I occasionally read what the ex New York Times journalist, Chris Hedges, writes as it is always well written and usually hard hitting. This piece is no exception and I was drawn to it because he is railing against the idea of a Universal Basic Income – something which, although I’d prefer it were called Universal Basic Capital, I’m rather in favour of.
This gives a flavour:
[Oligarch Billionaires] The architects of our neofeudalism call on the government to pay a guaranteed basic income so they can continue to feed upon us like swarms of longnose lancetfish, which devour others in their own species. The call for a guaranteed basic income is a classic example of Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci’s understanding that when capitalists have surplus capital and labor they use mass culture and ideology, in this case neoliberalism, to reconfigure the habits of a society to absorb the surpluses.
I can understand the sentiment and we have to take into account the fact that European countries have, thank goodness, more employment protection and a much better social safety net than does America, even though many of them are not as good as they once were.
He continues with a well chosen commentary on Neoliberalism:
Suddenly—as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, two of the principal political proponents of neoliberalism, insisted—government was the problem. The neoliberal propaganda campaign successfully indoctrinated large segments of the population to call for their own enslavement.
The ideology of neoliberalism never made sense. It was a con. No society can effectively govern itself by basing its decisions and policies on the dictates of the marketplace. The marketplace became God. Everything and everyone was sacrificed on its altar in the name of progress.
The oligarchs mask their cruelty and greed with an empty moralism. They claim to champion women’s rights, diversity and inclusivity, as long as women and people of color serve the corporate neoliberal project. Human beings, to oligarchs, are commodities. They are used to increase wealth and then discarded. Oligarchs don’t propose programs such as a guaranteed basic income unless they intend to profit from it. This is how they are wired. Don’t be fooled by the grins and oily promises of these human versions of the Cheshire Cat. The object is to spread confusion while they increase levels of exploitation.
“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, ‘What road do I take?’ ” Lewis Carroll wrote. “The cat asked, ‘Where do you want to go?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it really doesn’t matter, does it?’ ”
I have before mentioned that restricting the market is one of the pluses of any form of Universal Basic Services. He seems to fear that a Basic Income might increase the market and would somehow be engendering confusion by paying us for our silence. What Chris Hedges misses, I feel, is that a regular unearned income would give us all more time, time for ourselves and our families, time to think about the world – even time to think about neoliberalism, We could all slow down. And although the fear that we would all be turned into supine consumers is prevalent, I think the mere fact that we would probably have more time to do things for ourselves means that we might well consume less.
Although I find the sometimes vitreolic prose completely alluring, I fear that the piece, whilst commenting incisively on Neoliberalism has tended to go for the man rather than the ball on Basic Income. Because the Oligarch Billionaires suggested it, it must be suspect – particularly as they are not suggesting any other societal changes at all. They are of course happy as they are.
But he misses the fact that, once nobody has a daily struggle to put food on the table, society is highly likely to gradually change its character. Indeed, the relatively new and very limited experimental Basic Income in Ontario seems to be improving health. So, whilst the Billionaires might be suggesting Basic Income for their own ends, in doing so they are likely, however unintentionally, to be improving the situation for others.
And for that reason, regardless of who suggests it, I think that it’s a good idea.