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137

Does Basic Income Assume a Can Opener?

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he's my fave pro-UBI theorist. from goodreads:

David Calnitsky continues the (fascinating) debate on basic income that he began in Vol 1 No 3 ("Debating Basic Income") and which received an insightful response from Alex Gourevitch and Lucas Stanczyk in Vol 1 No 4. I thought this latest contribution was really excellent, and even though I'm personally not a huge fan of UBI myself, I found Calnitsky's arguments defending UBI's fairly convincing. The article talks about the role of policy in building power (both as an end goal to mobilise around, and as a baseline with a ratchet effect once in place) and suggests how capital flight and other possible consequences could be countered (essentially: we could use capital flight as an excuse to nationalise, which is admirable in its audacity even if it may not be practical). I wish he delved more into techniques for countering the inflationary effects of UBI, but maybe he did that in his first article and I don't remember anymore, idk.

Calnitsky, D. (2019). Does Basic Income Assume a Can Opener?. Jacobin, 7, pp. 137-156

138

The authors emphasize just how expensive a generous version of the policy really would be, and they stress that it requires a powerful coalition to cull the resources to fund it and take us from here to there. Thus, proponents such as myself have it backwards: it is not that basic income would empower people to demand more, but rather, any generous basic income demands resources that presume in advance the existence of a movement to extract them. Proponents assume a can opener. We assume our conclusions. Instead, for Gourevitch and Stanczyk, job one ought to be expanding the social power of poor and working people. And this happens not through social policy, but more or less in the usual way: traditional labor organizing.

responding to their article in v1n4. good summary

—p.138 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago

The authors emphasize just how expensive a generous version of the policy really would be, and they stress that it requires a powerful coalition to cull the resources to fund it and take us from here to there. Thus, proponents such as myself have it backwards: it is not that basic income would empower people to demand more, but rather, any generous basic income demands resources that presume in advance the existence of a movement to extract them. Proponents assume a can opener. We assume our conclusions. Instead, for Gourevitch and Stanczyk, job one ought to be expanding the social power of poor and working people. And this happens not through social policy, but more or less in the usual way: traditional labor organizing.

responding to their article in v1n4. good summary

—p.138 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago
139

To begin, when we analyze alternative forms of social organization it is useful to separate the feasibility from the achievability of a proposal.3 Gourevitch and Stanczyk cast doubt on one story about basic income’s political achievability, much more than its underlying feasibility. The question of feasibility asks whether a program, once achieved, would unravel through the unintended consequences it generates. It is valuable to ask whether or not a system will prove sustainable once installed, even if we do not have a good theory to explain how it might be established in the first place. For example, we can ask whether this or that model of socialism is feasible, or whether problems of coordination, innovation, or motivation would erode its social reproduction. The question of feasibility is not merely abstract. It is a test any desirable vision of the future must pass, and regrettably, most theoretical models of a socialist economy, however promising, do not inspire genuine confidence in their internal feasibility. In part, this is because these models are so different from ones we know that it is hard to determine where the blockages lie. Thus, in my view, the “realism” of basic income lies not its imminent political achievability, but in its feasibility.

[...]

The question of achievability is different, asking instead how we can get from here to there. Serious discussions of achievability begin with the acknowledgement that genuinely emancipatory transformations of the world cannot be achieved overnight or legislated in the next Congressional session. Most analyses of socialist models avoid posing this question at all for the very forgivable reason that it is hard to answer.4 We might make confident assertions about the range of options on the political agenda in the next five years but claims about what might be achievable fifty years down the road are inherently difficult to evaluate. Assessing the feasibility of a single model is hard enough; the question of achievability forces us to consider the transition between two models. But if we are serious about social change we ought to be able to say something meaningful about achievability, and I regard the “non-reformist reform” path as the most promising.

—p.139 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago

To begin, when we analyze alternative forms of social organization it is useful to separate the feasibility from the achievability of a proposal.3 Gourevitch and Stanczyk cast doubt on one story about basic income’s political achievability, much more than its underlying feasibility. The question of feasibility asks whether a program, once achieved, would unravel through the unintended consequences it generates. It is valuable to ask whether or not a system will prove sustainable once installed, even if we do not have a good theory to explain how it might be established in the first place. For example, we can ask whether this or that model of socialism is feasible, or whether problems of coordination, innovation, or motivation would erode its social reproduction. The question of feasibility is not merely abstract. It is a test any desirable vision of the future must pass, and regrettably, most theoretical models of a socialist economy, however promising, do not inspire genuine confidence in their internal feasibility. In part, this is because these models are so different from ones we know that it is hard to determine where the blockages lie. Thus, in my view, the “realism” of basic income lies not its imminent political achievability, but in its feasibility.

[...]

The question of achievability is different, asking instead how we can get from here to there. Serious discussions of achievability begin with the acknowledgement that genuinely emancipatory transformations of the world cannot be achieved overnight or legislated in the next Congressional session. Most analyses of socialist models avoid posing this question at all for the very forgivable reason that it is hard to answer.4 We might make confident assertions about the range of options on the political agenda in the next five years but claims about what might be achievable fifty years down the road are inherently difficult to evaluate. Assessing the feasibility of a single model is hard enough; the question of achievability forces us to consider the transition between two models. But if we are serious about social change we ought to be able to say something meaningful about achievability, and I regard the “non-reformist reform” path as the most promising.

—p.139 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago
139

The story I wish to tell instead suggests that there are forms of income maintenance that fall short of a fully universal basic income but would nonetheless be politically popular, and therefore robust. Moreover, those policies could also be emancipatory insofar as they expand people’s power to demand more, bridge the gaps between usually disconnected social groups, and lock in a political ratchet effect. I argue both that (1) a generous universal basic income would be emancipatory, ultimately helping to usher in a genuinely democratic economy, and (2) that income maintenance policies which are weaker — and therefore more immediately attainable — than the generous and universal ideal can nonetheless serve as a stepping stone for poor and working people to build power, forge ties, and demand more. The mechanism is the same in both cases, and indeed, all the empirical evidence about wage growth, destigmatizing effects, gender power relations, and labor force participation that I marshaled in my first essay for Catalyst comes from a social policy that fell short of a fully universal model, but was empowering nonetheless.

Not all things in the world obey the dialectic, but this does: policies that are achievable in the world today may confer power onto people, which facilitates the realization of further policies that again empower them to demand even more. Like the solution to the chicken and egg problem, policy and power co-evolve.

i like this reasoning

—p.139 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago

The story I wish to tell instead suggests that there are forms of income maintenance that fall short of a fully universal basic income but would nonetheless be politically popular, and therefore robust. Moreover, those policies could also be emancipatory insofar as they expand people’s power to demand more, bridge the gaps between usually disconnected social groups, and lock in a political ratchet effect. I argue both that (1) a generous universal basic income would be emancipatory, ultimately helping to usher in a genuinely democratic economy, and (2) that income maintenance policies which are weaker — and therefore more immediately attainable — than the generous and universal ideal can nonetheless serve as a stepping stone for poor and working people to build power, forge ties, and demand more. The mechanism is the same in both cases, and indeed, all the empirical evidence about wage growth, destigmatizing effects, gender power relations, and labor force participation that I marshaled in my first essay for Catalyst comes from a social policy that fell short of a fully universal model, but was empowering nonetheless.

Not all things in the world obey the dialectic, but this does: policies that are achievable in the world today may confer power onto people, which facilitates the realization of further policies that again empower them to demand even more. Like the solution to the chicken and egg problem, policy and power co-evolve.

i like this reasoning

—p.139 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago
142

It is worth lingering on both tax exemptions and tax expenditures. As Tony Atkinson has argued, the “personal exemption” and “standard deduction” in the income tax is closely related to basic income. If the tax rate is 30 percent and the exemption threshold is $10,000, the exemption provides personal savings of $3,000; these “savings” are state expenditures like any other and are not unlike a basic income. But notice its regressive construction: A person with $8,000 in income gets only $2,400 in the above example. Those with no income get nothing. A basic income would remove the regressiveness hidden in the tax code. [...]

im all for this

—p.142 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago

It is worth lingering on both tax exemptions and tax expenditures. As Tony Atkinson has argued, the “personal exemption” and “standard deduction” in the income tax is closely related to basic income. If the tax rate is 30 percent and the exemption threshold is $10,000, the exemption provides personal savings of $3,000; these “savings” are state expenditures like any other and are not unlike a basic income. But notice its regressive construction: A person with $8,000 in income gets only $2,400 in the above example. Those with no income get nothing. A basic income would remove the regressiveness hidden in the tax code. [...]

im all for this

—p.142 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago
145

Second, if my popularity hypothesis is true, capital flight may become an opportunity to leverage the polity into socialism. Those firms or industries at risk of exit should be scapegoated and specially targeted for nationalization. This brings additional revenue for the growing dividend and serves as appropriate comeuppance for defecting industries. If there exists a popularity effect that serves to grow social expenditures and a profitability effect that acts as a break on that growth, the historical record has shown the former to completely swamp the latter. As popularity runs into capitalist defection the exploitation of new sources of capital income becomes increasingly plausible. This is the mechanism through which the move towards a generous basic income is something akin to the move towards democratic socialism.

hahaha i love this

—p.145 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago

Second, if my popularity hypothesis is true, capital flight may become an opportunity to leverage the polity into socialism. Those firms or industries at risk of exit should be scapegoated and specially targeted for nationalization. This brings additional revenue for the growing dividend and serves as appropriate comeuppance for defecting industries. If there exists a popularity effect that serves to grow social expenditures and a profitability effect that acts as a break on that growth, the historical record has shown the former to completely swamp the latter. As popularity runs into capitalist defection the exploitation of new sources of capital income becomes increasingly plausible. This is the mechanism through which the move towards a generous basic income is something akin to the move towards democratic socialism.

hahaha i love this

—p.145 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago
155

Is my dialectical program just neoliberalism by stealth? Does this darkly Hegelian road come to a dead-end? It is widely believed that basic income presents a clear and present danger of cooptation. This is true; it is entirely possible to imagine it being coopted. The same is true for a jobs guarantee, Roemer’s coupon socialism, strengthened unions, Medicare for All, and every ambitious but plausible scheme to reorganize socioeconomic life for the better. While we should be sensitive to this dilemma, striving to make all our proposals uncooptable is a mistake. Proposals that are uncooptable might have appeal to political ascetics, but they are far less likely to be feasible, and fare even worse on achievability. Cooptability should be seen as a necessary condition for our policy proposals, not a reason to disavow them. It is a measure of success rather than failure because it implies a design aimed at fitting itself onto the world as it actually is. Moreover, it is a dilemma that comes naturally with power, and can only be escaped by clinging onto our marginality; confronting these dilemmas only means we are that much closer to realizing the world we want.

very thoughtful

—p.155 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago

Is my dialectical program just neoliberalism by stealth? Does this darkly Hegelian road come to a dead-end? It is widely believed that basic income presents a clear and present danger of cooptation. This is true; it is entirely possible to imagine it being coopted. The same is true for a jobs guarantee, Roemer’s coupon socialism, strengthened unions, Medicare for All, and every ambitious but plausible scheme to reorganize socioeconomic life for the better. While we should be sensitive to this dilemma, striving to make all our proposals uncooptable is a mistake. Proposals that are uncooptable might have appeal to political ascetics, but they are far less likely to be feasible, and fare even worse on achievability. Cooptability should be seen as a necessary condition for our policy proposals, not a reason to disavow them. It is a measure of success rather than failure because it implies a design aimed at fitting itself onto the world as it actually is. Moreover, it is a dilemma that comes naturally with power, and can only be escaped by clinging onto our marginality; confronting these dilemmas only means we are that much closer to realizing the world we want.

very thoughtful

—p.155 by David Calnitsky 1 year, 6 months ago