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basic income

GMI + JG = paid work as a choice for all

by John Q on April 23, 2018

I’ve been arguing for a while that a Guarantee Minimum Income (or Universal Basic Income) ought to be combined with a Jobs Guarantee to would make paid work a genuine choice for everyone. To spell this out, the GMI/UBI would make it possible to live decently without paid work, while a Jobs Guarantee would ensure that paid work was available to everyone. As a medium term policy, the best form of GMI would, I think, be the participation income advocated by the late Tony Atkinson. That is, a payment conditional on some form of social contribution, including voluntary work, study and childcare. Support for such a policy entails a direct confrontation with the punitive attitudes behind policies like Work for the Dole, while still maintaining the widely-held principle of reciprocity.

I was going to write more about this, but I just received an article by Felix FitzRoy and Jim Jin, in the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice which presents the argument very well. So, I’ll just recommend that to anyone interested in the issue.

The gig economy and the future of work

by John Q on February 3, 2018

One of the things I do from time to time is write submissions to public inquiries, mostly those of our Senate, which has a committee system loosely modelled on that in the US. I’ve had a run of them lately, appearing (by teleconference) before two of them this week and making a submission to a third. The first two, on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (a slush fund that may be used to finance coal projects) and one on the problems of vocational education

In addition, i completed a submission to the inquiry into the Future of Work and Workers, which is now available on the inquiry website. The submission is about the way in which technology and labor market institutions have interacted to generate the “gig” economy of insecure employment, continuously threatened by technological disruption. The key point is that decades of anti-union and anti-worker legislation and state action have created a situation where technological change is likely to harm rather than help workers. A summary is over the fold
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Where do people put the riches-line?

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 6, 2018

I’ve written here before about the research I’ve been developing on ‘limitarianism’ – the view that we put upper limits or caps on how much of some valuable resource people can have or use. One thing that struck me when giving talks about limitarianism of financial resources/wealth, is that there’s always someone in the audience shouting: “Give me a number!” If the claim is that there should be an upper limit to how much income and wealth someone can have, people want to know what those limits are. Also, I’ve noted that whether or not someone finds the financial limitarian view plausible depends, among other things, on where exactly that ceiling would be put.

One question one could ask, is whether within a political community, there is something of a shared view (or dominant view), of where that ceiling should be (assuming people hold that there should be such a ceiling in the first place, obviously). So I decided to team up with a colleague from economic sociology who has ample experience with conducting surveys, and try to measure, among the Dutch population, whether they hold the view that there should be an upper limit to wealth, and if so, where they would put the cut-off line between ‘rich’ and ‘extremely rich’. Is there a level of material affluence at which we find that people are having not just a lot, but too much? [click to continue…]

UBI, work and unions

by John Q on January 2, 2018

I’m working with Troy Henderson from the University of Sydney on a book chapter looking at union responses to the idea of a universal basic income (UBI),which have covered a range from supportive to strongly hostile, with the latter view predominant in Australia. Here’s a draft of my section of the chapter. Comments much appreciated.

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Workless, or working less?

by John Q on February 1, 2017

That’s the title of my review of Tim Dunlop’s excellent new book, Why the Future Is Workless, published at Inside Story. It’s over the fold.

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On Monday, 13 October 2014, at 11.45 am, the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics will be announced (yes, we know it is officially the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel but that’s not the focus of this post). Some have said that the prize should go to Thomas Piketty, for his best-selling, important and highly influential book Capital in the twenty-first century. I, too, think this is a great book, for a variety of reasons.

But there is another inequality economist who is at least equally, and arguably much more deserving of the Nobel prize, and that is Anthony B. (Tony) Atkinson. For close readers of Piketty’s work, this claim shouldn’t be surprising, since Piketty credits Atkinson with “being a model for me during my graduate school days, [and Atkinson] was the first reader of my historical work on inequality in France and immediately took up the British case as well as a number of other countries” (Capital, vii). In a recent interview with Nick Pearce and Martin O’Neill which was published in Juncture, Thomas Piketty calls Tony Atkinson “the Godfather of historical studies on income and wealth” (p. 8). So my hunch is that Piketty would endorse the claim that if the Nobel Prize were awarded to welfare economics/inequality measurement, that Atkinson should get the Nobel Prize.
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Work and beyond

by John Q on February 9, 2014

A little while ago, Ross Douthat tweeted a link to this Aeon article of mine, reflecting on Keynes ‘Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’, which gave rise to some interesting discussion (Memo to self: Find out about Storify). Now he’s addressed the topic in the New York Times, linking directly to Keynes essay. There’s some interesting food for thought here. Unfortunately, it’s mixed up with some silly stuff reflecting his job as the NY Times token Republican, in which capacity he has to do some damage control over the exposure of the latest Repub lie saying that Obamacare will cost 2.5 million jobs. As Douthat delicately puts it “this is not exactly right”. But, although his heart clearly isn’t it, he tries to construct a narrative in which the Repubs might be right for the wrong reasons, or, in an even less-felicitous defence, mean-spirited and inaccurate but justified by the success of Reaganism thirty years ago.

More interesting though, is Douthat’s discussion comparing idealised hopes for a post-work society with the reality in which well-educated professionals are working longer hours than ever, while many at the bottom end of the income distribution, particularly poorer men have withdrawn from the formal labour force altogether (presumably, relying on disability benefits or scraping a living in the informal economy). One possible solution to this problem, is simply to give the poor more money, for example, in the form of a basic income, and not worry about whether they choose to work. Douthat isn’t too happy about this idea, saying

Both “rugged individualist” right-wingers and more communitarian conservatives tend to see work as essential to dignity, mobility and social equality, and see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted. The question is whether tomorrow’s liberals will be our allies in that fight.

But this position elides a bunch of crucial issues.

First, while work may be necessary to “dignity, mobility and social equality” in a market society, it certainly isn’t sufficient. For unionised US workers in the mid-20th century, earning middle-class incomes in relatively secure jobs and expecting better for their children, work was, arguably both necessary and sufficient to achieve a fair measure of these things. But an at-will employee, juggling two or three tenuous jobs that pay $7.25 an hour, and looking at a steady decline in real income, is scarcely getting much in the way of dignity, let alone mobility or social equality.

Equally importantly, market work isn’t the only kind of work people can do, and certainly not the most valuable. Most obviously, there’s the raising of children. The US the developed countries that does not provide any kind of paid parental leave, and even the legislative provision for unpaid leave (12 weeks a year for mothers in firms with more than 50 employees, nothing for fathers) is incredibly stingy. The idea that the ‘rugged individualists’ who block any improvements to these conditions actually care about the dignity of the working class is simply laughable.

I don’t need to tell Douthat any of this. It’s all in his book Grand New Party with Reihan Salam, notably including a proposal for a full year of paid parental leave. The book received cautiously respectful reviews from many in the centre and centre-left, but fell entirely flat with its intended audience in the Republican Party.

I’ll have a bit more to say about the kind of technological determinism that seeks to explain labour market polarisation as arising from computers and the Internet a bit later. For the moment, I’ll repeat the conclusion of my Aeon essay that a response to technological change that will preserve the link between work, dignity and equality will require both a reduction in total hours of work and an expansion in the range of social contributions regarded as work, beyond those that generate a market return

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Migration and the least advantaged

by Chris Bertram on August 5, 2013

One reason to favour a more open and liberal migration regime is because of the gains in economic efficiency and prosperity it would bring, because of the benefits brought by younger and more active workers who pay more in taxes than they take in benefits, and so on. But when people voice this argument, there’s one response that is almost instantly trotted out. This is to say that, even if it true that a more open regime is better in the aggregate, it isn’t better for the least advantaged among the indigenous population because labour market competition from the incomers depresses wages and often leaves low-skilled native workers out of a job. Now conceding, if strictly for the sake of argument, that there might be other reasons to restrict immigration (cultural impacts on the native poor, whatever …) and focusing on the economic argument alone, I can’t see that this objection makes much sense. If there’s something that is good in the aggregate, but has bad distributive consequences, the solution is surely to use the tax-and-transfer system to fix those distributive outcomes. You could either do this directly (maybe, for example, taxing the surplus to fund a citizen’s or basic income) or indirectly, by funding better education or training. But it doesn’t seem to make much sense for forego the aggregate benefit.

Now an objection to this might be that, given a lack of confidence that political leaders will actually introduce such redistributive measures (rather than, say, letting aggregate gains flow to the one per cent), it is rational for indigenous workers and their political representatives to lobby for tighter labour protectionism via immigration controls. But given the obvious downsides to that second-best strategy, particularly in its divisiveness and its fostering of xenophobia and racism, it seems clear that the left should prefer to take the aggregate benefits and redistribute them. Certainly it seems as if the left should be making such an argument rather than just pandering to “anxieties” among their traditional constituencies as the likes of “Blue Labour” tend to do.

Two questions occur to me. First, am I right about the “in principle” economics of this? Second, are there respectable political counterarguments, even if I am right about the economics?

[Note that this post is not about the right of the state to restrict migration, a matter on which I’m far more sceptical than most people. It concedes that right for the sake of argument and focuses on what the best policy should be.]

Reflections on Real Utopias

by Erik Olin Wright on April 3, 2013

A very wide range of issues have been raised in the many interesting postings and comments during the Crooked Timber seminar about my book Envisioning Real Utopias which ran from March 18-28. In what follows I will give at least a brief response to the core themes of each of the eight contributions to the seminar. I will organize my reflections in the order of the contributions in the symposium.

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One of the examples of real utopia put forward by Wright is the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). In its simplest, and arguably most utopian form, the idea is that every member of the community would receive a payment sufficient to sustain a decent standard of living. Implementing a UBI in this fashion would pose a huge, arguably insuperable, financing challenge in the context of a market economy. The same isn’t obviously true of a closely related idea, a guaranteed minimum income (GMI)
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This is my contribution to the Erik Olin Wright Envisioning Real Utopias book event. One note: our event was originally supposed to kick off round about February 1st. You know how it goes with utopia. Delays, delays. I mention this because my rhetorical trick was going to be to check the newspapers, a week before our event, for signs of utopia. As a result, as of today, I’m quoting 7-week old newspapers. (I could have rewritten the post to suit last week’s news. But I find I like my even-more-vintage fish and chip papers better. I’m sticking with ’em.)

Let’s start by locating our author’s project – Envisioning Real Utopias – with respect to a familiar dilemma. [click to continue…]

Why Utopia ?

by John Q on March 16, 2013

The first question to be asked about Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias is whether it makes any sense to pursue, or even talk about, utopian projects.

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Can Ideal Political Theory Be Valuable For a Pragmatist?

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 14, 2013

Jack Knight’s and James Johnson’s book is fascinating, interesting and compelling. It is not the kind of book on which I could write deep or far-reaching criticisms, so I fear that I will have to limit myself here to quibbling about what could perhaps be seen as details – and that is their criticism of Rawlsian-style normative political theory. [click to continue…]

Equality, freedom and wage labor

by John Q on July 14, 2012

I haven’t been active in the debate between Crooked Timber members and various others (Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Matt Yglesias, Tyler Cowen) so far. Broadly speaking the claim on the BHL side has been that if only some minimal conditions (existence of a universal basic income, for example) were met, all employment contracts could be assumed mutually beneficial and there would be no need for governments to regulate their terms, for example to prevent sexual exploitation.

Most  at CT have been dismissive of these claims, but I’d like to explore the question a bit further. Is the objection that the necessary conditions aren’t likely to be met in practice, or that the employment relationship is inherently unbalanced, simply by virtue of the fact that one party gets to boss the other around.

Suppose that the following conditions were met

* Full employment, so that the cost to a worker of finding a new job is no greater than the cost to an employer of hiring a replacement

* A minimum wage adequate to allow a decent living standard without requiring acceptance of degrading working conditions

* A universal basic income sufficient to ensure that, even without working no-one need be poor

* A default employment contract, incorporating prohibitions on sexual harassment, rights to regular breaks and so on, unless these are explicitly contracted out

Would we then feel that legislative restrictions on employment contracts were needed, and, if so, which and why? Or, is the question badly posed in some way

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Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace

by Chris Bertram on July 1, 2012

[This post was co-written by Chris Bertram, “Corey Robin”: and “Alex Gourevitch”: ]

“In the general course of human nature, a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will.” —Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 79

Libertarianism is a philosophy of individual freedom. Or so its adherents claim. But with their single-minded defense of the rights of property and contract, libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace. When they do try to address that unfreedom, as a group of academic libertarians calling themselves “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” have done in recent months, they wind up traveling down one of two paths: Either they give up their exclusive focus on the state and become something like garden-variety liberals or they reveal that they are not the defenders of freedom they claim to be.

That is what we are about to argue, but it is based on months of discussion with the Bleeding Hearts. The conversation was kicked off by the critique one of us—Corey Robin—offered of libertarian Julian Sanchez’s presignation letter to Cato, in which Sanchez inadvertently revealed the reality of workplace coercion. Jessica Flanigan, a Bleeding Heart, responded twice to Robin. Then one of us—Chris Bertram—responded to Flanigan. Since then, the Bleeding Hearts have offered a series of responses to Chris and Corey.

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