Russell on BIG Monbiot
By Brian Small at Mar 23, 2009
I still can't get over this Basic Income Guarantee idea. I wish I could go to the conference in New York this weeked(25 hour flight kind of long and expensive).Fellow Znetter Samuel Falvo II raised concerns that people wouldn't bother seeking employment with an unconditional income. That brought to mind Bertrand Russell's writing right away but not with enough force to spur a search for the essay. But then USBIG quotes the intellectual that even Noam Chomsky admires -
Bertrand Russell put it in 1918,"A certain small income, sufficient for necessities, should be secured for all, whether they work or not, and that a larger income should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful. On this basis we may build further."Thus, with BIG no one is destitute but everyone has the positive incentive to work. BIG is an efficient, effective, and equitable solution to poverty that promotes individual freedom and leaves the beneficial aspects of a market economy in place.
Of course avid Michael Albert readers will bristle and the " beneficial aspects of a market economy" wording but universal social security regardless of age would go toward alleviating a lot of problems in todays economy. Extending unemployment benefits (and supporting all the people that fall through the crack in the unemployment statistics too) comes to mind.
What if more people do choose to be idle? Will people really be able to stay home and watch TV indefinitely? This wouldn't be a good thing but you can't help but wonder how many people really want to do that, and of them how long it would take them to get tired of it, and go find something worthwhile to do. SInce so much work is anti-social and counterproductive (the New Deal 'make work' (Pilkey) projects that messed up coastal beach cycles come to mind, dams, nuclear weapons..) maybe more people opting out wouldn't be such a bad thing. It looks like most people will continue to work anyway though. But just in case...Here's some Bertrand Russell.
Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached.
Today's Znet Commentary by Paul Street on Anti-capitalism as anti-suicide meshed well with Hajime Kitamura (Syukan Kinyoubi Editor) rational as Basic Income Guarantees being socially nice and tolerant.
In Praise of Idleness also brout to mind George Monbiot's recent Znet Commentary and Guardian article about local currencies. I've heard starting your own local currency touted as a way for groups to get together and decide worth on their own - another fascinating concept. Here's George Monbiot on deprecating money
But the projects that have proved most effective were those inspired by the German economist Silvio Gessell, who became finance minister in Gustav Landauer's doomed Bavarian republic. He proposed that communities seeking to rescue themselves from economic collapse should issue their own currency. To discourage people from hoarding it, they should impose a fee (called demurrage), which has the same effect as negative interest. The back of each banknote would contain 12 boxes. For the note to remain valid, the owner had to buy a stamp every month and stick it in one of the boxes. It would be withdrawn from circulation after a year. Money of this kind is called stamp scrip: a privately issued currency that becomes less valuable the longer you hold on to it.
This is Bertrand Russell on how working isn't as bad as saving. Yu Tanaka and fellow activists put out a great book on the importance of taking control of your own savings. The countryside in Japan ends up being dependent on investment from the Central Government, and the bureacrats take advantage of this dependence to force through dams, military bases, nuclear power plant and waste facilities. Well what if each community created their own NPO bank and invested in themselves? This sounds like local anti-capital flight initiatives once you think of it.
Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people's mouths, and is therefore wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread. What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people's mouths in spending as he takes out of other people's mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings, the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.
One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man's economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.
..... The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface card in some place where surface cars turn out not to be wanted, he has diverted a mass of labor into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.
...there is a third class of men, more respected than either of the classes of workers. There are men who, through ownership of land, are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work. These landowners are idle, and I might therefore be expected to praise them. Unfortunately, their idleness is only rendered possible by the industry of others; indeed their desire for comfortable idleness is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that others should follow their example.
Maybe a Basic Income Guarantee would go a long way towards reexaminig thie 'whole gospel of work' besides being a reform that might see people through our new Great Depression.
Kaori Katada had a great Q&A article in Syukan Kinyobi about the 'will to work' or appetite for work. She pointed out that if you examine these claims it's not that Basic Income Guarantees lessens people's 'will to work' but their coerciveness of their fear of starvation. I have to chase down the other Japanese magazines that are covering the policy idea this month
Re-reading Bertrand Russel with BIG in mind is uncanny...
Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?
The idea that the poor should have leisure has always been shocking to the rich. In England, in the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the ordinary day's work for a man; children sometimes did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that perhaps these hours were rather long, they were told that work kept adults from drink and children from mischief. When I was a child, shortly after urban working men had acquired the vote, certain public holidays were established by law, to the great indignation of the upper classes. I remember hearing an old Duchess say: 'What do the poor want with holidays? They ought to work.' People nowadays are less frank, but the sentiment persists, and is the source of much of our economic confusion.