Free to Live a Good Life

An important aspect of a Basic Income Guarantee, whether implemented in isolation or alongside a Job Guarantee, is the freedom it would give all people to make ethical life choices if they were so inclined. In the absence of an unconditional basic income, anyone who lacks independent means is essentially compelled to seek employment on terms set by employers. Private-sector employers, in turn, cannot be concerned with ethics or morality to the extent that this compromises profit. To indulge in ethical behavior not dictated by law or profit considerations would only see the enterprise lose out to others willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead of the competition. The provision of an unconditional basic income to all would free people to take employment only when, in their view, it served a socially beneficial purpose. This alteration in relative bargaining power could then be expected to encourage more ethical behavior by employers to the extent that workers were attracted to more fulfilling and socially beneficial roles, even when at lower pay than the alternatives.

The compulsion to seek wage or salary employment is a double compulsion for many people. Not only must they be willing to take a job in order to survive, but their choice of job is often extremely limited. Somebody opposed to the fast food industry might have little option but to work in it. A person concerned about the environment might have to work for a big polluter or risk being cut off from benefit payments. A sales person might be required to sell products of dubious value. A pacifist might find that a job in a munitions factory is the only opportunity in the area. A left-wing economist might find neo-liberal roles at the Treasury or Central Bank the only options. (!)

The conditions of the job also have social consequences. Parents may spend more time away from their partners and children on weekends than they would prefer because of little choice over working hours or schedules (referred to euphemistically as “labor market flexibility”). Issues of housing affordability often make it necessary for people – especially parents of young families – to live far from work, requiring a long commute.

With an unconditional basic income, people could reject jobs that were part of socially harmful activities in favor of working for enterprises – small or large – doing something they believed in. In doing so, they would at the same time be freeing employers to make more socially beneficial choices over what to produce and how to produce it, because enterprises pursuing socially beneficial activities would be able to attract workers at lower wages than enterprises undertaking activities that were widely perceived as socially harmful or destructive.

By freeing people to opt for more fulfilling roles, the quality of life would be enhanced. There would be more joy for all in work. There would be more commitment to the aims of the enterprises for which people worked. There would also be greater scope for individuals in voluntary association to start up small businesses or cooperatives, or to innovate, invent and create in socially beneficial and personally fulfilling ways.

None of this is to suggest that an unconditional basic income is the answer to everything. In one sense, it would be only a small step on the path to a freer society in which people were provided with every opportunity to act in accordance with their best motives rather than narrow self-interest. There would still be many, at least initially, who remained completely driven by material rewards to the exclusion of all else. But, at the very least, an unconditional basic income would seem to create the preconditions for more socially motivated behavior. It could also be expected to set off a dynamic in which, over time, individuals increasingly opted for socially beneficial and fulfilling roles, and enterprises prospered most when responding to those signals.

Already, of course, there are some people who have a wide range of employment options and significant bargaining power in their negotiations with prospective employers. They are free – even in the absence of an unconditional basic income – to base their employment choices on ethical considerations. Some choose to do so, some probably do not. However, at the moment, most people are not so fortunate. It is difficult for a person to make the right choice when the alternatives are a socially harmful job or starvation. The introduction of an unconditional basic income would extend the freedom to lead an ethical life to all individuals.

40 thoughts on “Free to Live a Good Life

  1. What about the inevitable argument that some people will use a BIG to essentially stay home and play video games all day? I am sorry if this argument has been brought up already in a different post, but I would imagine this is one argument that opponents of a BIG would bring up.

    Great blog, by the way.

  2. Certainly, people compelled to make their living by engaging in commerce with other people do sometimes end up making significant moral compromises as a result. Some of that depends on how much income they desire to receive.

    But is there any evidence that people who enjoy the leisure made possible by a reliable, labor-free income live more moral lives on the whole than those who are forced to earn their bread? Are the gentry more ethical than the peasantry?

  3. Dan,

    In response to your question, I believe, that there is some evidence that most reformatory efforts and movements have historically come from the upper middle class (particularly the women) — also from some very enlightened rulers.

    For example the Indian Rights Movements in the US had origins in the middle and upper class white women. See Women’s National Indian Association

    When railroads and settlers entered Indian Territory in violation of federal treaties, …..initiated a petition drive in protest. Thus began the WNIA… Along with the male dominated Indian Rights Association……These middle and upper-class evangelical Christian women formed a network……

    Remember, the middle and upper class women DID NOT have to go to work, and had the time to think about societal and moral issues.

  4. Hi peter

    A neighbour this weekend was trying to coax his ‘pet’ cockatiel down out of tree after it had escaped. The BIG was a clean cage, fresh water, plenty of food, a wooden swing, a few toys and an owner to tickle his chin feathers (whenever the owner felt like it) – and the cockatiel was having none of it; even when the local magpies swooped! Last sighted, the cockatiel was getting back to nature ….

    The human being, on the other hand – would never leave the cage. Even with the door left wide open. The human being would never leave the cage because the human being constructed the cage in the first place. People spend a lot of time redesigning the cage, bringing in the technology, the communications, the information. That doesn’t change anything other than lifestyle. From birth to death we work on the cage, perfect, perfect, perfect – then we die.

    Agree we could have an ethical cage with more time on our hands; but Time also has us – and I know who carries the winning hand.

    It is an age old problem ….!

    I like Kabir: “the fish is thirsty in the water, and every time I hear that – it makes me laugh”.

    There’s got to be more!

    Yes I think your idea of a cage sounds so much better ….

  5. The basic issue is freedom. LIberal democracies are advertised a composed of free people. How can someone be free if they are coerced economically to survive, so that they don’t really have choice, let along bargaining power. Many bottom jobs now have thousands of applicants per opening.

    A fundamental assumption of neoliberalism (“liberalism” means freedom, ironically) is that virtually all economic problems of note are the result of wages/compensation being too high. A result of the pursuit of neoliberal economic policy has been to disadvantage labor and reduce real wages as low as possible. This is accomplished by reducing personal freedom economically, thereby forcing workers to accept offers with no opportunity to bid or power to bargain.

    This is the actual road to serfdom, not “socialism.”

    But wait, it gets worse.

    When workers are not paid a living wage, they are compelled to borrow to maintain lifestyle. That is the road to debt serfdom. eventually, this leads to debt deflation and default, and many workers lose their savings and real assets to the creditors. This cycle has been going on for centuries.

    Meanwhile, the difference between a living wage and the nominal wage paid is picked up by government assistance of the “working poor,” which is public subsidy to firms an an incentive for underpaying. This is a modern invention.

  6. Dan, you wrote:

    But is there any evidence that people who enjoy the leisure made possible by a reliable, labor-free income live more moral lives on the whole than those who are forced to earn their bread?

    I liked Clonal Antibody’s response to your question.

    The point of my post is that the BIG provides the freedom to make moral choices. If a person still makes immoral choices when given the opportunity to live otherwise, that is then that person’s decision, not coerced, and his or her moral responsibility. At the moment, there is not this moral freedom for many people.

    In this post, the concern was also primarily with work activity, not leisure. I was suggesting that a BIG would make it easier for socially beneficial activities to flourish. People could choose to take jobs that paid little but meant a lot, knowing they had the basic income. This, in turn, would make conditions more viable for enterprises that offered such socially beneficial employment. They would have a competitive advantage – more so than now – over other enterprises that relied solely on monetary reward to entice workers.

    You seem to be associating these lower paid activities with leisure. I think this gives too much credence either to governments or markets in determining socially beneficial activities.

    My view is that the BIG, by giving most people greater voice, would actually improve both the working of markets and the working of democracy. Market outcomes would become more reflective of people’s values concerning the types of activities that are socially beneficial. A negative aspect of democracy (dictatorship of the majority) would also be offset to an extent because of the greater freedom individuals would have to act in accordance with their own values.

  7. John: My short answer is that many people may choose more leisure and this would not be a bad thing. There might also be some who opt for pure leisure, if this is possible, and no work, at least initially. That is no different to the present except that this privilege is reserved for a minority. However, I think most people have a desire to contribute in a meaningful way to their society, and would be likely to choose some combination of work and leisure.

    Your question is partly addressed in previous posts without being the primary focus of any post. For example:

    The Transition to a Freer Society: BIG or JG?

    Job Or Income Guarantee (JIG)

    More Jigging – JG vs JIG

  8. Peter,

    I would contend that the higher real wages that prevailed in in the US post WW-II to the oil crises, de facto gave many married women a BIG. This enabled better family dynamics, as well as fostering social networking by these women. This I would also contend led to the women’s right movement of the 1960’s. The middle and upper class women had also been in the lead for universal education, the suffragette movement, and a movement that backfired – “prohibition.” Of course many of he “men folk” were also pulled in.

    I am sure similar events were happening in Europe and Australia.

  9. On Clonal’s response, something strikes me as off-kilter about the idea that we should allow some people to live entirely off the labor of others so they can then use the free time to develop the heightened moral sensibilities that then tell them that it is wrong to live off the labor of others.

    The fact that the society ladies of the gentry or haute bourgeoisie were able to cultivate delicate moral palettes and manage some “Oh, those poor miners” sentiments while eating with the flatware made from what those miners mined isn’t that much of a recommendation fro the leisured rich. Nor is it much better that the ladies sometimes mounted reformist drives which ameliorated the worst of the conditions while leaving the basic power structure in place.

    Leisure time is a good thing. But it seems to me that a more just procedure is to decide as a society how much pleasurable leisure activity we shall have overall, and how much non-leisurely work, and then to devise a system in which we share the leisure and share the work equally. I am resistant to the idea that anybody should be entitled to an income that is produced from the labor of others. People might be entitled to the freedom that allows them to choose a life apart from the society. But a free and democratic society has to be based on some sort of contract among its members. And if a person chooses society, and the benefits that come from what the society is producing via its organization, then they have to choose the social obligations as well.

  10. Dan,

    Do you grow your own food, and are totally self sufficient? If not, you are living off the labor of others. Did you work from the day you were born, and were totally self sufficient? You lived off the labor of others. Did you pay your parents back in dollars and cents for the effort that was spent on you? If not, you have lived off the labor of others.

    In a society, if you are living together, you contribute, and you share. Not all relationships in society are pecuniary. You would have us believe that all relationships are pecuniary. You asked a question if the upper classes that were not living hand to mouth, that had more leisure, had more time to think about moral and ethical issues. When I showed you that there was evidence to that effect, you then accuse societal reformers of being parasites.

    I somehow think you are intent on warping the argument to suit your own purpose.

  11. Do you grow your own food, and are totally self sufficient? If not, you are living off the labor of others.

    Like everyone, Clonal, I live in a way that is dependent on the output of the work of others. But I contribute work of my own that helps produce output that others depend on.

    By “living off the work of others” I mean living in such a way that one derives income from the work of others which is not matched by some valuable work contribution of one’s own. The most obvious example of this is the long history of human societies in which certain classes of people enjoyed a standard of prosperity and leisure that is only made possible by armies of slaves working below them.

    Most people don’t think that’s fair – even if the aristocrats and plantation owners produce various goods in their leisure hours – particularly if those leisure goods circulate mainly among their own class.

    Yes, children in all societies live off the work of the elders in their families and societies. The latter support those and invest in their future. In turn, those children grow up to become productive adults who support both their own children and their own elders. In every functioning society, in one way or another, those who in their productive working years support the very young and the very old. We are all socialized to understand our duties in these areas.

    Some social relationships are characterized primarily by love and affection, and in that case, the benefits passing between people might just be gifts. But in most cases the relationships are governed by a social code that establishes expectations of reciprocity and obligation.

  12. If you give everyone a BIG, then everyone is receiving an allotment of consumption. The minimal amount of work needed to be done to meet that consumption could be shared. This would take care of reciprocity. The level of the BIG would be a compromise between a minimum standard of living and leisure time. A higher minimum standard of living would leave less leisure time.

    The transition to a gift economy can occur when everyone’s contributions are recognized, but not in terms of dollars or hours spent.

  13. “By “living off the work of others” I mean living in such a way that one derives income from the work of others which is not matched by some valuable work contribution of one’s own.”

    (i) who says that you are living off the work of others. If they have created a surplus for their enjoyment (via the productivity machines everybody else created) and their needs are fulfilled are we simply to destroy that surplus instead?

    (ii) who is to say what is and what isn’t a valuable contribution. Even just spending money is a valuable contribution since it informs the production system what to produce. If that money isn’t spent then the production system doesn’t produce anything and everybody loses out.

    Again this boils down to the idea that work is somehow ‘toil’ and ‘distasteful’ to be set again ‘leisure’ which is pleasurable. For a great many people growing corn is intrinsically pleasurable. It is selling that corn on a market not knowing whether your needs will be fulfilled that is the distasteful bit.

    The trick is to match the work that needs to be done as best you can with the leisure interests of the population. That then turns the majority of work into leisure, and the rest that needs to be done that nobody wants to do is either mechanised or doled out equitably.

  14. Neil, certainly if a surplus already exists, it is wasteful to destroy it. But I think the issue is how we organize work, leisure and consumption over time. And we should do what we can to see to it that any system we develop to organize these things is fair.

    I assume that in the world as we know it, and for the foreseeable future, most people are doing a lot of work that they do not find intrinsically pleasurable, but that they do only as a means to acquire other things that they want. They are willing to do work in amounts sufficient to generate a surplus beyond what they are producing for their own consumption needs because they can exchange that surplus for parts of the surplus generated by the work of other people. If we have a system.

    Now I understand that the goods and services generated in the leisure time of BIG recipients, by activities that are not officially classified as “work”, might in many cases be valuable to others. Some peasants might be willing to work extra hard to support a community of monks, for example, because they believe the monks activity enhances the entire society’s spiritual life. People might be willing to support the self-directed “leisure” of artists and intellectuals for the same reason. But certainly not everyone uses their leisure to produce things of value to others. So it doesn’t seem fair to me that the whole society should simply guarantee to any and every person an income, produced by the work of others, that comes with absolutely no strings attached. There needs to be some sort of reciprocity, or else the system will be unworkable.

    Sure there might be some people who intrinsically enjoy raising corn, or putting iPhones together on an assembly line. But I think most people do not, and would prefer to reduce their workload to a level consistent with the amount of work that needs to be done to sustain the sub-society of those who workers deem are contributing something of value.

  15. “I assume that in the world as we know it, and for the foreseeable future, most people are doing a lot of work that they do not find intrinsically pleasurable”

    And I think that is an assumption that is not validated by the evidence. People do actually like to work and you will probably be surprised what people like doing once the chips are down. Particularly once the pricing has to take into account that the individual has the option not to do that work for a lower income.

    Just like you’ve no idea who among the unemployed is ‘feckless’ until you put a job offer in front of them, you’ve no idea what ‘distasteful vital work’ we have until the opportunity not to do it arises and the pricing mechanism shakes out what is really valuable and that which is irrelevant and won’t be missed.

    Currently it is skewed simply because the alternative is starvation – even though we have an extensive surplus of the basics.

    We need to realise that the job of the people on income guarantee is to spend their meagre income so as to signal to the production system what additional quantity needs producing.

    Therefore anything that we get above and beyond that spending service at that level of income should be seen as a bonus.

    And again that can only apply in economies where the mechanisation is sufficient that the surplus can reasonably be assigned to the machines.

  16. “People do actually like to work.”

    Sure, Neil. Most people like to do some productive work of some kind. But they also like to acquire things that they can’t produce on their own. And to acquire those things they have to be willing to offer in exchange something that others want, not just whatever they might of their own accord decide to offer. If the kind of work some individual likes to do is, while productive of something that individual values personally, is not productive of anything that other people want, then the individual really has no right to expect others to deliver any part of what they have made in exchange for whatever it is the individual has produced.

    We can augment market decisions by making reflective social decisions to promote certain kinds of work that produce things we value that, for whatever reason, don’t tend to get produced in sufficient quantities when left to the hurly-burly of the market. But that still requires a social value judgement on what our limited time should or should not be spent on.

    Living in a society means being conscious of and responsive to the needs of others. To the extent one does that,one has a justified claim on a share of the value that others in the society are generating with their work. But to the extent one lives purely for oneself and one’s own pleasures, with no concern living and working partly for others, in response to what others value, then one has no right to expect others to live and work partly for you.

  17. ” And to acquire those things they have to be willing to offer in exchange something that others want”

    Above the basic income level they can do that.

    “To the extent one does that,one has a justified claim on a share of the value that others in the society are generating with their work”

    Indeed. But we’re not suggest that here. The suggestion is for a basic income guarantee which the society can provide by the output surplus largely generated by society’s machines.

    In that case the value supplied and the job performed is simply to exist at the basic level – which signals the production system to produce and provides work for others further up the tree to obtain their ‘luxuries’.

    An income guarantee redefines zero to be the level at which everybody in the society can exist – which of course you can only do in a rich country.

    “But that still requires a social value judgement on what our limited time should or should not be spent on.”

    It does, and yet there is no effective mechanism to decide what that is. There is no Solomon available to decide what is and isn’t valuable.

    About the best mechanism is the threat of social exclusion, but somebody who is immune to that pressure can always get a basic income guarantee by committing a crime punishable by incarceration.

    Favours and obligation have been the basis of human society since the beginning.

    Beyond that you are into sanctioning some form of extermination or extended punishment of certain individuals for failing to conform.

    ” If the kind of work some individual likes to do is, while productive of something that individual values personally, is not productive of anything that other people want,”

    As I said the job of work that is of value is to exist. Anything beyond that at this level is a bonus.

    As productivity improves you have to constantly widen the definition of ‘valuable work’ and ultimately you get to the end point which is that existing (and being seen to exist by notifying the system of your basic demands) is of value to the production system.

    The production system simply needs to know you exist and what your minimum demands are, so that it can produce it.

    Just as a stake in the ground an income guarantee in the UK ensuring all were out of poverty would represent about 37% of our current GDP. That leaves 63% of GDP as incentives to produce it all.

    UK public sector spending is already 45.5% of GDP.

  18. I am comfortable with a two-tiered system, Neil. I don’t think we can avoid having something like a basic income guarantee in a decent society, because the only alternative is to throw people out on the street. But I don’t think the level of income provided by the income guarantee should be comparable to the level of income provided by the job guarantee. I believe our societies should promote a work ethic and sense of social obligation.

    Is this punishment for failing to conform? OK, maybe, if my “conforming” one just means “cooperating”. I think it is entirely appropriate to create positive incentives for social cooperation and negative incentives for exclusively self-interested individualism. If we want a strong society we need to promote those kinds of norms.

    By the way, I don’t think our machines produce a surplus. People operating the machines produce a surplus. The machines help them produce more with less human work effort. But whatever amount of work needs to be done to provide a decent life for all should be shared by all. Telling people that they are entitled to the fruits of the labor of others simply by virtue of existing ruptures any sense of a social contract, and promotes an unrealistically individualistic standard for social participation. It’s the same flawed standard that is at work when we tell people that they are entitled to a flow of income derived from the work of others simply by virtue of the fact that they are fortunate enough own some portion of the means of production.

  19. Dan,

    You’re into the normative now. You’ve used the term ‘believe’. 🙂

    There’s a whole spectrum here and it’s interesting to hear the arguments about how people believe society should or shouldn’t behave.

    Of course the next question once you get beyond a flat system is how to determine the differential – because it has different dimensions. There’s the amount per hour, the number of hours per week and then the age of the individual to which those apply (as we need to reference it to the retirement and education provisions).

    And that’s just for able bodied. Then we get into the different levels of ability. What level of ability (both physical and mental) should these constraints apply to?

    Which is why there’s a lot to be said for a flat rate – it has the advantage of being very, very simple.

    You can chew up whatever productivity you are alleged to obtain with a differential with the bureaucratic processes to manage it.

  20. Neil,

    Yes, definitely, I am making normative judgments. It’s a normative judgement to say that people should be given an income guarantee because that promotes freedom, and it’s a normative judgement to say that an a job guarantee should be preferred over an income guarantee, because the former promotes social obligation and thee latter does not. Every time we leave the level of pure description to offer a policy recommendation, we have to incorporate some values about how things should be, and not just how they are.

    I agree that we run into quite a mess once we begin to debate what level and type of work effort constitutes a fair share of social contribution in exchange for certain levels and types of social benefits, given all the various types of people that exist. But I do think we should promote the general principle that people should contribute their fair share, even if that leaves open a vast field for political debate.

  21. Interesting discussion on social ‘contracts’ or even ‘agreements’. My thoughts – these are:

    * Conditional – subject to revision
    * Vary from society to society, age to age
    * ‘External’ to your existence (1)
    * Arise from an internal need for ‘justice’ that even little kids have (what is that)?
    * Answer – the desire to be content; externalised and subjected to some outer condition.

    – (1) There is an old Tibetan meditation that goes something like – at the moment you press the Send button to post your blog comment, the whole universe disappears. Surprised? There you are, a human concsiousness, ‘floating’ in the ‘void’ – now do your reappraisals, social contracts included if you like.

    What do you want?

  22. Dan,

    About fair compensation. Let me put out a hypothetical. I discover a foolproof way that every one can heal themselves faster, with no additional input from anybody else. Currently each day that healing is delayed costs a person say a dollar, plus another painful day.

    It did not take many societal resources for me to come up with the solution. Say it took ten days of thought and experimentation, with no resources spent other than what could be accomplished on ten days of a living wage.

    Now, I put that way on the internet, for everybody to see, and to utilize. Say it took one more day of my life.

    So what am I entitled to from society for those 11 days of thought and experimentation?

    Nothing?

    After all i would have done what I did anyway.

    Eleven days of a living wage?

    After all that was the effort it took me.

    A dollar for every day (for eternity for me and my descendants) that somebody was healed faster?

    After all they would have paid that extra dollar, and had the injury for another day if they had not used my ideas

    What does society owe me?

    Nothing?

    After all I gave it as a gift for society to use, and gifts are given with no expectations of any return coming back.

    So what is the right answer?

  23. You will have to quantify what would be a case of mooching off the system, as there will always be people who will insist that is what is going on. The Tea Partiers are typical in this regard.

  24. CA,

    When you say, “it did not take many societal resources for me to come up with the solution. Say it took ten days of thought and experimentation, with no resources spent other than what could be accomplished on ten days of a living wage.”

    The question I would ask is how you got into the intellectual position of being able to come up with some amazing cure of that kind in such a short period of time. Isn’t the state of your intellect in part the result of a very long and expensive process of investing resources in your education?

  25. Dan,

    What if it came from just the accumulation of my own observances. I would contend that education plays a relatively small role in creativity. Keen observation and experimentation plays a much larger role. But more than that is that some people are creative and others are not.

    However, that was not relevant to what I posted. I was talking about the act of “gifting” and what should be the social response to the “givers of the gift”

    In today’s economy, Linux (open source free Unix) is an example. Of course, the biggest example of a gift that I can see is the Internet itself, which was a gift from the US government to the world. Many fortunes were made and continue to be made from that gift, but the “open internet” was still a gift.

    According to Graeber, the gift economy predates the development of debt, which in turn predates the development of money. I had posed my question keeping that in mind.

  26. Having read a lot of Graeber’s book, I have to say I find a lot of his argument perplexing. He seems to hate the very idea of exchange and bends over backwards to classify all sorts of things that look to me like exchanges as non-exchanges. But almost none of the things he labels as gifts look like actual gifts to me. A gift is something one gives with no expectation of reciprocity. But in many of the situations Graeber describes, there are clear and well-established social norms for the systematic transmission of goods, and the people giving the goods, knowing that others are bound by these norms as well as they are, expect something to be returned to them in the future as a result.

    If there is a strong social norm that tells people they are expected to deliver their surpluses to others, then that just seems like a way of organizing a socialized system of exchange. There is an implicit code: “You give me your surplus when you have a surplus, and I’ll give you my surplus when I have a surplus.” That’s a system of exchange. It’s not gift-giving.

    In a traditional hierarchical system, obligations can only be created by superiors and imposed on inferiors. Items bestowed by superiors on inferiors therefore can never be classified as discharged obligations, because to accept one has an obligation toward someone you regard as your inferior would be to accept you are equals and suffer a loss of dignity or face. Even in a society of equals, an established system of reciprocity and exchange might be accompanied by some atavistic aristocratic ideals in which everyone is some kind of “noble” who can only give, not exchange.

    When something is delivered to one as an act of “grace” then the usual response is “gratitude”. But Graeber tells a story of Inuit hunters, I beleive, who are irked when a visiting anthropologist says “thank you” for a delivery of surplus meat from some hunters. That indicates to me that the recipients of meat do not view the surplus meat as something given freely as a gift, but something they are owed according to the norms of their society.

    The archaic sense of the dirtiness or vulgarity of exchange really held much of the the world back for centuries, and economic development took off when people got over their disdain for commerce.

    Devising a social system for exchange based on reciprocity and mutual obligation doesn’t mean that we somehow make gift-giving illegal. There will always be a realm of transfers of property in which the giver is not obligated to give and the recipient is not entitled to receive. But in the realm of those things as we do decide to declare people as entitled to receive, it seems to be that our declaration should always be matched by a corresponding requirement that those recipients also give something.

  27. The origins of the word phrase “Thank You” “Danke” are in the Indo-Sanskrit branch of the Indo-European languages — likely coming from the hindi/sanskrit word “dhanyavad” meaning the utterance of “dhanya ho,” and “dhanya ho” meaning – “may you become enriched” — So the words “Thank You” are an acknowledgement of the reciprocal nature of gift giving. I would contend that there is always an element of reciprocity in gift giving.

    I think we can all agree that human beings are social creatures. A social being cannot exist without being an a web of mutual obligations. The question then is “which of these obligations are better of being accounted for, and which are better left unaccounted.”

  28. A universal income payment does not affect the incentive to work. The safety net concept creates an incentive not to work. With a universal income payment the people who choose to ‘mooch’ off the system pay an opportunity cost by wasting time. A universal income should probably be paid at what the UK government calls the ‘applicable amount’ (subsistence). I believe the job guarantee income should be paid on top of universal income, perhaps at a rate slightly below ‘minimum wage’.

    Universal promises can only be justified in societies where there is a sufficient surplus to support everyone. This is self-evident in western democracies because we already do support everyone. If the introduction of a new system causes a reducing surplus then, perhaps the incentives need to be looked at but instead of taking the risk of step change, it would be possible to scale out these ideas progressively.

    I think it would be good to have an inductive reasoning blog where people can describe the situation in their country of residence and a discussion on pros, cons, alternatives and principles would follow.

    I’m not sure about the term ‘guarantee’. In the UK we use ‘benefit’. I think terminology should encapsulate the nature of the social contract that’s being offered, but this follows from the principles of the social contract.

  29. At the moment I don’t mind ‘democratic income’ as the name for a universal income payment. Guarantee suggests the safety net model of welfare. The safety net model hasn’t worked well in UK or USA and we seem to be going even further in that direction.

    My reasoning is that ‘democratic income’ would be given to everyone on the basis that it’s not possible to participate in democratic capitalism without money. It could be started on a low level and increased but it should never be decreased.

  30. re. Neil Wilson

    It’s true. Language isn’t my strong point.

    You’re aware of the political realities in the UK though. The trend has been away from universal benefits since at least the 70s. My biggest worry is the effect of student debt on future generations. I think education will decline. The Labour Party’s USP appears to be that they’re the ‘not quite as conservative’ party. I’ve believed in universal benefits for a long time but if they’re seen as benefits then they’re something that can be taken away. I believe that they should be part of an explicit social contract. In spite of all the attacks that it’s received, universal health care is still seen as part of the social contract and it’s difficult for politicians to change that.

    My views on delivery is nothing like the NHS though. Everyone I know feels crushed by the NHS. Patients, nurses, even consultants. I don’t know if you’ve looked in any detail at the housing policies that New Labour had. They seem to have inadvertently had some good policies there. I think it may have caught everyone by surprise, so it would be easy to miss. The decentralisation within UK public sector housing has improved tenant satisfaction. It would have been good to get rid of priority need and just bring in a universal housing promise but that would have been difficult to do because of the long-standing stigma of council housing. Imagine the UK if the first Blair government had followed their decentralised housing policies in combination with a universal housing promise. Unique and individual estates on a human scale for anyone that wanted to live there.

  31. “The decentralisation within UK public sector housing has improved tenant satisfaction. ”

    That’s because it is new. When something is new it has low institutional entropy. That then builds up over the years causing the organisation to decay.

    Talk to somebody who knew the NHS when it started, and the satisfaction with it would have been sky high.

    Public or private sector you’ll find it is the level of institutional entropy that determines how effective that institution is.

  32. Neil “Public or private sector you’ll find it is the level of institutional entropy that determines how effective that institution is.”

    The essence of institutional economics, why institutional change is inevitable over time, and why civilizations fail. Institutional entropy increases not only with time but more so with institutional complexity. Human are capable of creating much more complex institution than they have learned how to manage efficiently and effectively. And development of “management science” is a big reason the US has been the world’s largest and most innovative economy. But now management science is turning into managerialism.

  33. re. Neil Wilson

    I don’t really have a view on institutional entropy, re. NHS v social housing. I certainly don’t dismiss the principle of institutional entropy. It’s likely to be a factor but it seems like there’s been a lot of change in both areas and the changes in housing over the last 15 years appear more successful. Historically, the satisfaction with management of UK public sector housing was quite high for 30 years after the 2nd world war but plummeted in a period of 10 years from 75 to 85 after changes to housing allocation. The allocation changes haven’t been reversed. Studies of US school size suggested that opportunity for involvement is a possible factor in satisfaction as this tends to be inversely proportional to organisational size. For example a large school may have one school band and a small school may have one school band but the chance of joining the school band is higher in the small school.

    What New Labour did with housing was to create opportunities for tenants and for local authorities. They gave local authorities a choice of institutional structures, e.g. council houses, ALMOs, housing associations, PFI (there’s more but I can’t remember all the legal structures). Luton chose to stick with council housing. Manchester tried a variety of options in different areas. Some failed and were brought back into council ownership only to be relaunched under a different model. The end result was that the 100,000 or so Manchester properties were split between about 20 organisations with different institutional structures and different sizes. Labour also created opportunities for tenants by legally requiring tenant involvement in governance. Salford didn’t follow these requirements and it was deemed that their ‘New Prospect’ ALMO was illegal. As a result they took the properties back and relaunched after tenant consultation.

    I’m not suggesting that everything about New Labour’s housing policy was great, only that ‘by and large’ it was an improvement and some of the principles were sound. Under New Labour the NHS implemented increasing centralisation following the logic of economies of scale. They closed small hospitals and created PCTs to manage GP spending. It seems the opposite of their policy in housing.

    I acknowledge that my desire for public sector on a human scale is a belief. I don’t think there’s been enough attempts at decentralised government to verify or disprove this belief and I’d like to see more attempts at achieving this type of government.

    Fundamentally I believe that governments should act to promote freedom which I define as the greatest opportunity for the most people. This involves some restraint on the opportunities of the most powerful but increases the opportunities overall.

    re. Tom Hickey

    Studies of managerialism in the UK comparing UK to USA and Germany suggested that the UK has a managerial legacy from its history of empire. They also suggest a long term productivity gap in the UK due to this culture. It seems there may be some latent metaphor in this that’s waiting to be expressed.

  34. Hacky,

    I’m not disagreeing with you by the way. I’m just being cautious because I’ve seen the “let’s decentralise”, “let’s centralise” cycle about three times now in my career. Each model has advantages and disadvantages and every new generation of executive thinks they’ve discovered the magic of the ‘other’ model, while quietly ignoring the disadvantages.

    On the plus side, it always keeps me in work. I just pull out the cost benefit analysis from about fifteen years ago and change the names. Then issue a large bill.

  35. Institutional entropy is certainly a thing. There are a lot of debates around this in software development. After posting yesterday, I was thinking about the failure of the quality control movement (CMM, TQM, etc.), re. institutional entropy because of the problems of change that quality control creates. This also reminded me that the NHS is still using ISO 9001.

    When I read a lot of the anti-capitalist literature, I feel that there’s far too much emphasis placed on monetary exchange and no mention of bureaucracy. My personal experience is that bureaucratic social interactions are just as important in contemporary society (Max Weber’s iron cage). The problems of social change aren’t just problems of capitalist exchange but also the difficulty of having social interactions which don’t follow a bureaucratic form. There are so few of these left in our lives.

    I’m also interested in dissolving organisational boundaries. I’m not happy with the concept of consultation because it seems to enforce boundaries and I’d rather involvement is part of a business process. Even the concept of a business process appears very fixed. In my own work I try to use a concept of managed immaturity to vary the degree to which I follow a business process. I’ve been wondering whether it’s possible to apply concepts of pattern and strong/loose coupling to bureaucracy in order to break down bureaucratic boundaries. One example is the open source movement. The GPL is a kind of social pattern that people can adopt. I don’t agree with the principles of the GPL but that’s another tangent.

  36. An interesting model that combines centralization and decentralization is the modern military model, which is the epitome of a hierarchical, authoritarian, and bureaucratic institution. But is unit is the team, i.e., at the lowest level commanded by a commissioned officer, the platoon, which is made up of squads or section, generally led by non-commissioned or “petty” officers.

    Here is the structure of the British Army

    Fireteam 4 NCO
    Squad/Section 8–13 Squad leader
    Platoon 26–55 Platoon leader
    Company 80–225 Captain/Major
    Battalion 300–1,300 (Lieutenant)Colonel
    Regiment/Brigade 3,000–5,000 (Lieutenant)Colonel / Brigadier(General)

    This is the line, commanded by line officers

    Division 10,000–15,000 Major General
    Corps 20,000–45,000 Lieutenant General
    Field army 80,000–200,000 General
    Army group 400,000–1,000,000 Field Marshal
    Army Region 1,000,000–3,000,000 Field Marshal
    Army theater 3,000,000–10,000,000 Field Marshal

    The upper echelon of the structure is commanded by the general staff, i.e., generals, in Greek strategoi, who lay down the plan or “strategy” that is executed by the line offices at the tactical level and executed locally by the basic units as teams.

    This is pretty much the same basic structure that is followed in the military, government and business today.

    This organization goes back at least to the Roman Army, which was famous for its organizational approach that enabled it to roll right over less organized opposition. This approach was later adapted to modern business management.

  37. And as we know that bureaucratic structure is highly efficient – in fact the most efficient structure there is.

    But is it also incredibly inflexible and suffers numerous weaknesses when you staff the structure points with human beings.

    Works brilliantly with robots.

  38. I’ll skip over the lack of negative feedback in bureaucracy because I think that’s well understood.

    In software development, everyone’s agile these days. A lot of people are just calling themselves agile and doing the same thing that they’ve always done. However, there seems to be an acknowledgement that agile is important. Bureaucracy isn’t agile. JK Galbraith described the old oligarchies in ‘The New Industrial State’, i.e. big producers. What I’m wondering is whether the new oligarchies are going to be trust oligarchies that manage the trust infrastructure. In the early days of the internet everyone was talking about disintermediation but it never happened because of the trust problem. In a loosely coupled system of production, how can you trust the producer to deliver the goods. It’s the same problem that the early capitalists had and it led to the introduction of the factory system where capitalists could control production by using bureaucracy, but bureaucracy isn’t agile.

    Organisations like Amazon, Ebay and to some extent Google have stepped in and made guarantees therefore introducing a trust infrastructure. At the moment I’m viewing the future of production as small producers organised in value networks with large trust oligarchies. Amazon has been massively expanding its trust infrastructure and I think their model is the closest to the new economics. It’s being branded as the cloud but I believe that trust is the commodity that their selling. This is how I see the breakdown of bureaucracy playing out within institutions of capitalism. Governments are standing in the way of this change at the moment though because it’s hard for a small producer to deal with the government bureaucracy. Governments have also, to some extent, been captured by the large producers. I expect that eventually the trust oligarchies will capture government and the barriers to small production will be dismantled.

    In the non-capitalist sphere, I wonder where the trust infrastructure comes from. The GPL seems like a place to start but there’s a lot more needed.

    Now I like the term ‘free money’ for a universal payment from government. It’s free as in freedom AND free beer.

  39. I like the trust concept as intangible capital. Amazon has used it to build their brand. One the other hand, eBay started in the Bay Area as a community service built on trust, became hugely successful, corporatized, and is now in the process of trashing its brand by undermining the trust that it had initially built and which was its intangible capital.

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