Does Goldman Sachs care if you raise chickens? Some thoughts on accelerationism

“Goldman Sachs doesn’t care if you raise chickens” according to political scientist Jodi Dean, quoted by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams (henceforth S&W) in their recent book, Inventing the Future1. And if that title doesn’t sufficiently telegraph S&W’s line of argument, perhaps their subtitle ‘Postcapitalism and a world without work’ will help, as will the insistent demands imperiously inscribed on the book’s cover: “Demand full automation – Demand universal basic income – Demand the future”.

In other words, it’s the kind of book that probably ought to be complete anathema to me. And in some ways it is. But actually I find myself in agreement with a good deal of what S&W have to say. It’s a serious, grownup book about the challenges now facing progressive politics – the kind of book that Leigh Phillips should have tried to write instead of penning fatuous putdowns to the green movement2. By contrast, S&W’s diagnosis for the mess we’re in seems to me spot on in many ways. But I think they lose their way when they try to provide solutions. It’s plain that they don’t know much about farming or about the history of agrarian populism. I’d like to think that if they corrected this – perhaps through a long chat with a farmer over a hard day’s shared work, like the one I recently had processing and salting down my recently-slaughtered pig (not sure what Goldman Sachs’ line is on suids) – we might find a surprising amount of overlap in our thinking.

The points at issue are important, I think, if we’re to create the kind of moral/ethical polities that Steve Gwynne raised in the comments on my recent post about commons – polities of the kind I think are necessary to achieve just and sustainable societies. So let me whizz through a few aspects of S&W’s analysis in order to lay some foundations for that project.

S&W perceptively analyse the demise of the implicit postwar capital-labour deal in the richer countries (essentially, full employment in return for political docility). What we’ve experienced more recently isn’t just more economic downturns but a fundamental reconfiguration of the labour market – the growth of an insecure ‘precariat’, the emergence of ‘jobless recoveries’ where economic upturns fail to generate new jobs, and the development globally of non-capitalist labour markets. I was pleased to note on the latter front that S&W don’t fall for the familiar ecomodernist fancy that the growth of slums is a positive sign of ascent from rural peasant misery towards urban middle-class plenty – in their view, slums represent “a dual expulsion from the land and from the formal economy” (p.96). Quite so.

These changes have complex causes, but S&W devote considerable attention to the rise of neoliberal ideology as one important factor. They point to neoliberalism’s origins among rather marginalised and unorthodox economic thinkers in Europe and the USA from the 1920s onwards, and show how the neoliberals brought their agenda into the political mainstream as a result of careful, strategic, long-term thinking which came to fruition after the global economic crises of the 1970s. Their argument is that contemporary capitalism in its neoliberal guise wasn’t an inevitable outcome of the modern political economy, which I think is true…but only inasmuch as capitalist economies have hitherto been restrained by non-capitalist considerations such as the ties of community, or nation, or ideas about economic relations as the servant to social wellbeing. Neoliberalism by contrast is the pure logic of capital, capitalism with its gloves off, albeit dressed up in many disguises about how the marketization of every sphere of life will bring wider benefits to all. So although it’s true that the neoliberal turn in the global economy wasn’t foreordained, nevertheless it was a clear developmental possibility latent within the more circumscribed capitalist economies prior to the 1980s neoliberal take-off.

S&W’s prescription for transcending neoliberal capitalism also has its strengths. Unlike Leigh Phillips, they’re not the kind of nostalgic, backward-looking socialists who still believe that the working class is uniquely placed to liberate all humanity from capitalist oppression, emphasising instead contemporary political struggles as populist struggles (which is refreshingly open-minded for writers still operating largely within traditional leftism). “Why do we devote one-third of our lives in submission to someone else?” they write of modern employment, thereby knocking on the front door of a populist critique of wage labour and concentrated property ownership. But then they turn away from it, developing what I struggle to call anything other than a technofantasy of a leisured world without work, where human Eloi are freed to pursue projects of self-realisation such as experimenting with their gender and sexual identity through new medical technologies in a world without Morlocks, whose role is performed by machines using limitless clean energy (S&W, p.2).

I won’t dwell here on why limitless clean energy and the complete automation of work seems a fantasy to me, because I’ve already written about it elsewhere. Perhaps I’ll just note in passing that S&W’s description of the technologies that are going to make human work redundant are thinly described – driverless cars are mentioned frequently, agriculture, construction and the various mechanical arts which presumably would be needed to keep the machines in order scarcely at all. More interesting to me is S&W’s conviction that nobody really wants to work, and their policy proposal for a universal basic income (UBI) so that people can live a sufficiently abundant life without actually having to.

S&W’s analysis of UBI is interesting – they make the point that it’s been seriously on the table in government policy discussions at various times and places, and that it’s affordable with a bit of judicious juggling of government finances, mostly involving increasing the tax burden on the wealthy. They also argue that the UBI would have to be set sufficiently high that it didn’t just act as an implicit subsidy to business. Personally, I’m sceptical that it would be possible to set it high enough in societies where large numbers of people wanted to avail themselves of the possibilities it provides to avoid work – with one important exception that I’ll come to soon. But then I’m also sceptical of S&W’s assumption that people actually do want to avoid work. I think what people mostly want to avoid is the subordination involved in working for someone else, and the repetitive emptiness of excessive work specialisation – dimensions of work that have been considerably augmented with the rise of the neoliberal global economy. Various writers have recently tried to recover the value of skilled practical work, of pitting yourself against the objective resistance of the natural world to human desires, whether that involves fixing a broken engine or bringing in a wheat harvest3. S&W are having none of it. In a typically overdrawn duality they say “In the end, the choice is between glorifying work and the working class or abolishing them both” (p.126). I don’t see it that way. To my mind, there are endless possibilities between glorification and abolition.

What seems to annoy S&W about reconfiguring work as craft is that it involves all the usual bugbears to their version of progressive thought, bugbears they summarise as “the small-scale, the authentic, the traditional and the natural”, a form of “folk politics” with the “guiding intuition that immediacy is always better and often more authentic, with the corollary being a deep suspicion of abstraction and mediation” (p.10). For S&W, on the other hand, “There is no authentic human essence to be realised, no harmonious unity to be returned to, no unalienated humanity obscured by false mediations, no organic wholeness to be achieved” (p.82).

Actually, I pretty much agree with that last sentence – my paper ‘Genesis and J. Baird Callicott’ drew similar inferences from the source material of the Garden of Eden story in the Book of Genesis4. And yet I still have what S&W would call ‘folk political’ tendencies in identifying with the small-scale, local and traditional. Again, I found myself agreeing with a good deal of S&W’s critique of ‘folk politics’ in contemporary leftist and anti-capitalist movements. But that was partly because their critique didn’t seem applicable to the kind of peasant agrarian populist politics I espouse. “They don’t mean me,” I thought, as they laid into folk politics for its “fetishisation of local spaces, immediate actions, transient gestures, and particularisms of all kinds” (p.3), objections that to my mind have little bearing on the particularisms of my daily practice as a farmer and the generalities of my political activism around agrarian populism. But it soon became apparent that, yes, they did mean me. Partly at issue is S&W’s criticisms of the local food movement, which I’ve already examined elsewhere and won’t further dwell on here, except to say I think their grasp of the issues is superficial and their critique naïve. But the more general problem is that S&W want to set up an opposition between ‘the immediate’ and ‘the mediated’, and to find the former wanting.

I don’t myself find this dualism terribly illuminating, and I want to try to transcend it. Let me invoke as my witness someone whose grasp of capitalism was certainly very mediated. In a famous passage in The German Ideology, Karl Marx wrote,

“In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

It interests me that three of Marx’s four examples refer to subsistence or self-provisioning activities. Anyone who seriously tries hunting, fishing or cattle-raising will find that they do in fact need to put some hours in and become ‘accomplished’ to succeed – all involve complex social relations, technologies and knowledges. They are not unmediated. But at the same time such activities do evince a kind of simplicity, and a testing of oneself against natural boundaries, that aren’t to be found in the kinds of ‘mediated’ city work or modern self-realisation that I think S&W have in mind when they refer to the mediated. And I want to hold on to that simplicity. Not because I’m baffled and frightened by the bewildering complexity of the modern world and want to retreat to some imagined simpler past as a comfort blanket – that, it’s true, is one historic manifestation of populism, understandable but unfortunate, with its tendency to blame outsiders and follow projects of historical, religious or moral purity. Let us call it Nigel Farage populism. The point I want to make is that, actually, the diversely productive self-provisioning and post-prandial philosophising imagined by Marx, mediated though it is, is a relatively simple and a relatively satisfying way to live. Is there not a danger of over-complicating the basic rhythms of human life?

Not according to S&W. In their critique, for example, of folk-political public campaigns to disinvest in dodgy banks, they say this neglects what they call “the complex abstractions of the modern banking system” (p.44). This seems an unfortunate turn of phrase when what we learned in 2008 is that, actually, the banking system is less complex and less abstract than the bankers and economists had thought, as complex fiscal abstraction ran aground on the hard reality of demands for actual purchasing power. But let me admit that I know very little about the banking system. I’m sure a knowledgeable person could convince me that it is quite complex, and that simplistic populist critiques of bankers don’t get us far. But their arguments would have to be…complex. Is it not rather simplistic to argue, as S&W do along with many defenders of the economic status quo, that populist anger with the banks is simply ‘simplistic’, without further elaboration?

There are too many of these extravagantly drawn dualisms in S&W’s thinking: “The choice facing us is…either a globalised post-capitalism or a slow fragmentation towards primitivism”5. Why? To my mind, such Procrustean oppositions do little more than buttress the dreary conservatism that so much self-avowed modern or progressive thought now inclines to: “Oh, you’re against mechanised agricultural intensification are you? Well I’d like to see you taking on a woolly mammoth with a pointy stick!”

S&W write,

“Whereas folk-political approaches lack an enticing vision of the future, struggles over modernity have always been struggles over what the future should look like: from the communist modernism of the early Soviet Union to the scientific socialism of postwar social democracy, and on to the sleek neoliberal efficiency of Thatcher and Reagan” (p.70).

OK, well let me ask you which of these visions for your future you find most enticing:

(a) living in a modest but comfortable house with a generous vegetable garden and access to meadows and pastures in the vicinity of a small friendly town with many like-minded people

(b) living in a society organised according to the principles of scientific socialism

(c) living in a society organised according to the principles of sleek neoliberal efficiency

Perhaps I’m stretching a point but S&W seem incapable of construing any political possibilities other than embracing technological acceleration, universalism (and precisely whose universalism, given that there is no human authentic human essence, no harmonious unity etc.?) and the imperative to expand and extend. They argue that only projects of this kind can lead to emancipation from capitalism, whereas folk politics is doomed to failure because it can’t reckon with the abstraction and global reach of capital. I’m inclined to propose a counter-thesis: projects of technological acceleration, post-work self-actualisation, restless self-improvement, simple universalism and anti-authentic mediation are potentially radical, liberatory and anti-capitalist but are so close to regnant capitalist ideologies of liberation from limits and self-overcoming that they will almost certainly be swallowed up by the existing order they set out to challenge – as indeed has mostly been the case with avant garde movements in modernism. Agrarian populist projects of self-provisioning, far from being what S&W call “freedom at the expense of abundance, represented by primitivist dystopias” (p.109) offer enticing visions of abundance, which are neither primitivist nor nearly as dystopian as the Eloi-vision of S&W. We do not have to choose between either Antonio Sant’Elia or John Zerzan.

But an agrarian populist vision for the future undoubtedly faces several difficulties. One of them is how to mediate (that ‘m’ word again) the focus on localism with the need to generalise it politically – the issue that Steve Gwynne and I were touching on in our discussion around the notion of the commons. I like S&W’s distinction between folk-politics and populism inasmuch as the latter seeks to build a common language and project – precisely what I hope I can contribute to in my own political writing and activism in groups like La Via Campesina. I also like their ideas about a universal basic income in this respect. Imagine a UBI programme fostered by a government that supported localism and small-scale farming – the budget might not stretch to what today would seem a very generous allowance, but in a context where a large number of people were producing a large number of their needs for themselves, it may not have to. For that to happen, though, a thorough reform of landownership would be required – an issue that, surprisingly, S&W don’t mention at all.

In summary, does Goldman Sachs care if you raise chickens? No, of course it doesn’t if you raise chickens, just as it doesn’t care if you withdraw your labour as an individual miner or farm labourer by way of political protest. But if we raise chickens as part of a political movement, then I think it’ll start to care, just as it or at least the political and economic establishment care when trade unions are able to use the power of labour as a collective political weapon. S&W teach us that new political projects take time to build, and that they have to be strategic. I have little interest in their own particular political project, but I take heart from their analysis that – possible political or ecological meltdowns notwithstanding – it may be feasible to build in time a strong global agrarian populist movement that changes the face of contemporary politics.

References

  1. Srnicek, N. & Williams, A. (2015). Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. London: Verso.
  1. Phillips, L. (2015). Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts. Winchester: Zero.
  1. Eg. Sennett, R. (2008). The Craftsman, London: Penguin; Crawford, M. (2009). The Case For Working With Your Hands, London: Penguin.
  1. Smaje, C. (2008). ‘Genesis and J. Baird Callicott: the land ethic revisited’ Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 2, 2: 183-198.
  1. http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/

21 thoughts on “Does Goldman Sachs care if you raise chickens? Some thoughts on accelerationism

  1. I was obviously too quick on the trigger; sitting at my computer when you posted, I quickly responded with a comment. And then you posted again, either with a new title or as a digital glitch—my comment did not transfer.

    So here it is. I wouldn’t want you to suffer for lack of my thoughts… 😉

    Thank you Chris.

    I am so often struck, when reading these post-work arguments, by the impression the author(s) have literally no understanding of the physical world. As you said, they have no notion of agriculture, resource extraction, energy, or manufacturing.

    They live in a heady world so divorced from reality they are free to dream of any possible future, and they will all have equally puny chances of coming to be.

    I also am wondering, and trying to put into a sentence, in what way human beings became so damaged and wounded that they lost all capacity to be curious about the meaning of life. They, being ultrarationalists, have certainly lost the capacity to respect what other people may have thought about meaning, and have been thinking about meaning for centuries—because say, those people may have been monks of one persuasion or the other, and lived in monasteries.

    They confuse a meaningful life with freedom, as if expectations and responsibilities have no benefit.

    They especially confuse a meaningful life with freedom from labour.

    So, despite toiling over books destined for very limited readership and low remuneration, they determine all people hate work.

    Therefore, we must automate and all people will be free to self-develop.

    It matters not that there may be more important things in the world than our precious snowflake selves. It matters not that, given free time, many of us spend it watching television and kitten videos instead of reading and debating the great thinkers of the past.

    So say we are all liberated from the need to toil, and we set out to fulfill our every desire. Say we want to hike all the great trails of the world. History, and legions of experimenters show us that, after months or years free to commune with beauty in this way, there is one, and only one conclusion.

    After the ecstasy, the laundry.

    And so we see intense philosophy conducted from within self-provisioning monastic orders. We see transcendent experiences. We see people subsuming their lives to the ultimate socialism, the service of others.

    But none of that counts, because it is manual labour, and serves our real physical bodies, and serves some god or the other besides.

    I find them sad. I think they needs hugs, but they need deep, warm neverending hugs, that might help them feel their place in the human and natural families. These poor, poor men. And are they not all men? Interesting. Sad.

    But no wonder, when they are so hell-bent on stripping the immediate out of their lives. They strive for a perfectly mediated life, untouched by reality, and then wonder why they are so hollow and empty and sad. It must because they have to work! Capitalism!

    Anyhow, I can’t think too long about the vortex of pain whirling inside them because it makes me cry.

    I would like to read more about your thoughts on folk politics. Do you have any links you could send me?

    Best,

    Ruben.

  2. It could be claimed that a “universal” UBI is in fact a last-ditch attempt by the good middle-class people to get away from all the sticky ‘immediate action’ that awaits them:
    The most horrible thing might not be that they’re becoming superfluous, but that their future is as people once again, and forever after, plying their localised trades with their hands. Stuck.
    If they’re lucky. And have fought for their right to be tied to a place.

    How does that rhyme go? Denial, Anger, Bargaining…

    Is UBI a case of bargaining before the limitations of a low-energy future are finally comprehended, or simply an angry claim to a share in the spoils of mercantilism?

    Does a “universalised” UBI include THEM – who sensibly have to be denied access – or just US – the set of enlightened urban dwellers who are sufficiently non-primitive to be granted access to its funds?

    It seems the WE it generates can only ever be a pre-(post-?)political demand to be left alone and in full possession of one’s privileges.

    Which one needs an appropriately dismissive set of authors for.

  3. @Ruben @Michael: Thanks for those comments, much wisdom in them. I agree that there’s a very problematic and under-developed notion of ‘freedom’ among these writers. And though Michael’s take on UBI is a lot more sceptical than the position I adopted in this post, I must admit I think there’s a lot of force to it. It would be interesting to calculate what the individual paycheck of a globally universalised UBI might be.

    I don’t really have any links to offer on folk politics, but I’ll be saying more about it in the next couple of posts. I like David Graeber’s writing – a subtle theorist of folk politics, I think.

    Meanwhile, I’ve had some entertaining Twitter exchanges about this post – especially with Leigh Phillips. More on this to come.

    Sorry about the glitch, Ruben – glad you were able to share your thoughts…

  4. You have a few C&W’s in the middle of the piece – I have to believe you mean S&W there, yes?

    As for Goldman Sachs caring whether you or I raise chickens – I agree with your point in regard to the larger realm of a movement such as labor unions; but I would also offer a twist on small scale production vs. large scale industrial production in exactly the industry of chicken raising. If you’ve followed the Farming Pathogens blog you can see Rob Wallace making the case that the bird flu virus takes advantage of enormous industrial production systems and thus Wall Street (or Goldman Sachs by example) actually has some culpability to bear trough their financing of the same. If Goldman (or Wall Street) were to recognize their role in the difficulties experienced in that industry last year in the US Midwest then their thinking along the lines of backyard chicken coops might encompass another dimension. I will also point out that some dreamy imagining of all back yard and peasant scale chicken husbandry can be fraught with difficulty if one acknowledges that over flight of wild birds carrying virus may contaminate smallholder flocks just as easily as large industrial flocks – and that there is less likely a veterinary caliber person on site to diagnose a potential flock infection… There’s always some complicating vector to mull upon.

    I very much like the aversion you’ve suggested to simplistic dual choices. Diversity offers riches.

    For me UBI is a difficulty. I can’t fathom how it would solve anything. It might work for a very short while… until someone figures out how to game that system. Free riders are just the polar opposite of the slave holder. Rent seeking swine. Oops, didn’t mean to belittle our suid domesticates.

    • C&Ws? What C&Ws? Er, thanks for the tip – I sometimes seem to get my Cs and Ss muddled when I type. Which is a bit unfortunate in view of my name.

      Interesting on the intensive chicken issue. And on UBI – yes probably only functions well in situations where the motivation to work is high, which – I’m just guessing here – probably wouldn’t be the case in a ‘world without work’.

      • I am totally in favour of UBI—for one thing, it could lead to an explosion of farming because many farmer’s wage would triple.

        But I have never seen my concern addressed, which is that the definition of capitalism is sucking every cent possible out of people.

        So, why would not all prices jump the day after a UBI is rolled in? It is not like the corner grocer feels rich, nor the mechanic, nor the carpenter. Everybody would love to take a few of those sweet UBI dollars for themselves.

        And certainly the landlords will not be inclined to not raise rents. Without fail, landlords charge as much as they can—if the welfare housing allowance is $375, that room with a hotplate will cost $375.

        Furthermore, renters may bid the market up, as we are seeing in real estate in Canada’s large cities. Given cheap and easy credit, people are bidding home prices into the stratosphere.

        Now, the UBI will only impact the lower end of these markets, but the lower end has always been the easiest end to screw over.

        So, I could see a UBI reducing precarity, but not increasing the material quality of life very much.

        • Interesting points – I’m swayed by everyone’s different opinions about UBI probably because I haven’t thought about it myself enough yet. I’d imagine that for it to work you’d have to socialise the economy in all sorts of other very non-neoliberal ways such as rent controls, land value tax, food price floors/ceilings and so on in order to address the problem you’re identifying. I take Clem’s point about rent-seekers, though I agree with the implication of your comment – public policy and media debate focuses too much around rent seeking by the poor and not enough around rent seeking by the rich. But, managed well, UBI could indeed be good for small-scale farming.

          • I do not take Clem’s point about free-riders.

            Though, I am unclear on the point about free-riders being the polar opposites of slavers. Polar opposite suggests slavers are NOT free riders, when of course they are the ultimate in free rider.

            Clem, perhaps you meant something like Free riders are the poor version of slavers, who are simply wealthy free riders?

            And there is a world of difference between people who are given money through the social contract, and people who forcibly kidnap, confine, beat, rape and kill other humans as part of their business plan.

            But that isn’t what I disagree most strongly with.

            The fear of welfare, and UBI, and disability, and all these other schemes is that people will immediately abandon work, to spend the rest of their lives smoking weed in the morning, playing video games, and scratching their bellies.

            This is a very misanthropic viewpoint, and is unfounded in fact besides.

            First, on misanthropy. My research on behaviour change has led to me understand that we are wrong about human behaviour. Because humans are not motivated the way we think they are, we are confused when humans don’t behave the way we think they should behave.

            And then we start to make up stories about human nature to explain this dissonance. We make up misanthropic stories, never kind or compassionate stories.

            I see this misanthropy everywhere now. We tell hateful stories about homelessness. We tell hateful stories about drug addiction. With only a few examples and little research, this whole edifice falls down.

            And along with it goes welfare fraud—free riders.

            During Reagan’s welfare moms pogrom, the witchhunt was able to find a handful of cheats. Free riders are numbered in the single digits.

            And that is because the Adam Smith narrative of human motivation is wrong.

            People actually love to be useful. They love to contribute. They love to be a part of society. Look at all the parents coaching sports, the crosswalk guards that help get kids safe to school, the people who volunteer at senior’s homes, the political volunteers, the environmental advocates, the folks turning out to town meetings—the list goes on and on.

            These people are not free riders.

            Virtually all of the people who might be called free riders should be called The Excluded. Every aspect of how to make a life for yourself has been enclosed to benefit the rich—and then we are surprised when people who are not rich have difficulty making lives for themselves.

            Thankfully, we have civilized past the point of letting The Excluded die in the workhouse.

            But now we also exclude them from meaning.

            Anyhow, I will wrap up with a mashup from the Wkipedia on Mincome, an experiment from the 70s, here in Canada. The Duaphin Experiment found very minimal drops in hours worked, but significant increases in social goods.

            “Manitoban economist Evelyn Forget conducted an analysis of the program in 2009 which was published in 2011. She found that only new mothers and teenagers worked substantially less. Mothers with newborns stopped working because they wanted to stay at home longer with their babies, and teenagers worked less because they weren’t under as much pressure to support their families, which resulted in more teenagers graduating. There was also an increase in adults continuing education. In addition, those who continued to work were given more opportunities to choose what type of work they did. Forget found that in the period that Mincome was administered, hospital visits dropped 8.5 percent, with fewer incidents 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.

            The results showed an impact on labor markets, with working hours dropping one percent for men, three percent for married women, and five percent for unmarried women. However, some have argued these drops may be artificially low because participants knew the guaranteed income was temporary.”

  5. Its interesting to see some of the action that is being taken in the USA against homeowners growing their own food

  6. Case in point:
    I’ve started reading CurtisStoneTheUrbanFarmer, and immediately cringed because RobHopkins, being one of the people praising the book, did so thusly:

    “If I were 18 again and given this book, it would put fire in my belly and set me on a career path that is cutting edge, deeply entrepreneurial and profoundly responsible.”

    Suffice to say that entrepr…ats (how I love that word) practising urban farming – white, male, ex-tech/media – are ideally suited to identify freeriders.

    Must be something about farming sharpening one’s senses for how profoundly responsible one is for all the good in the world.

    The point I was trying to make is that the UBI freeriders exist – it’s just that they’re the majority, the ones quietly having raked in the profits from a whole world of externalities, and now wishing to add a UBI that’s designed to be externality-proof as well.

    If those people really cared for a secure future for every citizen, they’d support the struggle for labour rights, accountability issues and pay a bloody heck of a lot more for each single locally-made item of food clothing, and whatnot.
    But that’s not lofty enough, it’s too…political, real?

  7. More on UBI or Citizen’s Income from a UK perspective from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation:
    https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/could-citizens-income-work
    Basically no chance, certainly not within the current economic paradigm but given this is Green Party policy it’s interesting to see the difficulties plainly laid out, especially in providing for basic needs such as housing.
    With regards to the techno communists, well IMHO they don’t deal with the basic economic issue of resource depletion and how we can mitigate the worse effects of climate change. When I argue with these types they basically envision an AI run universe akin to an Iain M Banks Culture novel, “luxury for all” and yer know, we can mine asteroids…
    It’s complete anathema to them that someone would choose a more simple lifestyle and that this would be rewarding. That’s the place where the slagging off that Leigh Phillips indulges in comes from sadly Chris. I await his guest blog with baited breath…

    • Interesting – thanks for that. Yes, the anger prompted by voluntary simplicity is an interesting phenomenon. I’m anxiously awaiting Leigh’s guest blog too – though I think it could be a long wait…

  8. Ruben:
    I’ve moved to a new comment thread to avoid the narrowness – hope this doesn’t offend.

    Thanks for the detailed response. Full of good stuff.

    First let me expand a bit on my sense of slave holders vs. free riders as ‘polar opposites’. I would like to make two contrasts between the two groups – much like you have in some sense: the free rider being a rent seeker at the bottom of the economy with the slaver being at a much higher place in the economic distribution and seeking rents from other human beings in a forced or controlled (no choice) situation. The second level of the contrast is the opposite (or seemingly opposite) approach to the welfare of others. The free rider who would scheme to take advantage of a welfare program with the notion they are hurting no one as opposed to the slaver who well recognizes the infliction of pains and is not moved by it.

    Both are rent seeking. Levels of sophistication, and altruistic sensibilities are at serious odds in the two groups.

    But if I may, let me further take apart membership in the two extremes. I will not characterize everyone within a welfare program as a free rider. Indeed I believe I suggested there will be those who will evaluate the program and find ways to game it. There are also folk who simply need help, recognize the value of the benefit, and use the hand up in constructive ways. So across the population of the poorest you might build a continuum from scheming free rider to honest and worthy participant. From your comments am I to conclude that there are no instances of welfare fraud if we only do enough research?

    At the slaver end of a wealth distribution you will have the extreme miscreant you’ve ably characterized as the one who would forcibly kill, confine, beat, etc. Indeed such a detestable human has occurred. But there would also be slave holders who provides some sense of succor to their ‘property’. I don’t mean to forgive holding another human as property, but it seems there is range of behaviors at this end as well. The holder of an indentured servitude contract would in this light be compared to a slave holder with the realization that upon completion of the contract no further economic relationship exists. Slightly less detestable than outright ownership. And I suppose one might continue to march along these economic relationships to capital’s relationship to wage labor. But I’ll stop before getting onto that.

    With an economic model where we have moved away from chattel slavery being a legal method of industry to our model now where this illegal activity might actually encourage brutality such as in the sex trade then we witness a concerted move across spectrum toward more viciousness because one is already committing a crime.

    If from your remarks I understand that I’ve somehow portrayed a poor free rider as equally pernicious to society as a human trafficking slaver then I failed miserably. Sorry.

    I would like to follow up on the single digit statistic for the handful of cheats and free riders at the poor end of the scale. If your research can point me to source?

    Did I suggest volunteers are free riders? I certainly hope not.

    I think I understand your category of folk we might better consider as The Excluded. If I may retreat to a scale motif – there being “Excluded” who have fallen into this category through no fault of their own, poor health, unfortunate accident, disability, or other… place them at an Excluded position opposite the capable but scheming free rider who actually uses his talents to find ways to circumvent the larger system. Some remedies suggested for discerning where individuals fall on this sort of scale include means testing, but you have done far more looking into behaviors than I. My only other observation on this free rider is the opportunity cost they inflict by sopping up resources better used assisting worthy recipients.

    Without wanting to trot too far afield, may ask what you think about lotteries? Are lotteries a good use of public resources? Are beneficial behaviors encouraged in the general population by state run lotteries?

    The Mincome experiment looks interesting. I’ll take a closer look. Thanks for pointing to it.

    • Thanks for your reply Clem.

      On the low rate of welfare abuse:

      “according to Auditor General Jim McCarter’s report, released Monday, there have been $186 million in unrecovered overpayments made to welfare recipients since 2002. That averages out to $26 million a year in an annual welfare budget of nearly $2 billion. And according to the government, overpayments have been on a downward trend: they amounted to less than $10 million last year.”

      http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2009/12/09/welfare_fraud_in_perspective.html

      That works out to 1.3% fraud, which is in line with these numbers in Wikipedia, which vary between 0.7% and 2.7%.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_fraud

      Furthermore, much of this is agreed to be not fraud, but instead error on the part of caseworkers etc.

      So, in the Canadian statistic I started with, 26 million in fraud is about $0.65 per Canadian per year. Mailing a single letter costs twenty cents more than that.

      And that is the average. If the recent number of ten million per year holds, then we are talking about a quarter per person per year. That is the cost of a couple of sticks of gum.

      Now, good luck getting numbers on how much is spent trying to root out these evildoers.

      Remember as well, that this is the dollar value of “fraud”, meaning not following the laws. This is unrelated to justice, as you see when you start reading into welfare cases even a little. A substantial portion of these cases, were they judged by their peers, would be dismissed, and sent on their way with a fat settlement for their trouble.

      So, regarding UBI, I think there is little to fear. There are very few free riders at the UBI end of the spectrum. There are nothing but free riders at the other end of the spectrum.

      While we are worrying about rounding errors of 10-26 million dollars, Canada’s top 100 CEOs took home 9 Billion dollars. All for their hard work and business acumen no doubt.

      As for lotteries, I wish I had a ticket. But there is nothing good about them. For the middle class they are a soporific for people who are trapped in the dreams of wealth and ease.

      For the poor they are a distraction from the relentless hopelessness of our economy.

      • Ruben:
        On lotteries – I agree with the sentiment on their effects for the middle class and poor. I would add for the rich lotteries offer a means to escape even more social responsibility. The track record for lottery winners is not all wine and roses either. I wonder whether the ascent of lotteries has coincided with the rise of neoliberalism?

  9. Thanks for the debate & references which I’ll need to follow up – good opportunity to think & learn more about the issue. I guess in a sense the philosophy of UBI is designed to negate the concept of free riding – people are free to pursue whatever schemes they want – but I suspect S&W can only really make the underlying economics work with implausible techno-utopian assumptions. I agree with Ruben that currently there is a cynical and manipulative welfare-as-discipline conception around the supposed free riding of the poor which obscures the real free riding in the system (& with Michael on the nature of that free riding). But perhaps there’s a problem with the abstraction of the whole proposal – benefit-as-money in a vast (non-)community of non-interacting individuals where there is no real theory of the nature of work, production/consumption or social process. The whole thing would be tainted with implicit conceptions of desert (aka free-riding) despite the fact that indeed few people explicitly set out to game the system. I think we do need what Ruben calls compassionate stories (Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach is one way of framing compassion within a more generalised and abstract economic rationality), but they need to be grounded in some plausible conception of what life is about – for many reasons, the most plausible such conception for me centres around the old-fashioned narrative of food, clothes & shelter, and I find it easier to see how UBI would work in a society built around that narrative than in some generalised post-capitalist world beyond work.

  10. If your tray is getting too light you might want to add:

    #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader, by Robin Mackay (Author, Editor), Armen Avanessian (Editor). This includes S&W’s original manifesto, a Marxist critique, and quite a bit more from the looks of the contents page. One obvious oversight – they seem to have overlooked a peasant perspective which any good anthropological effort would have sought out. And who knows, perhaps a veg grower from the UK could have rounded out the analysis on these grounds for them. Maybe next time.

    • Link seems to work OK over here, but thanks for the alternative link. Strength in diversity…

      Yes, how could the editors have possibly missed Small Farm Future as an authoritative source on matters of an accelerational bent…

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