After Capitalism, Humanism
July 2, 2015 1:11 AM   Subscribe

Shared Prosperity, Common Wealth, National Equity and a Citizen's Dividend: Nirit Peled takes a look at social experiments in basic incomes for VPRO Tegenlicht, a Dutch public television documentary series. Starting with a German crowdfunded UBI chosen by raffle -- kind of like the opposite of Le Guin's Omelas (or Shirley Jackson's Lottery in reverse) -- the focus moves on to Albert Wenger who wants to disconnect work from income not only as automation progresses but to accelerate the process. Then it's on to Guy Standing who has conducted basic income experiments in India and Namibia (pdf) and is trying to get one off the ground in Groningen (Utrecht apparently is also a go). Finally, a stop in Alaska to ask some of its residents about their views on the state-owned Permanent Fund. This last part brings to mind the question: just what is wealth anyway?

Wenger hints that in an information economy, wealth is knowledge, but in a recent book Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order from Atoms to Economies, Cesar Hidalgo makes the connection explicit:
Information, when understood in its broad meaning as physical order, is what our economy produces. It is the only thing we produce, whether we are biological cells or manufacturing plants... So it is the accumulation of information and of our ability to process information that defines the arrow of growth encompassing the physical, the biological, the social, and the economic, and which extends from the origin of the universe to our modern economy. It is the growth of information that unifies the emergence of life with the growth of economies, and the emergence of complexity with the origins of wealth.

Yet the growth of information is uneven, not just in the universe but on our planet. It takes place in pockets with the capacity to beget and store information. Cities, firms, and teams are the embodiment of the pockets where our species accumulates the capacity to produce information. Of course, the capacity of these cities, firms, and teams to beget information is highly uneven. Some are able to produce packets of information that embody concepts begotten by science fiction. Others are not quite there.

So by asking what information is and why it grows, we will be exploring not only the evolution of physical order but that of economic order as well. We will be connecting basic physical principles with information theory, and also with theories of social capital, economic sociology, theories of knowledge, and the empirics of industrial diversification and economic development. By asking why information grows, we will be asking about the evolution of prosperity, about rich and poor nations, about productive and unproductive teams, about the role of institutions in our capacity to to accumulate knowledge, and about the mechanisms that limit people's capacity to produce packets of physically embodied information.
Or as Ramez Naam puts it in The Infinite Resource: "Wealth is pulling away from physical constraints. More and more, we're getting richer not by using more resources, but by using resources more intelligently."

While that could be distilled into a trite 'work smarter, not harder' statement, it can also be expanded into the concept of a 'personbyte' as Hidalgo does: "the amount of knowledge that one person can reasonably know." Which gets to the idea of 'human capital' and its development. If seen as a resource to be exploited, this would obviously be dehumanizing, but what if labor was reclassified as an asset on the balance sheet rather than a liability? If value flows from people, then as a society -- both public and private -- we'd want to do everything we can to invest in our citizens for the nation to reach its full potential.

So tying it all together, a Georgist interpretation of 'natural resources' that is expanded to include human knowledge (incl. public memory) should net one a citizen's dividend from a share of national equity as a particular form of basic income.
posted by kliuless (7 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Or as Ramez Naam puts it in The Infinite Resource yt : "Wealth is pulling away from physical constraints. More and more, we're getting richer not by using more resources, but by using resources more intelligently."

I'm not sure who is meant by "we" here, but as far as I can tell, most of the wealth that has been generated in capitalist economies in the past while hasn't been limited at all by physical constraints or use of resources but has been created through stock market tricks, computerized trading, and other means of using the markets to cause capital to create more capital without actually producing anything.

If the stock market were in any way actually tied to how the real, physical economy was doing, we'd be in amazing financial shape right now. Are you in amazing financial shape? I don't know anyone who is who isn't nearly entirely focussed on stock portfolio with little or no care about how the actual physical world is doing.
posted by hippybear at 1:58 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I knew this was a kliuless post from the title
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 2:20 AM on July 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Dutch egalitarianism is in great part an excellent PR campaign. Wealth is felt or measured influence and freedom in any vertical of human endeavor: corporate, technological, fiscal, academic, artistic, athletic, familial, medical, environmental, media, etc. It's just power, which begets power, and is thus in perplexing ways inherently un-egalitarian. That's the real problem.

It's easy to get lost in a discussion about income, because that is important to the most vulnerable, so few talk about the astronomical wealth gap in the Netherlands, a nation ever hallowed by liberals who hopped over to Amsterdam during summer break instead of taking micro and macro econ. Holland is not quite America, but it may as well be.

My question to MeFi

This will be easier to understand if you first read the stuff below "tl;dr", but isn't the Netherlands in many ways just what America would be had it not participated in various wars and focused instead on developing the most sophisticated liberal rhetoric on earth that serves as Botox on the face of a pig fattened by centuries of misogyny and greed? The difference is that the Dutch have acknowledged more fully and publicly that they should be ashamed about misogyny and greed, but are they realpolitik-ally doing much better in the ethical war to give women and the poor more power?

Work Gap vs. Income Gap vs. Wealth Gap

The Netherlands consistently pops up as one of the best countries for women, but has trouble acknowledging the power gap between family members or citizens with regards to earning power or sheer wealth. Americans understand this instinctively. Behind closed doors, we always talk about who's bringing home the bacon or who's inherited what. We know families will invest more resources into those most likely to succeed. East Asian families know the bulk of important education is done outside of public schools.

For example, if one combines these understandings, the Netherlands shockingly comes out as one of the most atrocious social settings for ambitious women.

This 2015 Economist article explains some of the history behind the lack of women in management positions. This 2010 Slate article discusses the great Dutch gender work gap. Less than 10 percent of Dutch women are employed full time. The Dutch claim this keeps everyone very happy, but how does the power balance at home really work out between daughter and father or husband and wife if one is bringing home all the.. err.. coffee and cheese?

Isn't all the talk about basic income just a distraction from the absurdity that the richest 10% of Dutch citizens own 61% of national wealth, and that the population has been brainwashed into believing that a bunch of misguided, widely advertised public policy decisions amount to groundbreaking egalitarianism? It's not that they're not concerned with doing good. It's that they're blind to what they need to prioritize in order to be the most effective.

Not adequately incentivizing women culturally or monetarily to participate as fully (and happily) as possible in the economy will hurt them as much as it hurts any supposedly backwards developing or third world nation. Not redirecting energy permanently from the conversation about basic income towards the Dutch wealth gap will help to perpetuate for them a problem as American as apple pie, a pastry that, ironically, the Dutch claim to have invented in addition to ruthless capitalism.
posted by knowgood at 3:28 AM on July 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

The appearance and reality of Dutch society is indeed a fascinating subject, but so is the overt theme of this thread. Perhaps there could be an FPP on Dutch inequality? I appreciate they're linked, but it's going to be hard to deal with both at once.

(Mods, there may be metiquette on dealing with worthwhile derails involving flags and MeTalk, apologies if I'm getting it wrong.)
posted by Devonian at 5:19 AM on July 2, 2015

Mod note: Eh, considering the UBI trial programs in the FPP, Dutch socioeconomics doesn't seem wildly off-topic here. I agree that it could be a post of its own, though, if someone feels like making one. And this thread needs to not become a proxy for that hypothetical thread, so to speak.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 6:55 AM on July 2, 2015

The difference is that the Dutch have acknowledged more fully and publicly that they should be ashamed about misogyny and greed, but are they realpolitik-ally doing much better in the ethical war to give women and the poor more power?

Why don't voters demand more redistribution?

elsewhere, An Economic Policy For The 21st Century[PDF], which can't be solved through monetary policy and the internet's hidden wealth. Solutions for the future in the past? What the Ancient Greeks Can Teach Us About Human Capital.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:18 AM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's a very relevant recent book out on how efforts towards basic income in southern Africa and elsewhere point towards new ways of thinking about politics beyond left and right, as well as beyond the sometimes troubled space of rights-based anti-poverty measures. One of Ferguson's main points is that in large parts of the world, those thinking about poverty need to spend less time thinking about production and more time thinking about distribution. I recommend the book--or some of Ferguson's recent articles, which cover some of the same ground.
posted by col_pogo at 12:31 PM on July 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

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