An Exchange re Basic Income, January 2017

I would appreciate comments.

Last week I received the following message sent from my Minneapolis BI comrade Liane Gale

F.Y.I. ….important piece by Scott Santens. A Basic Income 101 he was asked to write for the World Economic Forum.

Her Comment “I don’t think anybody of the Basic Income movement should be giving that much details on Basic Income”:

First Sentence: Consider for a moment that from this day forward, on the first day of every month, around $1,000 is deposited into your bank account – because you are a citizen. This income is independent of every other source of income and guarantees you a monthly starting salary above the poverty line for the rest of your life.

…Meanwhile, just a few examples of existing revenue that could and arguably should be fully consolidated into UBI would likely be food and nutrition assistance ($108 billion), wage subsidies ($72 billion), child tax credits ($56 billion), temporary assistance for needy families ($17 billion), and the home mortgage interest deduction (which mostly benefits the wealthy anyway, at a cost of at least $70 billion per year).”

After reading Santens’ whole article,”Why We Should All Have a Basic Income” that Liane attached (linked here) .  I also cc’d many in the BI community, I wrote Santens (on the day after marching the wonderful Boston Womens March:)

You my be joining the wrong team this time, man. 

Moral  (and political) arguments for Basic Income cannot start by claiming to end the measly protections offered by our already abusive social state.  

Sure, any viable, universal BI would mean shifts in state spending allocations, along with countless other changes in public programs.  (I would argue, for example, that BI would allow major reductions in our massive expenditures for prisons and other poverty-driven criminal injustice costs). 

But, for sure, our arguments MUST be made based on the positive values and potential benefits of BI, not because it will reduce or end existing social welfare costs. 

 You know this, Scott. So don’t play to the libertarian crowd. It hurts us in the same way that that pressures to support Nixon’s proposal for an deeply inadequate guaranteed income divided and confused Democrats, and the Civil Rights Movement, 50+ years ago. 

Our positive arguments and social values stand for themselves. If we act this way then internal debates are honest differences about implementation strategies. And external strggle with political adversaries can be based on open, unfettered disagreements about meaningful social and economic priorities. 

It’s not about finding winnable marketing slogans. 

Please, Mark. Don’t use the bully Pulpit of the WEF this way. As Rev Barber says so powerfully these days “It’s not about Left vs. Right anymore, but about right vs wrong” 

Poverty and radical economic inequality are wrong, simply wrong. And they must be opposed as such. BI is part of that opposition. 

He replied right away:

Did you really just include me in a mass email in disapproval of my article for the World Economic Forum?

 We absolutely need to replace some of our existing means-tested safety net. Targeting is a flawed idea. Aside from social stigma and administrative waste, it introduces type II errors that end up excluding the very people who need it most. You know this.

 TANF is a prime example of a program that should be 100% replaced. No one in their right mind who knows any of its details should defend continued TANF existence alongside UBI.

 I am very careful about communicating what should IMO be replaced. At no point do I suggest we should replace health care with UBI. I never do that. Universal health care is a vital but separate issue than cash grants, IMO.

 I also am careful to suggest treating important programs like Social Security and Disability like top-ups where no one on these programs is ever in any way worse off and are in fact all better off, and yet money can still be saved in these areas because existing recipients effectively are already receiving basic income, but with conditions applied.

 For example, if 33% of Social Security funds were considered part of the funding for UBI, someone earning $1500/mo right now could receive $1000 in UBI and $1000 in Soc Sec, leaving that person $500 better off per month. That to me makes good sense. Or we could just let those on Soc Sec choose between it or UBI. Either way the price tag of UBI goes down, which is extremely important for political viability.

 Finally, many programs will disappear naturally as a result of UBI without doing a thing to actively get rid of them.

 Consider for example a $1 billion program that only helps those with annual incomes lower than $5,000. Now provide a $12,000 UBI. No one is earning below $5,000 anymore. That $1 billion is no longer spent, but the UBI is, and so the UBI can be seen as being $1 billion cheaper than we think it is, by having replaced a $1 billion program that technically still exists despite not providing anyone with anything anymore.

 I firmly believe UBI is far too important to be dragged down by partisan politics and tribal us versus them thinking. I will continue fighting for UBI as being neither left nor right, and in so doing, speaking to all audiences in a way those audiences can best understand and support.

 I also believe when the time comes to draft actual legislation that those with varying visions of UBI can and must at some point sit down at the same table and together negotiate a grand compromise where everyone gets something they want but not everything they want. Some details should be considered non-negotiable like for example unconditionality, whereas some should absolutely be considered negotiable, like for example the amount itself. But no one should go into a negotiation wanting everything or nothing, because that’s a great way to get nothing.

 I’m doing everything I can for this cause. I think UBI is the single most important change we can make to human civilization. If you don’t like the way I’m doing it, and think of me as somehow “conspiring with the enemy” by writing an article about basic income for the WEF and in so doing reaching millions of new people all over the world with the idea for the first time, including those with the deep pockets and influence to really do something about it, then I’m sorry we’re not quite on the same page here, strategically speaking.

 And please, in the future, send me emails in private, instead of intervention style.

Then I replied

I was also planning to post this, along with your article, on my website, Scott. 

Sending it to you first,  with cc’s to movement comrades, was meant exactly as a way to communicate directly to you–within our community–regarding my response to your particular way of promoting UBI. I hope it will push you to try harder to be a part of that community, not to speak FOR it…

which seems to be effect, if not the goal, of your success as spokesman for BI. 

If you wrote more often with others it would help. Or, at least, it would help if you spent more time recognizing the range of perspectives within BI in whatever you write

Thankfully, we don’t have a party, nor a party line, Scott.  But that is, exactly, a reason for all of us to be careful when presenting our own ideas before broader forums of what BI is, or could be, as if they were more representative of the movement, than we can possibly know. 

I guess I was just trying to say, remember that you are still just one among many. 

In struggle

PS I acknowledge that this week has made me especially frustrated by men who claim to speak for me. Yesterday, was a great outpouring of such frustrations. 

You, of course, are not Trump, but you sometimes do seem to assume similar powers to speak for others who, if you were listening, didn’t ask you to speak for them. (I hope you marched beside women in a pink pussy hat yesterday).

Also, if you did know anything about me, my life and my writing, you would not presume to mansplain to me about how bad TANF is. Of course, I know this AND I know too that welfare rights are human rights that have been too long denied by lots of people, including men of the Left. 

PS2 I guess what I was trying to say was what Karl, more diplomatically, just responded to you:  that we need to hear and distribute many of the wonderfully rich points of view within our movement. He has a long record of respect for this. You can try harder.  Exactly because you write and speak so strongly, you have an obligation to the rest of us to do so.

Postscript: The following response came from Karl WIderquist, (a long-time Basic Income leader whom I respect immensely) and was sent to Scott

Probably not everybody on the list Ann created wanted to be cced into what could become a growing thread.

I think we need diverse voices arguing for BIG in different forms and different ways. A movement’s effort to achieve intellectual purity often also achieves a lot of infighting ad political irrelevance

Messages were overlapping, but somehow Karl then wrote me privately after reading my comments to Scott

I think you misconstrued my email. It was meant to be a criticism of you rather than him. You emailed him apparently trying to shame him in front of more than 20 other people. So, you invited him to defend himself to that same group. You told him not to criticize the welfare system. So, you invited him to explain why he attacks the existing system.

I think you’re wrong in your perception that Scott attempts to speak for you or anyone else. He holds no official position. He’s never claimed to speak for anyone but himself. He just had the time and to learn now to publish, and he was able to take the time to publish a lot. He started on blogs that will publish anyone, and got himself to the point where mainstream media pays attention. But still he just speak for himself. So, when I said a movement’s effort to achieve intellectual purity often also achieves a lot of infighting ad political irrelevance, I meant your effort to make Scott fall into a party like is an effort to achieve intellectual purity.

Instead of trying to convert him to full agreement, you could accept that although he’ll never agree with everything, he’s already an ally who agrees with most of what you believe, and he’s going to say what he believes. I hope you’ll write what you believe and be the voice for what he leaves out.

Also, you might not be aware, but your email might come off as mean, bullying, or condescending. I don’t think you want to come off that way.

But of course, I accept that you’re going to do what you think is best.

I replied

I hear you, Karl. 

But it is Scott who consistently acts as if he speaks for BI. AND he acts like he thinks it is fine for him to do so. 

Who is he to say what programs will be cut, and for what benefit? 

 If he choses to write for a forum like this he should not act like he is speaking for anyone but himself. Did you really read what he wrote?  

 If I were to give his piece to the welfare rights folks I work with, they would be even more skeptical of BI than they already are. Whenever we talk about Basic Income all worry that well off white men will once again decide what is “Basic”for them.  There is real distrust based on real history, even when folks are attracted to the idea.   Scott doesn’t get this.

Saturday millions of women around the world said “no mas” to arrogant men.  For good reason.  Enough. 

I do think we have to stop having private sidebar discussions. We shouldn’t avoid calling people out before the community if they chose to write a public statement. Scott is very able to defend himself, as am I, as are you.   His taking offense about my sharing my comments was a bit much.  

I think the movement will only grow if we have open debates with each other. 

I respect Scott’s commitment to BI and his clear writing, but he presumes too much, and takes up way too much space.  

Those days are over. 

You never act like this, Karl.  You give lots of people credit. Your writing and your speaking and your BI work is inclusive and invites questioning, even as you exhort folks to action. 

You don’t need to defend Scott. He wouldn’t defend you. 

Take care

Ann

I’m cc’ing this only to Liane.  But I know many BI women who feel the same–and several men too.

My last word to Karl;

And I DO hear you about my tone. I’m sorry. 

It is just so hard to have to keep swallowing my frustration with men like Scott.   

But I will try harder.

 

 

 

 

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