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Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 4 – robot edition

This is Part 4 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. It is the ‘robot edition’. The march of the robots is the latest pretext that basic income proponents (including the IMF now) use to justify their policy advocacy. There is some truth in the claims that the so-called ‘second machine age’, marked by the arrival of robots, is not only gathering speed, but is different from the first period of machine development with respect to its capacity to wipe out human involvement in production. But the claims are somewhat over the top. Further the claims that these trends are inevitable are in denial of the basic capacities of the state to legislate in the common interest. While the innovations in technology will free labour from repetitive and boring work and improve productivity in those tasks, there is no inevitability that robots will develop outside the legislative framework administered by the state and overrun humanity (even if the predictions of robot autonomy are at all realistic). We will surely need to develop a coherent adjustment framework to allow these transitions to occur equitably and where they are not possible (due to limits on worker capacity) alternative visions of productive work are developed?
Further, the Job Guarantee is a better vehicle for handling these type of transitions and creating new forms of productive work. Adopting a basic income guarantee in this context just amounts to surrender.

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Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 3

This is Part 3 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. While there is a lot of literature out there on the merits of introducing a basic income guarantee very rarely will you read a detailed account of the macroeconomic implications of such a scheme. It is inescapable that the basic income proposal lacks what I call an inflation anchor. That is, to provide an adequate stipend and generate full employment (ensure there are enough jobs for all who want to work), the basic income guarantee is inherently inflationary and sets in place destructive macroeconomic dynamics which make it unsustainable. To suppress the inherent inflationary bias of the proposal, the stipend has to be so low that the recipients are freed from work but not poverty. The Job Guarantee, by way of contrast, is designed to provide an explicit inflation anchor and allows the government to continuously maintain full employment and provide a decent wage to those who from time to time will be in the Job Guarantee pool. It does not rely on poverty wages or unemployment to maintain price stability. That alone is a fundamental advantage of the Job Guarantee over the basic income guarantee – it is sustainable.

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Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 2

This is Part 2 in the mini-series discussing the relative merits of the basic income guarantee proposal and the Job Guarantee proposal. The topic of a basic income guarantee seems to evoke a lot of passion and in all the discussions I rarely read anyone going carefully through the macroeconomic implications of bringing in a scheme. I get lots of E-mails accusing me in varying degrees of politeness of being on a moral crusade in my opposition to basic income proposals. I wonder how much of my work over the years such correspondents have read. Not much is my conclusion. Whatever you think of the morality of having a system where some people work while others are supported in one way or another without having to work, even though they could (so I exclude the aged, sick, severely disabled here), the fact remains that a policy proposal won’t get much traction from me if it has a deep inflation bias and adopts neo-liberal explanations for economic outcomes like unemployment. I will also never support a proposal that absolves the national government from taking responsibility for providing enough work via its currency capacities and treats individuals expediently as ‘consumption units’ – to be maintained at minimum material levels. Anyway, we explore a few of those issues in this blog.

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Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 1

This is Part 1 in my mini-series on my version of the debate between employment guarantees and income guarantees. An earlier post rightfully belongs in the series as Part 0 – Work is important for human well-being. This discussion will form part of the Part 3 of my next book (with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and started to believe that the state had withered and was powerless in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. Accordingly, social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and compromise the well-being of their citizens as a result. In Part 3 of the book, which we are now completing, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world, are available. Wherever one turns these days, a so-called progressive pops up with a megaphone (conceptual) shouting that a basic income guarantee is the panacea for all manner of evil – starting back some years ago with unemployment and moving more recently, as that rationale was exposed, to the need to counter the expected ravages of the second machine age. As regular readers will know I am a leading advocate for employment guarantees. I consider basic income proposals to represent a surrender to the neo-liberal forces – an acceptance of the inevitability of mass unemployment. Further, the robot argument doesn’t cut it. Anyway, in Part 1 – Work is important for human well-being – I considered the need to broaden the definition of productive work. I also emphasised the importance of an on-going availability of work for human well-being. In Part 2, we sketch the arguments that have been advanced to justify the basic income proposal and find them inconsistent, illogical and deficient.

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Work is important for human well-being

I am now in Kansas City for the next several days, so blogs might come at odd times. I am getting close to finalising the manuscript for my next book (this one with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and started to believe that the state had withered and was powerless in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. Accordingly, social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and compromise the well-being of their citizens as a result. In Part 3 of the book, which we are now completing, we aim to present a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We also hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world, are available. One proposal that seems to have captivated so-called progressive political forces is that of the need for a basic income guarantee. As regular readers will know I am a leading advocate for employment guarantees. I consider basic income proposals to represent a surrender to the neo-liberal forces – an acceptance of the inevitability of mass unemployment. In that sense, the proponents have been beguiled by the notion that the state can do nothing about the unemployment. It is curious that they think the state is thus powerful enough to redistribute income. I also consider basic income proposals demonstrate a lack of imagination of what work could become and a very narrow conception of the role of work in human well-being. This blog will be the first in several (probably about four) where I sketch the arguments that will be developed (but more tightly edited) in the final manuscript.

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The struggle to establish a coherent progressive position continues

There was an interesting article from Spanish political scientist (and economist) Vicente Navarro (August 4, 2016) – Is The Nation-State And Its Welfare State Dead? A Critique Of Varoufakis – which contested the former Greek finance mininster’s claims that the “nation state is dead” and so pan-international movements are required to restore democracy and provide a bulwark against global capitalism. I have a lot of sympathy for Navarro’s argument given that the topic is closely related to current book manuscript I am working on with Italian journalist Thomas Fazi on the reasons that the Left have vacated the progressive space and adopted neo-liberal economic positions that guarantee its steady demise as a political force. So in that context, the work of the former finance minister in trying to revive a Left narrative is admirable but, as Navarro notes, is misguided. DiEM25 is not likely to form a basic of a progressive manifesto for the future.

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Reducing income inequality

The recent political ructions such as the Brexit outcome in the UK, the popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US, the growing extremist popularist movements in Europe and elsewhere, and the scrape-in victory of the incumbent conservative government in Australia at the recent federal elections, have been attributed in no small part to a growing resentment against rising income (and wealth) inequality. A ‘progressive manifesto’ has to address this issue and work out ways that the gap between real wages and productivity growth is eliminated so that workers can rely more on wages growth to fund their consumption growth rather than credit. This blog continues to discuss the elements of such a Manifesto and today we focus on the question of income inequality and ways in which productivity growth can be better shared.

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Reforming the international institutional framework – Part 2

This blog is the second part (now of three) where I discuss how the international institutional framework has to be reformed to serve a progressive agenda where rich countries (and the elites within them) do not plunder then pillory poor countries. In this blog I detail why we should dissolve the World Bank, the OECD, and the BIS, all of which have become so sullied by neo-liberal Groupthink that they are not only dysfunctional in terms of their original charter but downright dangerous to the prosperity and freedoms of people. The third part will consider what a new international institution might look like and the role it can play in aiding poor nations, particularly those who are reliant on imported food and energy. We will also discuss reforming the foreign aid system.

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Reforming the international institutional framework – Part 1

This blog continues the unedited excerpts that will appear in my new book (with Italian journalist Thomas Fazi) which is nearing completion. This material will be in Part 3 where we present what we are calling a ‘Progressive Manifesto’, which we hope to provide a coherent Left philosophy to guide policy design and policy choices for governments that are struggling to see a way beyond the neo-liberal macroeconomics. In this blog I examine how the international institutional framework has to be reformed to serve a progressive agenda where rich countries (and the elites within them) do not plunder then pillary poor countries. Central to this new framework is the abolition of the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD, all of which have become so sullied by neo-liberal Groupthink that they are not only dysfunctional in terms of their original charter but downright dangerous to the prosperity and freedoms of people. Former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz told journalist Greg Palast in an interview in 2001 that the IMF “has condemned people to death” (Source). I will propose a new international institution designed to protect vulnerable nations from damaging exchange rate fluctuations and to provide investment funds for education, health and public infrastructure. We will explore how new institutions protect themselves from developing the sort of dysfunctional Groupthink that has crippled the existing institutions. We will disabuse ourselves of notions that are popular among some progressive voices that a fixed exchange rate, international currency system is required. This will be a two part blog and will also have context for other blogs where I discuss reforms to the global financial system.

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Brainbelts – only a part of a progressive future

Last week, the US Republican Party held an extraordinary convention in Cleveland, an old rustbelt manufacturing town. I say extraordinary because I guess you have to be American to understand how grown adults can systematically humiliate themselves for several days with the rest of the world looking on wondering WTF was going on! Anyway, just down the road from Cleveland is Akron, Ohio, which is being held out as a model for the new era of prosperity in advanced nations. I caution against believing that hypothesis. It was proposed in a book I have just finished – The Smartest Places on Earth – written by two Dutch writers (published 2016). It carried the subtitle “Why Rustbelts are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation”. I do not recommend anyone purchase it even though it is getting rave reviews around the place. I see it as a sort of replay of the 1990s ‘New Regionalism’ mania that emerged as part of the Third Way movement, which the now discredited Tony Blair promoted as the entrepreneurial solution to turn regions into sub-national export centres to replace the ‘nation state’, that had been (according to the narrative) rendered powerless and irrelevant by globalisation. The book introduces the notion of the “Brainbelt”, which the authors claim are revitalising the “former rustbelt areas” and “bringing new competitiveness to the United States and Europe” – a sort of counter-strategy to foil the jobs lost to the low-cost nations such as China and the Asian economies in general. The problem is that the growth strategy seems to leave the worker behind!

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