The plaintive, I just want to do my art!

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:

I

William Mitchell, July 25, 2018.

Analysis

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.

As to art for art’s sake, I prefer the interpretation of the French writer who wrote in her letters to Alexandra Saint-Jean in on April 19, 1872:

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.

Sure enough.

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.

How?

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:

I am

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.

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    48 Responses to The plaintive, I just want to do my art!

    1. David says:

      Well done Bill.

      Trying to change people’s minds is thankless work. If even a few people in the audience started to realise that the neoliberal story doesn’t make sense then you’ll have done better than most could.

    2. Barri Mundee says:

      I have also debated the UBI vs the JG.

      So called progressives love the “Universal” part as if its some stroke of genius. And nearly all of them are uneducated in the basic economics that should have told them that it will be a pittance, will be inflationary unless taxes rise significantly but most of all they have uncritically swallowed the line that “Automation and robotics will lead to huge job losses and hardly anyone will be safe”.

    3. michael lacey says:

      Thanks for that post good for my references and disussions!

    4. MarkH says:

      The BIG and JG people are talking about *the same thing*. At present, both ideas are nebulous abstractions that can only be talked about in vague, aspirational terms. Petty wars get started whenever anyone tries to pin down solid implementation details. And that’s how it has to be: neither is a suitable fit to business-as-usual! Both can only be implemented via a root-and-branch, bottom-up redesign of national economies.

      Here’s a topical illustration: yesterday I opted out of Australia’s My Health Record initiative. A centralised medical record database is an obviously good idea that will save lives, but its implementation details are a poor fit with Australia’s current political milieu. It is obvious that the system as implemented isn’t designed to help people. It exists to give Authoritarian politicians, corporations including health insurance companies, the police, the ATO, Centrelink and other government departments unprecedented snooping powers. Good idea. Bad fit.

      BIG and JG are both good ideas in want of a political system to host them. Both can (and will be) abused by government overreach. It is unproductive to advocate for either one without also advocating for a complete redesign of our democracies.

      That’s not going to happen just by talking about it. Talk -will not- convince anyone, and if it does manage to convince a politician of any stripe you can kiss your great idea goodbye. You have to build an alternative system, if only a simulation prototype, and let people live in it. Never in the history of humanity has this been more possible to achieve than now. The JG (and/or a BIG) can only work via decentralised, grassroots, community-based initiatives. The detractors in the pub talk are right about distrusting top-down politics, and stupid for not realising their BIG is just as unworkable under such a regime. Distributed Ledger Technology will let you build a prototype that can bypass moribund politics. Stop talking. #Buidl.

    5. Derek Henry says:

      Brilliant !

      What these ” I just want to go surfing ” people forget is recent history and other forms of UBI. What I mean by other forms of UBI is unemployment benefits, Child Benefits which is £20.70 per week for the eldest or only child and £13.70 per week for each additional child for everybody.

      By recent history I mean society can’t even agree what those should be and have been under attack ever since they were introduced. The reason they have been under attack since they were introduced is for the exact same reasons you’ve explained above.

      When large parts of the population automatically think their income taxes would rise to “pay for other people’s benefits” they vote against it.

      Then these exact same people use labels such as the workshy and the feckless and they are sitting at home watch sky on a 52 inch TV drinking beer while I have to go out to work all day. Or I’ve worked all my life and can’t afford a house and they’ve never worked a day in their life and been given a four bedroom house just because they’ve had 3 kids.

      Benefits street was a programme on TV in the UK that brought those prejudices together nicely that eventually led to the introduction by the UK government of universal credit.

      The ” I just want to go surfing ” seems to have completely missed the immigration problems that given rise to far right in most countries around the world at the moment. They should take a trip to Italy or the US and ask the far right what they have against immigrants. Then they would suddenly realise what the working part of society will think of those on the UBI.

      Ultimately, that’s why a UBI will never work eventually the majority of people who provide the goods and services so that those who want to surf all day can, will always vote against it. Why right wing parties all over the world gain so much support.

      Child benefits is something everyone gets who has had a child so you would think society as a whole would support it. So what about the part of society who doesn’t have children ?

      You just need to take a look at the history of child benefits since they were phased in from 1977 to 1979 by Labour, replacing family allowances and child tax allowances. How they have changed over that time to see what problems those that support a UBI are going to face.

      https://revenuebenefits.org.uk/child-benefit/policy/where_it_all_started/

      The ” I just want to go surfing ” crowd think introducing a UBI is going to work and be easy if it was universal. Dream on 50 years later society still can’t agree on what universal child support should look like and large parts of the population still vote against it.

    6. André says:

      “Distributed Ledger Technology will let you build a prototype that can bypass moribund politics.”

      Well… I guess it was inevitable that one day this bitcoin/blockchain/DLT nonsense would reach the comments section… I’m not surprised it happened in the UBI section. Somehow people like to relate one thing to another.

      If you understand MMT you know why bitcoin doesn’t work. Blockchain and DLT are solutions finding a problem, and I don’t know how it relates to UBI. Could you explain with some more detail?

    7. Allan says:

      @ MarkH

      You say a JG

      “[C]an only be implemented via a root-and-branch, bottom-up redesign of national economies.”

      Under a JG, the unemployed become employed. They get a rise in income in return for providing labour services. It’s called a job, and it doesn’t require you to turn the world upside down. And to make it easier, they’re already on the public payroll too.

    8. hugh of the north says:

      Doesnt the JG also advocate a ‘job’ for artists? I cant remember, perhaps not, but I thought I had seen it mentioned on here in the past that there would be a wide scope of jobs proposed, and i thought that had included art. Its certainly been discussed outside of this blog.

      If so could you describe the likely difference between a JG provision for art and a UBI one? Would the artist under a JG be obliged to produced 3 canvasses per week, using between 2 and 4 litres of oil based paint? Would the canvasses be of a minimum size? If the artist explored formaldehyde would they be required to submit a written explanation of the artistic merit of such substance?

      Ok I looked it up quickly, heres one from 2013 from Bill: ”So I would allow struggling musicians, artists, surfers, Thespians, etc to be working within the Job Guarantee. In return for the income security, the surfer might be required to conduct water safety awareness for school children; and musicians might be required to rehearse some days a week in school and thus impart knowledge about band dynamics and increase the appreciation of music etc.”

      So there are some limited conditions perhaps, but as I allude to above I dont see where a cut-off point for this is. I suppose a poet could go into a school once a week. Perhaps some of those poets would be disabled and unable to get there or require help, or they may be violent offenders and therefore barred from attending, or simply very apathetic towards this requirement. Who would enforce that they attend? Who would enforce a standard upon their performance at the school? Would they be expected to discuss a ‘grey’ vision of a school, approved by the head-teacher, who would likely be of a very different world-view to the poet? Or would they be able to speak freely, inspiring through energy and rebellion and dissident views?

      I just see it as a very unnecessary number of hoops and rules to arrive at a similar (and in my view likely worse outcome) in respect of art being funded freely (perhaps under UBI) vs through state enforcement.

      I could comment more widely on UBI but I will likely get shouted down on here from any angle of approach and I am not at all a disciple of it so dont have the time or energy to make a case for it, but it seems like a very block view is taken by Bill and some commentors on here when any opposing or even potentially supplementary viewpoint is taken up. Most here wish that those we approach and try to explain that taxes dont fund anything under a sovereign government that produces its own currency WISH that when we try to explain that to others they would at least spend a moment listening and perhaps ultimately concede to a thought process and to further discussion, even if there head explodes upon learning where their tax goes. Surely the same should be demanded of ourselves with regard to enquiries into areas which may or may not be outside the scope of immediate MMT concerns.

    9. Allan says:

      If Finland ever did deploy a full UBI, then because they are in a fixed exchange rate currency zone, they could in effect export the resulting inflation to other member countries in the EZ. So even then, you wouldn’t have a clear picture of what could happen in a country with its own currency.

    10. Allan says:

      @ hugh of the north

      The difference with the examples you cite from Bill’s articles, is that the JG workers are providing their labour services to other people. They are giving up their time for others. That’s a big difference from the ‘artist’ who just wants to be left alone to do their art. The left alone artists are consuming their own time and consuming the time of others who produce the goods and services. Doesn’t go down to well in most human settlements.

    11. Paulo Marques says:

      Ah, the magic of digital bits you have no control over, such novelty. Pay no heed to the 10GW contributing to climate change.

      https://www1.icsi.berkeley.edu/~nweaver/papers/cryptorisks.pdf

    12. hugh of the north says:

      Allan,
      Please could you be more specific when you say ‘providing their labour services’. As per my post, what service would the poet, painter, surfer provide precisely? Who would enforce this? What sanctions for non-compliance would be in place?
      If you suggest that a painter or poet must provide something then what is it exactly, how do you quantify a fair contribution? What outcomes do you want to achieve?

      I would humbly suggest you might end up with something like 1000+ awful comedy shows being put forward for submission to the bbc by writers, all of which MUST be reviewed in order to ascertain their worthiness and that of the scheme, meanwhile a script by the next armando ianucci sits unwritten in a parallel universe as our new armando has taken up the JG and had to produce 6 of the above 1000+ per quarter, rather than spending time refining his art. However thats speculation on my part, but please someone provide some specifics as to what these people would have to do.

      As a secondary but overlapping concern, who decides on what constitues bills musicians? Do they have to have qualifications pre-JG application? Or is being an aspiring musician enough? If aspiring the presumably they would have to engage in qualifications. Again I see major issues with that, if others cant then i’ll have to be surprised. Moreover, what is then to stop all forms of slightly less pleasurably qualified labourers, i.e. those who may have engaged in farm work and the like under the new deal, from claiming to be an aspiring surfer (remember bill mentions them specifically for JG purposes even though they then seem to be the go-to ridicule spot for those who are critical of UBI schemes)? There may be some reasonable answers to this, I am not asking facetiously- but I havent seen it discussed, just hand-waived away.

    13. Matt R says:

      André beat me to it when he said “Well… I guess it was inevitable that one day this Bitcoin/blockchain/DLT nonsense would reach the comments section… Blockchain and DLT are solutions finding a problem”. But I shuddered when he said “Could you explain with some more detail?”

      No, no, no! We don’t want more nonsense spouted by ethics-starved people desperately trying to ramp their investments. Whatever next? “Buy gold”?

      Let me say what needs to be said: virtual currencies are pyramid schemes.

      What’s that MarkH says? “It is not a pyramid scheme because blah blah blah….”. Oh, OK. So let me just check we all understand this correctly. Virtual currencies, while not meeting all the literal definitions of classic pyramid schemes, for all common intents and purposes, and regardless of the original intent behind them, ARE PYRAMID SCHEMES. There we go. Glad we got that out of the way.

    14. larry says:

      Hugh,

      You can read about a kind of JG implemented by Roosevelt during the Depression and you can see how that worked. Which is well. Many apartment blocks in Manhattan were built under FDR’s Works Progress program. One of these buildings has a sculpture outside near the entrance. And there are lots of artistic additions on the outsides of the buildings, often near the windows, and in the entrance ways. Check it out.

      There were lots of objections, mainly by the rich who claimed that he was destroying capitalism when in reality he was saving it. There other shenanigans engaged in by a certain rich group of oafs, but I will not discuss that here as it goes beyond Bill’s brief in this post.

    15. larry says:

      Thanks, Mark, for your trenchant comment on bitcoin and its ilk.

    16. Andrew Anderson says:

      Here’s a thought:

      Let’s eliminate all welfare* for the banks and the rich and direct the proceeds equally to all citizens as a Citizen’s Dividend?

      Then there’d be less need for welfare for the rest of us, eh?

      *Examples:
      1) Non-negative yields on the inherently risk-free debt of monetary sovereigns.
      3) Non-negative interest on inherently risk-free demand account balances** at the Central Bank (aka “reserves” in the case of banks).
      3) Government provided insurance of private liabilities including privately created liabilities (“Bank loans create deposits”).
      4) Exclusive access to inherently risk-free demand accounts (i.e. checking/debit accounts) at the Central Bank.
      5) Asset purchases from the private sector by the Central Bank.
      6) Loans to the private sector by the Central Bank.
      7) Interest on Reserves (IOR).

      **Nonetheless, individual citizens, having an inherent right to use their Nation’s fiat as opposed to non-citizens, banks and large users, should be exempt from negative interest up to reasonable limits on account size and number of transactions per month.

    17. Keith Newman says:

      I have had discussions with a few progressive proponents of UBI. Their basic assumption is that automation will put most people out of work soon and that UBI will alleviate the resulting mass unemployment. On a personal level I think their hearts may be in the right place but they live in an oddly illusory world. When I point out there is tons of public service work to be done currently such as elder carer, daycare, public transit, public education, healthcare, environmental remediation, expansion of public parks, redesign of cities to be more people and environmentally friendly, etc, etc, etc. I’m told there still won’t be enough work. So I made an approximate calculation for Canada (where I live) and estimated 1.5 million additional workers would be needed to do those things. The additional employment would create increased demand in the economy resulting in hundreds of thousands more jobs. At the time (last year) 1.7 million people were officially listed as unemployed, a figure that did not include the unemployed and discouraged workers. In any event MMT-inspired spending to bring public services to an adequate level would soak up almost all unemployment and the Job Guarantee would be needed to employ the most disadvantaged workers in the labour market. Given how much there is to do, why in the world would a government want to pay people to do nothing?
      This kind of observation has no effect on UBI supporters. They cite vague social experiments, their own vague beliefs, but they won’t be pinned down to specifics. What exactly will the UBI amount be and exactly who will get it? Why will it not be inflationary? What about the massive amount of work that currently needs doing? They seem to live in an imminent Star Trek world, one in which all our needs, including personal services, will be provided by machines any day now. Well who knows. Maybe this will be the case one day in the remote future. But we aren’t anywhere near that now. In some cases I think judgement is clouded by personal interest, that is some low income artists, writers, etc, see it as a way to do their art at public expense. But as Bill and a commenter pointed out that is entirely self-centered. They are taking but not giving anything back to the collective. As a final comment, it would be nice if some of the pro-UBI voices here actually read what Bill has written on the Job Guarantee instead of inventing a strawman program.

    18. Keith Newman says:

      That was supposed to read: a figure that did not include the underemployed and discouraged workers.

    19. larry says:

      Andrew, many of these issues have been covered by Bill in other posts. Unfortunately, I do not have a catalog of them to hand. But it hopefully will not be difficult to locate what you need.

    20. larry says:

      Keith, did you mean Why did it become inflationary, rather than Why did it not.

    21. Ian Seed says:

      Excellent post as usual! Hugh and Larry. Re JG and the arts in the Depression, BBC Radio 4 had a series on it called “Art for the Millions”. Extremely interesting and you wouldn’t believe the number of famous artists that came out of it. The one I listened to, while driving, also covered some of the backlash, benefits and legacy. Well worth listening to if you can. The link to IPlayer is below (but I know BBC sites can sometime be difficult if you’re not in the UK).

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09g4fjs

      Staging the New Deal (e.g. Unemployed journalists and writers were put to work on Living Newspapers, fusing documentary & drama to stage contemporary issues & create debate among the audience.) https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09fy1qc

      Artists Gotta Eat (e.g. Collectively, it was hoped, Americans could renew democracy & create a better tomorrow through participation & exposure to music, art & theater. On the government payroll a host of talents from Jackson Pollock to Arthur Miller, Orson Welles to Zora Neale Hurston) https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09dx8pd

    22. Brendanm says:

      How about a UBI that can only be spent on JG labour?

    23. Brendanm says:

      Oh … administer using distributed ledgers!

    24. André says:

      Brendanm,

      “How about a UBI that can only be spent on JG labour?”
      I don’t know if I understood it right.
      Do you mean something like that?
      1) The government somehow creates an individual account for each citizen;
      2) The government periodically (monthly? weekly?) deposits some money in every single account, and calls it “UBI”;
      3) The government creates a program to somehow label someone as employed or unemployed. The government somehow keep it registered and always update it;
      4) Everyone can hire people labeled unemployed, paying them with the special accounts (described in item 1). There is no other used for such special account. You cannot withdraw or use the money deposited except by hiring unemployed people.

      Well, don’t know if it would work well. The UBI could not be very big, or else a lot of people would stay idle in their houses. It could not be small, or else there wouldn’t be enough money for all unemployed. But maybe it is an idea. It doesn’t seem to be what people usually call UBI though…

      “Oh … administer using distributed ledgers!”
      I am pretty sure that it is unnecessary. A traditional database would be more than enough…

    25. Magpie says:

      Prof. Mitchell,

      Next time trade union members come out in favour of the UBI, remind them that a recipient of the UBI will have no need of unions. It’s workers who need unions; those whose livelihood depends on hand outs need only the ability to beg.

    26. MarkH says:

      @André et. al. re: Distributed Ledger Technology

      As a group of people purporting to be champions of a big idea in an ocean of ignorance you are very quick to misunderstand and vilify other big ideas.

      I have zero interest in cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin and its competitors are irrelevant to this current discussion. I’m not even talking about the technology of blockchain – there are other more interesting ways to decentralise power.

      It is political power that we’re talking about here, not money, or currencies, or the ridiculous speculative fevers suffered by pimply nerds. What people -do- with distributed ledgers and other technologies in the space is orthogonal to what -you- can do with it. And what you can do with it is start thinking outside of the box defined by ‘neoliberal’ power.

      MMT and the JG are robust thought experiments but -fragile- political policies. If you can’t imagine the major failure modes of each were they to be thrust into the political fray then you’re dealing with a utopian fantasy which ignores existing power structures and their capacity to fight back. Off the top of my head: in the best possible scenario where a centre-left party introduces both an MMT-friendly framework for national accounts and a JG, via a mandate handed to them after a sweeping election victory based on those policies, you have maybe a decade in the sun before a neoliberal austerity bias again sweeps its way into power, with the JG becoming either a)work for the dole and/or b)a Victorian workhouse horror. If you’re lobbying for a top-down political uptake of your utopian vision, you’re going to have a bad time.

      Because you -are- attempting to change the world. There is no such thing as “a JG is just a job.” You’re attempting to turn the balance of power on its head. You want to destroy the reign of capital and hand its power to the proletariat. That’s a goddamn revolution, and the historical revolutionary precedent(s) are … unfavourable to your cause. You -will- fail if you try to hand this endeavour over to politicians. They -will- fuck it up. Your only chance is to give it straight to the people who will live under it.

      It’s all about collectivism and its inverse. You all talk a mean game about “the collective”, and then rely on individual iconoclasts like Bill Mitchell and political saviours like Bernie Sanders to lead you to the promised land. That’s bad, wasteful, politically bereft twentieth century thinking. You can work with the collective -now- by thinking about how to distribute power directly to everyone.

      I won’t prescribe how to do that, because it’s all a big experiment at the moment. It won’t involve existing cryptocurrencies, and probably won’t involve blockchain. Buzzwords I’m currently interested in are “agent-centric”, peer-to-peer, distributed hash tables, and holochain. In my opinion, if you’re hostile to decentralising power using new technologies, you are on an unproductive path when it comes to the ideas embedded in MMT.

    27. Kingsley Lewis says:

      Magpie,
      Are you advocating that there should be trades unions to push for higher pay, extra benefits, easier jobs etc. for JG workers?!

    28. espghia says:

      “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.”

      I’m surprised that this surprised you…don’t let it dampen your spirits!

    29. larry says:

      Ian, thanks for this. I shall have a look/listen.

    30. Barri Mundee says:

      MarkH: As Allan put it: “Under a JG, the unemployed become employed. They get a rise in income in return for providing labour services. It’s called a job, and it doesn’t require you to turn the world upside down”.

      Its primarily an economic stabiliser that avoid using a pool of the Unemployed to regulate demand and to substitute a pool of the Employed instead. Bill’s JG is modelled on the Wool Floor Price system of some decades ago.

      It will not be politically easy to implement as it will require the Labor party to break decisively with neoliberalism; the Coalition is obviously a lost cause.

      As for distributed power, how do you achieve that? “I won’t prescribe how to do that, because it’s all a big experiment at the moment”.Then you list vague possibilities but do not or will not elaborate.

      The closest the world got to a Job Guarantee was under Roosevelt’s New Deal. (as far I know).

    31. Dean says:

      Bit confused by this

      What is the difference between an artist and an economist? Neither produce food or goods or human needs. Artists spend a lot less time arguing with other artists about their field too.

      Further, the reason some people produce food or other goods is because they are not artists.

      Finally, if producers want to monopolize human needs and all other resources as ‘commodities’, a concept which is actually quite foreign to artists, why should artists have to suffer – it is not the artists fault that all human needs have been commoditized.

      Having said this, I don’t agree with UBI either – if an artist has no intention of owning property or pursuing economic aims (and therefore has no intention of commercializing their art), all they need is access to enough human needs so they aren’t breaking any laws, and the government could easily provide these by purchasing these needs on behalf of the artist, using non-market sourced money – as opposed to just sending them money, and they could easily offer their art to the community for free as a sort of trade-off (sort of as a way not to offend everyone).

      But anyway, what do I know, I’m just an artist.

    32. André says:

      @MarkH

      “you are very quick to misunderstand and vilify other big ideas”

      Well, I was not very quick – after a lot of extensive exploration, it became clear that DLT/blockchain/bitcoin/etc are just fancy words with nothing behind them.

      DLT, for exampe, is, in its stricter definition, an expensive-by-design, append only, voted-by-processing-power, distributed database. In its broader definition, DLT is nothing more than traditional distributed databases, known for decades. The concept is obviously way overrated, and it does not keep up with all the marketing it recieves. I mean, even Microsoft Excel is more useful and disruptive than DLT. Did Excel changed the world by making communities more empowered? I doubt it, although Microsoft will surely claim it did for marketing purposes.

      What seems to me is that some people are really attracted to a socio-political concept I call “techo-anarchy”, and, blinded by their ideology, they believe that DLT and other buzz words are the conveyors of an utopian world.

      Unfortunately, technologies are just tools, and they do not change human nature. Look at all the disruptive inventions in the last centuries: the telegraph, telephone, television, computers and PCs, the internet, smartphones and so on. Contrary to DLT, they were really disruptive, and they changed our societies a lot – but they did not change much in socio-political terms. We still have people fighting people over political power, we still have poverty, unemployment, inequality, violence, and so on.

      We can’t forget that democratic governments should be “for the people, by the people” – or “for the community, by the community”, if you like. If a government is not really democratic, we should challange and change it. Destroying it and replacing it for some techno-buzz words does not seem to be the best solution. Also, it doesn’t sound a good solution putting out there a technology just because it has a fancy some and some totally unrealistic promises…

    33. MarkH says:

      Barri: … I have obviously used too many words, and my message has been lost. You ARE trying to turn the world upside down. Why do people who purport to be advocates of MMT and the JG keep trying to downplay it? Please stop trying to dumb it down for me. The Job Guarantee is revolutionary. MMT is -explosive-. If you don’t understand that, try explaining it to ‘progressive’ people on social media on a regular basis like I do.

      To implement a Job Guarantee you first need to educate your voter base about it. In the process of doing that you’ll need to detoxify them of neoliberal ideas and replace them with the basics of the MMT framework. Good luck. You’ll need it.

      From experience, the “taxpayers money” rabbit hole cannot and will not be bested with words. MMT -will not- be a vote winner if all you have are descriptions of ideas that bear no resemblance to the myths that enshroud voters’ lived reality. The only way you will get through to them is to -show- them how MMT and JG works. Attempting to take it to an election without that education is political suicide for whomever dares. Attempting to implement it piecemeal, say a Job Guarantee without the MMT framework to support it, is a death sentence for the entire idea for the rest of human history.

      >”As for distributed power, how do you achieve that?”

      That’s the trillion dollar question driving computer science at this very moment. I mentioned Holochain previously. Look it up and read the whitepaper if you’re interested. I think that is a very interesting and promising candidate.

      >”Then you list vague possibilities but do not or will not elaborate.”

      I would be an unwelcome guest here if I attempted to do that. The “why” is much more important here than the “how”. Suffice it to say: all of human history up until this point has pretty much been a top-down imposition of coercive power by the haves onto the have-nots. Representative democracies have gone some way to fix that, but they’re being eroded. Right now, at this very juncture in time, information technology is beginning to offer a technical -and- philosophical basis for taking the power that could only be properly wielded by centralised authorities in the past and distributing it to the masses. I could write a couple of thousand words on this, but nobody wants that. How to summarise? … a Job Guarantee is best thought of as provision of jobs to fulfill -community- needs. So a distributed ledger or technology of that type can be used on a community level to replace -all- of the centralised bureaucracy that would otherwise be needed to administer such a scheme. If “think global, act local” was a dream from the 70s, it can now be implemented at a very fine level of granularity, without an overarching authority micromanaging it. Think of a website with community jobs. Think of the hardware that website runs on, and realise that there is no centralised server administered by “the government”. It runs on a network of devices owned by the members of the community, like your phone, your PC, or a small dedicated box sitting on your desk. If you’ve heard of BitTorrent, the box acts as a node that contains shards of all the information that you and your community need to share. All the information about you is owned by you, and you alone. Your health record, for example, is owned by you and stored encrypted in a distributed fashion across a bunch of nodes. I could go on. The point being that the top-down nature of power has been changed into a distributed network of power, with you being one of the nodes.

    34. MarkH says:

      >Did Excel changed the world by making communities more empowered? I doubt it

      Pfft. Lotus 1-2-3 changed the world. Excel changed it again, and more, and is still changing it. SQL changed the world. Linux changed the world. Apache changed the world. The world is forever being changed by stand-alone applications, and distributed computing will change it into something completely unrecognisable.

      There’s an adage I heard from a venture capitalist on twitter, something like: “most of my time is spent telling IT startups that their world-beating app’s main competitor is Excel, and it is cheaper and less buggy than anything you’ll ever create.”

    35. André says:

      Yes. Then we should implement JG with Excel. Actually, we should replace the government by Excel. It would leverage collaborative communities with data-driven empowered technologies. I can see the utopia happening in just a few weeks

    36. RobS says:

      MarkH, I respect your zeal but fear you are vastly underestimating the importance of the carbon interface.

      The promise of any DLT application falls apart the moment it tries to do something interesting – that is, interact with the real world. So called “smart contracts” need oracles which are outside the DLT. Show me a non-trivial Oracle that is incontestable. At that point your smart contract system offers nothing beyond a secure SQL database.

      I really want to love blockchain but I fail to see its utility beyond the banal, let alone the revolutionary.

    37. Paulo Marques says:

      MarkH,

      How does Holochain avoid having the same number of bugs as any other software and how does it avoid having a handful of actors being capable of collusion http://arewedecentralizedyet.com/ ? Why wouldn’t a simple, cheap, federated web service work just as well?
      I don’t disagree with you that sensible reform has little chance of happening organically, I just don’t think there’s anything to be done because we humans only move forward through disaster and we’re pretty close to one.

    38. Mike Ellwood says:

      I believe that some (true) progressives fear that a JG scheme might undermine good quality public-sector jobs. (I speak from the UK, where the public sector, even after the years of Thatcherism) is still much more significant than in the USA).
       
      I don’t myself hold that opinion – at least, I don’t think that it need necessarily be a problem, but it could happen if something calling itself a JG programme were implemented by the wrong sort of government.
       
      Or more likely, just say that a left-wing Labour government which was MMT-aware introduced a JG programme, if they were voted out of office and replaced by a Tory/Tory-Lite (e.g. New-New-Labour, or x-LibDem coalition), the succeeding government might keep the JG, and gradually transform it to a JG-in-name only, and seek to undermine the permanent public sector using it as a tool.
       
      And don’t think a left-wing Labour government couldn’t be quickly kicked out, even if its policies were demonstrably successful. I am confident that as soon as it were elected, the CIA/MI6/MI5 destablisation programme would begin even before Mr Corbyn (or his successor) moved into Downing Street.

    39. syzygysue says:

      I remember seeing John Mayall play in Manor House. It was when Peter Green replaced Eric Clapton. I must have been 13/14y old. Thanks for reminding me of this beautiful song … I haven’t heard it in decades.

    40. MarkH says:

      RobS: “vastly underestimating the importance of the carbon interface” is another way of saying “centralised power sort of works, so if it’s not broke don’t fix it.” It’s saying, hey, the current system is owned holus bolus by vested interests and tuned to funnel wealth from the many to the few, but change is scary and hard so why risk even -thinking- about an alternative? It’s the same sort of FUD that always keeps the big boys in charge of all the toys. That mindset is what MMT (or any other insurgent philosophy) is primarily fighting.

      This sort of technology isn’t being developed to deliver interesting end-user software to you. At the current stage of development it is all infrastructure, like web or email or usenet servers were in the 1980s. You will be underwhelmed by the output of the field for a while yet if you’re judging it by end-user utility. The philosophy behind it is what matters. If you -get- why the infrastructure matters you start to see that it -really- matters, and it’s a small step from there to seeing how it can be applied to other interesting ideas that seek to upend traditional power structures.

      Paulo: I’m not a Holochain advocate, I just like its direction. I mentioned it because it’s a very interesting and very different entry point to the space, not a shrink wrapped solution to any problem. “How does Holochain avoid having the same number of bugs as any other software” … it doesn’t. It’s an active open source project with -evangelical- developers. What more can you ask of any development team? “and how does it avoid having a handful of actors being capable of collusion” it’s not a cryptocurrency and it’s not a blockchain, so judging it by those standards misses the point. If you’re talking about its game theoretic failure modes there are papers that analyse this sort of geekery. As a summary, it looks more robust than blockchain, it is orders of magnitude more scalable, and it doesn’t use proof of work for consensus, which means it’s not an energy hog. “Why wouldn’t a simple, cheap, federated web service work just as well?” … it would. Until it didn’t. A government server that owns all your data and which calls all the shots over how everything works is just dandy if the minister and public bureaucrats who administer it share the same philosophy as you … until mission creep by the next elected government turns the employment database into a juicy profit centre and is sold off to their corporate mates. The whole point to decentralising power is so -you- own your data and you have a democratic voice in the topology and philosophy of your political world.

    41. Tuan says:

      From each according to his/her abilities. To each according to their needs. In a safe and healthy environment on planet Earth.
      The fundamental interdependence between every single humans, society and the planet. The rest is mere implementation details, using our extraordinary monetary system through the #MMT lens to mobilise the resources and coordinate the 7.6 billion humans on the planet. Let’s do this.

    42. Nicholas says:

      Bill Mitchell’s literature clearly states that artistic jobs would have a place within a well-designed Job Guarantee. I think his point in this post is that self-absorbed, unaccountable self-proclaimed artistic endeavour of negligible community benefit is not an activity that productive people would be willing to support with their output. In a Job Guarantee, job-seekers who wanted to be paid to produce art or share artistic knowledge and skills with others would need to demonstrate to their community that their work is of social value. It wouldn’t be enough to stay at home all the time and not engage actively in tasks that contribute to the wellbeing of your community. A JG would involve some structure and accountability to community that a UBI would not. That is a core difference between the two ideas.

    43. Paulo Marques says:

      MarkH

      I had a hard time figuring out what it actually was, as I didn’t want to read a whitepaper – if they can’t say it in a paragraph, it’s going to have a hard time. I’ll look again with more care.
      What I meant as a Plain Old Web site is like something that happened to be mentioned a few hours later on Linux Journal: Mifos, which, apparently, is changing people’s lives today by just providing regular tools.

    44. Dean says:

      @ Nicholas

      Artists existed before economists and an economy. Political economists in particular miss this fact.

    45. Magpie says:

      @Kingsley Lewis (Thursday, July 26, 2018 at 13:03)

      Are you advocating that there should be trades unions to push for higher pay, extra benefits, easier jobs etc. for JG workers?!,/i>

      Sorry for the delay replying.

      The short answer to your question: Yes, I am.

      The longer answer: There already are public sector unions, as you are aware. They already do the things you said (namely, “push for higher pay, extra benefits, easier jobs etc.”), plus others you didn’t: look after OH&S and in general mediate with the employer on behalf of union members.

      Are you advocating that JG jobs should be different?!

      I mean, free association used to be accepted as a human right. Even after all the “neoliberal” onslaught against workers, they still have the right to associate with other workers. That’s why workers employed by retail shops employing a few workers are still allowed to join unions.

      Are you advocating that should be different for workers employed by the largest, most powerful employer in the land, controlling police, military, prisons: the government?!

    46. MarkH says:

      Paulo: the how is less important than the why. The technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself. In this case, recognising that top-down power is anathema to any initiative which purports to value fairness and openness is the important bit. If you think that MMT and the JG can cleanly fit into a top-down world owned lock, stock and barrel by capital, we have a fundamental ideological problem, and nothing I say will make sense.

      -Distributing power- is the essential idea. How do we do that? That’s the central question, and it doesn’t necessarily need an immediate answer. Technology is one brand new avenue to explore. Without it, we’re left with the old ways: peasant uprisings or expensive and fruitless media education campaigns.

    47. cs says:

      Well, I can say as a person who has eeked out a career in the arts that I believe artists have a duty to engage with broader society, to be political, to push humanity towards bettering itself, to contribute, to give.

      Nothing annoys me more than pretentious, self-absorbed, creative types who see themselves as immune from obligations to others or who don’t recognise that their status is privileged and they owe so much to people who toil away growing their food, making their paints and instruments and cleaning their theatres.

      I could see great scope for the job guarantee – or even just a bigger public sector – to provide services to the community from artists. Underprivileged groups don’t have access to the arts for their kids for a start at current market prices and provision of free tuition etc for poor communities wouldn’t crowd out existing enterprises. Those kids can’t afford piano and ballet lessons.

      I was recently in Paris. There on the underground some good singers and musicians try to eek out a living busking on the trains and in the stations (“Sous le ciel de paris” on an accordian was a popular one – but there were also rappers and classical musicians). The music is generally good and gives a nice atmosphere to an otherwise mundane underground experience. I saw people spontaneously dancing in the corridors around the buskers. It was fun to see. The musicians have to beg for coins however and are viewed by some with suspicion because of that. Like they are hustlers. Why not just employ them on the job guarantee or through a public service position and have live music everywhere, uplifting everyone as the commute around town? A simple thing but that improves the lives and mood of everyone and removes the indignity of having to hustle. Have an audition process to make sure people have some talent – like they do in Paris for the portrait artists at Montmatre.

      The arts are important. “Without a song and a dance, what are we?” (In the immortal words of Abba). A decent society would invest more in them.

    48. Dean says:

      cs,

      My brother has exceptional artistic skills, both in painting and guitar playing, but has also spent the majority of his life on the streets. One day he told me that we was the wealthiest and happiest when he had no place to live and survived purely from busking; because he had no bills to pay, he always had so much money left over after food etc he would give it away to other homeless who didn’t possess the skills to busk.

      Unfortunately, the law is always around the corner for a homeless person, and it is essentially impossible for a homeless person ‘not’ to break the law especially when it comes time to sleep. As he had to eventually succumb to the will and wants of others (instead of pursuing his own self-interests as economic theory would suggest humans are supposed to do), he has since found that although he receives more money from welfare, after all his bills, he has less left-over than when he was homeless (just as an aside, he has never been able to hold down a job because he lacks the emotional discipline to do so).

      One of he most ironic things about political economics, is that whilst we all have diverse views on how the world should operate, especially regarding resources, the underlying presumption made by all is that humans have unlimited wants and seek to gratify their desires with the least amount of exertion. This underlying presumption is then conveniently ignored when people begin to complain because they deem other people as not putting society, the community, the economy etc, first before themselves. If I as a human was to act true to this underlying assumption, then whether it be through bumming off welfare, or whether it be from the accumulation of assets (corporate welfare or land ownership) which pay me passive income, either way, I am living according to this presumption and all those who claim this presumption to be true have no grounds to complain. If we as humans have an obligation to recognize all the efforts which every other human, both past and present have done to ensure that I can function in the next minutes, hours, days etc, then this whole presumption that I have unlimited wants and seek to gratify my wants with the least exertion must be false.

      And in an even more ironic twist, seeing as the focus of this post is on artists (although this can refer to other fields), artists are less likely to seek unlimited wants and to gratify human desires with the least exertion as opposed to those who pursue economic aims; for one, they are less likely to want to own private property which economic agents love to own and which they can treat as ATM’s, reaping the benefits of capital appreciation to which no amount of active labour was the cause. Whilst we may complain that many live off the hard work of others (and we must include some land-owners, bond investors, stock owners, financiers, government bureaucrats, etc in this field, and not just welfare recipients), those who do produce the food, instruments etc are not doing it for some community purpose, but because they are going to get paid money for doing it, and this is obvious to see because if they were asked to do it for no money, they would without thought say ‘no’.

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