A BIG Justification Under Capitalism

It is sometimes argued that a basic income guarantee (BIG) would be unfair because it requires no reciprocation from the recipient. Personally, I reject the principle of reciprocity, but many do not, so it might be worth briefly considering how the principle, if held, ought to be applied in the present social system. In a system of private property ownership, I would argue that the reciprocity argument against a basic income is clearly false. Would-be recipients are already reciprocating, before any such introduction of a basic income, by agreeing to go along with the private-property system. Why should individuals, especially those not born into private property, respect private property rights unless they are given something in return for their cooperation with the arrangement? It should go without saying that they are entitled to an income as reciprocation for not demanding the end to private property. If we are going to appeal to reciprocity, the onus of reciprocation should be on those who derive property income.

Property owners receive a legal entitlement to income streams without a productive contribution being required in return. Most notably, landlords receive rent not as the result of productive activity but by the fact of their ownership of land, housing and commercial buildings; rentiers receive interest income due to mere ownership of money, stored in the form of savings; and capitalists receive profit because of ownership of productive capital. All these income streams derive from ownership, not productive contribution.

If there are going to be private income flows not tied to productive activity, as there always are under capitalism, they should really be the equal entitlement of all. At the very least, reciprocation should require that some of the income flowing to property owners in the form of rent, interest and profit be treated as everyone’s entitlement. These unearned entitlements, after all, are based in the system of property rights.

What are these property rights? They are nothing but a social creation, and as a social creation they can be dismantled at any time. If property owners don’t want these unearned entitlements dismantled, they should start reciprocating.

Under capitalism, reciprocity requires a basic income.


10 thoughts on “A BIG Justification Under Capitalism

  1. This rationale for a BIG is a new idea for me, and thank you for it. I take it as positing a fair and reasonable basis for a
    mutually-acceptable trade within the existing system of private ownership. Not to suggest that private ownership is intrinsically justifiable or should be continued – that’s another topic. I will be interested to see if anyone making reasonable, arguments can poke a hole in your thesis.

  2. “Am still trying to get a grip on this economics business”:

    • There is the skin of the earth and its resources (air, water, earth, and life systems) – human values, relationships and technology
    • All are dynamic and evolving. None are here forever
    • People like to exchange things according to their values
    • $money is a human plug-in – ephemeral ‘scores’ that can be created in unlimited amounts
    • Economic constraints are always real – scores are used to leverage the real
    • Scores are also used to leverage themselves, to appropriate the real

    The ‘unit of account’ to me, is a human being. Everything (to us) is a measure of our perception. It is a matter of ‘consciousness’.

    For me, the same living Energy out of which the Universe is manifest, is the essence of each atom and every human being. Unfortunately very few people are conscious of IT within themselves! If they were, they would view their life and existence on this planet, with very different eyes …..

    There is no other knowing (experience) that satisfies ‘Desire’ (why it is called raj-vidya). Desire is fundamental to all of us and drives everything.

    I think, those are my basics?

    There is nothing wrong with the modern world that a little common sense could not fix as far as I can see (yes, I know it’s a bloody mess)! Economics seems to deal mainly with our pursuit of creature comfort and material enjoyments. Desire for more employs the intellect and the ‘I’ grasps what it thinks will fulfil it. Generally speaking, in the human race, selfishness is stronger than selflessness. For me, that is because the ‘I’ eclipses the Self. It is a matter of what we are conscious of. That’s evolution at work, but it doesn’t mean it should result in suffering. Just a simple awareness that all are better off when all are comfortable would be enough to make it a much more peaceful place to live; learn a little more about human psychology and work with it.

    It would make more sense to me, in the long-run, for humans to take up their role as ‘stewards of the planet’. If we do have to keep score and distribute things amongst one another, then perhaps we could measure GDP as success and remuneration in our stewardship role; shift the goal-posts as it were to something more elevating?

    Value will always reside in a human being. Humans have turned a beautiful planet and the gift of existence into a sweatshop and warzone, ‘I’s shouting at each other in an echo chamber that drives everybody nuts; imprisoned in cages of steel and glass under polluted domes of noise and distractions, violence, crime, mindless entertainment and cultural cul de sacs. No wonder we are all so frustrated. Breath arrives freely and without it nobody could earn an income. Crown of creation huh?

    “Peace actually, would be humanity’s greatest achievement”! [PremRawat].

  3. Unfortunately you rub up against human psychology.

    The results of the Ultimatum game are clear – an individual will gladly give up any personal benefit if the result is that somebody who is deemed as acting ‘unfairly’ has their deemed greater benefit removed as well.

    The result of behavioural psychology are clear – human beings will only share their resources with those they perceive as ‘pulling on the same rope’.

    Already universal benefits are being pared back. Those seen as ‘wealthily’ have them means tested. Those seen as ‘shirkers’ are forced to endure humiliation. Pension age is extended because it is ‘unsustainable’. And these are all voted for democratically by a population.

    So it’s not the property owners that are the problem. It’s your peers.They don’t accept your decision to be a ‘idler’ and will agitate politically to have you punished for that choice – even if it is at some nominal cost to themselves.

    Basic income cannot work – because human psychology won’t allow it to work. We like to resent.

  4. Hi Neil –

    “We like to resent”

    Resent is an anagram of tenser!

    We also like to feel in harmony. Ultimately, we desire peace. We choose but must learn to choose wisely? After 200,000 years on the road, you would think that we would know that … and we do!

    I think selfishness and greed, jealousy and revenge are just obstacles?

    A little bit of light can chase the deepest shadows away – that is what I have seen work in the world!

  5. “The results of the Ultimatum game are clear – an individual will gladly give up any personal benefit if the result is that somebody who is deemed as acting ‘unfairly’ has their deemed greater benefit removed as well.”

    Rentiers, landlords and capitalists may well perceive as unfair any redistribution. But the Ulimatum Game is not a good equivalent to the situation depicted by Peter.

    The point of Peter’s blog is that, in the end, it’s not up to rentiers, capitalists and landlords. Their power is essentially imaginary, because their incomes are unearned: their power exists only in our minds.

    It is us who create their incomes: without us, there’s no income. It is us who have the veto power, not the capitalists, rentiers and landlords.

    This situation will last as long and only so long as we accept it.

  6. “Rentiers, landlords and capitalists may well perceive as unfair any redistribution”

    And the point of my post is that it is not them that stops the redistribution.

    It’s your peers. Your fellow proles.

  7. “This situation will last as long and only so long as we accept it.”

    And the point of my post is that I don’t disagree with you on that.

  8. …. am still trying to get a grip on this economics business:

    I mean, desire is fundamental to human beings: so why doesn’t economics, psychology …. all the rest of it begin with the fundamentals?

    Science works with forces as known, the atom of matter having mysteriously precipitated out of an infinite Supply of Energy of unknown quality, about which zirp can be said (except eastern esotericism unabashedly qualifies at least three aspects manifest, in human terms as Will, Love-Wisdom, Active Intelligence; hence desire as motion) – directed under the same esoteric and economic compulsion to exhibit Law, inherent as radiation, magnetism, electricity, and evolution; vibration, adaption, repulsion, friction; rotary and cyclic spiral motion, leading ever upwards and onwards to composite, ever changing evolving forms (vehicles of consciousness in the east; generators of consciousness in the west – I think the east has it right in my poor experience) ….

    In the mini-universe of each atom the triple aspect is repeated as neutrons, protons, and electrons, as in the human atom in the above qualification. The same Laws seen operational in the atom are seen in the human persona (vehicle). All, in the end are energies (Consciousness) in an Ocean of Energy. Science, prudently, preferring knowledge over belief, does not go there and psychology is humanity’s infant science, fascinated by abnormality more than constitution. The human consciousness sometimes surprises, creating something that seems far beyond the abilities of congeries of physical atoms. It is a wonderful mystery!

    Seventy laps around the Sun, is on average, is about all we get.

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would be evenly remotely interested in a stock market in those circumstances? Not that it doesn’t have a practical purpose – I get that – like brushing your teeth and eating wholesome food. I have no problem with airports and travelling around the world – great! Physical sciences and humanities – great! Dancing and singing in the street – great! But not so great if they distract from our fundamental reality.

    But our fundamentals should have the priority – I don’t see anything wrong with that either? Wanting to understand.

    We try to satisfy, gratify this fundamental and oh so powerful motion in a human being by doing everything we do; but we don’t do the one thing that will satisfy it. ?????

    We have it all backwards. I just think it would change our outlook on human society incredibly; to be creative from a point of consciousness that is happy, fulfilled, complete; rather than desperate and hungry? To have that circuit of desire within us connected and pumping the right type of energy as it was meant to, right from the beginning. That is nature.

    In terms of energy, changing polarity: everything still exists, just the polarity changes?

  9. Peter’s idea that everyone is reciprocating by allowing private property is a good one that I hadn’t heard before. But there are other arguments relating to reciprocity that could be even more persuasive.

    Money only has any value because we collectively agree that it does.
    If we agree to use money primarily as a tool for commerce (spending and getting) rather than a store of value the idea of a universal basic income becomes a lot easier to sell.

    Imagine a mechanism that shaves a tiny percentage off every bank balance every hour, collects it into a big pot and then distributes it as UBI on the first day of every month. And so on, recycling the same money over and over.

    Under such a mechanism money will be spent or invested rather than left rotting in bank accounts. Money will become a means to participate in the economy rather than a commodity to be hoarded.

    The UBI will provide a base load of money, flowing reliably through the system in a regular cycle, ensuring that the economy has the liquidity it needs in order to flourish.

    Those of us who want to become rich can still do so by capturing large amounts of money but in order to secure our wealth we’ll have to spend the money on something that we think will hold its value. Using money as a proxy for wealth will no longer be viable.

    So we can use the reciprocity of money to promote UBI without attacking the idea of personal wealth.

  10. Most “private property” is not really private, but corporate, which in my view is a crucial distinction – perhaps even THE crucial distinction in our times, although late 18th Century thinkers like Adam Smith and the Founding Fathers of the North-American Republic (who regarded Limited Liability Corporations with very little sympathy and a great deal of suspicion) were already aware of it.

    This observation detracts in no way from Peter’s argument, it reinforces it. Human nature, as shaped by History in the past two centuries, may be overly defensive of private property rights; but it doesn’t have to be equally defensive of corporate property rights.

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