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November 14, 2017 3:33 AM   Subscribe

Free Money: The Surprising Effects of a Basic Income Supplied by a Tribal Government - "Thanks to a profitable casino, an Indian tribe gives its members sizeable cash payments."
posted by kliuless (30 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
As the richest people in America fixate on how to give money to the poorest

I hadn't noticed this happening.
posted by pompomtom at 4:32 AM on November 14 [50 favorites]


With Elon Musk and all these guys - what we should be asking them (and what any tech mefites with clout should be asking them) is why are working conditions in and around their own businesses so bad? Tesla has had race, labor and gender scandals. We all know that Google and Apple outsource their cafeteria work and so on to people who don't get benefits or regular hours. Why would I trust Elon Musk about basic income when he's happy to screw his own people? If these people had brought their cafeteria and janitorial work in-house (as, for fuck's sake, the University of Minnesota does) so that those people were spending good wages in their communities, I might trust them not to be big liars. Right now I think they're big liars.

Also, absent a revolution, the rich will never give basic income to working class people when those working class people are not immediately, materially necessary to their own well-being. Perhaps you have read CS Lewis's kids' book Prince Caspian? You know when the evil tyrant has a son of his own and no longer needs his brother's son as an heir of his house? He's all "murder time"! What I'm worried about when the robots arrive is only partially the loss of jobs, because I think that the people who control the robots are ultimately going to have very little reason to want a large population.
posted by Frowner at 5:10 AM on November 14 [34 favorites]


Yet another article raises far more questions than it answers. The question of whether "free money" payments have beneficial effects is the easiest to answer. The practical questions of a basic income, or even supplemental income, are far more complicated: How much is "basic"? Is less than basic worthwhile? Where does the money come from? Should it be means tested or tied to work/citizenship/residence? And so on.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:18 AM on November 14 [3 favorites]


The practical questions of a basic income, or even supplemental income, are far more complicated:

School vouchers presented the same challenge. Rand Corp. and MBA policy wonks could frame a grand design of 1) Close urban schools with fictional performance indices, 2) Open charters with sunset exceptions to codes and regulations (and push out unions), and yet compete for the same county funds seat by seat 3) Green light home schooling, and 4) Issue vouchers to foster the promise of free enterprise and for-profit, but fail to determine the value/valuation of vouchers. Hurricane Katrina presented a blank-slate scenario for New Orleans, and D.C. itself asserts its plausibility. 4) Zero for-profits demonstrate success beyond initial seed grants. 3) Homeschooling (characterized by religious exercise more than anything else) has mixed results, unsurprisingly. 2) I witnessed charters renting space from formerly closed public sites in Los Angeles county, but...Hey Hey #1 objective ACHIEVED.

Universal income needs a mechanism similar to schools to perform any similar slight of hand. That, or a helluva tax increase, kinda like single payer. Now this is a grotesque reduction and I enjoy MF for those that challenge such premise and attest to solutions of parts of problems within larger ones...
posted by lazycomputerkids at 5:49 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]


Also, absent a revolution, the rich will never give basic income to working class people when those working class people are not immediately, materially necessary to their own well-being.

Well, I think quite a lot of progress was made democratically through the hundred years up to the mid twentieth century. Granted the prospects look a bit different now. Somehow we got a couple of generations of shits in charge.
posted by Segundus at 6:19 AM on November 14 [3 favorites]


note effective tribal institutions helped (and are a precondition to) lift tribe members out of poverty: "Harrah's, which operates the casino, takes 3 percent of the $300 million annual profits. The bulk is funneled back into the community, covering infrastructure, health care for every tribal member, and the college education fund. Casino funds have paved roads and paid for a new $26 million wastewater treatment plant. Half of the profits go toward the per capita payments. The casino has become the tribe's most precious resource."
Still, if anything is to be learned from the Cherokee experiment, it’s this: To imagine that a basic income, or something like it, would suddenly satisfy the disillusioned, out-of-work Rust Belt worker is as wrongheaded as imagining it would do no good at all, or drive people to stop working. There is a third possibility: that an infusion of cash into struggling households would lift up the youth in those households in all the subtle but still meaningful ways Costello has observed over the years, until finally, when they come of age, they are better prepared for the brave new world of work, whether the robots are coming or not.
posted by kliuless at 6:34 AM on November 14 [9 favorites]


Also, absent a revolution, the rich will never give basic income to working class people when those working class people are not immediately, materially necessary to their own well-being. [...] I think that the people who control the robots are ultimately going to have very little reason to want a large population.

Capitalists will always want people around to buy the goods and services their machines produce. Ultrarich CEOs could all retire and live opulently off their wealth forever, and yet choose to continue running businesses and selling products because, I assume, they like the status it brings.

As far as a small population, I see no evidence that any of these people are content with "less" when "more" is an option. Sure, they could just sell goods and services to other 1% machine-owners. But from my experience with capitalism, they're unlikely to ignore potential profit to be gained from billions of people who could be eating at their restaurants or buying their smartphones or consuming their advertising but don't because no one has money.

I think we will reach a point where the rich CEOs think, "Shit, no one has money to buy anything I'm producing... how can I get someone else, like the government, to give them money so that they can in turn give it to me?"
posted by Emily's Fist at 7:17 AM on November 14 [5 favorites]


Or reach a point where the rich CEOs think, "I should buy a super-yacht". Billions of people on a subsistence level are exactly what's attractive to the production and distribution of consumer goods. A margin of a few pennies for a hundred million is listed on the same exchanges as a margin of a hundred dollars for ten thousand. Trans-nationals don't give a tinker's dam about nations; it's all about trans.

kliuless' snippet is what's significant to me-- assistance is not a panacea, but it is a humanity, and the circumstances of this casino and the lived experience of those within it pans out. But profitable casinos and conscientiously directed surpluses are not plans.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 8:25 AM on November 14 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some of the labor issues, especially regarding Tesla and SpaceX, are being overblown. I have no doubt that there is some truth there (every company of more than 20 people does, did, or will to some extent) but I also know that both companies are very threatening to the business models of many well connected established players.

Note that the stories crop up right alongside all the other naysaying hit pieces promulgated by shorts and competitors who are being left behind in mind share, even if not yet in market share.

And blaming Facebook for using contract janitorial services is like calling the fire department five years after your barn burned down. That shift started in the 80s and was basically complete by the early 2000s. It's just how it is done now. (Hence the gigantic national companies that do that contract work) It should definitely change, but it isn't particularly hypocritical, it's just the default now.
posted by wierdo at 9:35 AM on November 14 [2 favorites]


Why would I trust Elon Musk about basic income when he's happy to screw his own people?

Just like with WalMart, these companies and CEOs are perfectly happy to underpay their own folks and let the government take up the slack with food stamps, Obamacare, and what-not. Why pay your own people (or subcontracted employees) a living wage when you can have the government pay them a universal basic income?
posted by Slinga at 9:40 AM on November 14 [2 favorites]


It should definitely change,

Of all the hills to die on, insisting that Google is evil because they don't run their own cafeteria seems like one of the odder ones.
posted by jpe at 9:41 AM on November 14 [4 favorites]


The question is not "why doesn't Google run its own cafeteria", it's "why doesn't Google treat its support staff as well (relatively compared to the rest of their respective industries) as its engineers?"
posted by tobascodagama at 10:15 AM on November 14 [10 favorites]


The point about Musk and the googs, etc, is that these are the very Big Important Tech People who are, ostensibly, all about UBI. If you are about UBI as a way of getting more subsidies so you can underpay your janitors - just as Walmart is about food stamps - or if you're about UBI but not interested in socially beneficial outcomes, I don't trust you one bit. If you're interested in socially beneficial outcomes, one of the very easiest things you can do is treat the actual people you actually employ with the same rights and dignities offered to the janitors at a public university. If you can't treat the people who clean your offices and serve your food with that minimum level of decency, I think you're a big hypocrite and whatever UBI you advocate will probably be garbage used to dismantle Medicare, etc.

Consider that these are workers that tech bros actually see every day, and they still don't give a shit. They can look right at cafeteria workers and know that they're making lousy wages with precarious hours and no benefits and still shrug. Or whine and complain like big spoiled babies when the workers try to get treated better.

As we know now, many of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are associated with the alt right, and we've known for a long time that pretty much all of them are opposed to unions. (Oh, unions might be all right in, eg, Malta or someplace, but nowhere that might actually affect their personal wealth.) We should take a very, very hard look at anything that they endorse, because they sure as fuck aren't endorsing it out of the goodness of their hearts.

Judge people by their actions at least as much as by their bloviations - all these guys have a fantastic opportunity to give their employees a "UBI" in the shape of a wage increase, or to improve their communities by bringing janitors and food service workers in-house, paying them adequately and providing them with benefits. They could, but they don't. They have enormous power and they can't even rise to the moral level of a paternalist Gilded Age robber baron.
posted by Frowner at 10:45 AM on November 14 [15 favorites]


(I mean, I don't like frequenting businesses where I know the workers are getting screwed. On a selfish personal level, it's a buzzkill to know that I'm doing something fun or at least useful based on the services of people who can barely afford to feed themselves. But that's not the response in Silicon Valley.)
posted by Frowner at 10:46 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]


The question is not "why doesn't Google run its own cafeteria", it's "why doesn't Google treat its support staff as well (relatively compared to the rest of their respective industries) as its engineers?"

This. It doesn't matter that they don't run their cafeteria; it matters that company policy is that non-coders basically can't be employees - they contract out for everything they can. If someone wanted to take down Google (and most of the other Silicon Valley tech companies), they could do it by hacking ADP and Agile1's payroll servers.

They could also be heavily disrupted, in the sense of "losing millions and several weeks of work," by changing contracting laws so that it's no longer viable to work that way. Taxes based on headcount of workers the buildings rather than specific employees; tax breaks based on benefits paid to headcount of workers in the buildings; requirement to cover certain benefits to all workers on a company site; a shift in the way liability is interpreted; a lawsuit ruling that NDAs are non-transferable and that contractors are only required to keep their employers' secrets, not those of their location assignment, and so on.

The hard part for me is figuring out why they pay the extra for the contractors; it's not like they don't have the infrastructure to manage those services themselves. It can't be liability issues; they're not at greater risk if they officially give the orders. It's not cost; they're paying somewhere between 5 and 20% on top of the wages those people are already getting. All I can think of, is that they want to say "all real Google employees are genius hacker college rockstars. Other people work here, but they're not real googlers."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:48 AM on November 14 [6 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some of the labor issues, especially regarding Tesla and SpaceX, are being overblown. I have no doubt that there is some truth there (every company of more than 20 people does, did, or will to some extent) but I also know that both companies are very threatening to the business models of many well connected established players.

It's interesting that the first reaction to "hey, a group known for shitty labor policies is continuing to have shitty labor policies in their new ventures" for some people is to question the veracity of the story.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:44 AM on November 14 [2 favorites]


Did you just wake up from a years long nap and miss the increasing prevalence of fake news and blatant propaganda? Business disputes are now played out by proxy in the media using wedge issues in precisely the same way it happens in politics, only with even less oversight.

If we're sniping at each other and questioning the motives of those who agree with us on the issue, there's not a chance in hell we can be organized enough to actually make a UBI happen.

As I said earlier, companies outsource non-core functions because that's just how it's done now. It is literally the default, since it is hammered into people in MBA courses. Some economist decided that it should be so, textbooks were rewritten and here we are.
posted by wierdo at 12:20 PM on November 14 [1 favorite]


Did you just wake up from a years long nap and miss the increasing prevalence of fake news and blatant propaganda? Business disputes are now played out by proxy in the media using wedge issues in precisely the same way it happens in politics, only with even less oversight.

Odd, when I apply Occam's Razor, I get "people who have shitty labor positions continue to hold them in new ventures" as the response. Why is it hard to believe that Musk isn't as enlightened as you thought?

If we're sniping at each other and questioning the motives of those who agree with us on the issue, there's not a chance in hell we can be organized enough to actually make a UBI happen.

The point is that they don't actually agree with us, as seen by how they conduct themselves when nobody is looking.

As I said earlier, companies outsource non-core functions because that's just how it's done now. It is literally the default, since it is hammered into people in MBA courses. Some economist decided that it should be so, textbooks were rewritten and here we are.

And your point? What people are pointing out is that "the way things are done" runs opposite to the values they supposedly profess, so either they should act in accordance with those values, or acknowledge that they don't actually believe in them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:52 PM on November 14 [1 favorite]


The hard part for me is figuring out why they pay the extra for the contractors [...]

While I have no insider knowledge of why my employer uses contractors, I'd imagine companies do it for non-core activities because it's convenient. Google and Facebook aren't experts in catering or janitorial services. They could become experts, but it would be a distraction from writing code and selling ads. Easier to just pay a little extra to another company and not have to worry about it.

Analogy: You and I would probably spend less on vegetables if we grew them ourselves instead buying them from the grocery store. But most of us aren't experts in growing vegetables and becoming an expert would be a distraction from what we really care about (family, work, reading Metafilter). It's easier to pay a little extra to the grocery store for veggies and not have to worry about it.
posted by Triplanetary at 1:35 PM on November 14 [7 favorites]


The hard part for me is figuring out why they pay the extra for the contractors [...]

So, back when I was managing buildings, everything was contracted out, and everything was a line item. When it came time to scale back on the budget, it was easier for management to say to the vendor "we'll cut back on your janitorial services from 3x/week to 2x/week" or "we'll defer that plumbing maintenance another three months", or to ask the vendor to cut their contracted rate by 5 or 10%, rather than having to face cutting a direct employees' hours, or having to do layoffs. It's easier, from management's perspective, to ask a vendor to cut costs, knowing that either the vendor will do it, or that a new vendor can be found. It sucks for the vendor employees, who feel the brunt of the costs by reduced hours or lower wages (or lack of raises or benefits) but it's what good capitalists do.

Circling back somewhat to the article, I would not be surprised at all to learn that Harrah's is contracting out services to vendors like ABM, or to plumbers or landscapers or catering companies that provide restaurant staff. Though in that case I would expect that their contract, by virtue of the partnership agreement with the tribe, would say that their vendor's staff must be x% tribal members.
posted by vignettist at 1:57 PM on November 14 [4 favorites]


Marx says:
Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer... But looking at things as a whole, all this does not, indeed, depend on the good or ill will of the individual capitalist.
The problems with capitalism don't exist because capitalists just happen to be bad people. Price competition drives down wages (absent other factors). If all capitalists were nice people, they'd either have to lower wages and worsen conditions anyway, or go bust, or retire and get replaced by nasty people.

Some rich people are like Bill Gates and do give away large amounts of their money. More don't. Some are willing to argue for higher taxes for themselves, e.g. Warren Buffet. More don't. "A billionaire supports it" doesn't tell you much about whether an idea is good or bad.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:10 PM on November 14 [3 favorites]


If You Think Basic Income is “Free Money” or Socialism, Think Again is a pro-market apology for Basic Income containing the very persuasive line: "markets containing people who don’t have enough money to signal their demand can’t function properly".
posted by kandinski at 5:52 PM on November 14 [5 favorites]


In re Tesla: Tesla Class Action Suit Alleges Racism, Unsafe Factory Conditions. This is a class action suit with more than 100 workers involved and the harassment that they describe is not attractive - purposely using "n*****" to bait people, then bullying or hitting them if they got upset, for instance.

This stuff isn't false flags intended to divide us. It's extremely typical of people who perform socially progressive beliefs but who won't do anything to impact their bottom lines. When you're dealing with a person like that, and they're advancing ideas that are supposed to be "good for society", you should keep your hand on your wallet.
posted by Frowner at 8:42 AM on November 15 [2 favorites]


Analogy: You and I would probably spend less on vegetables if we grew them ourselves instead buying them from the grocery store. But most of us aren't experts in growing vegetables and becoming an expert would be a distraction

Yeah, but I feed 5 people, not 5000. I don't have the time to learn veggie gardening nor the money to buy and maintain a garden.

I get that "learn new industry" takes time, money, other resources - but right now, they're paying extra money to avoid having real control, presumably just so they don't have to deal with official Google employee janitors and cooks. I get that they "don't want the hassle" - this makes sense for a small company with limited resources; paying a premium for someone else's management helps them stay focused. But Google has the resources - physical location, corporate infrastructure, money to hire initial managers and get them set up - to switch their contractors to full employees and save themselves money in a year or two, after the setup costs balance off against the current cost of contracting.

I tend to mostly believe that the contractor industry is a form of union prevention; if the majority of your workers are technically hired by several different companies, it's impossible for them to organize.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:05 AM on November 15 [3 favorites]


If it weren't for kliuless quoting the article, it would have been possible to search through this entire discussion thread without finding the words Cherokee or Indian.

Something really fascinating is happening in Indian Country, a bit of that not-evenly-distributed-yet future. But instead we get the same tedious voices saying the same tedious things as in every other economics-related FPP. Blah blah "tech bros."

It was discouraging to read that even Universal Basic Income's advocate, Chris Hughes, believes that it would have to be "workfare" to pass in the USA. The Eastern Band of Cherokees distributes its stipend checks to everyone with no strings attached. Yet plenty of its recipients take jobs to supplement that income; I would argue that it's easier to do so when your basic needs are assured. But it's also true that many of the tribal members are happy to grow up, marry, raise children, and become integral parts of a community entirely within the Cherokee Nation, with no imperative to defer happiness and invest that money for some imagined future elsewhere. This "tribalism" has always driven go-getter business-type Americans up the wall about Native people -- "why don't we privatize their reservations and terminate their dependent relationship with the federal government?!!" -- so I'm sure that if the BIA, rather than the council, were managing the BI distribution, it would come with a coercive stick alongside the carrot.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:15 PM on November 15 [10 favorites]


Something really fascinating is happening in Indian Country, a bit of that not-evenly-distributed-yet future. But instead we get the same tedious voices saying the same tedious things as in every other economics-related FPP. Blah blah "tech bros."

Everyone ought to favorite your comment because it's true. I'm taking it to heart.
posted by Frowner at 9:52 PM on November 15 [3 favorites]




And your point? What people are pointing out is that "the way things are done" runs opposite to the values they supposedly profess

What I'm saying is that it is often a case of inattention rather than intentional malice. If you start up a company and you're not really focused on HR and janitors and facilities management and all that what will happen is that you will hire people to fill those roles/contract out whatever is needed and chances are they've been through the b school indoctrination and absent specific direction will just do things the way they were taught.

Years go by, the company becomes successful thanks to your singular focus on the product, and by then bad systems are entrenched in the business and need to be dealt with, but have gained a lot of inertia in the interim. It being harder to steer the bigger ship, it takes a while to get things where they should be, assuming the sick systems even come to light.

A real change to startup culture (and I don't just mean techbro startups, I mean anyone starting a business that has a chance to grow into more than self employment) is needed to nip these issues in the bud before they get entrenched. Shifts in society itself help, of course, since over time values change and are integrated into everyone's thinking, but business can't wait until misogyny and racism and discrimination in general eventually die off.

Founders need to take responsibility for setting a positive tone and good example from day one. They also need to provide direction to their newly organized departments to ensure they foster a sense of teamwork and equality and impress upon them that ethical behavior in all of the business' activities is of paramount importance, even if it comes at some financial cost.
posted by wierdo at 6:14 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]


Intention. Doesn't. Fucking. Matter.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:20 PM on November 20


It does if you stop to consider that a significant fraction of the management class has been essentially brainwashed. Changing the way business and finance are taught is the only real way to tackle the problem in that part of society.

However, more immediately we can pressure executives to provide direction on these issues to the entire business, set clear goals, and ensure they are met. We can pressure VCs and incubators to make sure they impress upon those they fund/support need to focus on these issues in addition to their core business and refuse continued support to those who fail to follow through to prevent the next Uber.

But in the end, little will truly change to the point we can relax until schools change what they teach and staff turnover brings those lessons out in the wider world. Unfortunately, the far right has largely taken over B schools nationwide. It is their lessons of economic theory and management that have been pushed for the past 30 years now.
posted by wierdo at 7:54 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]


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