On basic income

Alternate title: Where I Come Out As An Eeeeeeeevil Anticapitalist. Put on your best red scarf, raise your fist and start chanting, here we go. Sarcasm aside, this makes no pretense to be a well-built essay, it's more a collection of loose thoughts.

Let's agree on words

First off, the best way to have an argument that goes nowhere is to forget to agree on words.

By capitalism, I mean the dominant conception of economics, known as market economics. I mean a system based on accumulation of capital, and the possibility to generate profit solely from the possession of said capital. Capital is, basically, money. It ties into concepts of ownership, private property, etc.

By job market, I mean the dominant conception of work and labor exchange. I mean the concept of looking for a job, begging sometimes, and the exchange of labor against money mostly under the structure of private salaried employment.

By basic income, I mean an unconditional distribution of money to all, no questions asked. The implementation can take several forms: negative taxes, etc.


I am not talking entirely out of my ass on this. I have yet to read Marx, it's on my massive to-do list. But I did have basic economics classes in my higher studies, and I immensely respect our teacher for the perspective he provided. We mostly studied market economics, but he made it clear where they came from, and that they were only one way to look at things.

There is also a French youtuber known as Usul, whose ongoing series "Mes chers contemporains" is an in-depth look at various social, economical and political topics, built around specific characters in the French public scene. The latest entry, "A salary for life", is an analysis of the job market crisis and how it ties into the failings of capitalism, along with one proposal for another system, designed by Bernard Friot. Unfortunately the video is in French and has no subtitles!

Here comes the rant

Basic income is a good thing if your goal is to give everyone a very, very basic income indeed. The proposal in Finland will not allow people to live decently in Helsinki. It will be tight even in the countryside, as far as I can tell. As some will say, it's better than nothing. It might prevent homelessness and starvation, and that is good of course. But it's not enough, at all.

As explained in Usul's videos, capital holders are capturing more and more capital as time passes. The percentage of GDP that goes to those few people keeps going up: the amount of cash that is effectively removed from the system every year is growing at an alarming rate. To be clear, I am not an expert: but to me this means that basic income would not be sustainable, since the same minority would capture more and more of the money needed to pay it out. We could also use a moral argument, and ask why the majority should live on crumbs while a minority accumulates capital.

Basic income also considers us as creatures of need that need handouts. It does not recognize labor that we all provide, unrecognized by capitalism. Laundry? Labor. Dishes? Labor. Cooking? Labor. Childcare? Labor. Drawing? Labor. Sewing? Labor. Notice how so many of these are, currently, either handled by women or poorly-paid workers? Yep, this is where feminism comes in. All this traditionally feminine labor is undervalued by capitalism since it used to be provided for "free", and results in poorly paid jobs. A "universal salary" would have to recognize all labor, not just the one valued by the current system. It wouldn't be a handout but a recognition of the fact that we all work most of the time after all!

Many say basic income would increase consumption, and encourage entrepreneurship. It probably would! I however hope it would also increase community work, social discourse, and maybe contribute to toppling the system once and for all. Unless it creates apathy, and causes everyone to preserve a less-bad status quo instead. My parents often say that the French Revolution only happened because people were starving. And the common folk was urged onwards by bourgeois, such as merchants, lawyers, and more, who wanted the power of the nobles as recognition of their wealth. The majority didn't get all that much out of it.

Basic income is, in the form it is often proposed, a crutch for a failing capitalism. Increase consumption, keep the machine ticking. But this isn't how we save the planet, this isn't how we get healthier, this isn't how we progress.

Our good friends in Silicon Valley are convinced that technology will save the world. They consider governments useless, confusing a poor implementation with a bad idea. They think themselves brilliant at everything just because they're good coders, and good business people in a rotten system.

The Zeitgeist movement is convinced that technology will save the world. They have a conspirationist undertone that I dislike: I deeply believe that most of the world's problems are caused by incompetence and not malice, by deep convictions towards the wrong goals and not by evil. They lack a transition plan, but they have interesting ideas. It's worth a (very critical) look.

I've seen some people say that basic income allows you to opt out of capitalism. Wrong: it might allow you to opt out of the job market. But unless you start making everything yourself, renounce money and stop keeping cash in the bank, you can't opt out of capitalism. It's everywhere. I've seen blogs by people living a "zero trace" lifestyle: their supplies still generally come from somewhere. If what you mean by "opting out" is "left in peace to work on my stuff", you're not leaving capitalism. And that's okay. But use the right words, please!

Conclusion and obligatory link to current shitstorm

As mentioned, I don't pretend to be an expert, or that this is worthy of the "essay" name. It's just a long-form response to a curious twitter-buddy. I do not have a solution: because the devil is in the details, implementation is complicated, requires a transition plan, etc. For that, go read people like Bernard Friot!

Brianna Wu tweeted pro-capitalism stuff the day before yesterday (the tweets have since been deleted due to harassment, and she expanded on the topic and shared this piece on basic income). She got bashed in response, and our favorite gators of course pounced as always. I hate that this is what we have come to, that it becomes impossible to criticize problematic stances without giving ammo to hate mobs, that a takedown of her problematic lines gets called extremist, or - and that I cannot accept - that criticizing a pro-capitalist feminist is called sexist. Being anti-capitalist isn't being extremist. We have just so broadly accepted market economics as the norm that we forgot anything else can even exist.

You can participate in the system, leverage it and enjoy yourself without praising the status quo. And that's what I plan on doing. Does it make me a hypocrite? Maybe. I think it makes me human!