The Social Construction of Money (Wealth/Capital in the 21st Century)*
September 19, 2014 3:45 PM   Subscribe

The political economy of a universal basic income: "your view of what is feasible should not be backwards looking. The normalization of gay marriage and legalization of marijuana seemed utopian and politically impossible until very recently. Yet in fact those developments are happening, and their expansion is almost inevitable given the demographics of ideology... UBI — defined precisely as periodic transfers of identical fixed dollar amounts to all citizens of the polity — is by far the most probable and politically achievable among policies that might effectively address problems of inequality, socioeconomic fragmentation, and economic stagnation."

also btw... ---
*scroll down for CRS's Piketty review! (stay while the algae grow in your fur ;)
posted by kliuless (60 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
There's no reason to say you couldn't implement a UBI with benefit reductions, though - in fact, I've heard that proposed as one of the most compelling reason to embrace a UBI, that it would eliminate the benefit programs and replace them with less costly UBIs. Dolan dismisses them in his early paragraphs, but doesn't explain why, precisely.
posted by corb at 3:49 PM on September 19, 2014

Call me a cynic, (everybody else does) but even if this were remotely politically feasible I see universal income only deepening the exploitation of undocumented immigrants in the USA.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 4:04 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am increasingly intrigued by work and the way in which it has been made a shibboleth of politics. In the UK, we are pretty much guaranteed a decade or more of further austerity, in the name of focussing the state safety net on 'hard-working families' - while being presented with the spectacle of people (most definitely including hard workers) from a decent life by government-sponsored wage deflation and the increasing impossibility of getting state aid without conforming to punitive conditions regardless of need.

The idea that people should expect a minimum standard of life regardless of whether they conform to societal norms of 'productive work' isn't quite thought crime, but it's close. Because we're a very poor society and can't afford to spend meagre resources on the undeserving.

And yet, we do not all need to work. There is not that much work that needs to be done. We are, I note, heading towards a global population of between 9 to 11 billion people. Assuming they - we - can be fed, clothed, housed, doctored, educated and entertained by a small cadre of people tending a large body of machinery, then making them - us - 'work' is a recipe for madness.

There have to be ways for people to do things they want to do, especially when they're for the good of the whole - the old 'who builds the hospitals?' question for anarchists - but any reasonably intelligent, imaginative adult can think of plausible systems that do this. It's much harder to escape the notion that politics and capitalism both depend on creating and manipulating, rather than reducing, needs and fears, and here I am at a loss. (I feel this particularly strongly at the moment, seeing as I'm in Edinburgh and seething with the fires of a thousand suns over the death of a dream through establishment mendacity, but forgive me.)

Incidentally, the first time I came across the idea of UBIs was in (I think) Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, where the idea was called the citizen's stipend. If not Flow.. then it was another PKD novel. I think that guarantees it will happen, but in a really bad way.
posted by Devonian at 4:10 PM on September 19, 2014 [30 favorites]

Where is the heresy for a reasonable person?

Should shelter be rationed in a society of plenty?
Should healthcare be rationed in a society of plenty?

When we admit the rights of everyone to benefit from the society in which they live, none of this seems controversial. No-one is advocating that the UBI be the limit of your aspirations, rather it is the base camp from which you start your ascent. You can climb as high as you like in the knowledge that if you have to abandon the ascent, you can retreat to a place of safety, gird your loins, and try again.

Really, in the 21st Century OECD, does that seem an outrageous proposition?
posted by Jakey at 4:28 PM on September 19, 2014 [16 favorites]

Normalizing gay marriage is just a matter of people realizing that everyone is capable of love.
Legalizing marijuana has been coming for some time now. We've grown past the BS and racist propgaganda that made it illegal in the first place. We've realized that people enjoy feeling good and will partake of alcohol, caffeine, and multitude of other drugs, including marijuana.

In the end legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage has little effect on the the average person in America and what effect it may have will usually be positive.

Many Americans will see their tax dollars going to support people who chose not to work because of the UBI be highly upset. It may very well be that their taxes haven't actually gone up thanks to the elimination of all other welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc,etc but many people will probably see it as a personal attack on their money.

Not to say people won't eventually be willing to experiment with it. Hasn't been done on a large scale yet, but anything is possible.

I just think the people will accept drug and marriage laws as less important due to little personal impact but will see UBI as costing them personally (correctly or incorrectly).

I would assume if the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer and the middle class being pushed and pushed and pushed the pendulum could swing to an acceptance of the idea of UBI.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:32 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not to be the turd in the punch bowl, but do these discussions ever include population control or lack thereof? 'Coz I would think that would have a pretty large effect on long-term outcomes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:36 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Not to be the turd in the punch bowl, but do these discussions ever include population control or lack thereof? 'Coz I would think that would have a pretty large effect on long-term outcomes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:36 PM on September 19 [+] [!]

Explosive population growth is a thing that happens under patriarchal systems. A livable UBI for every man and woman would go a long way toward ending male supremacy, and thereby would itself help control overpopulation.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:46 PM on September 19, 2014 [26 favorites]

For as long as we equate work with morality, we won't have any justice in the world. At least, not in the USA. The idea that everyone needs to work is so thoroughly ingrained here that saying the opposite sounds like literal nonsense to most people.

Capitalism: ruining everything since the first person decided they owned property.
posted by cthuljew at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2014 [15 favorites]

Explosive population growth is a thing that happens under patriarchal systems. A livable UBI for every man and woman would go a long way toward ending male supremacy, and thereby would itself help control overpopulation.

Intriguing. Cites?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:50 PM on September 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

"in fact, I've heard that proposed as one of the most compelling reason to embrace a UBI, that it would eliminate the benefit programs and replace them with less costly UBIs."
A UBI isn't going to magically turn every single person into someone 100% capable of taking care of themselves forever and ever. Many people need help because they simply can't take care of themselves to varying degrees and for varying reasons. A UBI won't make these reasons go away. Even those who can take care of themselves are still going to have to deal with occasional catastrophic and expensive life events that a UBI will not be sufficient to cover and absorb.

Safety nets and the programs that create them will continue to be necessary to assist people in need regardless of whether or not there is a UBI. There'd probably an overall reduction of associated costs but certainly no elimination of services.

The idea of a UBI shouldn't be interpreted as a permit to abandon all your responsibilities toward the rest of society.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:01 PM on September 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

ZenMasterThis, I would assume the cites for a lowered population would come from free healthcare (thus free birth control) and access to higher ed; both of which have the documented effect of lowering birth rates.
posted by emjaybee at 5:06 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Problem is there's a lot of people like my father out there. He doesn't want any of 'his money' going to people who are undeserving (according to him or Fox News). He's really rather 100 people suffer because there was 1 person who was fraudulently benefiting than just accept that as a cost. The UBI would just make this worse, his money was going towards people who didn't earn it? That's communist talk and everyone knows communism is just a step away from turing us into ants. If they want something they should have been born white and fairly wealthy in the '40's just like he was!

It's sad and I don't know what ever to say. I think some people lack some amount of empathy or something. People can be so toxic, and would rather most drown than an undesirable end up on the raft.
posted by Carillon at 5:15 PM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Forget entertaining moralistic arguments about the necessity of work for human dignity, I'm not certain UBI will be enough unless it's enough to make all labor essentially voluntary. Especially if the vast majority of recent job creation occurs in occupations well below the median hourly wage. We all have to live here, and making household formation increasingly difficult for those who must support themselves with wages earned through labor isn't a formula for harmony and unity.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:20 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

If everyone got the UBI, would that mitigate some of the "my money goes to Those People" feeling, though? Like Social Security; you don't hear nearly as much against it, in itself, because everyone looks forward to getting that check eventually. The gripes you do hear is that we can't sustain it (which is only because the very richest have weaseled out of paying their proper tax, otherwise we can fund it quite well).

The problem for conservatives is that the success of their agenda has created more poverty and fewer folks who have anything whatever to lose. The people who would normally be protective of their savings no longer have savings.
posted by emjaybee at 5:22 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not to send the thread off on a tangent, but google female education fertility rates for an assortment of info on the whole "patriarchal society population growth" thing.
posted by whistle pig at 5:24 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

UBI wouldn't be funded by the 1%; they'd make sure it'd be funded by households with 6 figure yearly incomes. But here's the problem: A household with $100K yearly income has the some monthly surplus after expenses as a household with $25K/yr. UBI doesn't stand a chance until the well off start feeling well off. And that won't happen until they stop spending their money like idiots. Noblesse oblige is for people who aren't carrying credit card debt.
posted by klarck at 5:30 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

because everyone looks forward to getting that check eventually.

Well, everyone that has worked and paid into the system. That was FDR's genius: it's not a welfare system.
posted by jpe at 5:35 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I thought there was already a light at the end of the population growth problem, aren't the rates of population growth slowing? Isn't this attributed to improvements in the quality of life of the average person? Not saying things aren't going to get tight but in 20-30 generations we are going to have real problems with lack of population, going at our current rate.

UBI stands no chance whatsoever, ever, I think the average person is actually not a bad person at all but the average person isn't a person who has any real power.
posted by Cosine at 5:36 PM on September 19, 2014

Was the interfluidity link in the OP sposed to go to this?
posted by jpe at 5:44 PM on September 19, 2014

The first link is to the wrong article... here is the right one

Problem is there's a lot of people like my father out there. He doesn't want any of 'his money' going to people who are undeserving (according to him or Fox News). He's really rather 100 people suffer because there was 1 person who was fraudulently benefiting than just accept that as a cost. The UBI would just make this worse, his money was going towards people who didn't earn it?

Just think how many people would be in your father's camp if there was a significant income distributional transfer via a "basic income." That's the basic political economy of the BI. Which is why all sorts of crypto-conservatives are in favor of it, particularly in exchange for the liquidation of the remnants of the social welfare infrastructure.
UBI is the least “statist”, most neoliberal means possible of addressing socioeconomic fragmentation. It distributes only abstract purchasing power; it cedes all regulation of real resources to individuals and markets. It deprives the state even of power to make decisions about to whom purchasing power should be transferred — reflective, again, of a neoliberal mistrust of the state — insisting on a dumb, simple, facially fair rule. “Libertarians” are unsurpisingly sympathetic to a UBI...
steve waldman lists all of the reasons why the political economy of the BI is terrible if you are a leftist... but somehow sees them as strengths. it's baffling.
posted by at 5:47 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm not particularly enamored of the libertarian alleged-fellow-travelers who couple the idea of a universal basic income with a defunding of the social safety net. Of course we need a universal basic income, of course we need the social safety net, and of course we need a single-payer medical system. The UBI is one leg of a three-legged stool.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:52 PM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

So how much would a proposed UBI be in the United States?
posted by Quilford at 7:12 PM on September 19, 2014

... how much you got?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:16 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

$20, same as in town
posted by blue t-shirt at 7:16 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Speaking of people receiving money for not working, there's already something like that in place. Passive income. Enjoyed by at least 1% of the population.
posted by landis at 7:24 PM on September 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

I do really love how red the blue is these days.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:03 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

For anyone wondering, the first link does not actually go to 'The political economy of a universal basic income.' Instead it links to the intersection of politics and inflation policies. I do wish the correct article had something to say about inflation, because there may well be inflationary effects that hinder UBI's goals.

The general funding model of UBI is presumably to increase tax modestly for some set of the population, produce a strong negative tax for a very small population, and provide insurance for everyone should they suddenly find themselves in that population. The exact dimensions of that carve out -- how big the base is, where the cutoff between taking out and paying into lies, or where any cap on premiums paid for this insurance might lie-- don't matter much to me, but there could be some unintended consequences of the policy in general.

For example, you might think of UBI not just as a floor on income, but on rents. It's rare to see large surplus of rental properties (while a few cities experienced huge growth in housing stock, these are neither affordable nor transportable to the markets where they're now needed), so an increase in renters for the lowest segment of the rental market should raise rents. And while those in already in that market can look to move up the rental ladder, they'll be bidding against someone else with the same UBI grant, only slightly diminished by the tax. How much of UBI would be consumed by rents, under this scenario? Would the stipend be the new zero?

In the long term one hopes the market would increase supply to match increased demand. Supply of low income housing would raise to meet demands. But even without UBI, the Vancouver / SF threads suggest it might not be possible; the cheapest housing is often the oldest, and it's difficult to construct new old apartments.
posted by pwnguin at 8:10 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

And while those in already in that market can look to move up the rental ladder, they'll be bidding against someone else with the same UBI grant, only slightly diminished by the tax. How much of UBI would be consumed by rents, under this scenario? Would the stipend be the new zero?

Index that shit to inflation. Radical wealth redistribution is the point.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:14 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

You Can't Tip a Buick: "Index that shit to inflation."

Nuh, uh. Can't do that. That may actually solve the problem even out into the long term.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:39 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

InsertNiftyNameHere: "Nuh, uh. Can't do that. That may actually solve the problem even out into the long term."

Wouldn't it just make landlords ever increasingly rich?
posted by pwnguin at 8:56 PM on September 19, 2014

It'd eventually completely flatten (level?) income distribution, if done at the proper pace.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:44 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hyperinflation is freaking great. Benefits debtors, humbles creditors. It's the next best thing we've got to a jubilee.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:25 AM on September 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Radical wealth redistribution is the point.

This is right, which is why the interfluidity argument that UBI is politically feasible is wrong. (Even putting aside the budgetary impossibility)
posted by jpe at 5:08 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

And yet, we do not all need to work. There is not that much work that needs to be done.

Every job at my (small) company is completely unnecessary. I would even go so far as to say that the existence of the (much larger) company that comprises our entire income stream is also total bullshit. It all exists because of insanity.

Down with direct democracy!

Yeah, money is democracy. You sure nailed that one.

(Even putting aside the budgetary impossibility)

Says who?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:11 AM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree that a universal basic income is necessary. Everything about the world economy is pointing to a future that's not going to require all the workers that we have available, and it's been obvious for years that there's just not going to be enough work for everyone.

I just don't think it's going to happen. Not because of the red-state stalwarts making sure their money doesn't go to anyone who actually needs it, not because of leftover anti-commie rhetoric from the 50s.

The wealthy just aren't going to give up their money.

We can argue all day about how much sense it makes, how it'll be better for them in the long run, how the economy they depend on runs on the consumers they'll be funding. In the end, the motivations of the wealthy come down to one thing, and that's greed. It's what got them where they are, after all. If you're looking for the defining trait that's most universal to the 1%, greed is it.

Yes, there are ultra-rare exceptions. They won't matter.

We're asking them to give up a portion of their money for the betterment of all humankind. Can anyone come up with a historical example of this ever happening without force being involved?

We're voting on the resolution to bell the cat. Until we can figure out how to make the wealthy give up a portion of their astonishing gains over the last century, the next century is going to be pretty destitute. The idea that the very people who've spent a huge quantity of time, money, and power in setting the global system up so that they can accumulate an obscene amount of money and power are going to just turn around and give it away is ludicrous.

They've got the money and the power to be able to shield themselves from the worst of the wreckage they've created. They won't care how bad it gets outside of their walled enclaves and heavily-guarded vineyards. There's not a big government in the world that doesn't support them, that won't call out troops to defend them. After all, they run the governments.

They've stolen most of what the world had to offer. And now we're approaching them timidly, wooden bowl in hand, begging to just get enough of a pittance to live on.

They're going to say no.
posted by MrVisible at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

So how much would a proposed UBI be in the United States?

If I were proposing it, it would start at six bucks a week and rise by 50c/week every month.

So let's call the population of the US a third of a billion in round figures. The starting UBI would be $300/year each, which comes to $100B. The raises jack that up by $100B/year, so after a decade the UBI would be costing the Budget about as much as the present quantitative easing program does. It ought to be comparably stimulatory, so I'd also propose winding back the QE program to fund it before looking at increasing income taxes.
posted by flabdablet at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2014

I suppose the only option is to invent and implement social structures that make money power as obsolete and irrelevant as aristocratic power, it's just that:
  1. that's really hard.
  2. they invented that trick themselves, and so are always on the lookout for people trying to do it to them.
Project Cybersyn, which I really should do a front-page post about one of these days, was a goofy, Star-Trek-looking attempt to run an economy on something more like nontransferable votes rather than transferable money, and even that cheerful, silly piece of retrofuturism was enough to provoke the US into murdering Allende and stealing Chile.

The UBI is something that could make us free, really free, free enough to tell every boss "no, thanks, I'll decide what to do myself." And so it will probably never happen.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:58 AM on September 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

And so it will probably never happen

And the star-spangled banner
in triumph shall wave
o'er the land of the fleeced
and the home of the slave!
posted by flabdablet at 9:22 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

pwnguin: And while those in already in that market can look to move up the rental ladder, they'll be bidding against someone else with the same UBI grant, only slightly diminished by the tax. How much of UBI would be consumed by rents, under this scenario? Would the stipend be the new zero?

I personally like the idea of funding a UBI by eliminating the home mortgage deduction and introducing a national land value tax. It seems like it will be necessary to prevent the broader distribution of wealth from getting absorbed by real estate speculators.

I'm actually fine with the idea of having a division in society between investors and non-investors, as long as the investor class isn't driving up living costs by speculating on the basic commodities we need to survive. The housing bust taught us that trying to coerce non-investors into joining the investor class only transfers more wealth and power to the people who were members in the first place. Taxes are a better way to manage that class division.
posted by droro at 9:24 AM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like the idea of a raising demand in the economy by putting money to work. The problem is that it also supplies addicts of all stripes with the cash they need, especially gamblers. The solution is obviously digital, allowing a card to be issued to a person, but where the vendors are also signed on to sell the items. Once the card is in place, things can innovate from there. A system can be designed to allow someone to buy encouraged items, like new brakes or a bag of apples, at an on-the-spot discount, depending on the income status of the individual. Economists and algorithms would then tinker with the discounts to maximize total economic efficiency.
posted by Brian B. at 9:55 AM on September 20, 2014

Hyperinflation is freaking great. Benefits debtors, humbles creditors. It's the next best thing we've got to a jubilee.

It also causes your national debt to evaporate! As long as your national debt is denominated in your own currency, that is. Thanks for letting us keep that ace up our sleeve, non-U.S. parts of the world!
posted by XMLicious at 10:00 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seriously, though, they've played a neat linguistic trick by using the same word, "inflation," to refer to both inflation driven by price increases (which is a miserable hell) and inflation driven by increased money held by workers (which is wonderful).
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:08 AM on September 20, 2014

ops, mods please hope me! jpe, and pwnguin are right, the correct link should be to 'The political economy of a universal basic income' and not 'Hard money is not a mistake' -- altho that's not a bad one to link to either (as is all of interfluidity!) -- where SRW links to four articles by max sawicky; hopefully i get these right :P
  1. In defense of social insurance - "It's a distraction from the need to defend really-existing social insurance and to attack the devolution of the safety net... The most tenable model to which we could aspire for a step forward in social progress is some version of social-democracy on display in Western Europe."
  2. Il Manifesto - "It is misleading when the UBI, the technical word for which is 'demogrant', is likened to other schemes that are fundamentally different, such as a negative income tax or an earned income tax credit or a social insurance program. Loose comparisons exaggerate the political plausibility of the idea and gloss over the technical difficulties of reconfiguring the existing system."
  3. Does the UBI need work? "Replacing some means-tested benefits with a UBI is not objectionable in principle. But then it wouldn't be a 'U'BI. How you do it becomes crucial. The pesky details tend to be glossed over in UBI philosophizing."
  4. MaxSpeak responds: "I totally disagree with the idea that jobs will be displaced by automation."
or basically along the lines of "we need to distinguish between the objective of ensuring a minimum standard of consumption for all persons and the specifics of a UBI... People need a basic income, so they need us to talk about the best ways to get it." ('us' being four people in a debate on UBI in case anyone was wondering ;)

so on that note re: the practicalities and feasibility of UBI -- wouldn't it all go to landlords/rentiers? what about inflation/bankrupting the state? how would you reconcile the worthy ideal of open-borders migration with a UBI? what about automation? etc. -- if nothing else, what i like about UBI is that it raises all these considerations about constructing a working welfare state! that is, in what context would it take to work? what are the obstacles to a 'a minimum standard of consumption for all persons' and how to remove them?

in particular to me what a UBI helps to highlight is the 'blue-sky thinking' allowed if one asks oneself: what if money was no object? because the crazy thing i'm coming to realize (call me crazy ;) is that it isn't!* it's just deeply ingrained in our collective austerian heads (speaking of a thielite 'thing that you believe is true that no one else does' that could change everything...)

so if money were no object what fun things could be accomplished?
  • not UBI, but say everyone had an account with the federal reserve or your local representative central bank (like all the too big to fail banks do) you could get rid of all of the banks and, when inflation -- representing a consumption basket -- is low and falling, boost aggregate demand by sprinkling everyone's accounts with fairy dust sweet, sweet digital cash! (or, if less imaginative, instead of TBTF fed accounts, you could have boring postal savings accounts and just practice some form of utility banking :)
  • infrastructure spending! how would you priortize tho? i'd like to think you could model it on and everyone could vote on their pet projects; think about if most everything teachers needed they could get and then multiply that by like free green energy for every school and in every neighborhood or whatever :P
  • then, if people needed/wanted jobs there would be job banks that could always be funded -- an employer of last resort -- or if people wanted to update their skills, abilities and general know-how, same again; just pay people to go to school and people to teach them for expanded educational opportunities for everyone (see Bolsa Família for example)
  • re: free housing, there could be gov't run projects shelters flophouses -- maybe like the green house project for the elderly? -- but again expanded to meet demand, and that's not even getting to universal health care (that people actually like...)
anyway, again this is just some blue-sky thinking where money is no object and maybe it is now, but it doesn't have to be and i think UBI helps us think about why, even tho i don't think that's the end of the conversation (i'd like to think it's just the beginning ;)


*under certain institutional conditions such as a working gov't, a given amount of technological progress (lowering energy and efficiency constraints) and scientific achievement (productivity growth), fiat reserve currency central banking (or maybe decentralized if bitcoin/blockchains become a thing) and the ongoing provision of 'safe asset' numéraire (premised on the former...)
posted by kliuless at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Six bucks a week? Gee, thanks for the shitty burrito, I guess. At that rate of increase, it would take over a decade and a half to reach the paltry sum of $100 per week, by which point probably inflation would make even that amount not incredibly helpful for most folks to tell their abusive bosses to shove it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The point of starting so low is that this is a fundamental structural reform and would have unforeseen side effects. Ramping it up over time rather than just lobbing it at the economy like a bomb would give it a chance to settle in and become part of the furniture. If it did turn out to do good things (which I personally expect it would), the ramp-up rate could easily be increased.

Politically, it seems to me that the major task has to be convincing the populace at large that a UBI, being progressively distributive, actually reduces the overall amount of money that society allows to flow into the pockets of the undeserving.
posted by flabdablet at 1:08 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I may have missed it, but I don't think anyone has mentioned the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, which pays each resident a sum each year— in recent years it's been $900 to $1200, but this year's is $1884. From the Wikipedia page, the main political effect seems to be that voters overwhelmingly want the dividends to continue.

(As for a nationwide basic income that's enough to live on, I think it's a great idea, but unlikely to be enacted before the head of Obama in a jar does it in 3014.)
posted by zompist at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Isn't the Alaska dividend paid by oil sales though, not taxes?
posted by corb at 6:07 PM on September 20, 2014

I would be astonished to find oil companies generously "redistributing" part of what they make unless compelled to do so. If I recall correctly, the Alaska dividend is derived from a resource rent tax.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

pwnguin: "Wouldn't it just make landlords ever increasingly rich?"

No. We were speaking about rents, but that's not the only thing the money would be spent on.

Are you are a landlord? I'm thinking yes.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:31 PM on September 20, 2014

Economists and algorithms would then tinker with the discounts to maximize total economic efficiency.

That work has already been done, and it turns out that the most economically efficient method for alleviating poverty is just giving poor people money.

The question of whether or not the poor are deserving is, like so many other important questions, external to economics.
posted by flabdablet at 1:24 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites] is the question of whether or not the rich are deserving, which to my way of thinking comes up far too infrequently.

It seems to me that any discussion about deserving vs undeserving poor ought to include some thinking about deserving vs undeserving rich as well. The word "redistribution" hides an implicit assumption that all personal wealth is inherently deserved, and I think that assumption is false in many many cases.

The economic question of what the market for CEO remuneration packages will bear is quite separate from the moral and political question of whether it is right and proper for anybody to have tens of thousands of times the whim-fulfillment power of the guy in the basement with the red Swingline.
posted by flabdablet at 1:40 AM on September 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

That work has already been done, and it turns out that the most economically efficient method for alleviating poverty is just giving poor people money.

What work has already been done?
posted by Brian B. at 6:49 AM on September 21, 2014

InsertNiftyNameHere: "Are you are a landlord? I'm thinking yes."

I don't even own the home I live in.

The majority of my assets are tied up in retirement accounts, which generally speaking are inflation neutral. Stocks will naturally buoy if the price level rises. And the bit XMLicious brings up about government debt (ie bonds) can be neutralized via Treasury Inflation Protected Securities which adjusts with the CPI.

If your Master Plan is to inflate my retirement assets away, it won't work very well. If the plan is some sort of rolling jubilee, the financial sector already has adjustable rate mortgages, and I see no reason they wouldn't come up with a similar tool for revolving debt, or simply refuse to lend. If the plan is to inflate until the homeless can afford rent, that's probably just outright impossible. Rent/Rent Equivalent makes up 30 percent or so of CPI.
posted by pwnguin at 10:32 AM on September 21, 2014

Man, UBI was one of those ideas that seemed really attractive to me when I first heard about it, and now it's an interesting intellectual game based on whatever details of the scheme are advanced by the person arguing for it. It probably wouldn't be able to replace our social welfare spending — the marginal return is much lower than the targeted investments — but it could be a powerful supplement toward economic freedom for a lot of people.

I guess on that note, I do come down to thinking like flabdabet: It could go a lot of ways, and I'd love for some state (Vermont?) to start doing it small-scale and demonstrate how it could work.
posted by klangklangston at 3:10 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let me make this easy for everyone: I'LL decide who gets what, and I pinky-swear that the self-interest of me and and my friends won't color my decision.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:19 PM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

An interesting thread on Hacker News poses the question of how, in the madcap modern world that neoliberalism gifted us, we can go back to having households with one main full-time worker. Basic income is cited as the only alternative to societal expectations, i.e. sexism. One wonders if a way to sell basic income to conservatives is to frame it as a way to revert to traditional gender roles. After it passes, fathers (of any orientation) would be just as free to use it.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:06 AM on September 26, 2014

Ideally, we should start shortening the work week gradually to transition more gracefully to a partially post-work society. We've seen welfare states create underclasses in the past, so the details of the implementation and transition are hugely important.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:51 AM on September 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

The talk about increasing rent etc. assumes a market breakdown.
If I have a small guaranteed income, I could well choose to live elsewhere where rents are peppercorn. I'm no longer tied to Vancouver/SF/London because that is where the jobs are.
And if I have a small income to cover essentials, I can happily pick up some temp work here and there to boost my income, and/or stretch it further by growing food, brewing beer, bartering, fishing etc.
People who value being in NY can continue to pay their high real estate costs and will still be forced to work to afford them, but a UBI gives a choice to those at the bottom of the pile to have a different existence.
And you can bet when some of them will move away to cheaper locales, the overall property market will moderate, which is positive for those who choose to stay.
There isn't even a need for the UBI to see this. People on Social Security in the USA often move to Florida, where the cost of living is a bit lower and the weather is nice. Giving them social security didn't force rents to rise particularly.
And where I live, people on long term welfare benefits for disability or similar tend to move to regional coastal towns where they can live a bit cheaper even though there is little work. Why not? It is economically rational to seek out lower cost of living if you have modest means. And a beachside town is pleasant place.
posted by bystander at 9:09 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

speaking of the social construction of money, i keep thinking about these passages in daniel abraham's _the widow's house_ :P everybody should be reading the dragon's path!

pg. 343
     "We've made a mistake. I've made it. And I think I see that the way to... well, not win. Nothing so straightforward as that. I think I see the way to start fighting the right battles."
     "We lost. Doesn't mean it was the wrong battle."
     "Battle's the wrong word. I should have said struggle or... oh, there aren't words for this. The mistake we made, that we all made, is thinking that we're fighting Antea. That we're fighting Geder."
     "All right," Marcus said, pulling the syllables out. "And who is it we're actually fighting, then?"
     "The idea of war."


     "Listen. In Porte Oliva, we thought of it as a normal war. The enemy came, and we prepared for a fight. And we fought. Even though we know that the spiders are there to make us fight, we still fought. This has been going on since the beginning of history. Geder wasn't there when it started. This isn't about him or Antea or me. This is Morade wrecking humanity by making us fight."
pg. 345
     Cithrin scratched her arm. "You know that the policy of the bank is never to give gold to kings, because they never repay the loan?"
     "That may be the only part of your trade that makes sense to me," Marcus said.
     "Yes, actually, that's a mistake. It's a bad policy, and I'm going to break it. I'm going to buy a permanent debt of the crown to the bank and an agreement from the king for modified letters of credit to make it circulable. Then when other kingdoms want the bank's holdings, we have a precedent, and the Medean bank is at the center of all those agreements. With royal edicts to back us and existing business partners whom we can run at an advantage, we can build enough transferable letters to let us do... well, almost anything, really."
pp. 385-386
     The agreements were signed, King Tracian's signature and seal already in place. The wealth on the ships still not arrived at Carse had changed as if by a cunning man's trick. At the height of the day, it had been the capital of the Medean bank in Porte Oliva. Now at the evening, it was the property of the crown of Northcoast. Not hers any longer. She had traded it all for a parchment and a few hundred words.


     "That was it?" Marcus said by way of greeting.


     She felt a tug of pity for him. "That was it, and it was enough," Cithrin said.
     "I owe Yardem a beer. You owe me a beer. So you buy him one and we're all square?" Marcus said. "That's the magic that's supposed to let you defeat Geder Palliako in the field? Because it seems to me you've just given away a lot of gold."
     "I didn't give it away," Cithrin said, walking east. [...] "I bought something with it."
     "Tracian's goodwill isn't worth that much," Marcus said.
     "That isn't what I bought," Cithrin said. "I bought the crown's debt."
     "That's like owning an empty hole and the air to fill it with, from what I can see."
     "That's all he could see too," Cithrin said. [...] "He didn't understand the implications of what he was doing," Cithrin said.
pp. 410-413
     Komme Medean sat still, his calm radiating a rage so profound it made the stone of the walls, the wood of his desk, even the air itself seem fragile. [...] When Komme spoke, he shaped each word of its own, giving the syllables a careful and equal weight.
     "This is the greatest fraud in history."
     "This is a goldmine that will never run dry so long as there is ink," Cithrin said.
     Lauro's voice was thin and angry. He was older than Cithrin, and she could see that he knew he was supposed to be outraged without entirely certain why. "You gave away our money."
     "I did not," Cithrin said. "I changed the form of it. From coins and bars to letters that represent them and a royal proclamation that will give those letters the force of law. And exclusive rights to issue those letters in the name of the bank."
     "You gave our gold to the king," Lauro said. "We'll never get the gold back."
     "Exactly," Cithrin said. "Neither will anyone else."
     "Lauro," Komme said. "Be quiet. You're out of your depth."
     "You gained us nothing," Lauro went on, talking over his father. "So you can write letters against the debt. So what? How does that gain us anything?"
     Cithrin smiled. "We can write letters of transfer totaling more than the debt we're owed."
     Lauro opened his mouth, then closed it. "No we can't," he said. "The debt's only a certain size. If you write letters for more than that—"
     "A debt that will never be repaid can be whatever size we say it is," Cithrin said. "If we choose to put out letters for twice the sum, what difference will it make to the crown? Tracian was never giving up the coin anyway. We all know that. The merchants we're working with probably know that, but there's a royal order to pretend otherwise. If we need to pay someone from outside the kingdom, we can buy more gold at discount. Give the seller letters of transfer worth five tenthweights for every four tenthweights they provide. Who wouldn't take that exchange?"
     "And that makes it fraud," Komme said. "Without gold—"
     "Gold," Cithrin said, waving her hand. "What's gold? A metal too soft to take an edge. There's no power there. What makes gold important is the story we tell about it. All of humanity has agreed that this particular object has value, and then because we all said so, it does. The metal hasn't changed. It doesn't breathe, it doesn't bleed. It is what it was before. All we're doing is telling that same story about some letters we've written."
     "You are advocating that we tell people these letters can be exchanged for actual gold," Komme said. "You are obligating the crown to a greater debt than what we are owed—"
     "And it doesn't matter, because that debt will never be called," Cithrin said. "An obligation isn't an obligation if no one truly expects it to be met. And in the meantime, we can create markets that run on letters and do all the same things as markets that run on coin. Only now, instead of minting new currency by toiling in a mine and running ore through a smelter, we write it. If we need more money, we make it."


     "Antea can be beaten," Cithrin said. "The war can be brought to a halt. But it requires a great deal of money. More money than we had. Now we can decide now how much money we have. How much money there is to be had. We can hire mercenaries of our own. Pay the ones working for Geder to break their contracts. We can offer the farmers in Birancour and the southern reaches of Northcoast better prices for crops like cotton and tobacco, and when Geder's armies come, they'll starve. We can pay bounties. We can hire ships to carry weapons to Borja and the Keshet and arm Antea's enemies there. All it takes is money."
     "All it takes is gold," Komme said, but there was a tremor in his voice when he said it. Cithrin sat back in her chair. She'd made her arguments. Going over them again would gain her nothing. Komme Medean was a smart man, and one who understood contracts, wealth, value, and power. Given time, he would see the world through her eyes. Chana pressed a knuckle against her lips, staring at Cithrin as if she were a puzzle the woman could solve by an act of will.
     "If this fails," Chana said, and then left the sentence unfinished.
     Cithrin nodded. "If this fails, we will fall beneath the blades of Antea or be taken back to Camnipol and slaughtered by Geder's own hand. That hasn't changed. It isn't as though we're at greater risk that we were before."
     "And if we defeat Palliako and destroy Northcoast doing it?" Chana asked.
     Cithrin shrugged. "The world is burning. Anything that doesn't end in ashes is worth doing. And there's also the possibility that it doesn't fail. Perhaps instead, we shift what people think of when they think of money. Buying and selling with letters of transfer seems new and frightening to them now, but in three, four, five years, it will be commonplace. All of our partners and debtors will have been using them. The throne will have backed them for years. And when that happens, if that happens, we've become the keepers of the king's debt."
     "If we're the king's debt," Komme said, "then we're the king."
     Cithrin smiled.
     "Then we're the king."
pp. 418-420
     "Kit keeps trying to explain the trick to me," Marcus said. "Part of it, I follow. The other part of it just seems... well, I get lost. I see where getting people to take these bits of scribble instead of actual money lets you afford things you couldn't otherwise. I'm not clear on how that makes the world a place full of justice and equality and all."
     Cithrin looked at him. The light of the setting sun had burned into her eyes, and its afterimage obscured him. "Justice and equality?"
     "Stopping war's the point, isn't it? Not just this one, but all of them?"
     "I don't know about all of them, but this one. And making fewer others. But you've worked for me. Did you think we were making Porte Oliva just and equal?"
     "No offense, but that really wasn't the impression I took, no," Marcus said. "That's where the confusion comes in."
     "Do you recall Annis Louten?"
     Marcus scratched his chin, the stubble making a sandpaper noise against his nails. "He was the spice man, wasn't he? Came to you for a loan."
     "He was. And he repaid late, with penalties. The ship he invested in didn't come through, and he hadn't put insurance against it. He had to scrape and save and go without in order to keep us from taking his rooms and his stock. That's trade. Going to his rooms with the full guard and taking the same money at knifepoint? That's war. Both leave him just as low, just as poor. He did little to deserve either besides be unlucky. But in one, we take what we want under threat of death. In the other, he gives it because he agreed to.
     "If I manage what I hope, people will still starve. Families will still be broken. People who have done nothing wrong will still lose their livelihoods, their health, their homes. You've seen my trade. You don't have any illusions about what I do when a contract is broken."
     "Yes, but if someone's given their word, that justifies what comes after."
     "Justice," Marcus said.
     "There are as many definitions of justice as there are people making them. Justice is doing what you said you would do, or being forced to. Or justice is getting back what was taken from your family. Or justice is hurting the man who hurt you. Anyone who wants to make the world just has only to say what justice is first, and then impose it on everyone with a different thought. I don't care about that. I just want to keep people from burning each other's cities quite so often."


     Marcus let a long breath out from between his teeth.
     "The way you say it, money does the same thing a blade would," he said.
     "It's a tool, the way a blade is," Cithrin said. "But blades aren't my tools, and this is. The violence we do with a contract is the sort I understand."
also btw...
  • Let there be bubbles: "despite the cyclical recovery corporates don't seem to be investing all that much. In fact, according to King, declining capex may be a key aspect of secular decline, which he suggests began in advanced economies and is now spreading to emerging markets as well... because capex ain't what you need when the name of the game is artificial scarcity."
  • While central banks are doing their best to stimulate new credit creation, the lack of return prospects in the real economy means there is every likelihood it will continue to be channelled into financial assets instead. Macroprudential policies and regulatory constraints seem unlikely to prevent bubble formation; they may even exacerbate it by impairing shorting and the liquid operation of markets.
  • Too much competition, overcapacity - "The message here is that after a certain point more capex stops providing corporations with market edge and instead begins to destroy entire markets. Self-preservation instincts come into play, and corporations look to divert cash either to monopoly creation (M&A) and/or investor cash distribution for the sake of keeping stock prices supported and income forthcoming regardless of earnings potential... As long as you can continuously attract new blood for bleeding with the promise of returns, investors seem to be happy to look the other way when it comes to depreciation and/or burn-rates."
  • Unfortunately, most innovation in the new tech bubble area still seems to be focused on:

    –Getting customers to drop standards by accepting low-quality capacity at lower rates or to become the producer themselves (AirBnb);

    –Getting a small affluent/altruistic minority to do all of the work for the masses (Wiki, Bitcoin, media, entertainment);

    –Getting investors to subsidise the platforms and games we won’t pay for directly on the belief that it will eventually be possible to extract stealth charges elsewhere, or in the worst case scenario transform the users into the product (by means of data collection).
  • BitCon: The book - "Sadly, for the Bitcoin faithful — as well as all the other reasonable institutions that seem to have been taken in — the verdict is not good. Robinson reduces the entire phenomenon to a classic swindle. A small cohort of ruthless predators taking advantage, as usual, of the naive and gullible via a carefully constructed and asymmetrical myth, which happens to appeal to those of a certain persuasion, encouraging them to take leave of their senses entirely."
  • Yes, we agree, the idea of smart contracts is nifty, but we're not sure the smartness of contracts is in any shape or form dependent on blockchain technology.

    To the contrary, we suspect a lot of the "genius" of the blockchain lies in the way the system transfers the cost of clearing to users directly. It encourages people to police themselves rather than to rely on the services of a particular public or private authority of repute. The reason, consequently, why technologists and entrepreneurs love the "technology" (which is really a protocol) is because it allows them to build pyramids on the back of voluntary (instead of costly) slave labour...

    What you end up with instead is a system that depends on constant public scrutiny to deter non-compliance. But this introduces not only an incentive to dodge the inspection of the crowd — opaqueness via off blockchain transactions –but also the corruption of the scrutinising crowd.

    Which is why, for us, there is little sense in going from a system in which a single trusted intermediary of known repute (and which knows you) can verify what you are or are not entitled to, to a system in which you can’t partake even in a coffee transaction without the public at large judging that you have the right to the transaction.

    That's without pointing out the obvious: for a publicly distributed ledger to be a fair system you need the participation of the entire population at every transaction level. Yet the public is unlikely to have the time, the resources or the inclination to be bothered to participate to that scale. This leaves the judgment process open to the bias of participating judging agents.

    We guess it all comes down to whether you prefer a system that uses a common entity that everyone knows and trusts to judge what you are entitled to, or a faceless crowd of unknown repute, with an unclear agenda.
  • Bitcoin cognitive dissonance of the day, Bill Gates edition: "if Bitcoin payments seem cheap, it's only because the true cost of supporting the network is still being subsidised by the regular inflow of dumb money."
  • Mythbusting finance 2.0 - "So with the buyside wising up in this way, is it any surprise a new source of dumb money needs to be found for ventures that make no economic sense, but do encourage subservient tendencies to the new information overlords... A financial system that can maintain the rigid hierarchy of yesteryear by persuading the masses to pay for that classification with the cunning use of myth-making propaganda is so much cheaper than having to police it on a soul-to-soul basis."
  • The funny thing is we don't actually disagree with Andreessen that the old banking model is dying — note our Death of Banking series. We just think there's a difference between suggesting banks are becoming irrelevant because steady returns on capital can no longer be achieved without foreknowledge and/or manipulation of behaviour patterns with skilful public brainwashing, and killing off banks and replacing them in the top spot because you're better at manipulating behaviour patterns with skilful public brainwashing than they are.
  • It's a super market price war: "the ability to print money in hydrocarbon form exposes the oil industry more than any other (aside from banking and actual money printing, of course – Bitcoin, ahem) to the problem of greed-fueled overproduction. All of which means you need active monopolists (from Rockefeller, to the seven sisters to Saudi Arabia) to keep prices stable. Without that sort of collusion, not only do you risk a race to the bottom which undermines your ability to guarantee a return on your investment, it compromises future investment in the industry as well, without which supply stability becomes threatened. (Incidentally, the same applies to all entities that suddenly discover the ability to print money, hence the need for a banking cartel — also known as a central bank.) Is it time then to have grown-up conversation in powered up circles about the merits of forging an international energy cartel of Bretton Woods proportions? We think so. For those uncomfortable with the idea of organised but transparent collusion for the sake of defending stability and security, it's worth remembering that a conspiracy of doves is very different to a conspiracy of hawks. For the latter, see Bitcoin."
  • Thiel on the race to zero - "There are always going to be good monopolists and bad ones. Which probably means, in the long run, the best system is one that allows us both to protect ourselves from monopolies when they turn bad, but permits the good ones to flourish if and when they come about."
The Universal Basic Income As Social Insurance's Insurance
posted by kliuless at 1:50 AM on October 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

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