Inequality by Anthony B. Atkinson

inequality what can be done title with math symbol for no equalInequality: What can be done? by Anthony B. Atkinson (2015)

This is a FABULOUS book. Well written, very understandable language given that there is some economics and statistics and such covered. Actually a darn good read, a page turner, so well organized and fluid were the transitions.

I have been reading a lot of material on this subject for some time now, and this book presented about as complex of range as one might imagine with the variables involved. There was only one lack I perceived, and that is the failure to address gender inequality of pay, both in exact same jobs, and in the apparently forgotten comparable worth sense that I vigorously supported back in the 1970s. For example, since private sector refuses to cooperate making up such lame excuses as mommy tracks or leadership skills, or whatever makes it seem like they aren’t discriminating, it is time for the government to do some equalizing. The IRS has the data and they could make some determinations and proceed by either taxing non-compliant companies and refunding pay discrepancies directly to the employed women, or some other scheme to force equity. Such as only tax women at a rate 70% of that of men. Ever so briefly the author touches on universal basic income but principally in relation to child poverty and making a child payment. Again, just briefly discusses, maybe one sentence, the fact that paying women to have children is inherently discriminatory against women who cannot or choose not to bear children, but who would be taxed to pay for OTHER PEOPLE’s children.

On the other hand, I would rather support other people’s children to keep them out of poverty than I would let them starve. Unfortunately, being as how the author has a lot mainly on U.K. stuff, he does not address the politics behind USA decisions that poverty is directly the result of immorality. [sarcasm] He does briefly touch on basic (non-means tested) income but as are all such people who would be against it, even the people it might help (like Trump supporters), he frames it in the “disincentive to work” at all if given assurance of roof, food, and medical etc. He cites the fact that someone who surfs all day does not warrant a basic income, and I have to disagree. Once you start making judgments about what someone’s choice of activities are “good” you have already lost the argument. For example, what about someone who wants to write a novel? They are working, but they may not be able to succeed for a decade or more with non-fiction research, and would likely have travel expenses to go to original source documents. Or a painter. Need plenty of money for that “job” for canvas, paints, brushes, plus you have to pay for frames etc. all on your own plus entry fees to try to get into shows and so on. Work might, in fact, be surfing all day if you were going to go pro or teach and so on.

One of the points I made in a published letter to the editor back in the day about comparable worth was the fact that there is NOT equal power in the employer and employee; the much lauded “at will employment” is a lie. One phrase in this book caught my attention that has a nice ring to it: people are not milk. Workers are not products, consumables, to be discarded at the first sign of illness or age, or injury (especially not when it is an on-the-job injury).

I fear that too few people alive and in power today remember what it was like before unemployment, disability insurance, no OSHA (thank  you Ralph Nader), and so much more. And yet women are still not given equal pay and pay secrecy (you are fired if you disclose your pay) is the #1 contributor for this result because women don’t get to know how badly they are treated when they may think they negotiated a good deal. Only the power to hire knows how much they can really pay, and they are the ones who have NO INCENTIVE to pay you what you are worth. And there is diddly squat you can do but walk away, and subsequently starve, become homeless, and if you are lucky not lose everything you own before you are forced to accept a shitty job for crap wages. Which is just how corporate America wants it.

A higher valuation should, for different reasons be placed on improving public administration. The achievement of an equitable society depends to a considerable degree on the effectiveness of the public administration and the quality of its dealings with citizens. Repressive administration may be cheaper, but a fair society needs to ensure that its operations. . . are just, transparent, and accepted. This requires resources. Moreover, as societies become richer, so too they become more demanding in their standards. (p. 122)

This reminds me of the perennial complaint by conservatives that Americans aren’t poor because they have refrigerators. As if that somehow made not having enough money to put food in it or pay the electric bill for it to run were irrelevant.

But once we leave the hypothetical world of perfect competition, we have to ask how decision-makers exercise their market power. This applies to the labour market, where there may be bargaining between employers and workers (and unions) over money wages and employment; the product market, where firms set prices above the marginal cost of production and determine the range of products supplied (and consumers rarely exercise collective power); and the capital market, where firms may face financial institutions with market power determining the availability and cost of finance. As Galbraith underlined, economists had from the 1930s recognized in the “monopolistic competition revolution” the need to model markets where firms had a degree of power intermediate between the poles of pure monopoly and of perfect competition. Firms face competition but are price-makers. Understanding their behaviour has greatly advanced as a result of the game-theoretic analyses of recent decades, a success signalled by the award of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economics to the French economist Jean Tirole for his contribution to “the science of taming powerful firms.” (123-124)

p. 128 “Technological Change and Countervailing Power in Part 2: Proposals for Action

The Legal Framework and Trade Unions
Reviewing Thoma Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century from a lawyer’s perspective, Shi-Ling Hsu starts with the observation that “Piketty, his supporters, and his critics are all missing huge piece of the puzzle: THE ROLE OF LAW IN DISTRIBUTING WEALTH. That wars and recessions wreak havoc on capital investments is intuitive enough. But in times of peace and prosperity, the legal mechanisms by which the rich accumulate, consolidate, and increase their wealth remains a black box in this discussion.” He goes on to argue that a capital-friendly bias inheres in US legal rules and institutions. He is mostly concerned with antitrust (as just discussed) and regulation, but the same issue arises with regard to the legislation concerning trade unions.

I agree with this aspect of the whole assessment of the failure to acknowledge the wealth accrual and also the fact that the “capitalists” are sitting on their wealth, off-shoring it, and spending it on Republicans and Clinton to keep the Corporations of the Union State in charge.

His proposal to address the power discrepancy between workers and unions is as follows(p. 131):

Public policy should aim at a proper balance of power among stakeholders, and to this end should (a) introduce an EXPLICITLY DISTRIBUTIVE DIMENSION into competition policy; (b) ensure a legal framework that allows trade unions to represent workers on level terms; and (c) establish where it does not already exist, a Social and Economic Council involving the social partners and other nongovernmental bodies.

Also, flipping back to page 126+ about the monopoly power reference above, here are a few notable points discussed under the Competition Policy subsection.

Legal intervention to limit the exercise of monopoly power in the product market in longstanding. In the US, according to Jonathan Baker, the “Supreme Court has awarded the anti-trust statutes near-conditional status.” Equally there has been controversy about the purpose of such legislation since the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act. One of the most influential participants in the debate, ROBERT BORK, argued in 1978 that “anti-trust policy cannot be made rational until we are able to give a firm answer to one question: What is the point of the law — what are its goals?” The answer he gave, and which has subsequently come to dominate Supreme Court decisions, is that the objective should be consumer welfare, interpreted as economic efficiency.

In ruling out DISTRIBUTIONAL considerations, the post-1980s chapter of antitrust law in the US was departing from the earlier approach of the Supreme Court and indeed from the rhetoric of the 1890 Congress that passed the Sherman Act. Whatever the true motives of Senator Sherman, he certainly cited distributional  concerns: “The popular mind is agitated with problems that may disturb social order, and among them none is more threatening that the inequality of condition of wealth, and opportunity that has grown within a single generation out of the concentration of capital into vast combinations to control production and trade to break down competition.” In his celebrated 1945 judgment in the Alcoa case, Judge Learned Hand gave the opinion that “among the purposes of Congress in 1890 was a desire to put an end to great aggregations of capital because of the HELPLESSNESS of the individual before them.”

The proposition being made here is that competition policy should embody explicit distributional concerns. It recognizes that consumer welfare is an aggregation of individual interest that are diverse and that can combined only by some process of weighting the circumstances of different groups. An example may make this concrete. As noted in Chapter 1, one source of inequality is LACK OF ACCESS TO GOODS OR TO SERVICES. We have seen in this chapter that the market cannot be relied upon to apply the range of products desired by consumers. This has a distributional dimension. Were there is inequality, and a limited number of suppliers, firms may not supply the lower-quality goods that are sought by poorer families, and these families are therefore excluded. The cheaper cuts of meat may no longer be on the shop counters; products may be package in sizes that are too large. Of course, competition policy cannot micromanage the contents of supermarkets, but it can influence how firms situate themselves in the market. The viability of small local shops depends on how the large firms are regulated. Setting access prices for rival suppliers may have consequences downstream for the products available to consumers. . . .

In recommending that competition policy concern itself with DISTRIBUTIONAL issues, I am flying in the face not just of the US Supreme Court but also of the economics literature [fools of the Trickle Down Chicago School of Economics] that questions whether regulatory policy is well suited to distributional objectives. . . . There are however distinct limits to what can be achieved by second-best taxes and transfers, and, if we wish to make a significant reduction in inequality, there has to be recourse to a whole range of measure that have a — less than perfectly targeted — equalizing impact. All forms of distributional intervention are less than ideal.

I do not recall where in the book he discussed it, but one of his ideas for a good redistributional equalizer method would be to give every citizen as starting “inheritance” when they turned 21. I don’t recall how much he proposed. Enough to make a significant difference at least, like to be able to buy a car, or a down payment on a home, or perhaps move to where a new job is, or something.

Whatever the person wants to do. Of course, that will NEVER happen in America because to be given anything by the government is a disincentive to work, immoral, and the recipient can’t be trusted not to spend it all on steak and seafood. If a RICH family gives their kid $1 million dollars as a starter, that’s okay though because it is “their” money even if it was earned off the backs of prostitution a generation back, or slum lord investing by the parents. Yep, inherited wealth is a reward to the virtuous. And hey, let’s say it all gets blown on bad investments. Well there is always bankruptcy — for CORPORATIONS — and Daddy will have plenty more he probably would be willing to part with. Sometimes enough for 3 or 4 second chances to try to turn millions into billions. Whereas the kid who works 5 jobs of a few hours each to pay for college and comes out with $30,000 debt or more, just has to suck it up and get a good job. This does not translate to writer, artist, musician, nursing, librarianship, teaching high school or younger, potentially might include nursing though. Motherhood is certainly not a high paying option (as the other women majority jobs are not as well).

No college is being changed to NOT teach people how to think, learn history, be able to do algebra, or critical thinking. It is more now about training people just enough for business needs.


EMPLOYMENT AND PAY IN THE FUTURE
The goal with regard to full employment has therefore to be approached in a more nuanced way to reflect the changing nature of the labour market. But it also needs to be made explicit. At the moment, the policy ambitions are stated in a general way — in sharp contrast to the quite explicit objectives that have been adopted by central banks in more than twenty countries with regard to inflation. In the case of inflation, the UK has a precise quantitative target. If the target is missed by more than 1 percentage point, the governor of the Bank of England must write an open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer explaining the reasons inflation has departed from this range and what actions the bank proposes to take. However, neither the governor of the Bank of England nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer has any such responsibility for explaining high unemployment (presumably no letter would be required to explain low unemployment). (p. 138)

This discussion is bookended by the concept that what is meant by full employment is no longer exactly what it had been: 5 days, 8 hours, a week.

One reason for there being no comparable unemployment target is that there is a degree of ambiguity about the goal itself. Indeed, we have to ask why the US Congress is seeking “maximum employment.” Why is it better to increase the number of sixty-four-year-olds stacking supermarket shelves? To pursue this further, we have to distinguish between intrinsic and instrumental reasons for seeking to increase employment. The instrumental reason is that with which I began the chapter: that employment is the principal route for individuals and their families to escape poverty and for societies to return to lower levels of inequality. How far this in fact the case is a subject to which I turn below. The intrinsic reasons are less straightforward. Why should governments seek to raise the level of employment above that determined in the market? If 64-year-olds in Europe decide they would prefer to spend time looking after their grandchildren (or their ninety-year-old parents), rather than PAID WORK, should this be regarded as a failure? In welfare economic terms, it may be that the government wishes to override individual preferences. Applying the concept introduced by Richard Musgrave, employment may have the quality of a “merit good,” like education or health, where the government attributes greater value than that attached by private citizens. Or, on a welfare basis, the case for intervention may be made on the grounds of market failure. However, the most obvious evidence of market failure — the absence of balance between supply and demand — is the existence of involuntary unemployment, and this suggest that the goal should be the MINIMIZATION OF INVOLUNTARY UNEMPLOYMENT.

One issue here is that while he tries to take into account a non-standard “portfolio” of jobs people might hold is that this development was perhaps necessitated by the lack of full time traditional employment. It is a whole bunch harder to juggle family life and cars and such with a known schedule rather than an ad hoc possible income week by week with no benefits of full employment like sick and vacation days, insurance, disability insurance, and more. Like matching funds for retirement.

Guaranteed Work (p. 140+)
Proposal 3: The government should adopt an explicit target for preventing and reducing unemployment and underpin this ambition by offering guaranteed public employment at the minimum wage to those who seek it.

Public employment . . . not just WPA. . .Carter. . . Humphrey-Hawkins and Balanced Growth Act of 1978, authorizing the federal government to create a “reservoir of public employment.” This too, ws not put into effect, and with the election of President Reagan who “adamantly opposed direct job creation effor,” the idea of large-scale public-service employment vanished.

Ethical Pay Policies (p. 147)
Does this mean intervening in the market determination of pay? Yes. I argued earlier that the forces of supply and demand are important, but they only set bounds on what can be paid for a particular piece of work. It is not the case that we are all paid in precised relation to our marginal product — no more and no less. To a considerable degree the market outcome is currently the result of the bargaining power of different participants. If people take zero-hours jobs with no guarantee of pay, it is because they are powerless in the labour market. As noted, we need to take steps to ensure a fairer balance between the parties to such bargains, increasing the countervailing power of consumer and workers. But I believe that we should go further. We can make progress towards less inequality only if we establish a society-wide approach to earnings determination. We need a national policy towards pay, a policy that recognizes the bounds place by supply and demand in a globalized economy, but which does not let INCOMES BE DETERMINED PURELY BY MARKET FORCES.

What does this mean? A good starting point is provided by the often quoted figures of the share that the top 1 percent has secured the total REAL INCOME GROWTH in recent years. It is indeed the latter figure — the overall growth of incomes — that should be the starting point for a “national conversation” involving all stakeholders that could ideally take place at the Social and Economics Council. In planning what is possible, we need to start from the prospective future growth. In past incomes-policy negotiations assumed to be equal to the expected growth of productivity. Today, we cannot expect household incomes to rise as fast as total output, for reasons that I discussed earlier, such as the demands arising from the ageing of the population and climate change. This makes it all the more urgent that we hold a conversation to consider how the growth can be fairly distributed. To initiate such a conversation, I place on the agenda the case for the next proposal.

Proposal 4: There should be a national pay policy, consisting of two elements: a statutory minimum wage set at a living wage, and a code of practices for pay above the minimum, agreed as part of a “national conversation” involving the Social and Economic Council.


 

The Minimum Wage (page 148+)

Interestingly, he mentions how the minimum wage is set in the UK and it is not a figure plucked out of thin air as ours in the US seems to be, but rather actually has some logic and math behind it.

At what level should the minimum wage be set? The UK national minimum wage (NMW) is determined on the advice of the Low Pay Commission, whose measured reports since the introduction of the statutory minimum in April 1999 have done much to facilitate its wide acceptance and political support. But reading the reports, one is struck by how much the commission’s attention is focused on the labour market rather than on the implications for the DISTRIBUTION OF INCOME. Its key measure is the “bite” of the NMW, which is the ratio of the NMW hourly rate to median hourly earnings. Focus on the labour market is of course quite understandable in that one important consideration of a minimum wage is its effect on employment — which I discuss in Chapter 9 — but this underlines the fact that, from an income-distributional perspective, the relevant variable is not hourly earning but weekly, or monthly, earnings, which depend on the hours worked. Moreover, the implications for family living standards depend on the household circumstances and on the operation of the tax-and-benefit system. . . . In effect, the living wage is calculated by tracing through the implications of individual earnings, assuming a specified number of hours, for the level of household disposable income. As we have seen in the Guide to household disposable income. As we have seen in the Guide to household income, this is a relatively complex process, since we have to consider there earnings of all family members, other sources of income, and the impact of the tax-benefit system. But only by going through this process can we see what a given hourly wage implies in terms of living standards. Or, putting the process in reverse, we can see what should be the target for the hourly NMW.

There is a chart on p. 149 on minimum wage across OECD countries and US. Out of 13 countries, US was 11th in 2010. France is #1, and includes holiday pay in the Netherlands, and — wow — “13th and 14th MONTH salaries in Portugal and Spain.” I will have to look up that concept, with US only getting 2 weeks — after working for a year — but not always, like part time and certain jobs, I expect it will be very much better than us, but can’t be sure because Spain is below us, with Japan coming in last. So basically in the UK they are considering that the minimum wage “be increased as a proportion of median earnings. . . . ” While this may work there, in America we have historic discrimination that makes all the Republicans have a cow about having the same minimum wage across all states with the poor in the South being more discriminated against on many levels. Over and over again I heard — even when applying for completely different jobs — we base our pay in part on what you earned at your last job. Well if you worked in Louisiana they justified lower pay because it was Louisiana. Then if you move to California, where all the wages are higher, sometimes it is expected that you will willingly work for less because you have been making less, even though that doesn’t make any sense because it costs more to live there. Of course, there is some negotiation, but it make a new relationship hostile and adversarial for the most part. As if the extra money you ask for will come at the cost of the person doing the hiring  salary. It would be nicer if they worked on your behalf to get you the maximum salary. Especially for women and people of color. But is just a micro version of corporations paying as little as they can get away with irrespective of the intrinsic value of the work or the credentials of the applicant. And stupid rules like everyone, no matter what qualifications, start at the bottom of a grid system. This is of course, compounded over the years by the ridiculous principle of raises and retirement matches being based on PERCENTAGES instead of sliding scale. So the rich get richer and the gap widens between the lower grid people and the higher grid people. Which is often simply a response to longevity rather than quality.

Code of Practice for Pay and Employment (p. 151)
Much of the current interest in a pay code stems from the explosion of PAY AT THE TOP OF THE DISTRIBUTION that has taken place in many countries in recent decades.

This is kind of funny because I am pretty sure that the CEOs and such at the top do not think about their income as a “distribution” but rather an “entitlement” which is also funny since they protest against workers getting “entitlements” — or stock options, or percentage of earnings, or any shared value from their labor except the minimum the companies will pay — take it or leave it. The author also mentions what I think of as the Ben & Jerry corporate structure: the top percent of pay has a relationship to the lowest paid employed.


CAPITAL SHARED: The Drivers of Wealth Accumulation (p. 157 +)
There is an excellent section on capital. There is the obvious wealth of the very rich who have much more cash and other assets in excess of minimal daily living needs. They use the excess to invest in the stock market and hedge funds and so on. They control what their money gets invested in, for example fossil fuels versus social justice and environmentally friendly companies. But an aspect I had not ever thought about was that while some people are given contributions for pensions, as indirect beneficiaries they have no say in the decisions paid on shares in the ABC Corporation owned by that fund – the company providing the dividends. “He or she cannot replace the management or vote for or against a takeover. Both beneficial ownership and CONTROL are important.”

Debate about wealth tends to focus on large fortunes at the top, but the redistribution of wealth is as much about the encouragement of small savings at the bottom as it is about the restriction of excesses at the top. Historically, the decline in the share of the top 1 percent in total personal wealth in OECD countries has come about not only because of estate and other taxes on the rich but also because of the expansion of “popular” holding, notably, but not exclusively, of housing wealth.

There is further discussion about inheritance by statute or by family size. Obviously a rich family with many children “inequality is reduced” because of the dispersion between more children. It used to be that more children were advantageous, but that is not the case any more. Now there is a “negative relationship, with better-off families having fever children and hence accentuating the tendency towards greater inequality.”

Of course. Fucking rich people can always afford abortion, birth control, and so on. They deliberate without or try to prevent poor women from accessing any of these while simultaneously preventing the success of those children by sufficient social supports, making mothers work, forcing half their wages to go to pay other women to care for their children, and denying sex education in schools, and on and on. When there is so clearly a relationship between poverty and the number of children, why would anyone — especially in an overpopulated world wreaking havoc on the environment and causing many species of animals and plants to go extinct — do the rich want to force birth on the poor? Too keep up the oversupply of workers willing to work for less than a living wage because THEY HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE, even the military service of cannon fodder keeps them at subsistence wages such that they often have to use payday lenders to make it week to week.

He goes on to describe what is also obvious, the rich marry their social peers in terms of wealth. So once again the rich get richer and pass more wealth down through inheritance via trust funds and other mechanisms. Meanwhile poor people need multiple incomes just to get by. “Earnings and income are NOT the same as wealth. . . .”

Rates of Return and Portfolios (p. 160+)
. . . While borrowers from payday lenders may recognize high interest rates as a problem, small savers at the time the appeared [and still] were earning little to nothing on their savings.  Interest rates were very low. . . which meant that, in real terms, with rising rising at some 2 percent per year in the UK, their rate of return on these savings was negative.

Meanwhile the banksters were raking in billions on high interest credit card fees, especially payday lenders! They got money for nothing in the bailout and then did not free up credit and many small businesses went out of business. They could have loaned out money for anything and made a profit because we basically gave them the use of the money for free. Meanwhile we savers get .02% if that on accounts, some of which the banksters require to have a minimum of $2,500 or more, so you make nothing and they use your limited capital, leverage it 1 to 30 and charge 16% interest and you get jack shit.

It is not surprising that readers of [Thomas] Piketty were puzzled. We need to distinguish different rates of return. The return on capital — the factor price generated by the production side of the economy — is not the same as the return to individual households in the form of investment income. . . .

The implications for the distribution of wealth depend on how that wealth is invested. For owner-occupiers in the bottom 99 percent, their most valuable asset is likely to be their home and increased housing wealth has been a major reason for the rise in popular wealth. This has been particularly the case during the booms in house prices that occurred in a number of countries, such as the US, between the mid-1900s and the mid-2000s. . . . Housing wealth is less unequally distributed than wealth as a whole, but the returns on this asset class have not benefited the minority who are not owner occupiers. . . . Social tenants (those in public housing) and private tenants were left behind by the housing property boom. Indeed, they have been adversely affected by rising rents.

His fifth proposal for change is to offer national savings bonds with a respectable guaranteed rate of return with “a maximum holding per person” to prevent the rich from gobbling them all up. He has a brief discussion on how to set the rate, then asks “But how do they get started?”

Inheritance for All (p. 169)
In 1797 Thomas Paine, the philosopher and revolutionary, set out in his Agrarian Justice a scheme “to create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property.”

This sounds low but is calculated to be about “half the annual earnings of a farm labourer in England and Wales in 1797. Isn’t it cool that PEOPLE meant people and not white men?

The modern counterpart of the proposal by Paine is to be found in schemes for asset-based egalitarianism, as proposed in the US by Bruce Ackerman and Ann Alstott. They argue that every American citizen had the right to SHARE IN THE WEALTH ACCUMULATED BY PRECEDING GENERATIONS, and that “a single innovation once proposed by Thomas Paine can achieve what a thousand lesser policies have failed to accomplish. In the UK in the 1960s, Cedric Sandford had proposed a “negative capital tax” payable on adulthood and in my 1972 book Unequal Shares, I put forward the idea of a universal capital payment as part of the state pension.

Basically the UK started such a program in 2003 (Child Trust Fund) so they put in a starter amount of a $250 voucher per kid, with more for poorer families. Alas “the scheme was abandoned by the Coalition government in 2010.”

Inheritance is typically seen as one of the mechanisms by which the wealthy are able to preserve their position at the top of the distribution, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with inheritance. The problem is that inheritance is highly unequal. If everyone inherited the same amount, the playing field would be level. A step in this direction is to ensure that everyone receives a minimum inheritance, hence the following proposal:

Proposal 6: There should be a capital endowment (minimum inheritance) paid to all at adulthood.

There are lots of details to work out, but it is a fantastical idea. Especially for kids whose parents kick them out at 18 or whatever, which happens all too often I fear.


SOCIAL SECURITY FOR ALL

Basic Income and Participation Income (p. 218+)

I have read another book on this concept and had thought of it myself as a plot for a potential science fiction story decades ago. But apparently, I was not the only one. I was startled to read that “George McGovern  proposed a $1,000 a year demograt (basic income) financed by a broad-based income tax.” Apparently it was a spontaneous utterance because the book explains that he had to ask his economic advisers and obviously it went nowhere. Probably because we Americans have such an obsession about the morality of work and the hatred of taxes that go to other people but very little enrages the same people at the waste by the military industrial complex and corporate welfare subsidies and tax breaks and so on. No money for the poor, especially when you don’t have a lot to spare; but why not be equally incensed at the much higher costs of the other outlays? Especially if you too were to gain an advantage from such a proposition.

But the obsession with what other individual people do seems to be uniquely American. Maybe because it is other people and not some abstract corporate profit and loss statements. Or just an ingrained puritanical sense of self-righteousness that comes with living in a world where you simply refuse to believe facts and choose to remain willfully ignorant as well as live in another reality — unfortunately one with zero actual Christianity traits like compassion, empathy, and generosity of spirit. No, the attitude is definitely, Fuck ’em. They were stupid enough to get pregnant, I do not want my tax dollars paying for hot school lunches for bastards by sluts. This is also why we get obsessive control over what form aid to poor people or unemployed and others is provided. First there is the favorite of means-testing so no “undeserving poor” get a nickel. Then as soon as you make $1 more than the cap (however low or arbitrary it may be) the aid is cut back for each dollar you earn, making sure that you never get ahead. Talk about disincentives to work! That is far more discouraging than giving people a minimum guaranteed income so they don’t have to worry that they will not be able to buy food. And then too, the judgment is that poor people not only deserve a pittance rather than a decent living opportunity, in other words, just enough to keep them alive or from rioting, the Republican bastards in charge in some states even want to say what you can buy with assistance funds. For example, as was brilliantly skewered by Samantha Bee in a Full Frontal episode, diapers are not an allowed expense. Snotty assholes say, hey make them use cloth and wash them out. However, as she points out, day care centers require disposable because they don’t have time and the germ issue of them having to clean dirty diapers or leave them  laying around is a problem.

And then of course, there is the TAMPON issue, which has recently SHOCKINGLY finally gathered enough annoyance to force some changes in the taxation policy to remove sales tax from this medically necessary product that only women need. And naturally, tampons are also not allowed among the purchases with public funds. Or soda, or chips, or if some governors get their way, steak and seafood is too good for someone dependent on public assistance. They are also presumed to be too stupid or lazy to know what to buy and how to cook it. Just soooo much judgment without context. Like working 3 part time jobs, one of which is needed just to pay the day care while working, and not having a big grocery store nearby with “healthy” foods, or the time to prepare it, or the transportation to get it.

People are just so ignorant and apparently have a much more isolated experience than I have had because though I have mainly been lucky, there were a lot of “there but for the grace of god go I” moments. Not that I believe god wants people to suffer, and therefore I reject gods based on the world as it exists. But the principle is the same. People live with things beyond their control or things which other people choose to force them to live with — such as forced birthers. We are, theoretically, a country of equality as a principle, but do not practice it on any level in reality. Equity is a more accurate word though. A great meme I saw showed the difference: 3 children of various heights are standing behind a fence to try to watch a ballgame. They have equality in that the fence is the same height for all. However, the short kid is not able to see the game. Equity means that kid would get a foundation on which to stand to have the same chance as taller kids to see the game.

So to solve some of these social barriers to social justice programs like basic income, the author describes something that would be more palatable to Americans who don’t think anyone deserves “a free lunch.” The author calls this “participant” income.

First, it would complement existing social transfers rather than replace them. A retiree receiving a state pension would be paid whichever amount was higher: the pension or the citizen’s income. A pensioner who also receives an INCOME-TESTED pension credit would see no net gain unless the citizen’s income was sufficient to reduce the pension credit to zero. . . .

Second, the proposal is for a benefit to be paid on the basis not of citizenship but of “participation,” and for this reason it is referred to as “participation income” (PI). “Participation would be defined broadly as making a social contribution, which for those of working age could be fulfilled by full- or part-time waged employment or self-employment, by education, training, or an active job search, by home care for infant children or frail elderly people, or by regular voluntary work in a recognized association. There would be provisions for those unable to participate on the grounds of illness or disability. . . .

He mentions it is controversial, and indeed there are a number of problems with this. For one thing, I have heard that by forcing people to do volunteer work you are actually preventing someone from getting what could be made a paying job. Also, at least in America, at some point, it was determined that even prisoners could not be compelled to work – because it would take away jobs, and forced labor can be a slippery slope. For example, judgment of value of contribution comes into play. Maybe you fancy yourself an artist, so you do that as self-employment, but you really suck and can’t sell anything. Should you then be forced to volunteer as a maid instead? Plus in the UK he cites EU issues as a consequence.

He cites this kind of moral aspect of basic income (p. 221) including do you give it to every citizen even the billionaires? That seems kind of stupid, but any other scheme “would involve a condition of eligibility and hence the risk of exclusion. Who then would be excluded from the PI? The criteria would EXCLUDE those who devoted their lives to PURE LEISURE. ”

The Belgian philosopher Philippe Van Parijs has written a famous article titled “Why Surfers Should Be Fed: The Liberal Case for an Unconditional Basic Income.” In advocating the participation income, I am adopting the opposite position. I agree with John Rawls, who said that “those who surf all day off Malibu must find a way to support themselves and would not be entitled to public funds.” In reality, few people would be excluded. . . .

One issue he doesn’t even touch on here is the problem of bad bosses. It’s bad enough with wage labor, but if your PI depends on you holding a job or volunteering, then the power balance is still not in the hands of the citizens. You have to eat shit from assholes or lose you job (paid or unpaid) and then either way, you lose your income. This completely defeats the point of a universal basic income in my opinion, which would otherwise give workers the ability to say, Take this job and shove it. Which I think should be the goal of UBI. Another benefit would be that men and women and all races etc. would receive the same amount, avoiding the persistent wage gaps that exist.

There is more discussion about unemployment insurance, for example. This situation is once again a moral judgment by assholes, who make so many conditions on it, you have to be desperate to try to get on it and stay on it. Because, otherwise, God forbid, you would not have an incentive to get a job. So no matter what size town you live in, job market, economic conditions (recession, depression), bad bosses firing you for not being “sufficiently deferential” to them, you have a maximum of 2 years to find another job, and you have to spend a lot of time doing so, and proving it to the overlords. NOTE WELL: in order to qualify, you cannot be fired for insubordination or some other potentially false or biased experience for at least 6 weeks or more. And if you get sick or break a leg, you are no longer ABLE to get a job, so you do not get unemployment as long as you are unable to go to a job. Plus it is based on a percentage of what you earned, so women and people of color are once again shafted because they make less than a white man across the board as a rule.

This contribution based insurance is another religious / moral based belief. You have to pay to play. In fact, if you really look at wage work and women’s unpaid work, and time cards, and comp time, and vacation time, and hours laws, it all ends up being based on the assumption that people need the stick more than the carrot to get them to work, i.e. wage slavery and peonage, indentured servitude to debt from student loans (while banksters making millions in salary and billions in profit earn it off the backs of the students at unregulated usurious interest rates), and so on.

You don’t work, you don’t eat. You have to have some skin in the game. [Hence co-pays and deductibles so you don’t just go to the doctor at will as needed.] There must be dozens of aphorisms and cliches about the value of work and the despicable evil of idleness. Unless you are rich, of course. Then you have worked hard and earned it. Even if your daddy gave you a million starter fund.

Later in the book (p. 274-275) he also covers what is going to be a nightmare soon: “International Agreements and Countervailing Power” Like the hideous NAFTA, but worse, the TPP and what he calls the TTIP (Trade and Investment Partnership), that would constrain the US et al from regulations, laws, and other aspects based on the treaty agreements. Theoretically, or maybe I should say the propaganda is that it’s purpose is “to remove trade barriers to market access; to secure the liberalization of investment and the RESTRICTION OF NATIONAL REGULATION.”

Kiss the Clean Air Act goodbye. And expect poisoned water or empty aquifers soon.  Basically it is a get out of jail free card and get paid for the bother for transnational corporations. There is no end to the things that would be dramatically damaged by the TTIP. Among other things, the corporations can SUE THE GOVERNMENT if any sovereign regulations or laws cause them to loss of PROFITS.

A corporate wet dream. With Bernie Sanders as President, this will never get approved. The other corporatists will be happy to sell out the actual human beings to the corporate profiteers.

Here I want to focus on the lack of symmetry in the approach to the trade agreement. The ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) procedure DOES NOT ALLOW ANY RIGHTS for governments, trade unions, consumer organizations, or INDIVIDUALS to bring cases against corporations. The AIM IS TO PROTECT INVESTORS. A US negotiator made the position clear: “A comprehensive 21st century trade agreement should include appropriate protections for investors.” NO REFERENCE IS MADE TO CONSUMERS OR WORKERS.

We have made no progress for centuries. We had the first bankruptcy laws that protected companies but not workers. Now the most recent changes (Hillary voted for) allow even more latitude for corporations to manage bankruptcy and come out of it clean. Whereas more and more restrictions on what can be “wiped clean” for workers and consumers leaves almost no “clean slate” at all. You basically are held morally obligated to pay off even if it is only a small amount for the rest of you life. In other words, you are actually prevented from getting the fresh start bankruptcy was intended to provide consumers while the corporations just walk away and leave workers unemployed and investors out of luck.

At the back of the book he summarizes his proposals to address aspects of the whole economic trap we are in, some of which I cited above. However he never makes the connection completely to see that the core problem of dog eat dog capitalism is partly social Darwinism (long discredited but still held dear by people who don’t even have the actual historical basis for it). Or the gang of Ayn Rand (Donald Rumsfeld among the acolytes) in which everyone seduced by her screed deludes themselves into thinking they are John Galt. They are smarter, more worthy, and better than everyone else and therefore, maybe with God’s help, they deserve their riches and OWE NOTHING TO SOCIETY despite that fact that no one achieves it all alone.

They protest sharing their riches as “socialism” or unfair wealth redistribution, but they get that wealth at the expense of workers by low wages, wage theft, providing no benefits for part-time workers and making sure everyone is only 39 hours a week, and all the other things the Swedish and other developed nations provide to citizens with their taxes: free college education, basic child care, just too many to list here. They deserve every penny for themselves. Even when it is billions of dollars that they cannot spend in their lifetime. They park it offshore to avoid paying taxes that would help maintain roads and bridges they need for their businesses, but don’t see that as any of their responsibility. PROFIT PROFIT PROFIT is their one true god. And all the moralizing about needing to keep people at low pay because they can, and that it is somehow beneficial to workers’ characters is just so much bullshit, I can’t believe they get away with it. But they do. And we are all too close to catastrophe to risk fighting back. But there will come a time, perhaps Election Day 2016, that we will be forced to choose not to take it anymore.

 

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