A LivinGrant is a name I have all by myself decided to give to a specific form of Basic Income. Now, what is a Basic Income?
The Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) defines a Basic Income thusly; " ... an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement." In other words, as money just for being alive.
BIEN is an umbrella organization of national groups which has been promoting this idea now for a quarter century. There has been a Canadian branch since 2008, called Basic Income Canada Network (BICN). You can find the web sites for all the groups mentioned here on the links page.
Who am I? I am somebody who has been promoting the Basic Concept of a Basic Income for a very long time. This web site is initialized as of August 2015, succeeding a series of web sites I have done promoting BI and Income Guarantees concepts.
I am doing this now because the way the movement for BI is shaping in Canada makes necessary some clarifications of the principles behind the BI concept. Many people are arguing that a name change is needed as well; that there are some negative connotations to calling anything "Basic".
The income guarantees idea under various names has gone through cycles of popularity. With the increasing awareness and understanding of the implications of technological unemployment, the BI brand is fashionable right now. However, no real movement is developing to push for it. The organizations which now exist to promote the concept are oriented toward academic analysis and debate, and seem to distain broad public education and political processes.
The crucial thing that too many advocates of a Basic Income do not understand is that the concept can have a bad side as well as a good side. It will provide a solution to technological unemployment, but could do it in a bad way if the wrong kind of people predominate in advocating it, and if the wrong kind of government implements it with the wrong goals.
I have come up with the neat, snappy term LivinGrant in order to give a name to the specific type of Basic Income that I want to talk about and which is really needed, and which a real advocacy organization needs to be built around. Such an organization should work within the various BI organizations, and upon political parties.
However, a subset of BI people tend to be focussed on names and on "framing" of the concept. Some want to debate "cognitive framing" strategy and the effects of naming a concept according to the persuasion techniques publicized by Professor George Lakoff. Others are just as focussed at resisting just that. I am of the former tendency, but not obsessively so.
BI itself has been called many things at various times. The term in the U.K. is "Citizen's Income". Some think that is too "republican" or "libertarian". It has been called "Guaranteed Annual Income" but there is now a retirement pension supplement program with almost the same name, which can create confusion.
There is a group based in British Columbia which uses the term "Livable4all", which makes the point that the income must be adequate to live decently on and be available for all. The "Living" part of "LivinGrant" emphasizes that part of it.
The "Grant" part of it comes from "Demogrant", the form in which a BI must be delivered, for several reasons. A demogrant means a grant based solely on demographic principles. In other words, X amount of money in your bank account every month.
What is not wanted, though there are some people obsessed with the idea, is a negative income tax (NIT). That is, money back at the end of the year if your income falls below point X. People need their money at more frequent intervals. It also forces people to file an income tax return, a complicated and intrusive process for many people.
Some people like the idea of NIT because this is how a BI was delivered during the Dauphin experiments of the 1970s. There was no other way to deliver it then. Now we have the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which gives us a ready made infrastructure to run a demogrant on.
Another sinister reason why an NIT keeps getting proposed is that some people have the idea it should be "revenue neutral". This means, the amount collected from those above the low income cutoff point would equal the amount distributed to those below it. Some think there should be no money left for any of the other things government does with tax revenues. An NIT would set the poor against those a bit above poverty, while the really well off who pay little tax anyway will contribute little to paying the BI.
This is the first principle which a properly founded BI would work under; It must be administered as a demogrant and not as a "negative income tax". The other three important principles are; it must be universal and without conditions, funded by taxes on wealth, and adequate for a dignified existence. These are the principles I put under the rubric of a LivinGrant.
I pose the LivinGrant in defense of these principles and in specific opposition to three negative tendencies among BI proponents, or those pretending to be proponents. These are; that BI is a reason to eliminate other social programs, that it is a wage top up system to keep people attached to the labor force, and that it is a cheaper means of "regulating poverty".
The first of these tendencies come out of the neolibertarian ideology that government is evil and a restriction on personal freedom, and that people could look after themselves best if government "left them alone". This is nonsense; any time in history when people have had government out of their lives they have also quickly had civilization out of their lives. Their lives quickly became "nasty, brutish, and short".
What drives this rubbish is the hard right wing elitist mentality which finds, not government, but democracy intolerable. These want to replace the at least partially democratic governance structure we have, with a totalitarian government under their control. To facilitate this they need to convince as many people as possible to support tearing down that which allows them to live.
A LivinGrant will not replace the need for a health care system, an education system, socially planned shelter, transportation, energy, and food systems, and all other systems that enable living in an advanced technological civilization. It will allow people the freedom to control these systems in order to meet human needs, through a deepening democracy.
As for the second tendency, to see BI as a wage top up, this is what the guaranteed income initiative in the United States in the nineteen sixties and seventies was eventually diverted into. The so called guaranteed income plan of Senator Croll in Canada at that time was in fact a similar "cheap labor" scheme.
The American "Earned Income Tax Credit" has kept workers dependent on an employer, subsidized employers to pay lower wages, and enabled less social services. The opposite of an NIT, it gives the employee nothing until her income rises to a point to allow a tax refund.
The third tendency, that a BI is a more efficient way of delivering social services, comes mainly from the "poverty industry". That is, the huge network of public and private non profit social agencies that has developed in order to "manage poverty". Often this turns into running the poor's lives for them, becoming a kind of "social police".
From this industry also comes a criticism of a BI, that it does not allow for "intervention" to correct the causes of poverty in the individual. This is the fallacy of individualizing poverty, and framing it as a personal failing, rather than a lack of means and money. Most people now in poverty are quite able to manage their own lives if they had the means to look after themselves.
For the few of the impoverished who do need some looking after, the social work people can focus on them, not having to worry about the rest. Even for such people, an unconditional source of income gives some protection from abuse of power by public or private social workers.
Now, discussing these negative tendencies first has allowed me to more easily explain the remaining three principles of a LivinGrant. That it must come to everybody and without conditions obviously cuts across the latter two tendencies. This prevents control of people by controlling their means of life, creating a cheap labor pool and a compliant underclass.
The LivinGrant must be adequate for a dignified existence or there is no point to it. One theorist of the social effects of poverty compared inadequate social programs to having three bee stings and only enough salve to treat two. The pain of being in poverty must be completely removed in order to remove its negative effects.
There is another reason why introducing a LivinGrant by increments will not work. This has been tried in some places. The experience of most social programs has been that if a partial or imperfect program is introduced, in the hope that improvements can be made later, the inadequacies of the program are used to attack it and prevent further progress.
Any income guarantee program will be attacked. It must be understood that there will be intense opposition to a LivinGrant. This opposition will not be won over. It must be overcome.
The real opposition will come from those whose wealth depends on the poverty of others, and from whom the revenues must be extracted to run the program. This brings us to the final principle of a LivinGrant, that it is funded by taxes on wealth. The social effect of a LivinGrant is that it will break the fundamental inequality among people.
This topic goes too deep to discuss at length here, but will be as this web site develops. Here is the reason why advocacy for a LivinGrant must be cognitively framed as eliminating inequality among people, not as eliminating poverty and wealth. And this is why a LivinGrant can only be funded by properly taxing wealth.
This brings me to one of the most frustrating things about advocating any kind of guaranteed income system. The discussion tends to get hijacked by various tribes of monetary and economic cranks. These have every kind of answer to the problems created by private concentration of wealth except rebalancing society by taxing that wealth. There is a reason for that.
There are too many of these crank theories to enumerate but they fall into two basic categories. First there are the "funny money" people. The ancestor of these is the "social Credit" doctrine of the 1930s, whose adherents actually formed governments in Alberta and British Columbia. All have as their core idea that there is some sort of special tax, on land, resources, financial transactions, and so on that could fund a Basic Income or sometimes, all government activities.
One variant of this holds that all this could be done by just "printing" money. It takes as justification the valid refutation of an economic doctrine about money, that just printing money will automatically lead to huge inflation. It is true that it will not as long as there is unused productive capacity in the economy. But the problems are; what happens when the unused capacity is used up, and what happens when the economy can no longer grow fast enough to absorb the new money?
Also, what happens to this money if it is not taxed back? The whole idea of funny money is to not have to levy taxes on surplus wealth. The big problem with untaxed surplus wealth is that it has to be saved somewhere. How is all that interest paid? Where are the secure investments for the money? The wealthy begin speculating; playing with their money, artificially pumping up the price of land and other tangible assets. The wealthy have many ways of trying to convince people that there is some alternative to taxing them in order to run everything. There is not.
This brings us to the second tribe of economic cranks, who have some sort of tax idea that will fund everything. Again, the idea is to sharply restrict public government by sharply restricting its revenues, by making only the middle classes rather than the wealthy pay taxes. Advocates of this nonsense usually have plenty of money to go around spouting it. They like to disrupt meetings in which ideas threatening to the wealthy elite are discussed, such as a Basic Income and LivinGrant.
One of the oldest and most obnoxious of these crank doctrines is Georgism. The core idea is funding everything through a "ground rent". This seems to mean that government owns all land and gets all its revenue from charging rent on it. I mean "seems" because it is quite vague, and Georgist proponents are known for constantly shifting the perspective whenever pressed for details.
All such people should go out the door at the toe of a boot whenever they show up at a public meeting. This brings us to the core difficulty in building an effective political movement for something like a LivinGrant; the way people in this society are educated and socialized. In a class based society, which we are in, great efforts are made to dumb down the public, to prevent them from learning how to function as citizens of a democracy.
Most of what is put into people's heads to make them unable to collaborate effectively, usually under the guise of teaching them to do so, is broadly defined as Rationalism. This is, that a good person tries to act in the world according to some set of principles which are supposed to be self evident. The more destructive variants of this include liberalism and pacifism.
Liberalism tells you that all ideas have equal merit, every point of view contains some part of the truth. If all ideas are equal, none are worth anything. Intelligence is not about incorporating every possible perception, but about "reduction to simplicity".
Real human cognition is about paying attention to the body's emotional signals to the brain, and the brain programming the emotional system. The brain is about recognizing patterns, from patterns deriving first order abstractions, meaning objects, from objects deriving second order abstractions, meaning relations between objects, and from relations deriving third order abstractions, principles. From this the mind develops a schema, a model of the world around it. This conditions the individuals emotional responses and intuitions. Thus, responsible behavior is not about trying to impose unfounded principles onto the world, but about deriving principles from nature as a guide to action.
There are too many people in the world trying to act in the former way, by imposing unfounded principles, ideologies, onto the world. There are not enough people who live and work in the latter way, guided by their natural sense and natural cycles of cognition. I feel very strongly that creating a successful movement to complete the aims of Basic Income require pulling together a core group of the latter kind of people, and a determined effort to discourage all these ideological thinkers.
This will require a willingness to engage in conflict, to use verbal and even in some cases physical aggression. There are plenty of people who will do anything for control, and who can be sent at those who are a threat to power and control. Pacifism tries to tell people they do not have the right to defend against aggression, but that they can defeat it by not challenging it. This does not happen.
This means that people must not appoint themselves to be leaders of a movement for a BI or a LivinGrant. Any effective movement or advocacy organization that ever achieved anything started when people with a commitment to the principles of that movement, but with skills and abilities to form and guide it, came together. That is how the really effective national movements for income Guarantees have been developing.
In Canada a movement for an income guarantee has been fragmenting, despite the growing interest in the concept. The reason is largely cultural; Canadians are very abused by liberal education and indoctrination, and have a fear of conflict. Going deeper into it, there is a failure to recognize that the income guarantee ideas are not slightly different ways of looking at the same thing, they are substantially different ideas from very different ideological perspectives.
There will be conflict between them. One of them is going to prevail. If it is not the kind of thing that most of the public can be brought to accept and which does not give us a humane solution to the problems of post industrialism, it will ultimately fail. Its failure will set back the movement for an economic system that meets human needs.
To restate this, about ninety five percent of those who come forward to help build a movement for an income guarantee should be met with a swift kick in the nuts. It is not about this or that form of a BI. It is not about a debate among a section of what is called "the chattering classes" who have congregated around BI. It is about what is really needed in the post industrial, post jobs, post everything society of the future, to meet the needs of real people.
A serious movement for an income guarantee, once it has drawn together an effective core group with the right capabilities, obtains the necessary funding, hires the right people, develops a fully thought proposal, and promotes it. It does not engage in endless, pointless debate. It is not about trying to accommodate every view point and every special interest.
It is about convincing the public that this is something which will actually benefit them and that it is achievable. Underneath this is convincing the public that you are going to do for them something they cannot do for themselves. That is why the public comes to support such a movement and organization. The public is busy trying to cope with everyday living and does not have the time or education to analyze their situation. But they are very tired of arrogant elitists telling them what their interests are.
My final topic here is, who are the real institutional allies of an income guarantee, and who are its enemies? Recent developments show that local governments will be very strong supporters of an income guarantee. They are the people who have to cope with the problems of poverty and unemployment, and social dislocation, with little power and money to do anything. They are also very well positioned to put pressure on the higher levels of government; the federal government which must fund a BI, and the provinces which must cooperate with the feds.
Religious organizations and some charities will be helpful. Those sections of the union movement who are not stuck in the last century and understand the implications of technological unemployment, will also be allies. Even much of industrial capitalism, which needs customers, can be accepted as long as they do not also expect "cheap and obedient labor".
The big enemy of an income guarantee will be financial capitalism and the growing neofeudalist mentality. These are the people who are disdainful of manufacturing and of democratic government. To them, manufacturing can be done anywhere with only a minimum labor force. Government is just in their way. They do not want to run anything, they just want to own everything, and divide up the world among them. They are not really interested in maximizing profits, just in eliminating everything that does not serve them. They do not want any money going to keep people alive who do not serve them. Every dollar spent thus is a dollar not available to them.
The poverty industry will not like the idea of an income guarantee. They want to be able to make jobs for themselves by running other people's lives. Anyone with an authoritarian mentality; police, bureaucrats, bosses, weirdos, will not like people having more control of their own lives, thus more security to talk back and refuse. As well, the idea of an income guarantee does not fit well with Marxist and Anarchist ideologies and will be subject to disruption from that quarter.
At this point, I have sufficiently rolled out my own thinking about what an income guarantee should be, how to get achieve it, and the barriers to getting it. The aim of this LivinGrant web site, as with my earlier efforts, is to try to shine a beacon guiding a movement for an income guarantee in the right direction.
I also hope to get more useful discussion going on, than is currently happening on the social media. I will try to create a communication hub for activists in the Toronto area. I think I can offer a useful educational resource for BI activists.
But ultimately, there is only so much that can be done on the net. People have to get up and go out into the world. The movement will be built by people who can do that, while those who think it can all be done on the net will continue their pointless, siloed in small groups, discussions.Tweet