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


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.





Whitelash in the White House

Last Wednesday I was rude with a good friend, someone whom I always knew was not a Clinton supporter, nor a Democrat and is a radical critic of our electoral process. But when we spoke on the phone, I just could not listen to her say that she was “glad Hillary didn’t win, not that she supported Trump, but…..” At that point, I couldn’t listen, I cut our conversation off.

Now I feel bad about being so rigid and disrespectful. Here I what I wrote to apologize.

“I AM deeply frightened by Trump, and fearful that so many people will ignore his racist, misogynist, xenophobic demagoguery. I grew up with people like him and still have almost panic reactions to his style and message. I couldn’t talk on Wednesday, but four days after the election, I now understand why you can say that you are glad Clinton didn’t win. While I can’t quite go there, I do find myself feeling relieved that I don’t have to seem to defend her kind of white neoliberal we-know-betterism any more.

I felt much better last Wednesday night after marching around with more than a thousand young, black, brown and angry people in downtown Boston chanting “He’s not MY President”. No one was calling FOR Hillary. Just for something better.  

Now, as bad as Trump and the Republicans are, at least we can just organize against them–if they don’t arrest, silence or deport us first. We can now make clear demands and plans for more truly radical change that don’t have to be vetted by mainstream Democrats. We don’t have to seem to support the worst parts of Hillary, or even Obama, any more. That’s over”

Now, one week further on, I am now feeling both worse and better.

I feel worse because now that Trump is President-elect, the good citizenry is being admonished “not to judge him by what he said during the campaign, but to give him a chance.” Some are taking heart from his 90 minutes with Obama, or because he is talking about the parts of Obamacare he can live with. He said a few good words about Clinton, and taken the most anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant material off his website. Yet he has also appointed Steve Bannon of Breibart to be his Alt-Right Man in the White House. Others insist that his white working class supporters didn’t really agree with him, they just were in pain and trusted him as “a business man, who wouldn’t be trapped by all the political correctness.”

At best, Trump voters heard what he said, but think “he didn’t really mean it,” Pardon me, what part of voting FOR him to be President didn’t they hear? Maybe he will have to “face reality and realize he has to govern,” as one friend hopes.I try not to scream, “but Trump doesn’t want to govern, he wants to rule.” Unless checked, he will do all he can to derail hope for positive governing — for protecting, much less advancing social rights.         When Trump says, “You know what I mean,” we do, and it’s not good.

 I feel worse too because I can’t help but think about Hitler. About how he never won the popular vote. About how the German establishment thought they could control him, that he would have to come around. But he didn’t; he moved on and over them. He felt no obligations to respect traditional processes, except for the sake of temporary appearances. He gave permission to his followers to say and do whatever was disruptive, whatever was somehow justified as necessary, and never really condemned them until it served his political purposes. He moved on to build a “national community,” through his programs of “strength through joy.”

People who knew what was happening were afraid. Jews and non-Jewish socialists left if they could. Other non-Jews engaged in what they called “inner migration” trying to stay out of public life. It sort of worked for awhile, until in six years, it didn’t work at all.

I feel worse when I remember the brief hopes of post-Civil War Radical Reconstruction, hopes that so many black (and some white) people tried to realize until they were betrayed by growing Northern opposition and indifference in the face of murderous white violence. Finally their best efforts came to be scorned within most mainstream and popular history for almost a century. W.E.B.DuBois’ assessment forces itself back on us: “One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with a great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile…The unending tragedy of Reconstruction is the utter inability of the American mind to grasp its real significance, its national and world-wide implications”.

As I face the failure of Southern and other states even to adopt the simple Medicaid extension options offered by Obamacare, I must recall Dubois’ rueful observation that

 ‘The South, after the war, presented the greatest opportunity for a real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely to see…Yet the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and Reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States. When white laborers were convinced that the degradation of Negro labor was more fundamental than the uplift of white labor, the end was in sight… Let that stand as Reconstruction’s epitaph.

Again, my Southern roots leave me looking at election-result maps and feeling again the ways that so many white people still don’t connect. The Confederacy has risen again, as my mother always believed it should.

I feel worse when my longtime co-author and forever brave comrade, Diane Dujon, cries on the phone because we have “gone back to the Fifties,” (as I note sadly “and it is the 1850’s).” She moans that she just “doesn’t know what to do.” And neither, really, do I.

It hurts when a Muslim friend reports from Pakistan:

“I checked with some of my Muslim friends in the US, they are terrified. Those with young kids are wondering how they can gather up the courage to send their children to school this morning. I haven’t spoken to my sister yet, haven’t had the heart to. She is a speech therapist in the Detroit school system and has been told by children as young as 5 that they think she is going to kill them because she wears a head scarf.”

As I watch Democracy Now and hear about all the incidences of abuse and attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and children, I wonder how to join with some kind of US Muslim protection efforts that I don’t even know how to find. I suggest to friend that we create “Women’s Watch Society” to oversee “every step he takes, every move he makes”. But it is not enough.

I do keep trying to feel better, because Donald Trump did not win the national popular vote. Most voters did not vote for him. Clinton won, in spite of herself. But she lost in our inadequate civic construct of an “electoral college,” mainly because of herself.

Now few seem to want to look backward, but rather to look forward. It’s too tiring, too much a return to acrimony. Only those who truly wanted Hillary herself seem to find comfort in looking back: What could have been done to tip enough votes back into a win? A bigger turnout? Fewer third party votes? Even more support from black and Latino people? These interesting questions seem strangely irrelevant already.

Looking forward to a Trump administration is hard, even for those who actually supported him and for Republicans who find themselves now accepting him. What does anybody on his side want that doesn’t ideologically contradict somebody else with an equally important claim on his Presidency? Most anything he proposes will actually take more public spending — more government. In the past war justified this. Maybe he will try it, but probably not right away.

I don’t really see The Donald immediately whipping up major domestic pogroms or an actual violent crusade against presumed “radical Islamic terrorists.” And I doubt that Trumpists can even cost out, much less enact, the whole set of reactionary changes to which they have already committed themselves.

It is up to leftist/progressives forces to try to deconstruct the weaknesses of Trump/Republican plans, and to keep exposing all his Alt-Right appointments. We must be prepared, whatever that means, to fight them back, specific issue by specific issue.

I hope the Trumpists fail and look as dangerous as they are. But I fear that, rather, the Big Lie will grow, and keep actual Trump supporters and wanna-be winners from noticing how much more is being robbed from all of us his phony “successful” businessman’s scam proceeds. I know that the white people (and they are almost all white, whether they deny that that matters or not) who voted for him, will pay dearly too. It is sad, but I cannot feel empathy. They know what they voted for, no pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes.

 Is it possible for things to be better for progressives? Can or should a multi-hued coalition of folks refuse to shore up a bankrupt Democratic Party, but instead seek to build a massive majority movement?  Maybe.

It is good that lots of folks are talking this way. It’s up to those of us who knew what was wrong with Hillary, and with mainstream neoliberal politics, to articulate something different. We certainly failed by letting Hillary try have “her turn” this year. Maybe we can still create a genuinely radical movement, if we don’t get stuck on who the next President will be — and white people move out of the limelight.

Veterans of ’60’s/’70’s and even ’80’s activism should now try “not to speak until spoken to” by the new base of a healthy movement. Those who will be most hurt by a triumphant Trump agenda must lead; white people should be there, we just must learn to follow with integrity.

I do believe that others will decide to ask us about what our experiences might mean for today. Good white activists whose time has come and is now passing, will be asked for our reactions, and maybe our advice, and surely for our support. We do have helpful things to say about what won’t work. But, even for this, we have to wait for the right time.

This is all ok with me. Since I hear few ideas that sound fresh or convincing from last century’s cohort, it does not seem too hard. Let’s let others ask us to react to their ideas and plans, and then give our response with respect and honor.

How about it?


ANN Withorn,



. .

Trump and Whiteness November 11

Trump and Whiteness


It’s been 72 hours since the Election from Hell stopped, but didn’t really end. I have the sad feeling that I am at the beginning of Faulkner’s past that did not end.. It is not even past.

I am prompted by Boston activist Harry Spence’s insightful Facebook post:

The amazing thing is that after Trump’s total defeat in the debates and the revelation of his predatory sexual behavior, support for him seemed to collapse. But in a few short weeks, he regained all of his earlier support and more, even after there was no longer any question about the kind of person he is. Three quarters of white men and over half of white women voted for him with full knowledge of all his qualities. What does that tell us?

A majority of those making less than $50,000 a year voted for Clinton. Trump’s support was strongest in the $50-250,000 population. This was not a revolt of those most victimized by globalization; it was a revolt of those who feared their status endangered—by a changing economy, by racial and gender diversity, by America’s changing place in the world. Angered and terrified by a rapidly changing world, they grabbed at the promise that they could go backward in time, and return to a time when they were certain of their relative status. “There is no rage like the rage of the privileged” and the fear of losing privileges that accrued to people due to their national, gender and racial identity overwhelmed their moral judgments of the candidate they selected.

When fear overwhelms moral judgment and constraints, we are in a dangerous time.

Yes Harry, and I thank you for saying this so well.

For me, it’s whiteness that is the most important among the people you identify: “those who feared their status endangered—by a changing economy, by racial and gender diversity, by America’s changing place in the world.”

It’s white people we have to look out for and, yes, disempower. If white men and women can’t get over themselves and accept that their America was never great, and that their White Privilege was neither real nor superior but rather is, and always was, a curse, then the only thing everyone else who disagrees can do is to move on and push white people, as such, to the margins.

The “British Empire” was powerful and arrogant and is now is a joke. White power is an anachronism, despite the Trump-induced reactionary death rattle.

There are still people living in Britain — they just don’t own and rule the waves, or the world.

There is no country to “take back,” only a better, more interesting multi-colored world to join, if it will accept us in spite of our historic crimes.

White people can admit this and join with the whole human race, or keep resisting it and keep looking more and more pathetic, like the Donald. Either way, it’s over.

As a white person I can feel immense relief.. Good riddance. I just hope it’s not too late for some of us to seek, and be granted, forgiveness for accepting the undeserved, unearned benefits of whiteness for far too long.

And we can only earn such forgiveness by fighting back against Trumpism within (but not leading) a full blown movement that is demanding a more just world.


More thoughts about the election emerged from my fevered brain as I obsessively wrote after election day. They may or may not make sense, but they were all I could manage in the fog of what felt like despair.  I don’t like despair.

November 9:

On the one hand, it is not so hard for me to process Hillary’s loss. She was an uninspiring candidate because she was so scripted and so mainstream neoliberal.  Despite being a woman, she WAS not the change we needed. Yet Hillary wasn’t evil. She could have governed, as well as Obama did, probably better, for better and for worse — despite her hawkishness and elitist We-know-betterism.”  She was qualified, sane and wasn’t defending whiteness nor xenophobia. Objectively we would all have been ok if she were elected, and still facing a struggle for more.

But, thoughts about Hillary mellowed as I became ever more aware of who Trump is and what he represents. He is not your usual capitalist, conservative Republican. He is dangerous to all of us and can’t be opposed in the usual ways.

Hillary did not lose because she is not a socialist nor an opponent of neoliberalism;  Trump won because of who is. When he says knowingly, “you know what I mean,” he is correct; he is truly a racist, misogynist, xenophobic bullying demagogue, No doubt about it. We do know what he means.

As a white Southerner,  I recognize and am frightened, up-close and personal, by the cruelty and deep reactionary forces he stands for. I don’t think any of us can know what he will do. That in itself is scary.

Even more unsettling, is that so many of my fellow citizens would actually go into a polling place and vote FOR him. David Duke supports him; his followers are the kinds of white people who have kept this country from EVER being great over its entire history. They have always been there, but seldom if ever so fully represented the whole nation. As Lincoln said, the “better angels of our nature” usually pushed such folks to the side, except in the whitest places–like the South I grew up in and in other places defined by racial entitlement and white separateness.

Sure, some white folks have real reasons to be frightened, to feel left behind, disrespected and undervalued. But they aren’t the only ones who are hurting — a social fact that they pointedly miss.

Black people have always in all circumstances been at greater risk, as have gay people, and most identifiable immigrants from anywhere. And in large part, their pain has been directly connected to the actions, structures and words of the very white people who feel so aggrieved by the personal misery that they blame on the “others” who dare to claim equality with them.

Trump claims (however falsely and manipulatively) to speak for such people. He proclaims that he alone can lead them “to take our country back.” Now he is fairly elected President with no limits of party or creed to contain him–that terrifies me. The rage and sense of righteous woundedness that the white people who chose him embody leaves me frozen

.I have seldom, if ever, been able to talk rationally with such folks, whether in my birth family, or on the bus, at social gatherings, or in the park.  Now it feels impossible.

  • At U.Mass. Boston, I could foster discussions in my role as professor, but now I’m not there;
  • With union comrades, with whom I worked in various settings, it was easier because we came together out of a sense that solidarity mattered, that class unity was primary;
  • I’m an atheist, but could sometimes find ways to connect with people in “interfaith” dialogue, out of some shared history of humanitarian religious values — “do unto others, as”, “god is love”, “judge not lest ye be judged” etc. etc.

But now I feel pretty isolated, safe only with those I know aren’t hateful, and fearful of being around anyone who could actually vote for Trump.

Nov. 10:

Last night I went to a spontaneous rally/march on Boston Common. I felt safe chanting “Trump’s not MY President” with hundreds of young “socialists” of all stripes and colors, in front of many, many cops, I didn’t know a soul, but I belonged there. It was at the exact same place where I was once hit by police (after chanting “fuck you, men in Blue,” at an anti-police violence rally in 1970). I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Last night we were all just glad to be together and outraged that this white man, this rich charlatan, could have won–elected President by the most dangerous elements in America.  We weren’t them. We all had at least one thing that upset us most, that brought us to yell louder–his anti-immigrant threats, his violence, his racism, or his attacks on women and anti-abortion rights. But we were all there together, angry, and unafraid, and part of a real “movement” based on shared solidarity, and knowing that “love trumps hate.”

It was the right place to be, not at an endless meeting focused on strategic plans, by-laws, and position papers. There is always time for that.