Basic income – too basic, not radical enough

The idea of a basic income has gained much popularity recently and not just among leftists but also with right-wing pro-capital proponents.  Basic income boils down to making a monthly payment by a government to every citizen of an amount that meets ‘basic necessities’ whether that person is unemployed or not or whatever the circumstance. As Daniel Raventós, defines it in his recent book“Basic Income is an income paid by the state to each full member or accredited resident of a society, regardless of whether or not he or she wishes to engage in paid employment, or is rich or poor or, in other words, independently of any other sources of income that person might have, and irrespective of cohabitation arrangements in the domestic sphere” (Basic Income: The Material Conditions of Freedom).

He lists various things in its favour: that it would abolish poverty, enable us to better balance our lives between voluntary, domestic and paid work, empower women, and “offer workers a resistance fund to maintain strikes that are presently difficult to sustain because of the salary cuts they involve”.

And recent books such as Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams and Postcapitalism by Paul Mason have also brought this issue to prominence. These writers reckon that the demand for a universal basic income by labour should be part of the struggle in a move to ‘post-capitalism’ and should be a key demand to protect workers from a capitalist world increasingly dominated by robots and automation where human beings will become mostly unemployed.

But ‘basic income’ is also popular among some right-wing economists and politicians.  Why? Because paying each person a ‘basic’ income rather than wages and social benefits is seen as a way of ‘saving money’, reducing the size of the state and public services – in other words lowering the value of labour power and raising the rate of surplus value (in Marxist terms).  It would be a ‘wage subsidy’ to employers with those workers who get no top-up in income from social benefits under pressure to accept wages no higher than the ‘basic income’ which would be much lower than their average salary. As Raventos has noted, (in the American Journal of Economic Issues June 1996 with Catherine Kavanagh), “by partially separating income from work, the incentive of workers to fight against wage reductions is considerably reduced, thus making labour markets more flexible. This allows wages, and hence labor costs, to adjust more readily to changing economic conditions”.

Indeed, the danger is that the demand for a basic income would replace the demand for full employment or a job at a living wage.  For example, it has been worked out that, in the US, the current capitalist economy could afford only a national basic income of about $10,000 a year per adult. And that would replace everything else: the entire welfare state, including old age pensions disappears into that one $10,000 per adult payment.

The basic income demand is similar to the current idea among Keynesians and other leftist economists for increased public spending financed by ‘helicopter money’.  This policy means no fundamental reform of the economy but a just a cash handout to raise incomes and boost the capitalist economy.  Indeed, this is why the leftist Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis has viewed favourably the basic income idea.  A minimum equal income for everyone, Varoufakis tells us, is the most effective way to confront the deflationary trends that manifest capitalism’s inability to balance itself. Creating a minimum income that’s delinked from work, he argued, would increase effective demand without substantially increasing savings. The economy would grow again and would do so in a much more balanced way. The amount of the minimum income could become a simple, stand alone lever for the economic planners of the 21st century.

Here the basic income demand provides an answer to crises under capitalism without replacing the capitalist mode of production in the traditional Keynesian or post-Keynesian way, by ending ‘underconsumption’.  But what if underconsumption is not the cause of crises and there is a more fundamental contradiction within capitalism that a ‘basic income’ for all, gradually ratcheted up by government planners, cannot resolve?

Raventos retorts to this argument that “Some people complain that basic income won’t put an end to capitalism. Of course it won’t. Capitalism with a basic income would still be capitalism but a very different capitalism from the one we have now, just as the capitalism that came hot on the heels of the Second World War was substantially different from what came at the end of the seventies, the counter-reform we call neoliberalism. Capitalism is not one capitalism, just as “the market” is not just one market.”  

This answer opens up a whole bag of tricks by suggesting that we can have some form of non ‘neoliberal’, ‘fairer’ capitalism that would work for labour, as we apparently did for a brief decade or so after the second world war. But even if that were true, the ‘basic income’ demand stands little prospect of being adopted by pro-capitalist governments now in the middle of a Long Depression unless it actually reduced the value of labour power, not increased it.  And if a socialist worker government were to come to power in any major capitalist economy would the policy then be necessary when common ownership and planned production would be the agenda?  As one writer put it: “The call for basic income in order to soften the effects of automation is hence not a call for greater economic justice. Our economy stays as it is; we simply extend the circle of those who are entitled to receive public benefits. If we want economic justice, then our starting point needs to be more radical.”

In his book, Why the Future is Workless, Tim Dunlop says that “the approach we should be taking is not to find ways that we can compete with machines – that is a losing battle – but to find ways in which wealth can be distributed other than through wages. This will almost certainly involve something like a universal basic income.” But is that the approach that we should take?  Is it to find ways to ‘redistribute’ wealth “other than through wages” or is it to control the production of that wealth so that it can be allocated towards social need not profit?

I have discussed in detail in previous posts what the impact of robots and AI would be for labour under capitalism. And from that, we can see an ambiguity in the basic income demand. It both aims to provide a demand for labour to fight for under capitalism to improve workers conditions as jobs disappear through automation and also wants basic income as a way of paying people in a ‘post-capitalist’ world of workless humans where all production is done by robots (but still with private owners of robots?).

And when we think of this ambiguity, we can see that the issue is really a question of ownership of the technology, not the level of incomes for workless humans.  With common ownership, the fruits of robot production can be democratically planned, including hours of work  for all.  Also, under a planned economy with common ownership of the means of production (robots), it would be possible to extend free goods and services (like a national health service, education, transport and communications) to basic necessities and beyond. So people would work fewer hours and get more free goods and services, not just be compensated for the loss of work with a ‘basic income’.

In a post-capitalist world (what I prefer to call ‘socialism’ rather than mincing around with ‘post-capitalism’), the aim would be to remove (gradually or quickly) the law of value (prices and wages) and move to a world of abundance (free goods and services and low hours of toil).  Indeed, that is what robots and automation now offer as a technical possibility.

The basic income demand is just too basic. As a reform for labour, it is not as good as the demand for a job for all who need it at a living wage; or reducing the working week while maintaining wages; or providing decent pensions.  And under socialism, it would be redundant.


46 thoughts on “Basic income – too basic, not radical enough

  1. For the vast majority of wage-earners nothing would change by means of a state basic income. Our wage pay remains more or less the same as before, except that part of our income is no longer paid by the capitalist, but by the state. This case already exists in Germany as a “combination-wage”, where a too low wage is increased by state. In any case: the wage or combi-wage, which is partly paid by the state and partly by the company, is the result and product of our own work.
    Hopes for an unconditional basic income are made by both capitalists and by poor people. The capitalists, because they will lower wage payments and hope for a slimmer, cheaper state apparatus. Poor people hope for basic income because they are hoping for a higher income without bureaucratic harassment.
    One wants a more effective capitalism, the other a more human capitalism.

    I lack the belief in a more human capitalism and I distrust our politician class and do not want it to get even more power and more money into the hands by introducing a basic income for all.

    Wal Buchenberg

    1. I don’t agree that nothing would change. If you ask people on their morning commute WHY they are going to work most of them say they have to. If you ask them WHY again they say to get food on the table and roof over my family’s head. If you ask them if they would go to work if they got those things anyway 80% say no. Basic income would alter the demand for work. It would also affect work choices. People would do more what they felt was right. And finally it would affect the political challenge of transitioning from fossil-based economy to renewable and circular. Losing your job would no longer be stigmatised and stressful.
      Surely, Walt, the power of the capitalist class comes from having a pool of labour that are forced to work and to buy from them. Basic income gives them no more power.

      1. Would Capitalist owners of resources, machines, and property not increase the cost of their products and services? It’s purely an Inflationary design, all Rent, Food, Transport, etc would increase in price and the worker would still be locked into the same perpetual existence of slave labor, nothing would change, just the prices. Here’s a more radical proposal that includes BI but reforms the nature of $ and Property so we can transition from fossil-based to renewable like you imagine.

  2. We live in a global economy in which the income of wage earners at the imperial centers are indirectly supplemented by labor in the peripheries (and directly by super-exploited agrarian guest workers as in the US). Would the global south’s billions of employed and unemployed victims of permanent primitive accumulation also get a basic income? same everywhere and for everyone? for the favela dwellers of forever “emerging” nations? for the sheiks of Arabia? Michael’s critique is spot on. But it’s amazing to me how Western economists (even Greek ones!) simply are blind to the imperial nature of wage formation. “Blind mouth’d” (the term is Milton’s) bourgeois utopias must be refuted, I guess. But mostly with grim laughter.

  3. If you think a basic income is unlikely to be implemented by governments, an abolition of the price system and a move to absolute abundance is a pipe dream.

    Yes, automation is a massive problem for capitalism. But, what I see from these Marxist commentators all the time is a massive overestimation about the near term future possibilities of robots.

    Right now, in the US, there’s about 125 million full-time workers working hundreds of billions of hours a year to generate almost $20 trillion of income. How much would we have to generate to get absolute abundance of goods and services among the population? If we assume you need to earn $200,000 to be able to buy anything everyone wants (which is probably an underestimation), you’ll see robots to produce everything that current human workers produce multiplied times 4 in the US.

    Maybe one day that will happen but soon? No way. There are tens of millions of jobs that are clearly decades if not centuries away from being fully automated. And in a world constrained by environmental factors hugely limiting production in the long run, abundance of all goods and services seems impossible anyway and hugely damaging to the environment. So, for as long as we live on this planet at least, we will always a way to ration goods and services.

    1. You highlight some important challenges a socialist society would have to face once in existance. Those questions, however, do not belong to our generation: they will have to be solved by the future generations. Humans can only solve problems that exist, not imaginary ones. What people in a future socialist society will want for their lives, what will be their values, their culture etc. transcends our imagination. Our problem is, right now, how to overthrow capitalism and initiate the implantation of socialism.

      Of course, it doesn’t mean we can’t have the notion of the very basic foundations of socialism – in fact, we must, otherwise we would be fighting against a ghost. So, there are some other issues you state that are inexistent:

      1) Yes, there are circa 125 million workers in the USA, but if I’m not mistaken, more than half of them are unproductive; they don’t generate income. And the American working class for sure doesn’t generate US$ 20 trillion in income.

      2) In socialism, labor would be directly social, ie people would tend to work according to their capacities and would receive according to their needs. The calculation you make (one person = US$ 200,000.00) wouldn’t make sense in a socialist society, first, because there wouldn’t be money-capital, second, because each needs are different and humans project their needs not according to their imagination, but according to the objective material conditions they live in.

      1. I agree with you that these will be future issues if we want to implement an entirely socialist society. To address your points:

        1) A lot of workers in a capitalist system aren’t productive e.g financial services but I wouldn’t say it’s half or even close to that. And the $20trn is the sum of all workers in the economy, of course some produce less than the $100 an hour which is the average productivity of the US economy. In order for full automation to be possible in the long run, current worker productivity must skyrocket when in fact, it’s growing at the slowest rate in post-war history.
        2) $200k wouldn’t make sense in purely financial terms, but it represents a material quality of life and value of production. In order to live in a world of abundance, surely not just everyone’s material needs would have to be fulfilled, but also their desires too. Including hundreds of millions of expensive homes and cars etc. Unless the result of production was distributed by the state which would not be an age of abundance at all, it would be an age of designated rationing which is similar, in a way, to how capitalism works except it’s a central body designating goods and services to individuals instead of the market designating capital and then the individual choosing which goods and services to buy. It’s undeniable the latter system is substantially more efficient for obvious reasons.

    2. Ben, most of these 125 million jobs are not in the industry (non service providers), but in services (except transportation and stock). Work in the industry decreased a lot ~15% ( ) in the last 15 years in the US. Services do not create surplus, they are at most a burden to the system.

      1. Services are a burden? Are you saying that almost everyone providing a service in the US is a ‘burden’? What about education, healthcare, retail, restaurants, transportation etc etc etc. None of these are ‘industry’ but they create immense value for society.

      2. A burden for the capitalist system. Some forms of services may create surplus, like parlor services, restaurants, transportation. The others, are just enablers of surplus, but they do not add to the mass of profits but only subtract.

      1. -If a currency is not transferable in any way, then what’s stopping people from abandoning the state-instituted currency and adopting a third-party currency? Also, how can a currency not be transferable but you can sell things? If I wanted someone to transfer one billion ‘R’ to me, I’d just supposedly sell them a pen for a billion ‘R’. Isn’t that legitimate under that system or will the state somehow completely impractically institute a range of values towards certain assets?-
        -What’s the incentive to create a ‘group’?
        -How would a community determine which land is owned by who democratically? Wouldn’t that be ridiculously inefficient with thousands of polls having to occur each and every year in which most voters wouldn’t know a thing about?
        -What if I don’t want to work at all? What if I just sit back enjoy my free house and food and do nothing? If millions did that, it would mean a massive collapse in production and GDP.
        -What if another country not in this system decides to bomb us and we have no military?
        -Would the state pay you in ‘R’ even if you produced art, music etc that had no value whatsoever and sold 0 copies?
        -Who would pay for compensation in car accidents or house damage without insurance?
        -What’s the incentive for any ‘groups’ to innovate if they will just get immediately copied without any intellectual property laws?

        It would do the world a great benefit if people stopped dreaming up massively flawed social systems and instead campaigned to make real positive improvements to the relatively massively successful system we have now.

      2. Ben, great questions, please consider the fact that we’ve had the advantage of 10 months time to ponder and answer all of those questions, and given enough time, you would come to the answers on your own. However, since the only info we’ve shared is just the Introduction, I’ll address a few of your questions here. Fyi, we will slowly release more info soon.

        Many of your questions involving the Currency can likely be found at

        It would be illegal to create another currency, as what need would even necessitate the creation of another currency that wouldn’t already be permissible? The Reward currency itself is not transferable, but yes, you bring up an obvious question, what about possessions that we own which we wish to sell to a person, a group, or release to the Commons? The social judgement of others along with Algorithms would determine the value such that two individuals cannot arbitrarily determine their own value. Most common items would have a consensus value, and rare items would solicit further consideration and judgement then to consensus and if it’s not agreeable to the person then then they don’t have to part with it if they choose in the end. The determination of such ‘value’ is not determined by a small group of bureaucrats or the ‘state’ which will not exist, but rather the collective judgement of your peers in your community and the world at large, similar to the ratings in The collective judgement of individuals is harder to compromise, especially when there is no conflict of interest for personal gain.
        -The incentive to create a group? It’s the Freedom to pursue your passions and or desire to help your community, and in cases of crappy work, for the benefit of higher pay in Reward.
        – The property/housing/land/office question is a big one, and it’s one we plan to reveal next week on our website, which really brings the rest of the plan into the realm of real possibility and desirability.
        -Are there not 100s millions of idle people right now because Capitalists can not profit from their labor? Are there not 100s millions of people ‘working’ right now that produce nothing of the necessary food, housing, infrastructure or products for society right now? (David Graeber) is writing a book about that right now. What GDP? what is that? that only exists today in a system that measures something make believe rather than measuring how much food is produced/used in a given region/globe, how much resources are available/used, how/for what, how much excess or little housing is available, etc, we don’t measure, manage those resources at all right now. for example, why produce 100,000 of the best quality soccer ball for retail of $150 and 5,000,000 of sub par quality when they basically use the same resources? because profit that’s why. How many resources are currently wasted because it’s more profitable to make it so it breaks, so they can sell more?(planned obsolescence). Non reusable, non recyclable Kurig cups to maximize profit, that’s what for profit Capitalism not only allows per law, but rewards.
        – Nuclear weapons and other war only weapons will be destroyed and made illegal. There is no state anymore, we are all humans on the same planet, let’s wake up, we have much bigger challenges to work together toward than trying to control each other. the struggle has always been to gain freedom from an oppressor, but when you are free, in a world of other Free people, do you think they are going to attempt to lose their freedom in trying to create a secret group to weaponize and control others? how would you even go about trying to produce a bomb without someone finding out? and even if you somehow managed to, then what? for what reason? what don’t you have that you can not already get access to? more food? easy, more products, easy, more vacation, easy. you already have freedom to your body, mind, and property.
        – The value of our time could be paid in a range from Zero to $10 R per hour (example), within this range, there will be a global consensus that if you paint, you earn .5 R per hour, and if your print is selected ‘sells’ (x number) of copies online to the global community you earn a Bonus of .01 R. just examples of what’s possible.
        -the purpose of work is to do good work, if your individual contribution or that of your group is great, and copied, used by others, there can be a Bonus Reward issued, it’s not that complicated. If yours becomes the best 3D/Robot design for producing clothing using x material, then of course it should be shared and used by cities and groups all over the world. If you produce the best, most efficient, environmental sustainable solar cells then yes, those too should be shared, you’ll get your earned Reward and a consensus Bonus too.

        -Current State of the World
        1. Guaranteed Future Financial Crisis
        2. Guaranteed Nuclear threat
        3. (possible/guaranteed) Ecological Collapse

        plus, how many millions die of starvation, malnutrition, preventable illness, suicide, wars, homelessness, etc.
        how many species are going extinct
        how much air, water, soil, food pollution is enough?
        how much misinformation/lies
        how much structural violence and stress
        This you call Success? I’d hate to think what system failure would look like.
        The truth is, a hundred years ago, if you could get a group of the smartest 1000 people together to devise the WORST possible system for People & Planet, I doubt very much you would come close to what we have allowed to happen.
        It’s embarrassing!

  4. Let me points 3 negative things around basic income:

    a) It replaces the state welfare system. Money that are used only for specific needs of society (helthcare etc.) are transformed into consumable money.
    Because the money are consumable, people will not fight for better wages.

    b) it goes hand in hand with the privatization of the welfare system. Even though society does not democratically control the state welfare system, it is still better than a private one since there is no incentive for profit. It is built to provide a service to society.

    c) The whole point of this is to reduce the money that the state gives to its citizens and communities, so that they can be given to banks, companies etc.

    There can be a good basic income initiative if those 3 do not hold, basically if we keep the welfare system, and it is financed from the taxation of the companies.

    And of course, such a measure should be a first step toward the complete abolition of capitalism.

  5. Globalist fantasies which don’t take into account population movements. If 10m new workers have been added into UK in last twenty odd years and the basic income was say set at £1k what would stop another 30m arriving in a decade from areas with no basic income?
    Bank bailouts, post war unemployment and housing benefit etc all are evidence of basic income being assigned one way or another to both capital and labour.
    The real issue in the present is Less Work but Work for All with enough basic income to survive adequately, not what exists at present…

  6. The MMT crowd have a policy of a Job Guarantee as they don’t agree with a UBI for quite a few of the reasons pointed out above.

    A UBI is a basically right wing idea. Why any of the left support it beats me. Does it reduce ‘poverty’ not sure it does.

    ‘Helicopter Money’ is just the new Mandyonetarists (Neo Keynesians, New Keynesian’s, neither new neither Keynesians) wanting to so ceed control to the central bank as Politicians are apparently too stupid.

  7. Hello Michael,

    How do you view the historic demand for minimum wage laws?

    Felipe Stuart

    On Sun, Oct 23, 2016 at 4:22 AM, Michael Roberts Blog wrote:

    > michael roberts posted: “The idea of a basic income has gained much > popularity recently and not just among leftists but also with right-wing > pro-capital proponents. Basic income boils down to making a monthly > payment by a government to every citizen of an amount that meets ‘basi” >

    1. A minimum wage helps the very low paid and a living wage helps the low paid. Both help labour, so should be supported. The basic income is a different sort of demand not to do with income from the workplace.

  8. Robert Reich wrote an article in favor of it last month. He is a rare bird, someone about whom you almost always decide: the more he promotes something, the more you should be against it.

  9. Perhaps more radical, providing global economic enfranchisement, by requiring sovereign debt to be backed with Commons shares, that may be claimed by each adult on the planet, for deposit in trust with their bank, as part of an actual social contract, we recognize, distribute, and secure, some value of the Commons for the direct benefit of each

    This would define, limit, and distribute to each, a quantum of the fiat that backs our currencies, and by tying all currencies to the value of the same fiat, stabilize exchange and trade

    Since fiat does not physically exist, it can be distributed without cost, so each shareholder may claim an arbitrarily valued share of sovereign credit, with no economic impact

    If that arbitrary value is equivalent to one million USD, and all available fiat is borrowed, each shareholder would receive a thousand USD/month

    Current global sovereign debt would yield about ten or twenty, depending on the inclusion of corporate secure paper (observing that corporations are governments subordinate to their charters,) so the return would be non-negative between zero and a thousand per month, at a sustainable 1.25%, based on the level of global sovereign debt

    By recognizing each shareholder as sovereign, and allowing access to secured loans against a portion of their share, for home, farm, or secure interest in employment, at the sovereign rate, each may invest in the means of production

    Thanks for your kind indulgence

  10. Varoufakis is concerned with two things– saving capitalism, and getting paid for it.

    Think the point is supposed to be about not saving capitalism; about overthrowing it.

  11. For all the Ben’s of the world constantly harping on about the impossibility of socialism, what about the transition from feudalism? Once feudalism was the dominant mode of production but now it’s not, was there not a massive change from a society based on serfdom turning in to a society based on wage labour? Or will Ben and others like him pretend there was hardly any change at all?
    As far as scarcity is concerned, if you’re really environmentally concerned Ben why are you supporting capitalism which is based on endless growth?

  12. I thought that one of the Marx’s main tenets was how work under the capitalist system was soul-destroying. The skilled worker, with her set of specialist tools and competences was replaced by mindless assembly-line jobs and the knowledge and skills that once individuals carried with them were embedded in the capital of the firm.
    Surely Michael, a basic wage, if you could purchase food and accommodation on it would change the demand for labour as well as supply price. People would be freed up to find ways to start small businesses and hone their skills unchained from the need to get an immediate return. Indeed, the individual can go back to a new form of self-sufficiency of the kind that was enjoyed by people in England before Adam Smith and the elite of the time found nasty ways to force people into factories. (Adam Smith was distraught that a man could make a pair of shoes in an afternoon, but had to work three days to be able to buy a pair. Other cronies hated that people had cows at home because it meant they could provide for themselves and need not demand work.)

    1. It would not happen like you stated because of the tendency of the profit rate to fall being the result of rising organic composition of capital. If the OCC rises, variable capital falls relative to constant capital, which means the quantity of starting money-capital required to start a viable business (individual capital) tends to be insurmountable over time for the worker – unless you’re already born in a golden cradle (ie you inherited the means of production).

      In this sense, Marx is actually vindicated by Piketty’s data, since it proves that, over time, the main factor that makes one a capitalist is already being born one.

      1. I draw a parallel, Virgens, with the Uber and the airbnb so-called sharing economy. Here people are earning money on their assets and labour but the real winners are the capitalist system owners so I guess you are right that more capital would be needed for people to become entrepreneurs. Some kind of starting capital facility perhaps. However, having started several companies myself I can say a basic income would help a lot more really good inventions come to market.

  13. I’m just the old fashioned type– I always thought the task was to abolish the wage system. Now if you see a “basic wage for all” as some sort of agitational point, a transitional moment so to speak, for abolishing wage labor, well go ahead and make that point.

    Otherwise, this is all pretty much nonsense, a social-democrat’s dream for the preservation of capital.

  14. Reasons not to be cheerful about basic income under capitalism:
    1. Impact on migrant workers: As they wouldn’t be entitled to BI any migrant labour would be exploited by employers as a de facto reserve army of willing labour at any price.
    2, Basic income becomes a maximum income for people who cannot access work due to (i) caring obligations (young children and elderly dependents or disabled family members) thus perpetuating intra-class inequality (women in particular would lose out here); (ii) for many disabled people it would also become a maximum income if they were unable to work. Although some versions of BI argue they wouldn’t abolish supplementary benefits for disabled people, they don’t seem to know what these benefits are, and what they are for – some ‘benefits’ exist to secure the right to live independently – nor their overall cost. Some seem to think basic income represents some kind of wages for housework for women. But how, if you receive it without doing housework or caring?
    3. I understand it its possible to imagine technology replacing labour if you live in uk, but that’s mainly because labour intensive industries have been moved to poorer countries where labour is unregulated and much cheaper so many falsely assume this work does not exist anymore.
    4. Once your recognise point 3, you realise that however basic income is funded it will inevitably involves much larger transfer of surplus value from impoverished labour abroad, to rich individuals in advanced economies (via global assembly lines of production) than current system of national redistribution.
    4. Basic income is a gift to the privateers especially particularly public services because theoretically it removes the difficulty of justifying privatisation on the grounds of income. E.g. why should health care be free at the point of use if everyone has BI…?
    5. Basic income also undermines those fighting discrimination in employment -‘ if you’ve got a basic income, then what does it matter if white people get 9 x more job interviews than black people’?
    6. In 2015 only 5000 employers were prosecuted for breaching minimum wage law in UK. Where is the Basic Income grand plan to tackle this colossal inadequacy?

    So many people nowadays tend to assume all citizens have the same needs with only minor differences, but this is a result of right wing propaganda, and the homogenous ‘rational actor’ of economic dogma. Sadly there is also very little consideration paid to the increase in migrations flows due to climate change altering local conditions of production and reproduction and there’s no sign of this changing (the walls of Fortress Europe get bigger every day). It really worries me that if basic income is implemented, it could lead to amplified calls for stronger immigration controls – especially if people thought BI would deliver a ‘bargaining chip’ over wage rates and then find it doesn’t.

  15. As Michael mentioned, reduction of the work week is infinitely superior to a guaranteed minimum income as a social demand. Given a constant quantity of social necessary labor, a reduced work week will require the creation of more jobs to make up the difference. No doubt Ben will pop up to tell us that work week reduction is “centuries away”, but strangely the work day was reduced from 12 to 8 hours and the week from 6 to 5 days over the 100 years to 1950. Even more strangely, it has been stuck at an official 40 hours ever since, despite clear increases in labor productivity. “Stuck at 40” in an imperialist country is even stranger when we factor in any value transfers to worker’s consumer goods by means of international commercial labor arbitrage of super-exploited labor overseas, aka “outsourcing”.

    However I too am not optimistic on an accelerated application of IT robotics under capitalism. The barrier is not technical but social. A rational roll out of IT automation in production would no more “take centuries” than the time it took for the extinction of Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian utopia. Jefferson, like Ben, thought too that it would “take centuries”. And IT automation in the circulation of goods and services is precisely the thing to extinguish, also, Ben’s market fetish utopia. Contrary to what Ben thinks, the alternatives are not simply between bureaucracy and his precious market. There was a reason Stalin hated cybernetics.

    But under capitalism IT is generally rapidly and productively applied, not to manufacturing production, but to circulation of commodity-capital and hence to the transport sector, of which IT itself is an industrial branch. Otherwise it is applied to facilitate purely parasitic activities such as offshoring value transfers, real estate landed property operations, and the operations of derivative finance capital. Not to mention the monstrous military-industrial state capital, from whence IT was spawned, that does very, very well without Ben’s market, thank you.

    I predict that the shortcomings of the application of IT automation will be one of the great historic failures of the capitalist mode of production, though places like China might be an exception, but we shall see there as well. The drastic reductions in the turnover times of capital in both production and especially commodity-capital circulation will create too many problems in the viability of markets. That precisely defines capitalism as a mode of production in deep and terminal decay. Forces meet Ben’s fetters. Moribund.

  16. Basic Income in the hands of capitalists is a bad idea, but so is everything in the hands of capitalists, including technological advancement!

    That doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t fight for it as a progressive measure. I guess a basic income recognises the problem that as technology does advance the demand for human labour reduces.

    This brings us to Ben’s points. Actually as technology advances the demand for Labour has not really reduced because capitalism is a system built on endless growth, speculative production etc etc.

    This is the point about socialism, what gets produced will be much more thought out, rather being speculative and ‘production for productions sake’ and the income inequalities will not be as vast under a socialist system.

    If socialism manages to reduce the resources devoted to useless production and increases production in things that are really useful then that is a step forward in itself. In a capitalist system what gets produced is what makes a profit and this leads to a society where production and consumption are separated and human beings don’t take an active role in what gets produced but are simply actors that affect the market. This is a crucial difference between capitalism and socialism. And from my view the wealth of a socialist society would look radically different to the wealth of a capitalist society.

    This is why Ben’s scenario falls down, he is trying to compare Apples and Oranges.

    However, he is correct about Marxists sometimes overstating the potential of Robots to deliver ‘abundance’. Why Marxists sometimes do this is beyond me because as SimonH pointed out it is the endless growth of capitalism that will hit these barriers at full speed sooner or later!

  17. “However, he is correct about Marxists sometimes overstating the potential of Robots to deliver ‘abundance’. Why Marxists sometimes do this is beyond me because as SimonH pointed out it is the endless growth of capitalism that will hit these barriers at full speed sooner or later!”

    But of course Marx wasn’t a Marxist and he never thought robots or machines would deliver “abundance.” Human labor, social labor, delivers abundance, and the point of technology is to amplify that abundance producing characteristic. Capital reaches its limit not in technology, but in the social organization of labor as value producing, which in turn means that amplifying the abundance producing character of social labor is limited, restricted, circumscribed, and inverted by the relations of capital.

    The barriers capitalism hits are not the limits of human labor, nor of technology, but of profit. Abundance is intrinsic to social labor, not so intrinsic to the preservation of capital.

    1. Don’t be ridiculous. Famine’s are the result of the underdevelopment of social labor; the lack of amplifying the productive power of labor– the aggrandizement of social labor for private, restricted consumption and accumulation.

      1. “Famine’s are the result of the underdevelopment of social labor”

        This is completely illogical, especially when compared with your other statement:

        “Human labor, social labor, delivers abundance, and the point of technology is to amplify that abundance producing characteristic.”

        What you are actually now saying is that unless social labour reaches a certain development then famine is a risk.

        In which case your comment on October 25, 2016 at 4:19 pm was unmerited.

        We have not even brought crop failure into the equation!

      2. If you look at the history of the development of capitalism in
        England, let’s say 16th century, what it did do was “emancipate” society from the “Malthusian” trap were population increases, and populations in general were victimized by sudden decimation due to a) crop failures– which is another way of saying lack of accumulating and preserving surplus and b) plague due to one or more pathogens– which is another way of saying lack of sanitation.

        Famine, since the development of capitalism, and the ascension of capitalism to dominance has not been the result of “too few resources” or “too many people,” but it has been a result of social policies imposed upon (mainly indigenous) populations, or derived from those policies– think of Ireland and black ’47; India during the WW2 years; famine in Russia before and even after the revolution (i.e. the civil war period); or the recurrent “famines” in sub-Saharan Africa. Those famines are not a result of the overpopulation, or lack of resources, but of a social order that is incapable of overcoming the limits of private property.

        Where has there been a famine due to a crop failure that was not the result of social policies in last 100 years?

        Clearly famine is still a risk for Africa, and if you agree that the risk exists– what is the source of the risk?

      3. “Clearly famine is still a risk for Africa, and if you agree that the risk exists– what is the source of the risk?”

        Well if you now conclude this is because social Labour is not developed enough then this contradicts your comment on October 25, 2016 at 4:19 pm.

        If we now agree that comment was unmerited then we can stop this circular argument!

        “Where has there been a famine due to a crop failure that was not the result of social policies in last 100 years?”

        Where drought has been extreme, loads of examples. Now climate change is making this situation more acute but if a nation suffers severe drought, which some nations are more prone to than others, then this must be considered a factor in any resulting famine, even if it doesn’t tell the whole story.

        So there isn’t any single source of famine to speak of.

      4. I have no idea what your point is. What is the source of the risk of famine in Africa– lack of resources? lack of water? climate change? Or is the legacy, and continued practices of capitalism? Is it the civil wars, or is it some inherent vulnerability of Africa?

        My comments are consistent: that is that capitalism has amplified the productivity of labor to eliminate the risk of famine, while at the same time, making that productivity dependent upon, secondary to profitability, thus reestablishing famine as result, intentional or not, of policy.

        You say that there “loads of examples” of famine due to a crop failure that was not the result of social policies. OK, name just one. Explain just one– a single famine that was created by purely “natural” conditions, that could not have been prevented from becoming a famine by….socialism. Just one.

        There isn’t a single source of difficulties, challenges, problems– but there certainly is a “single source” for those difficulties becoming plagues, famines, epidemics. Look at Haiti. The earthquake was a natural disaster; the devastation of Haiti by capitalism has made the disaster permament.

        Or perhaps you think the cholera epidemic, which disease never had a history of outbreak in Haiti was a product of “nature.”

  18. Socialism or the initial stage of communism is not based on need nor does it occupy the realm of abundance. The problem with a citizen or basic income is that it redistributes paid labour. It does not redistribute between unpaid and paid labour which has always been the object of the class struggle.

    1. “The problem with a citizen or basic income is that it redistributes paid labour.”

      I am not sure I fully agree with this. being a long standing union activist one crucial part of the negotiations is to ensure the pay gap between ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ is kept to a minimum. So part of the negotiations is to ensure the pay scales reflect this. Many such class struggles under capitalism ultimately resolve into a redistribution between paid labour. This is one of the reasons for abolishing it!

      1. The class struggle in its trade union form is not a conscious struggle, nonetheless it is a complex struggle. At a tactical level you are right. However, at a strategic level the struggle between capital and labour is the struggle over the division and re-division of the working day, between its paid and unpaid components. More precisely it has been the struggle to claw back some of the gains of rising productivity to ensure that wages grow alongside profits. Hence the maxim “fair wages and fair profits”. These gains for labour amounts to only this – not all the increased productivity goes unpaid. This does not mean that the rate of exploitation is reversed, it just means it is moderated. (It is instructive to note that in the USA since 1973, wages for the bottom 60% of the population has risen only 4%-6% in real terms against an increase in productivity of +75%). It is also true that historically trade union struggles could be sectarian, especially by the skilled sections of workers, but with the rise of the general trade unions which now dominate, much of the firepower of the unions or what is left of it has been against the rate of exploitation.

    1. Well, Adam I watched the seven minutes of ‘Why Marxism makes no sense’ and it was non-sense. Apparently, because we have a welfare state and progressive taxation, it means that better off workers are ‘exploited’ by poorer workers through transfer payments, which is ridiculous and therefore shows Marx’s value theory is ridiculous. Here I am being clearer than he was about what he says – as he just repeats himself endlessly in the seven minutes on this point. Taxation and welfare redistribute part of the value created by labour in an economy but that does not make one worker an ‘exploiter’ of another any more than a better off worker exploits a poorer one because he gets more wages at work. The exploitation takes place in the process of production between labour and capital not in the distribution of that value. That’s the point of Marx’s value theory. You might want to spend more time on Marx’s theories than this youtube nonsense.

  19. I fully agree that in an automation paradise, giving money to access food and services is a redundant and stupid step. Resource based economy talks about this. The main problem us that you have to pass through a transition while more and more people falls unemployed.
    UBI is just that, the freedom needed to focus on that change towards a full automated socialism.

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