Sunday, October 19, 2008

More on the basic income

Here's Pete again replying to me on the question of Citizens Basic Income:

"...Some on the left have talked about welfare as a form of social control, a ruling class plot to keep the masses in order and/or to buy off revolution"
To be honest, I don't think that it is all that important on how it is all intellectualised. Its a good deal less clear-cut than that in my experience anyway. In the early 1980s, when lots of people were on the dole (and it wasn't too hard to get signed on in the first place), the benefit office wasn't full of smiling happy people singing the praises of the welfare state and reminding each other that this was all a marvellous thing for which we should all be grateful.

Instead, you got a resentment and a sense of social control and alienation caused by the absence of anything other than a mechanistic quasi-benevolent bureau-aristocracy. From memory, it was less the 'big brother' resentment than the question:

"Is this it?"




It's very easy to mobilise people into resenting the state, and to some extent, the state is always part of the problem. But, ultimately, the ease with which it's done means that it gets done in a demagogic way. Making the state itself the butt of the problem is a very effective form of misdirection.

TV Detectives always look at where people position themselves in a room. If they sit on a trunk when they're talking to you, you can be sure that the murder weapon is in that trunk. When someone has a single explanation for all ills, you just know that they've edged themselves in front of a cupboard, taking it out of plain sight. It's a cupboard that's full of skeletons.

Look who does it more than anyone else? Tories, newspaper proprietors, columnists, indeed, the right-wing libertarians.

And, hanging myself with my own single-explanation-for-everything rope, what bothered the dole-queue 25 years ago is still the problem. This isn't a failure of the state - it's a failure of collective action. I think that a CBI may offer a way of incentivising people to do more by way of collective action and that the resulting capital will compensate and make up the differences against the alternative - continuing with welfare-state capitalism. But it remains a position that owes more to faith than anything else at the moment.

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