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A Guaranteed Basic Income.

In a recent post, about the misuse of the New Precariat Class as a political “excuse” to make cuts to our social insurance programs, I stated that we need a universal jobs and income support program, similar to the WPA. I was then led to explore the reasoning behind guaranteed jobs and income proposals.

Martin Luther King at a lectern

Martin Luther King, Jr believed full employment would bring greater equality.

From MLK’s 1967 speech, here is the germ of the idea.

In Martin Luther King Jr.’s Speech, “Where Do We Go From Here”, he spoke about the proposal for a guaranteed income.

Now we must develop progress, or rather, a program—and I can’t stay on this long—that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income. Now, early in the century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual’s abilities and talents. And in the thinking of that day, the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber. We’ve come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed, I hope, from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty.

The problem indicates that our emphasis must be twofold: We must create full employment, or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position, we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available. In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote in Progress and Poverty:

The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves driven to their tasks either by the, that of a taskmaster or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who somehow find a form of work that brings a security for its own sake and a state of society where want is abolished.

King saw how racism and poverty, materialism and militarism depended upon each other. The thing-ification of black people and poor people was required to keep the market and war cogwheels turning. A guaranteed annual income would empower the poor, the disrespected, the downtroddenned. Work and income could bring security, inclusion, and self-esteem.

But this should not involve forced labor in workfare:

In seizing the ‘right to employment’, as a part of a right to a guaranteed income, we, The New Precariat, must not be co-opted by authoritarians. Authoritarians would coerce those in need to accept workfare jobs, often the three D types (Dirty, Dangerous, demeaning), in exchange for basic income supports.  In the chapter, “The Politics of Paradise”, from Guy Standing’s book, The Precariat, workfare is just another form of commodification of the individual to suit the needs of a State or Global market. For Standing, the ever present danger are all of the elements which conspire against democratic decision-making on social  policies:

“The precariat must demand that democratic transparent principles should be applied at every stage of policy development and implementation. Conditionality and commercialised social policing must be rolled back as being alien to freedom, universalism and respect for nonconformity. If jobs are so wonderful, people should be drawn to them, not driven into them. And if services are so vital, then let education and affordable access be the means by which everybody can obtain them.”

Guaranteed income support jobs-and-income systems have to be able to be contested and challenged from within by participants. Current programs are top down, bureaucracy driven creatures.

Past programs were warped by competing groups:

The WPA of the 1930s had coercive qualities. WPA work and workers were often ridiculed.  The C.E.T.A. jobs of the 1970s were less ‘controlled’ but they were limited to one or two years.  Unions allegedly hated the competition of the WPA program, and later the CETA program was seen as a threat to ‘unsubsidized’ jobs and public workers. Both programs sought to temporarily save ‘capitalism’. Our new programs should be universal and present in every State and County, and should be permanent.

The Right to Work and Income is a Natural Right. Article 25.1 of the Declaration of Human Rights.

There is no difference between a guaranteed income arranged by society to support individuals, than support given from parents to children, and from ancestors to recently born children.  Why should one group be allowed the privilege of giving gifts to their youth which come from the past accomplishments and resources of their families?…… While we deny income support to those who had no group or family from whom to draw support and help?…….. This is no different.

This difficult hour should be a pivot point, toward justice and fairness, but it is not.

The current attacks on social programs and faux deficit ‘crisis’ are meant to weaken and shackle our minds. Today I read a dialogue of two PBS political sock-puppets arguing like choreographed WWE wrestlers in a debate about how much to cut Social Security. Too Soviet, man! They called their dance, Solving for Solvency, barfulous language for ‘cuts’. (Stealing peoples’ earned benefits.)  A far cry from guaranteed income and meaningful work.

How many trillions of dollars have been given to prop-up banks? A few hundred billion dollars to put money in people’s pockets seems like nothing compared to what we have spent on banks, wars, on the security and surveillance state, on industry subsidies. If we decided to pay people to work and to spend we could jump start the economy. It is a matter of political choice. We must choose fairness and the right to jobs and income.

Public domain photo by Marion S. Trikosko.

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