Today is Wednesday and only a few observations today as I want more time to write other things. Last night, I gave a talk at a Politics-in-the-Pub event in Newcastle, which is a monthly gathering held at a local hotel and attracts an audience of around 80 people or thereabouts. These are people who purport to be active politically and progressive in bent. The topic was Universal Basic Income and Automation, although it was really a general discussion of UBI, and, with my appearance, a comparison with the Job Guarantee. It was a revealing evening really because the discussion indicated that major policy issues are debated in public and among progressive people without the provenance of ideas being understood or how things fit together in a system. Quite dispiriting really. So I thought I would explore the appeal – I just want to do my art, which was one statement last night in support of a UBI.
My career in self-published poetry
Here is my first self-published poem:
William Mitchell, July 25, 2018.
I want to receive a guaranteed minimum income for that exploration into the depth of creativity, to help me sleep for the rest of the day.
Yes, l’art pour l’art
Truth in the single word.
An autotelic excursion into the self.
How can that not be more valuable than working in a state-funded job helping aged people deal with their lives or providing contributions to society via environmental care work or whatever?
How does it not justify me being able to access the food produced by hard-working and low-paid farm labourers?
How does it not justify being able to buy clothes produced by low-paid factory workers?
And so it goes.
The famous Robert Owen campaign “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” doesn’t cut it anymore – I just want to do my art!
Self. The neoliberal icon.
There is no collective. Just me and my art.
“I just want to my art” (quote from last night).
And while I am entranced with my own poem, just make sure that the rest of you go to work to produce things that will allow me to eat, have a roof over my head, drive my car, sip coffee in street side cafes, buy artistic supplies, guitar strings, new amplifiers – never mind that people have to work to provide those goods and services.
No, I just want to do my art!
Margaret Thatcher declared Society was dead. And with that the neoliberals went crazy pursuing an operational meaning of that declaration, false in construct though it was.
So all these individuals emerged thinking that they were the centre of the universe until, of course, they needed others.
Downplay Society and the need to make any contribution to it, on the one hand; but then put the hand out to Society when you need to eat.
But, my art, it might be highly marketable and I can use the UBI to further my entrepreneurial ambitions. I heard that last night.
Oh yes, all these budding entrepreneurs just needing some time and public support to unleash their innovative souls onto the market.
It sounded to be a similar argument that the banksters make in times of crisis and plenty. Leave us alone, deregulate, get out of our business so we can be entrepreneurs and privatise the returns, but when we f*@k up, we demand you socialise the losses.
The UBI ‘I just want to do my art’ entrepreneurs sound just like that.
Aspirational petty capitalists who want public support just in case they don’t cut it in the profit-making world.
L’art pour l’art est un vain mot. L’art pour le vrai, l’art pour le beau et le bon, voilà la religion que je cherche.
The English-version is available HERE (the reference is at top of page 242).
Of course, this view is highly contested and the ‘I just want to do my art irrespective of whether anyone else benefits from it’ gang, would prefer the 1876 offering by the the French poet Théophile Gautier in his work – Mademoiselle de Maupin:
Il n’y a de vraiment beau que ce qui ne peut servir à rien; tout ce qui est utile est laid, car c’est l’expression de quelque besoin, et ceux de l’homme sont ignobles et dégoûtants, comme sa pauvre et infirme nature …
Or any utilitarian concept of art is wrong because beauty is not useful and useful is ugly, as it reflects the venal, selfish motives of people.
Beauty is sufficient in its own existence, like my new one-word poem “. Not!
The command of facts at the event was also missing in many instances.
For example, one hostile audience member (hostile to a Job Guarantee), who continually interrupted claimed that the recent Finnish UBI experiment was going for 10 years and was already successful.
I had pointed out that the program, which began in early 2017, will terminate at the end of 2018 because the Finnish government had received considerable opposition from citizens who resented people receiving public handouts when they could work to receive an income.
We haven’t got analytical data yet from the experiment (to be released next year) but the decision to prematurely stop funding the scheme is evidence that the Finnish government did not believe they could sustain it politically.
I would note that the Finnish experiment, whatever the final statistics tell us, does not tell us what the consequences of a true UBI would be – it was too limited, mean-spirited and short-term.
But even at the small scale that was implemented, the public hostility was significant, particularly among trade unions and social democrats (for different reasons).
At first it was reported that 70 per cent of the public were in favour (theoretically) but when told that income taxes would rise to “pay for it” (Finland doesn’t have its own currency), only 35 per cent remained in favour at the inception (Source).
I also heard last night stuff about the Job Guarantee being just about forcing people to take ‘shit jobs’ and it was just ‘Top down control’ and all the rest of those arguments that seem to recycle every few months whenever employment guarantees are proposed.
This cycle continues, unabated, even when proponents point out clearly the falsehoods in the claims that drive it. Denial is strong to evidence.
I noted that we are compelled to stop at red lights as part of being members of a community. Mr Finnish-expert piped up and claimed people didn’t stop at red lights. Maybe, but most do accept the ‘top down control’ as part of membership to a greater collective.
The Job Guarantee is coercive but so is life in a world of others.
Many attendees last night wanted to deny the fact that the UBI was fundamentally an individual concept that fitted perfectly with the neoliberal elevation of the self and its denial and active attacks on the collective.
There was a self-styled socialist trade union member on the panel with me. He barely talked about unemployment and the need to create jobs so that workers would be aligned more strongly against capital.
He thought UBI was a good idea and even though it has neoliberal overtones it could work to help people.
I thought it was simply unbelievable that a trade union official would advocate a policy that basically amounted to a surrender to one of the most basic neoliberal ideas – that unemployment is inevitable and the government can do nothing to arrest it.
So progressives get duped into believing that governments can do nothing about unemployment, that robots are marching down the streets absorbing all our work, and that the only solution is for government to hand out cash to those affected via a UBI.
The progressive challenge should be to demand governments use their fiscal capacity to generate sufficient jobs, given that most of the unemployed indicate, when asked that they want work not idleness.
The trade union guy then waxed lyrical, sounding progressive to himself I am sure, by saying that we need to “tax the rich to fund the UBI”.
Yep, we got onto that one.
So, the rich are so important that without their cash the government is unable to provide services to the rest of us. That is what this narrative purports. A redux of the Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged setting where the top-end-of-town have all the means (and create them) and the rest of us are just parasites living on the largesse and generosity of the rich.
Ever heard of a currency-issuing government? They issue their own currency. They spend that currency into existence. They have no financial constraints.
I pointed out that we might want to tax the rich to reduce their power or to stop excessive consumption or other purchasing capacities, but we should never construct an argument that the government needs their money in order to fund a UBI or any other spending initiative.
The ‘tax the rich’ narrative is so entrenched in progressive Left thinking and is like blinkers on a horse that stops them seeing the real options.
The inflation argument in favour of the Job Guarantee and against the UBI is difficult to articulate in this sort of gathering but I did anyway.
The point is that policies interact within an economic system with consequences.
Most UBI proponents have no clear understanding of how price stability can be achieved – for example, understanding that the government has two options: (a) run an unemployment buffer stock to suppress wage demands; or (b) run a buffer stock of jobs where the government buys any idle labour that wants to work at a fixed price.
Some in the audience had clearly never considered any of the inflationary aspects of this debate.
Once you understand them, then you are left with the realisation that if a government chooses the UBI path, then they are operating in a NAIRU (unemployed buffer stock) world and that while the ‘I only want to do my art’ gang might receive their UBI, workers who had eschewed the UBI, will be made unemployed, if spending pressures build up in the economy and the government seeks to stabilise inflation via policy tightening.
In other words, unemployment continues to be used a policy tool rather than being seen as a crucial policy target. The UBI fits nicely, in other words, into the neoliberal world.
Progressives should never surrender to this view and, instead should always push for full employment.
Oh and when I returned home last night, I read that the Job Guarantee is, apparently, just a reductionism.
Meaning it reduces a complexity to some simple fundamental constituents.
Mass unemployment is the result of insufficient jobs due to insufficient spending.
Want to reduce it?
Create some jobs.
Who might do that?
The non-government sector might but the evidence that they are not is manifested by the mass unemployment. So QED there.
Who else might?
Well, there is only one other sector left – the government sector.
Can it create jobs?
Immediately, upon an announcement by the Prime Minister or whoever.
Go on national TV on night and announce that the income support agencies are closing and anybody who wants a job at a socially-inclusive minimum wage can go down to the same office tomorrow morning and sign up. Wages start flowing immediately even if work takes a bit longer to assign.
That is reductionism.
The commentator was intending the description to an insult – to make out how crude I was in my thinking, so lacking in erudition, so simplistic.
But, in fact, it is a spot on assessment.
If you have people seeking work, then it is an very easy problem to solve – create the work. There is no shortage of productive things to do in Society. The unemployment is because there is a shortage of funding to undertake those productive endeavours.
The government has all the funds it needs to overcome that shortage.
The fact that mass unemployment remains is because the government has chosen for political reasons to not exercise its capacity and create the jobs.
It is an expression of ideology not complexity.
And before we get too complex here is my second self-published poem:
Go figure how deep and profound and beautiful that is! Wow! On Fire!
And here is someone who has worked hard to create beautiful (utilitarian) art for all of us
Yes, the hardworking John Mayall.
This short song – Broken Wings – was Track 5, side B on the The Blues Alone album, which John Mayall released in November 1967 on the Ace of Clubs Records label.
This was the first album I ever bought in my early teenage years with my paper round money. The Ace of Clubs label was great because they were (from memory) $1.99 instead of the usual price for a long playing disk of $4.95 (Lloyd – is that correct?).
The album followed pretty well straight after he released Crusade, his third studio effort which marked the appearance of Mick Taylor (just before he took up with the Rolling Stones).
Mayall had a habit of falling out with his guitar players or bassists – Eric Clapton left the Bluesbreakers, then his replacement, the mighty Peter Green left, bass player John McVie left, and then Mick Taylor. Quite a lineup. Fortunately the dissidents (Green and McVie) formed the first version of Fleetwood Mac and we know what that produced before the band turned to pop.
On this album, John Mayall was so hardworking that he played all the instruments barring the drums, which were provided by the magnificent Keef Hartley whose own recording career is worth getting acquainted with.
Not only did John Mayall play most of the instruments, he also designed the sleeve notes and cover art for the album, which featured himself playing what I believe was a home made guitar.
So on The Blues Alone he could only really argue with himself.
I loved this track (still do) and fell in love with Hammond B3 organs and always wanted one except I never had a place big enough to store it and guitars took my attention away.
Anyway, mellow out and enjoy the artistry.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2018 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.