Universal basic income-ing?

I’ve been following guaranteed income or universal income programs for the past year or two now, and with the recent news about both Corey Booker and Bernie Sanders coming out with job guarantee programs, I thought it was a good topic to revisit.

Universal basic income is the idea that the State should provide all citizens with an income guarantee. There are variations on the idea, but the general crux is that residents receive regular payments to make sure that everyone has housing, food to eat — basic needs. I’m not sure when I first heard about the idea, but my interest in it was no doubt spurred by the question of automation the modern era. Many futurists, Silicon Valley types and research groups are convinced that advancements in artificial intelligence will lead to the elimination of millions of jobs in existence today. The easiest extrapolation is the rise of the self-driving car, and its impact on transportation industry and support jobs. There will be further ramifications for municipalities that depend on income from parking and moving violation fees, but we’ll set that aside for now.

Jobs that are repetitive by nature are the most likely to be eliminated by automation, but there are signs that knowledge worker jobs are just a vulnerable to these systems as well. We will see a revolution in labor and the types of jobs available in the coming decades, the debate today is over what kind of jobs will follow. Past technological revolutions have eventually given way to new types of jobs for subsequent generations of workers, but there is a growing consensus that the number of new jobs created by robotics and automation will not be anywhere near the order of magnitude of those that are lost.

Things look even bleaker when one considers the growing income inequality and concentration of wealth that has been ongoing for the past four decades. Companies like Amazon continue to gobble up more and more businesses, forcing competitors to come on board their e-commerce platform or be driven into the dust. Meanwhile retail workers at Macy’s, KMart, JCPenny’s and so on get laid off, while Amazon workers get forced into slave-labor conditions, pissing in bottles on the warehouse floor instead of taking bathroom breaks in order to keep up metric. And Jeff Bezos becomes the world’s richest man.

Proponents of basic income such as myself feel that such programs are necessary to provide a new social safety net in the 21st century. As Virginia Senator Mark Warner noted at an event for the Center for Strategic & International Studies last week, the social contract of the last 70 years is dead. The idea that a worker today will finish a 40 year career at a company with a pension and a gold watch is as antiquated as the manual typewriter. Today it’s not even apparent that workers will receive a living wage, or health care, let alone retirement savings. Businesses continue to offload labor to their customers, as evidenced by the conversion to self-checkout line in most grocery stores today.

There are a number of Libertarians or right-leaning individuals that like the idea of UBI, but their approval stems from the simplicity and cost-savings of administering such programs, as opposed to the bureaucracy necessary to support the so-called welfare state, but it is not a universally accepted conclusion that UBI programs would negate the need for all other social safety net programs.

After I started writing this post, I found that Finland, which had started a UBI pilot a year ago, has decided to terminate the program, mainly, it seems, because of negative public opinion to the prospect of handing out money without any work requirements. It’s important to note at this point that the actual data from the experiment hasn’t been released, so it remains to be seen what effect a UBI has on recipients’ behavior. Opponents of UBI argue that doing so will encourage more ‘taker’ behavior and lead to more millennials playing video games, proponents such as myself believe that income programs will allow people to pursue new businesses or education opportunities, or enrich themselves in other ways.

As long as we have an economic system that requires low-income earners to spend more and more of their labor for a declining wages, while allowing the wealthy to take a larger and larger piece of the pie by virtue of their existing wealth, the need for redistribution programs such as UBI will become more and more necessary.

Virginia evictions and housing justice.

This NYT piece on eviction records follows some startling research by author and Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, who’s book “Evicted” showcased how the loss of housing makes the poor poorer. Desmond and his team did analysis of eviction records across the nation in 2016, and came up with rankings of cities across the United States. I was shocked when I saw this screenshot of the top 10 large cities:

4 large cities from Hampton Roads make the top 10; Richmond is #2. 

Virginia Beach is on there as well, down at #15. Portsmouth comes in at #5 on mid-sized cities, Suffolk down at 28. Now, to be fair, the data that the Princeton team collected is missing data from over a third of the states in the U.S.

This reminded me of an effort by the Democratic Socialists of America’s DC and NOVA chapters called Stomp Out Slumlords, which aims to slow down the evictions by sabotaging the courts system. The court system has turned into an eviction machine, and landlords and lawyers plan on tenants not showing up. I examined the docket in Newport News one day in mid-January of this year and found dozens upon dozens of cases listed. They are usually processed in batches, with summary judgements against the tenants. The DSA program provides tenant rights information, and encourages renters to show up to court.

Hampton, Newport News, and many other Virginia municipalities are currently days away from a May 1st election for city council and school board seats. I have not heard any candidates address the eviction issue directly yet, but I think it will be a huge issue moving forward.  The Pilot just published an article about it, and local NPR call-in show HearSay with Kathy Lewis interviewed the author on air today, along with organizers from Norfolk Housing Justice Network. 

Electoral duress

So, election night came and went and was pretty disappointing for me from a liberal standpoint. I had already resigned myself to a GOP takeover as 6th year elections seem to go against the party in power, but it was just a bit ridiculous how much it swung red throughout the rest of the country. Sam Brownback re-elected? Seriously? Just, wow, speechless. For a while it seemed that Mark Warner was going to lose, but I stayed up past midnight when northern Virginia started reporting in and things started swinging back his way. Was still too close for me. Perhaps the only consolation during this year’s election is that we still have Obama in the White House, for all his flaws, and Virginia has a Democratic Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and two Senators.

There has been a trend for the past decade or so, Democrats turn out to vote during presidential elections, then stay home during mid-terms. Reports from this election attributed GOP wins to an older, whiter, conservative base, so it would appear that 18 percent or so of the country’s eligible voters actually turned out for the Republicans against Obama. So, while I hope that the cycle can continue in 2016 with another Democratic winner in the White House, be it Hillary or whoever, really, I’m not going to sit by the next two years and hope that things get better, when in reality the truth is government is broken and needs to change.

Many good points have been made about how Dems ran from Obama and got their asses handed to them, when instead they should have been touting his accomplishments over the past few years. It’s like people don’t remember 6 or 8 years ago; the economy is stronger than ever, jobs, investments, growth, expansion and inflation, are better than they were six, or even twenty years ago. Rather than tout these and other accomplishments in health care, financial reform, and the environment, Dems shied from Obama and allowed pre-election hysteria about Ebola and ISIS take over the discussion. Even if I don’t love Obama as much as I did in 2008, I’m still damn glad that he’s the President and not McCain or Romney. 8 years of Bush II was enough for me.

Another good point that was brought up by the Daily Beast’s Sally Kohn was that the GOP was able to win by running to the left. Even though voters overwhelmingly supported the candidate with the R next to their name, when it came time to voting on the issues themselves, they overwhelmingly approved liberal ideas such as minimum wage increases, striking down personhood amendments. Republican candidates themselves talked up income inequality and wage stagnation. So while certain idiot family members and Facebook friends still freak out over Obamacare or Faux News’s latest outrage of the day is, I still have hope that the country is moving in the right direction.

 

Remarks on CBS on Sunday morning

So hello again, it’s been a while, I know. Almost two years. Obama was just re-elected president, and this has upset a lot of people, like my father in law, who sent the following chain email to my wife today:

Only hope we find GOD again before it is too late ! !

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning Commentary.

My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.  And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees…  I don’t feel threatened..  I don’t feel discriminated against.. That’s what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me.  I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto.  In fact, I kind of like it.  It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu .  If people want a crèche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians.  I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period.  I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country.  I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat…

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him?  I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too.  But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different:  This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

In light of recent events… terrorists attack, school shootings, etc..  I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK.  Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school…  The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide).  We said an expert should know what he’s talking about..  And we said okay..

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out.  I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell.  Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.  Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.  Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.

If not, then just discard it… no one will know you did.  But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards,  Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

This is the same sort of bullshit that he used to send me before I started pointing him back to Snopes or challenging him on. Now he doesn’t send me anything and I must say I really miss the energy I get from rebutting all of the misinformation. Now to keep things civil around here I’m not going to send it back to him, but will instead vent my feelings here and then pass the good word back on upstream to the person that sent it to him. Not that I have any illusions that it will convince him of anything, but rather that this kind of thing is bit of a hobby of mine.

So Snopes has a rather good page on Ben Stein’s Confession for the Holidays email, which shows that like most of these forwarded emails, they start with the truth and then veer off into the realm of the untrue. In this case, someone appended their own remarks onto the email that were then later forwarded on as Mr. Stein’s, so everything starting with “in light of the many jokes…” and continuing on with “in light of recent attacks” and so on to the end of the email, each person adding on their own little bit or removing things like the Jessica Simpson mention like some game of telephone, turning it into a chain-mail goulash of opinion and falsehoods like the fact that Dr. Spock’s schizophrenic grandson committed suicide, or that death and murder existed long before O’Hare took prayer out of school. This email demonstrates exactly what I find so fucked up and ignorant of so many people: that they will take anything that reinforces their worldview as gospel and preach it and forward it without any regard, or, dare I say, any care of whether it is true or not. It’s like the word of God, handed down unto man and misquoted, mis-attributed and forwarded on to the next sucker without a second thought.

By far the best thing about this whole thing that brings me the most joy in my heart of hearts is that Ben Stein actually did post on CBS News this yesterday, and this is what he had to say regarding the GOP coming back after last week’s election loss:

We still have great ideas […b]ut we have to make some changes in our hearts – big changes. This is not the white man’s country exclusively anymore, and it hasn’t been for a long time. The strategy of appealing to angry white men is not correct, either morally or practically.

This is a genuine multi-cultural, multi-racial democracy today. We must appeal to working women, to single women, to blacks. In particular, we can and must stop hurting the feelings of Hispanics and start inviting them into our party.

While I’m not sure entirely if these remarks spawned this latest round of the Christmas Tree chain mails, but it is a funny coincidence, almost like one is trying to drown out Stein’s acknowledgement of the changing face of America and his appeal to greater inclusion with this appeal to traditional right wing values, just in time for the War on Christmas.