• David R Thompson

Universal Basic Income – Capitalism Has a Problem with Competition

Updated: Sep 9, 2019

The abandoning of the Universal Basic Income pilot in Ontario appears to show something rather strange about capitalism, particularly its later-period neoliberal variant. Whilst neoliberal capitalism worships ‘the market’ and dictates that all social ills and problems can be solved by the slavish following of the outcomes of free market competition, what it will not accept is any kind of competitive economic or sociological thinking.

If the way we run economies right now is so great, why won’t we countenance any discussion of other ways of doing things, or try out other models? What was the real justification for closing the pilot in Ontario? Even the official dismissive explanation was that it cost too much. And cost, as is the case so often, is a smoke screen when it comes to whittling down the huge budgets of governments by top-slicing the odd social programme here and there. As can be seen by continuing debt and deficits, it really doesn’t make that much difference to day to day spending. In fact, it’s the thought of trying out something else that is anathema to your average conservative. What if it works better than what we have?

Right wing media seems to exist to close off discussion. Its accusations of craziness, dismissal of anything ‘extreme’ and use of ‘socialism’ as a dirty word not to be considered would appear to prove this. It is arguably more insidious than that because any kind of alternative lifestyle to the vanilla capitalist existence seems to make people so angry. Fox News in the US and the Daily Mail in the UK ooze with bile against anyone different, whether it be immigrants or political radicals, or even creative people or those seeking out enlightenment from anything other than consumerism, condemning these cranks and their weird lifestyles. Meanwhile, their supporters echo their hatred and anger, despising anyone who dares to refuse to mimic their own lives. They are the ones who are living right, doing as they are told, the right-thinking members of society, and they resent those with the courage to raise a middle finger to the whole damn thing. When they are feeling maudlin or lost in an alcoholic haze, they might even admit that they want everyone to be as miserable as they are.

The fact is that capitalism works. It works really well for the people in power, and the media does the job of supporting it for the benefit of its rich owners. If that wasn’t the case, there would be an outlet for the human condition to experiment, try other ways of doing things and use communities and collective intelligence and research to make things better. But that has to be closed off as ruthlessly and as effectively as possible. Otherwise, the people might decide that we’d quite like for certain things to be done differently.

One thing that could be done would be to begin to promote a different value system in relation to work and money. Maybe our society could reward certain types of work and contribution to the community in a way that reflects their importance to that community; certainly more so than it does currently. Universal Basic Income could do this. It’s not free money, or money for doing nothing. It could be a dividend to which we’re all entitled, which reflects our contribution to the social and creative infrastructure which makes all our lives better.

As anthropologist David Graeber of the London School of Economics says [quote taken from abridged interview here ] “We’ve got a real problem the way society is structured. I point this out when we think about the robots taking our jobs. Why can’t we just redistribute the jobs in a reasonable way so that everybody does a little and we enjoy ourselves? We have a stupid system where you don’t get any money unless you work. So we could change that. We could just give people the money… Everybody contributes to this civilisation, this culture and knowledge. So why don’t we just pay everybody for that?”

There are a million different ways of looking at the world of work and alternative value-systems. Unfortunately, large and powerful sections of our society don’t want us to talk about them.

David R Thompson

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