaining ground between labor and capital. Capital has a basic income guarantee -- sovereign bonds.
posted by syntaxfree at 12:29 PM on August 9, 2012


There is a difference between monetary inflation and price inflation. The two do not necessarily have a strong correlation, especially when the vast majority of increased money supply remains in the possession of "1%" of society -- who may have little use at all for much of the other "99%."

That would be my point. Nothing asserted that price inflation due to people having more money to chase after goods with is completely fictitious and that it's actually caused by printing money.
posted by Talez at 2:15 PM on August 9, 2012


As far as branding goes, it would be nice to present this as the next logical development of the New Deal – the BIG Deal.
posted by Riki tiki at 2:33 PM on August 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


depends how much, right? Someone upthread suggested $100 per week in Australia. Well, good luck surviving on that.
posted by moorooka at 3:30 PM on August 9, 2012


That seems like an odd point, as at first reaction my thought was "Well, there'd probably be some sort of cost of living adjustment", but that immediately brought up "What would the effects of having it tied to cost of living be? Do we want to make sure that people can live equally well/poorly wherever they're at, or would we want to encourage people to live in cheaper areas, thus bringing people/life into areas, but then..."

This seems like a question that would have to be addressed societally. "What level of quality of life are we aiming to support?"
posted by CrystalDave at 3:34 PM on August 9, 2012


Do we want to make sure that people can live equally well/poorly wherever they're at, or would we want to encourage people to live in cheaper areas, thus bringing people/life into areas, but then...".

The only fair way I can think to do this would be to have the Federal-tax-based BIG supply only an income that was based on some national average (e.g. a multiple of poverty level or percentage of median income or something), and then you could supplement the BIG in certain areas with local taxes.

That way, people living in low-cost areas wouldn't be getting taxed in order to support cost-of-living adjustments for people who choose to live in high-cost areas, which is pretty obviously a non-starter (even relative to the whole idea of a BIG). And it also ties the increased income that someone receives while living in a high-cost area to the economic benefit of living there, which is realized by others and paid in their local taxes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:03 PM on August 9, 2012


The linked essay makes an interesting read - On the topic of rose-tinted self delusion. To rip it apart in two quotes...


First, "Poverty is not a fact of nature". Technically, "poverty" depends on the existence of some form of token currency (ie, money). But "Starving to death" DOES naturally occur - If you couldn't get enough food, you simply died. Now, in modern society, we have made that a virtual impossibility. Even the homeless and jobless can usually afford to take in enough calories to survive - Perhaps not every day, but over time; And not just "enough", but so many that we have an epidemic of obesity among the extremely poor.

So, "poverty is not a fact of nature", because as a species, we've made the consequences of failure a mere nuisance, rather than far more natural reality of a not-so-quick death.


And second, "People have a moral obligation to work." Perhaps some people believe that. I personally do not, and would still fight to my last breath against a BIG. The fact that the laws of physics require us to acquire sufficient food or die has nothing to do with morality. The fact that our frail biology requires us to shelter ourselves from the elements has nothing to do with morality. And the fact that most of the other creatures on this planet view us as potential food, so we must work to defend ourselves, has nothing to do with morality.


More to the point, the arguments presented in TFA don't support a BIG. They attack various straw-men the author has set up so as to make a show of the strength of his position.
posted by pla at 5:04 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


That way, people living in low-cost areas wouldn't be getting taxed in order to support cost-of-living adjustments for people who choose to live in high-cost areas,

I think where people live is often more complex than just "choosing". For example, someone may live closer to where they are getting an education, or family that can provide free child care or a community that will not be ostracized (or worse) because of religion/race/sexual orientation etc. If they are using a system like BIG they may only be using it temporarily, such as after childbirth, illness or lay-off but expect to be a FT worker within a few months/years. In that case, the expense of moving to a low-cost area may result in their overall use of BIG lasting longer.

Low-cost areas, at least in Canada, tend to be low-cost because there is little economic activity beyond government support. Compare for instance Windsor and Fort McMurray; there is little chance of earning a living wage in Windsor (let alone supporting a family at middle class levels) despite beautiful architecture, amazing weather, a variety of post-secondary education, proximity to an international border and a broadly skilled workforce. Fort McMurray, from everyone I have talked to, is ugly and insanely expensive but the high wages - even for those working at Tim Hortons - and availability of jobs means no one would need to stay long on BIG unless there was a health issue.
posted by saucysault at 5:47 PM on August 9, 2012


Sauvcysault, the BIG isn't means-tested, so you don't "stay on it" "temporarily." Everybody gets it, all the time, no matter how rich or poor. That prevents poverty traps, where the loss of benefits blunts the value of employment.

That said, this issue of cost of living is tough. When Nixon proposed a negative income tax, debates over how the urban poor would lose out and the rural poor would win out basically turned the Democrats against it. That seems to have been Nixon's plan: he never wanted to implement it, just to campaign on it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:58 PM on August 9, 2012


The BIG is one of those ideas that is so obvious and logical it's painful to live in an era prior to its being widely seen as the common sense it will end up as. Such fate to be born in such times.

And the fact that most of the other creatures on this planet view us as potential food, so we must work to defend ourselves

Could you provide clarifying what you mean here by "most", by "working", and by "defending ourselves"? On the latter point in particular, can you describe the last three times other creatures on this planet saw you as potential food, obligating you to defend yourself, and if possible describe the specific nature of the threat posed by said creatures and the protective measures you undertook to detect yourself? Approximate dates and times would also be appreciated.
posted by hoople at 7:05 PM on August 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, you are right ap; I lost my train of thought there (and a few whole words in the next paragraph). I guess I was trying to clumsily say that in terms of society as a whole it is preferable that people contribute through taxes, increased buying power, and full employment (generally, FT work imparts benefits like hope, increased mental wellness, and decreased crime) rather than just getting by on the guarenteed income. Although everyone would "get" BIG, the reality is that higher income earners would effectively be paying in back in taxes (income and sales), resulting in a overall lifetime contribution towards the government that pays out BIG whereas a smaller group would at the end of day end up "costing" society their BIG payments but contributing in non-material ways (artistic endeavors, child care allowing someone else to work, companionship). Sorry I tried to condense that thought so clumsily. That was really interesting about Nixon, I had no idea about that debate!
posted by saucysault at 7:12 PM on August 9, 2012


Thanks for all these links, lots to chew through.
Just putting in a plug for people to read Anderson - she is awesome.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:51 PM on August 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Economics seems like the one discipline where you have trained people and total boneheads talking about the same subject and being given equal footing in terms of their rigour.

>>You are sadly mistaken here, my friend. As an attorney I can assure you that the frustration when reading online discussions of any legal topic is equal, if not greater.


I won't claim that my frustration is worse than yours, but guys, I have three degrees in theology.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:59 PM on August 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


So I did some number crunching. I'll explain how I got the number I arrived at, but at least it's a start.

The first thing I did was calculate the yearly earnings (before taxes) of someone who works 40 hours/week at the Federal Minimum Wage (currently $7.25). This comes out to just over $15,000. This will form the baseline of the BIG calculations that will follow. If you don't like that number, whatever. It's a nice place to start. Also, this will only be going to people aged 18 and older. Again, if you don't like it, it's at least a place to start.

Using US Census estimated data from 2011, there were about 311.6 million people and about 76.3% of that was aged 18 and older, so our target population for this program is 237,774,632 people. That number of people multiplied by $15,000 is a little more than $356.6 Billion.

Now... that's a pretty big number. Then again, the US Federal Govt. spent $725 Billion on Social Security alone (I imagine that's payouts and admin costs, but I'll get to that later). The cool thing is that since BIG money is going to everyone (including those who draw SS) we can probably afford to cut $356.6 from that SS payout, and use the rest of the SS funds for those who qualify to draw from it.

Hell, we can probably just end SS, along with Unemployment and Welfare benefits, and just save a lot of money. We can even recycle those bureaucracies into the new BIG bureaucracy.

If you don't think $15,000/yr is a high enough number, lets recalculate! If we double the payment to $30,000, then the Fed Govt. would still pay less than the $725 Billion on SS (The earlier BIG of $356.6 Billion times 2 is $713.2 Billion).

A few caveats:

1. I am a History Major from a Liberal Arts University... I'm not good with numbers.
2. Operation costs shouldn't be too bad because everyone gets the money, there is no need for bureaucrats to verify (aside from verifying your identity at 18 when you go to the BIG office to get your cash... college textbooks are expensive) if you should get the money or not, you just do. You can probably just set up a direct deposit into a bank account for life.
posted by Groundhog Week at 12:36 AM on August 10, 2012


Furthermore, you could spin this politically by discussing how this would unleash the creative, inventive entrepreneurial spirit of the American citizen. This could probably even break the currently still increasing education bubble... all of a sudden, not everyone needs a college education.
posted by Groundhog Week at 1:25 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


hoople : The BIG is one of those ideas that is so obvious and logical

Then perhaps you could supply some actual logic in support of it (as did groundhog week - I'll get to that in a bit), rather than mere cheerleading because you consider redistribution of wealth an "obvious" good?


Could you provide clarifying what you mean here by "most", by "working", and by "defending ourselves"?

I mean, if you leave the confines of your nice sturdy modern shelter (that took a HELL of a lot of work to create), head to someplace that actually has those tall green things and moving furry things and crawling/flying tiny things, you will find that each of those categories of "thing" view you as food. The bigger furry things will kill you and eat you directly, and "defend" means "actively avoid attack". The tiny things will pierce your skin and suck your juices out, and "defend" means either never stop moving, or take the time to swat at them; some of them will kindly wait until you die to do so. And speaking of death, the tall green things will consume whatever we leave behind after shuffling off this mortal coil. And by "most", I mean that the vast majority of Earth's biosphere falls into those last two categories (we've managed to kill off most of the dangerous-to-humans furry things, but make no mistake, they still exist). Oh, and I left out scaly things - Pretty much all of them will try to eat you, with only size stopping the smaller ones from trying.

I mean that, if you sit idle long enough, something WILL eat you while still alive, and WILL eat you when you finally stop moving for good. You. Are. Food.


can you describe the last three times other creatures on this planet saw you as potential food

I could indeed, but you meant that as nothing but a derail, so go pound sand, eh?


Groundhog Week : The cool thing is that since BIG money is going to everyone (including those who draw SS) we can probably afford to cut $356.6 from that SS payout

You missed a decimal place. 3.566 TRILLION.
posted by pla at 3:47 AM on August 10, 2012


AKA, "this proposal would instantly double the US Federal budget".
posted by pla at 3:48 AM on August 10, 2012


pla, the deadweight-losses from transfers are much lower than from other types of taxation, spending, and regulation. The government actually becomes *less* intrusive under a BIG+VAT, because all that money passes through it and finds a home in people's pockets. For instance, the administrative costs of Social Security are less than 1%.

As to "why redistribute?" I'd say: we decided a long time ago that society is a collective project. This is just a more efficient and less paternalistic way to take care of each other. Redistribution also has some pretty strong growth effects (redistribution is market-making; it produces demand for the capitalists' goods) and there's a substantial increase in liberty when getting fired doesn't mean extreme poverty. (Your boss can't coerce you quite so severely.)

But don't forget the appeal to authority:
"Winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics who fully support a basic income include Herbert A. Simon, Friedrich Hayek, James Meade, Robert Solow, and Milton Friedman."
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:15 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


pla: I understand where you're coming from a bit better now. Anything at all will eat you once you're dead, insects are uniformly pests and will take a nibble if you let them, some reptiles might go after you if they weren't mostly such terrible chicken-shits in the face of something larger and, well, when it comes to the very large animals, as in my experience they have, to a one -- and regardless of phyla -- wanted nothing whatsoever to do with me.

I still think you're overstating your case here quite dramatically, and making what is in reality merely complete indifference to your existence into some kind of ambient malice always at risk of boiling over into an existential threat, but as everyone sees things differently and experiences events differently it's best not to belabor this, so I wont.

In terms of the common-sense-ness, it's such due to the interaction of several other beliefs, at least some of which are fairly idiosyncratic, so it's not like I'm keeping secret some brilliantly insightful case for the BIG that'd convince even someone with an outlook like yours. It's more (as your outlook on the natural world makes apparent) a case of sufficiently different worldviews that it'd take a very long time indeed to go through and point out all the various notions that go into it, and if I take the time to type it all up I'm not sure I can adequately keep the dingo from eating my baby, so I'll have to keep it brief.

Better economists than yours truly have already expressed their opinion on the idea's merits so I don't even need to go into that, go look into it yourself to see the case for it.

It's affordable materially (how else to interpret the obesity epidemic, etc.), and the affordability challenges are accounting challenges and potential higher-order impacts. For accounting, I tacitly assume any realistic BIG involves corresponding changes in the monetary system to mitigate the accounting issues. Higher-order impacts are harder to gauge but I have faith in market dynamics sorting those issues out well before they induce a zombie apocalypse, or result in mass animal attacks on human idlers.

Morally there are obvious dangers depending on the implementation, but I don't see it requiring anything intrinsically immoral to implement, and don't see anything intrinsically immoral in either the policy intents or the the likely consequences of a well-implemented BIG. This comes down to personal value systems and how that influence one's understanding of the proper role and goals of government, and is thus something we are unlikely to reach agreement upon here (or ever).

Making an actual case would take far longer, and require more groundwork to bridge the apparent gaps in our worldviews, I'm afraid. Just rest assured that you likely find this as vague and unconvincing your statements to have been.
posted by hoople at 1:08 PM on August 10, 2012


Technically, "poverty" depends on the existence of some form of token currency (ie, money).

There is no "technically" in poverty studies, because there is no agreed upon definition of "poverty".

Most scholars of poverty recognize both absolute poverty as well as relative poverty, and that both are significant -- and we can talk about both in a non-monetary culture. Also, poverty is a slippery term that can have many definitions even in one place and time: the poor in 17th century England, to pull a completely non-random example, might be defined as those who received poor relief (a very narrow definition that excluded people based on age and/or gender), or simply as those who did not contribute to the poor rates though they were not themselves dependent on relief. And as non-rate payers, they would have less say in local political matters.

Most hunter-gatherer societies do have substantially less relative poverty than historic/contemporary agrarian/industrial societies, because they have less inequality (but not no inequality). They may or may not have more absolute poverty, depending on their access to resources - also, people in a nomadic culture may have greater material "poverty" than people in a sessile culture due to the necessity of movement, even as they have much better health, nutrition, and overall better quality of life. Does that make them "poorer"?
posted by jb at 1:41 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


hoople : I still think you're overstating your case here quite dramatically

You asked me to elaborate. Basically, my point boils down to "work or die" as the default condition of the universe. Yes, modern life has largely shielded us from that reality - The passive actions of humanity have trickled down to the extent that very few people in a modern Western country die of truly "natural" causes - We simply die of old age (a decidedly non-natural situation, despite how it sounds), which poverty may well accelerate to occur decades earlier than we might believe it "should".


and is thus something we are unlikely to reach agreement upon here (or ever).

Honestly, I had hoped to see a more convincing argument from TFA. I believe in a living wage (WAGE, as in, for doing something productive), I believe in universal healthcare (UNIVERSAL, not this Obamacare-everyone-except-the-middle-class-benefits BS). I don't believe in a free lunch; aside from that, I would seriously love to find some way to realistically justify BIG. But strawmen and appeals to such fluffy feelgood notions as "dignity" just don't cut it.

I can even come up with a non-iterated fiscal justification for BIG - Considering after-tax income and perhaps prorating payments in the early part of adulthood, we could possibly get the minimum-wage based cost down to 2.5 billion, at which level, assuming we can as a result throw away all other government welfare and pension programs, we would end up roughly breaking even (the entire federal budget basically boils down to 2/3rds "Social" programs and 1/3rd everything else - even that great big boogeyman of the military budget has almost a third going to various veterans' benefits).

That said, it remains incumbent upon YOU (or in context, the author of the FP link) to explain how people wouldn't abuse such a program to simply drop out of the productive economy (which effectively dooms the entire program). And I say that because, as someone who tends to live within his means and as a fiscal conservative, I would take advantage of a survivable income once I've paid off my house. No major bills hanging over my head, and 2.5 grand a month coming in (as a DINK household)? Thanks for the Fish, rest of the world, but I think I'll retire at 40; now leave me alone to tend my garden.

Now extend that out to 311 million "dependents" with no actual earners, and tell me how well it would work. Helloooooo Greece, can we borrow a few bucks?


jb : Does that make them "poorer"?

You tell me - Does it? And if so, what does that say for trying to address "poverty" as defined by people with a standard of living better than 99% of all humans who have ever lived on our shared blue-green ball of mud?
posted by pla at 7:55 PM on August 10, 2012


pla, when they ran the experiment in Namibia, employment increased from 44% to 55%.

Perhaps you would do as you say, but perhaps too you would get bored of gardening and go back to work consulting. In any case, the evidence points to increased work effort, in aggregate, under a BIG.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:55 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]




pla: I think I can be forgiven if I say that vague appeals to a nature red in tooth and claw failed to communicate your actual point...and that it doesn't help to simultaneously claim that you'd fight a BIG to your last breath but that you'd also love to get a solid argument in its favor. Please do make up your mind and say more precisely what you do mean.

Your primary concern beyond general consternation is about people abusing the system by dropping out and contributing nothing. In small numbers I don't see the problem -- by assumption if a society can afford a BIG it can certainly afford some amount of shirkers like you claim you'd become -- and in general I trust that market dynamics would kick in and restore a sane equilibrium long before your death spiral scenario spun out of control. If you have reason to believe a BIG somehow destroys the ordinary rules of supply and demand you should write it up and publish it; I can assure you there are several nobel laureates who'd like to know about this finding.

In any case my take on it isn't that different from Hayek: it's eminently a good idea, it's a long way off politically and practically; it is already affordable in real terms in the present era, it isn't presently affordable in accounting terms, and when implemented will likely be baked directly into the monetary system (e.g., something like digital credits with a transaction tax with proceeds directly funneled into the BIG pool for later redistribution, or something vaguely analogous). Similarly it has to be essentially universal to work; restricting it geographically buffers the recipients from the economic consequences of their collective behavior (as in Golden Eternity's tribal anecdotes), and restricting it to only those who satisfy some specific criteria leads to politics and lobbying to change that criteria (again, as in Golden Eternity's tribal anecdotes).
posted by hoople at 12:38 AM on August 11, 2012


hoople : and that it doesn't help to simultaneously claim that you'd fight a BIG to your last breath but that you'd also love to get a solid argument in its favor.

I've said what I meant.

We'd all love to live in a utopia. Some of us look past the "curb appeal", however, to see that any scenario dependent on a significant portion of the population voluntarily acting against their own short-term self interest will fail.


In small numbers I don't see the problem

Perhaps this counts as our core disagreement, then. People in desperate need of basic necessities in Namibia don't map well to fat, dumb and happy Americans - No, not everyone would drop out of the economy, but I'd bet my left nut that you'd see over 50% voluntary unemployment, particularly considering voluntary "under"employment, people doing 8-10 hours a week just for the change of pace.


and in general I trust that market dynamics would kick in and restore a sane equilibrium long before your death spiral scenario spun out of control.

Then you don't have a BIG. "We promise we'll pay you, no matter what... Unless enough of you actually take us at our word".


If you have reason to believe a BIG somehow destroys the ordinary rules of supply and demand you should write it up and publish it;

Of course it doesn't - You just haven't considered the right commodity.

Due to the necessity of working in the real world today, we have no choice but to "sell" our single most scarce resource, "time", to make a living. If you make that no longer a necessity, so that I can actually price my time as I see fit? Let's just say you'd better either want me to work as a BJ training-dummy, or have the ability to pay me in gold bricks. Mere "inflation" doesn't even begin to describe the spiral we'd see.
posted by pla at 5:22 AM on August 11, 2012


pla, Alaska has a small BIG right now, and their labor force participation rates are actually much higher than the national average.

Consider the possibility that you are wrong.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:30 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


That said, it remains incumbent upon YOU (or in context, the author of the FP link) to explain how people wouldn't abuse such a program to simply drop out of the productive economy (which effectively dooms the entire program).

Part of the reason we're seeing so much long-term unemployment and under-employment is that the tasks which require human labor are shrinking both in number and in person-hours. Productivity has increased dramatically in the industrial and information ages, while population has greatly increased. In such a scenario, with no reason to expect a dramatic decline in productivity, it is unrealistic to expect every able adult to be able to sustain full-time wage work for a normal productive (in current understanding of the term) lifespan as per-person productivity and population continue to increase.

If we took the author's resource-based argument and extended it, a great portion of BIG for many countries, including the US, could be substantially funded from payments by privately-owned companies for access to natural resources such as oil, natural gas, sand, water, coal and publicly-owned resources such as broadcast spectrum. This wouldn't be sufficient to fund it entirely, but in combination with funds already allocated to programs that could be rolled into a combined BIG and universal healthcare (social security, unemployment insurance, TANF, SNAP, medicaid, medicare, federal healthcare and retirement funds, programs to monitor and enforce minimum wage), it likely wouldn't require a significant increase in taxes to implement and a small VAT might suffice. Thus not requiring wage-labor inputs, and therefore not dependent upon them for the program's survival, particularly as wage-labor options decrease.

I suspect most people wouldn't be satisfied either simply doing nothing productive (witness "retirees" who can't adjust to a life of leisure and take up consulting or a new career) or living at the base level of the BIG, and would choose to work at wage labor jobs, but as those hours need not be tied to health or retirement benefits, they'd be freer to choose whether to work 10 or 40 or 60 hours a week and at how many different jobs, while employers would likely employ more people for fewer hours each -- resulting in less overtime costs and reduced impact of losing a single employee -- and we could see full or nearly full employment, while also seeing people freed up to engage in unpaid labor such as volunteering at their kid's school (parental uninvolvement in schools being the most-cited factor in under-performing schools in low-income areas), caring for aging parents, getting involved in their communities, etc.
posted by notashroom at 11:41 AM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The payments under BIG wouldn't offer a middle-class lifestyle. It would keep your head above water, maybe allow someone to stay home with their young children, start a business, or go back to school, knowing that things will be tight financially for a while. But the incentive to work would still exist for people that prioritise travelling over time to paint, or buying a larger house over living in cramped shared accommidation.

As to the example of the reservations, did the problems of gambling, addiction and lack of employment on-res exist BEFORE the per-capita disbursements? Yes, they did, so it sounds like a vulnerable community needed more support stuctures in place - including BIG - so that social problems are not exerbated by homelessness, lack of access to healthcare/medication and hunger.
posted by saucysault at 1:10 PM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


pla: I actually think we have several core differences. All I can say is of the people I know who are wealthy enough to have no obligation to work, the shirker/wastrel rate I've seen is at most 25%; the rest all work in various capacities. Anecdotal, of course, and perhaps inaccurate due to survivorship bias -- for all I know the shirkers and wastrels are under-reported because the worst of the worst were all eaten by crocodiles and dingos long ago now -- but it's a sample size in the low 100s with a reasonable mix of self-made and inheritors, and I can't help if my own, non-hypothetical life experience informs my intuitions more than your hypothetical speculations; particularly so when the supplemental evidence on this topic also fails to jibe with your hypothesis.

But, let's take your claims at face value: suppose you did put out a notice that "pla will only work as a bj-training dummy (at any rate?) or if paid in gold bricks". So what? It's not like anyone's going to take you up on that, so if you actually need additional income you'll either lower your asking price until you find a buyer, or no one will buy what you're selling and you'll go without that extra income.

Similarly: Then you don't have a BIG. "We promise we'll pay you, no matter what... Unless enough of you actually take us at our word".

No, *do* you have a BIG: the BIG payments come in, what those payments buy on the market is left to the market to sort out. A BIG is promising a baseline level of funds in every account, not a chicken in every pot; if you can't distinguish between those those things it's hard to have a productive discussion on this topic.

Take, say, food banks and food stamps. The fundamental problem they try to solve is that some people can't afford to pay the prices the producers of food want for said food; if they could pay those prices for their food there wouldn't be a problem. It currently takes a rather ridiculous degree of social and policy engineering to work around the aid recipients' inability to pay the going rates for food: special tax status for charitable organizations, special tax deductions for various sorts of in-kind and monetary donations, multiple distinct sources of administrative overhead in the public and private sectors (to verify food aid eligibility; to run the private food banks, both operationally, administratively, and financially; to go out and raise funds for those charities; to design and implement the food stamp processing infrastructure; to spot-check and prosecute food-stamp fraud of various kinds; promotional budgets to promote the awareness of these programs to the eligible recipients and to promote the awareness of these programs to potential donors and volunteers; cottage industries of conferences and guides to navigating the legal and practical landscape of such programs; I could go on...).

All this effort is in service of what I'd consider to be a reasonable cause, but it's all effort that's only necessitated because, well, the targeted recipients don't have money to buy food at the market price. Just looking at it in terms of "what % of spent money goes to actual aid" misses most of the real cost, which is opportunity cost: even if a food bank is, say, 100% efficient by conventional metrics -- all donated resources directly translate into aid to the recipients -- there's still the opportunity cost borne by everyone involved, who could be doing something else instead; the aid workers could be doing productive labor or having fun; the recipients could do something else with their time beyond shuffling from soup kitchen to soup kitchen to shelter; you get the idea.

Applied broadly -- food banks, homeless shelters, clothing banks, retirement assistance, unemployment benefits, WIC, SBP, SFSP, SNAP, NSLP, food stamps, workfare, welfare, EITC, etc. -- address important problems but impose nontrivial overhead in both real terms and in harder-to-measure things like opportunity cost; moreover, many of those supplementary costs will likely only ever continue to increase due to Baumol's cost disease.

It's looking through this lens that the programs like the BIG start to seem like common-sense: poor people are poor for a variety of reasons, but the problems of being poor are almost exclusively direct or indirect consequences from having inadequate funds. Solve that problem and those who are capable of pulling themselves up will do so, the rest will remain the rest, and will be dealt with however they'll be dealt with, perhaps with a smaller social safety net, perhaps left for the hyenas...and regardless of what's done with them, the deadweight loss of testing elgibility and administering a patchwork of benefits, tax deductions, etc., will be redirected to more-productive endeavors.

In any case, since you like analogies to nature, I will in closing explain to you a fact of which you seem ignorant: are you aware that there is what is effectively a free energy source raining an approximately constant supply of energy upon every square meter of the surface of the earth? And that there is an entire *kingdom* of extremely lazy lifeforms -- many of them entirely sessile, from birth until death! -- that have evolved around capturing this something-for-nothing?

I mean they are admittedly an easy thing to miss -- being sessile, they do tend to blend into the scenery, and are easy to forget about -- but they're there, they're everywhere, and despite their general laziness they do indispensably interact with life's other kingdoms in countless ways.

I mention this fact not in support of the BIG, but merely as a bit of friendly advice: nature is a rich and splendidly varied thing, comprised of such florid diversity as to confound anyone who'd try and draw out of it any simple moral; thus if you find yourself tempted to make an argument from nature -- if you think that you have pinned nature down well enough that what it says must conform to the point you're hoping to make -- it's prudent to stop, smell the flowers, and make sure that in your excitement you haven't missed the forest for the dingos.
posted by hoople at 2:31 PM on August 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd bet my left nut that you'd see over 50% voluntary unemployment, particularly considering voluntary "under"employment, people doing 8-10 hours a week just for the change of pace.

Even laying aside all of the actual evidence that you are wrong about this, so what if it's true? How many people do we really need doing the stupid bullshit jobs they are doing now? Probably not as many as you think!
posted by adamdschneider at 8:37 PM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Basically, my point boils down to "work or die" as the default condition of the universe. Yes, modern life has largely shielded us from that reality

But "modern life" isn't something that just happened to us. We built it piecewise out of social institutions and labor-saving technologies, and we did this precisely so that we could have better lives than those offered by the "default condition of the universe".

To argue that a new organizational form is unlikely to work merely because it's different from how things are is to deny any possibility of meaningful social change. Since examples of meaningful social change are everywhere it should not be difficult to identify such arguments as non-starters.

The best way to figure out whether an untried organizational form is useful or not is to try it out and then check whether its benefits outweigh its costs. If it (or something like it) has already been tried out, so much the better - we can get information about it without even needing to commit resources to our own trials.

Innovative public policy often succeeds where widespread intuition says it shouldn't, and most such successful policies involve an increase in society's willingness to put "fluffy" notions like decency, fairness and justice ahead of "realistic" notions like the innately primitive nature of the black man or the manifestly inadequate physical strength of women or the self-evident moral turpitude of the poor. The fact of their counter-intuitive success says quite a lot about the inadequacy of intuition as a guide to good public policy.

So I'm completely unmoved by what you would or would not bet your left nut on. What I'm interested in is actual evidence about whether, in places and times where a BIG is or has been in operation, it results in a net social benefit.
posted by flabdablet at 9:39 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heh. I forgot about that colorful little expression of certitude. I can't help thinking, given the evidence already available, that we are owed a left nut.

Insert pound of flesh jokes here.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:26 AM on August 13, 2012


« Older The Magazine of the Future   |   "Cats are a part of our life... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post