In principle, something like basic income is a minimum demand of communists. People’s ability to live a healthy and comfortable life should not be limited by their ability to sell their labour to capitalists. In a socialist society, establishing a guaranteed minimum income would be — I think most communists would agree — more or less a first-day task.
In terms of the practical effects: in Canada, there was an experiment with basic income in the town of Dauphin, Manitoba in the 1970s. Contrary to right-wing fears, everybody didn’t suddenly decide to stop going to work. The only demographic sectors that saw a major decrease in work hours were new mothers (who, with fewer economic obligations, opted on average to spend more time with their newborns) and teenagers (who, without having to worry about supplementing the family’s income, tended to focus more on education). At the same time, there were increases in graduation rates and in adults pursuing further education, meanwhile “hospital visits dropped 8.5 percent, with fewer incidences of work-related injuries, and fewer emergency room visits from car accidents and domestic abuse. Additionally, the period saw a reduction in rates of psychiatric hospitalization, and in the number of mental illness-related consultations with health professionals.”
People continue to work when a minimum income is guaranteed for a number of reasons. First, it has to be pointed out that, in Dauphin as well as in the early stages of the Marxist conception of socialism (and I include here the USSR and the PRC in its socialist stage), despite the existence a minimum income, doing more work still did result in receiving more material compensation. However, even without this material reward (and a society transitioning to communism would seek to abolish it eventually), people still do have motivations to work. When you investigate how systems of motivation, value. and reward function within the brain, you find that through a variety of mechanisms, the basic reward value that the necessities of life (e.g., food) have, can be attained by other things, such that these other things come to be just as strong a motivating factor as e.g., access to food would be. To elaborate on this would be the domain of a psychology paper (which, if you give me a few weeks to trawl through my undergrad notes, I might be willing to write), but for now, I think it suffices to point to the numerous present-day examples of people doing hard and not necessarily enjoyable work in situations in which there is no direct material reward, from the gamer who spends a thousand hours grinding professions in World of Warcraft, to the groups of volunteers who get together to pick up trash in a park.
The other main question I think people might ask w/r/t basic income is “if we’re able to provide a good enough basic income to workers under capitalism, is there really a need to overthrow it?” First of all, I need to point out that this right now is a purely academic question, because, even if it is possible to support a universal basic income in say Canada, (where there is a movement for it), while still having an economy dictated by capitalist logic and the capitalist law of value — which I doubt — it’s still very unlikely that such a measure would pass through a bourgeois parliament beholden to bourgeois business interests. Assuming it is possible though, then this becomes the age-old question of whether we really need a socialist revolution at all, or whether it really is possible to reform capitalism to such an extent that socialism is no longer necessary. Reluctantly, I have to say that this is not possible (although I think my life would be a hell of a lot easier if it was). There are a lot of reasons for this, which have been written about for more than a century (the section of Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism where he refutes Kautsky’s ideas about “ultra-imperialism”, and Rosa Luxembourg’s essential Reform or Revolution are both classic examples in the literature); to briefly summarize some key points though:
- with the rich still holding a disproportionate amount of property and power, all the problems of a capitalist-run government would still persist. Even with extensive social welfare, capitalism means a dictatorship by the rich. Government posts are occupied typically by rich people, who attain their positions typically because of their ability to appease the interests of groups of other rich people. Beyond the basic problem of a lack of democratic representation — which even left-liberals these days recognize — this also means foreign policy being profit-driven (which includes the possibility of profit-motivated military endeavours), environmental policy being a joke, and the likelihood that social welfare programs, including basic income, will eventually be cut, because:
- social welfare programs are temporary concessions to the working class, made when the bourgeoisie finds that the decreased chance of revolt makes up for the costs of the program. These concessions are repealed, or at least minimized when the trade-off is no longer worthwhile for the ruling class. We see this effect when an economic crisis occurs and the media and government begin clamouring for spending cuts and “fiscal responsibility” (keep in mind that despite the disastrous effects they have for the lower classes, economic crises in the modern West don’t actually mean there is a shortage of essential goods, merely that it has become less profitable for capitalists to sell them — the cure for the crisis is to take back some of the wealth invested in the social safety net and through lower taxes and/or subsidies, allow that wealth to make its way back to the bourgeoisie). In the first world, most of our social safety net has its roots in the era immediately after World War Two, when socialism was at its zenith and there was a very real threat to capitalism’s global dominance; it was very worthwhile for the ruling classes and their governments to buy off their working populations with social reform (in the case of the Marshall Plan, it was worthwhile for the ruling class of the USA to attempt to buy off an entire continent). Since the late 1970s however, and especially since 2008, these trends have begun to reverse, and there has been a steady dismantling of these reforms, as well as a steady decline in real wages for the working class (that is, how much our wages can actually buy, not just their dollar value). For a concise overview of this process, I very much recommend David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Now, even if it were possible to hold on to these reforms indefinitely, the issue remains that
- social welfare in the capitalist first world is made possible by the exploitation of the third world. The main way that capitalists can afford to make the concessions mentioned above while still preserving healthy profit margins is through the extraction of value from other countries. This is done through paying very low wages to workers in the exploited countries and then selling their products in the West for super-profits, as well as through extracting natural resources from the countries and taking the profits abroad (some states, like the Philippines and Colombia, have governments that more or less go along with this exploitation; some, like Iraq and Libya, have clauses allowing it written into their new constitutions immediately after their governments are toppled by Western intervention). This process, which we refer to as imperialism, results in a flow of wealth from the third world to the first, and it is with this wealth that capitalists in the imperialist countries are able to buy off their workers. When people laud the happy, healthcare-having welfare states in Scandinavia or even Canada and wonder what more a socialist could ever ask for, they often neglect to mention the brutal international exploitation and poverty upon which these welfare states are built. Any basic income scheme enacted within the context of capitalism and imperialism would be founded upon this same exploitation. The only way to end this system and allow for a fair and acceptable standard of living worldwide is to dismantle imperialism and excise the parasitic capitalist class from the body of society — doing so demands the establishment of socialism on a global scale.
So um, tl;dr: basic income is a good demand, but capitalism still has to go.
hello friends i hope you’re all well. i’m still on hiatus and i think i might be for a couple more months? it’s been good to me and I just feel a lot freer and better in general without the draining tumblr atmosphere. but I miss you guys a lot and sometimes it’s hard not having a place to vent or go to for advice.
if you want to keep in touch my twitter is @p_sarina.
New Super Bowl trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2
I’m sold on Jamie Foxx now. Love this take on Electro and the distortion of hope.
Bring on the summer!!
As soon as the Coca-Cola commercial (where “America the Beautiful” is sung in a variety of languages) ended, I went straight to Twitter and Coca-Cola’s Facebook page.
Angry White People did not disappoint.
We all called it.
Angry White People arriving on schedule.
Welcome to the new internet.
It is very possible, after today, for the internet to be separated into tiers, like cable, forcing you to pay extra to access certain sites. The world wide web won’t be so world wide if you can’t access certain sites because you don’t want to pay an extra $50 to access it.
Paying attention now?
Guys, this is important.
I repeat: THIS IS IMPORTANT.
Sign the petition and pass it on!
I can’t sign this because I’m in Australia but all of you who follow me in the states should sign this!