Monday, July 6, 2015

It's so easy to be deluded...

This morning I was reading an article in Tech crunch against the idea that technological advance may reduce the need for employment, supported by a statistic by the US labor department showing that the total number of jobs had been steadily increasing since the depression ended there (in may 2009, lucky fellas) when I got surprised as the author started discussing the possibility/ convenience of a Universal Basic Income, with a number of links that purportedly showed how the idea is gaining traction the world over.

I'll pick just one, as it directed me to an article coauthored by my countryman and long time UBI proponent Daniel Raventós: UBIs UBIs everywhere, according to whom it is an already mainstream concept, seriously discussed in both the developed countries and the developing ones, and it sounds as if it was about to be like, actually enacted somewhere...

Only it is not, and it is still very much a fringe idea, very far from being enacted outside some small village or strictly contained subset of the population that can pay it with a negligible fraction of another people's budget. Raventós and Wark point to a number of really minuscule applications as if they were enormous achievements, and underline the fact that wherever it has been tried the results have been very promising in terms of improving the lives and health of the poorer beneficiaries. No shit Sherlock, who would guess than when you give money to people they can take better care of themselves and are overall happy! such enlightened times, when we can enjoy the benefit of poorly controlled and unrepresentative experiments to confirm what any three year old boy could tell you!

But let's leave sarcasm apart for a moment. What I find really disheartening is that this little article in a far left media outlet just confirms that the whole UBI idea risks becoming something like anthropogenic climate change, something that regardless of its merit gets indelibly associated (in the minds of a significant fraction of the population at least) with crackpots and wide-eyed loonies that espouse along it a whole host of discredited ideas, and thus toxic and unfeasible. It is significant that when enumerating the parties that espouse it they cite four unelectable ones (Bildu, the political arm of the independentist basque movement that until two years ago cheered the terrorist organization ETA, and Equo, Anova and Pirata, all of them marginal to the point that most Spaniards don't even know about their existence) and, of course, Podemos, who jettisoned the proposal from their electoral program the minute they saw it may cost them more votes than what it gained... and that is in "the place on Earth where the debate about Basic Income is more advanced".

Dream on, little boy. It is not that advanced at all, and as long as you feel contented just by having it considered in your little fairyland tribe of utopians it will stay so. And getting it outside that forums should start by acknowledging its costs. The studies that purport to show how it could be implemented by just making the richest citizens pay a teeny weeny bit more are mostly discredited (or would end up paying for a Basic Income so barely below the poverty level that it is unclear it would make much difference). As I contended in this old post (How to pay for a UBI in Spain), it can be paid for with little extra taxes, but then you have to substantially rethink how capitalism work, and forget about the state's juggernaut deciding minutely who gets what. As I said back then, a viable UBI is not a statist's dream, it's a libertarian dream. But then, of course, it may not be so palatable to CounterPunch editorial board.

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