Category: Social Justice

Is UBI ‘hush money’?

Over the last few years, I’ve been quietly optimistic about Universal Basic Income, or ‘UBI’. It’s an approach that seems to have broad support across the political spectrum, although obviously for different reasons.

A basic income, also called basic income guarantee, universal basic income (UBI), basic living stipend (BLS), or universal demogrant, is a type of program in which citizens (or permanent residents) of a country may receive a regular sum of money from a source such as the government. A pure or unconditional basic income has no means test, but unlike Social Security in the United States it is distributed automatically to all citizens without a requirement to notify changes in the citizen’s financial status. Basic income can be implemented nationally, regionally or locally. (Wikipedia)

Someone who’s thinking I hugely respect, Douglas Rushkoff, thinks that UBI is a ‘scam’:

The policy was once thought of as a way of taking extreme poverty off the table. In this new incarnation, however, it merely serves as a way to keep the wealthiest people (and their loyal vassals, the software developers) entrenched at the very top of the economic operating system. Because of course, the cash doled out to citizens by the government will inevitably flow to them.

Think of it: The government prints more money or perhaps — god forbid — it taxes some corporate profits, then it showers the cash down on the people so they can continue to spend. As a result, more and more capital accumulates at the top. And with that capital comes more power to dictate the terms governing human existence.

I have to agree with Rushkoff when he talks about UBI leading to more passivity and consumption rather than action and ownership:

Meanwhile, UBI also obviates the need for people to consider true alternatives to living lives as passive consumers. Solutions like platform cooperatives, alternative currencies, favor banks, or employee-owned businesses, which actually threaten the status quo under which extractive monopolies have thrived, will seem unnecessary. Why bother signing up for the revolution if our bellies are full? Or just full enough?

Under the guise of compassion, UBI really just turns us from stakeholders or even citizens to mere consumers. Once the ability to create or exchange value is stripped from us, all we can do with every consumptive act is deliver more power to people who can finally, without any exaggeration, be called our corporate overlords.

Rushkoff calls UBI ‘hush money’, a method for keeping the masses quiet while those at the top become ever more wealthy. Unfortunately, we live in the world of the purist, where no action is good enough or pure enough in its intent. I agree with Rushkoff that we need more worker ownership of organisations, but I appreciate Noam Chomsky’s view of change: you don’t ignore an incremental improvement in people’s lives, just because you’re hoping for a much bigger one round the corner.

Source: Douglas Rushkoff

The end of ‘meritocracy’ at Mozilla

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post explaining how appeals to ‘meritocracy’ are problematic, particularly in education. The world is not a neutral place and meritocracy can actually entrench privilege.

I’m glad to see, therefore, that Mozilla have decided to stop using the term:

“Meritocracy” was widely adopted as a best practice among open source projects in the founding days of the movement: it appeared to speak to collaboration amongst peers and across organizational boundaries. 20 years later,  we understand that this concept was practiced in a world characterized by both hidden bias and outright abuse. The notion of “meritocracy” can often obscure bias and can help perpetuate a dominant culture. Meritocracy does not consider the reality that tech does not operate on a level playing field.

Source: Mozilla Stands for Inclusion

Wielding your pension fund for good

Some wise words in this article in The Guardian from Aditya Chakrabortty. Perhaps it’s my age, but I’m increasingly aware of the power that we have, collectively, around where and how we spend and save our money.

In big French companies, pension savers are offered the chance to invest 10% of their money in a fond solidaire, or solidarity fund, which supports unlisted social enterprises. In Britain, your average pension member doesn’t even get consulted on what values they’d like their money to support – whether fighting climate change or building social housing. Yet, rather than tackle those issues, the Labour party seeks to build a parallel finance system, in the form of a National Investment Bank, while other left economists talk about building a sovereign wealth fund, just as Norway has done with the proceeds of North Sea oil.

But we have a sovereign wealth fund already. It’s worth over £2tn and it’s called our pension funds. The big battle is to give us agency over our own savings, rather than leaving it all to some pinstriped manager on a fat commission.

I have several pensions (Teachers’ Pension, Local Government, personal, Moodle…) and, as much as I’m able, I ensure that the money is being ethically invested. There’s so many frontiers on which we can change the world, not all of them are super-exciting…

Source: The Guardian

 

Living in a dictatorship

The historian and social commentator in me found this fascinating. This article quotes Twitter user G. Willow Wilson (who claims to have liven in a dictatorship) as saying:

It’s a mistake to think a dictatorship feels intrinsically different on a day-to-day basis than a democracy does. I’ve lived in one dictatorship and visited several others—there are still movies and work and school and shopping and memes and holidays.

The difference is the steady disappearance of dissent from the public sphere. Anti-regime bloggers disappear. Dissident political parties are declared “illegal.” Certain books vanish from the libraries.

If you click through to the actual Twitter thread, Wilson continues:

The genius of a true, functioning dictatorship is the way it carefully titrates justice. Once in awhile it will allow a sound judicial decision or critical op-ed to bubble up. Rational discourse is never entirely absent. There is plausible deniability.

Of course this isn’t a dictatorship. It’s only a temporary state of affairs. And we’re doing it for your benefit:

So if you’re waiting for the grand moment when the scales tip and we are no longer a functioning democracy, you needn’t bother. It’ll be much more subtle than that. It’ll be more of the president ignoring laws passed by congress. It’ll be more demonizing of the press.

That’s what concerns me when people say that they don’t care about privacy and security. Technology can help with resistance to autocracy.

Source: Kottke.org

Foucault understood the power of ambiguity

To have a settled position on anything is anachronistic. There has to be an element of ambiguity in your work and thinking, otherwise you’re dealing in what Richard Rorty called ‘dead metaphors’.

Foucault understood this by never espousing a theory of power:

Herein lies the richness and the challenge of Foucault’s work. His is a philosophical approach to power characterised by innovative, painstaking, sometimes frustrating, and often dazzling attempts to politicise power itself. Rather than using philosophy to freeze power into a timeless essence, and then to use that essence to comprehend so much of power’s manifestations in the world, Foucault sought to unburden philosophy of its icy gaze of capturing essences. He wanted to free philosophy to track the movements of power, the heat and the fury of it working to define the order of things.

By not spending time defending your own position, you have time to recognise and critique what you see you be wrong and insidious in the world:

Foucault’s skeptical supposition thus allowed him to conduct careful enquiries into the actual functions of power. What these studies reveal is that power, which easily frightens us, turns out to be all the more cunning because its basic forms of operation can change in response to our ongoing efforts to free ourselves from its grip.

I’m reading China Miéville’s October: The Story of the Russian Revolution at the moment. It’s making me re-realise that power is never given, it’s always taken.

Source: Aeon

Capitalism can make you obese

From a shocking photojournalism story:

With imported soft drinks costing the same or less than bottled water, in a country where tap water is not safe to drink, the poorest people are most likely to develop diabetes. Mexico’s health ministry said in 2016 that 72% of adults were overweight or obese. But the same people are prone to malnutrition thanks to a diet high in sugar and saturated fats and low in fibre

Source: The Guardian

Moving down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs using OER?

David Wiley, the standard bearer for Open Educational Resources, says:

Many of us believe that education is an incredibly powerful tool in the fight to increase equity, and this is a primary motivation for our participation in the open education movement. The shared core of the work we do in open education is increasing access to educational opportunity – with the long-term goal of making access to that opportunity truly universal – by licensing educational resources in ways that make them free and 5R-able. That is, by creating, sharing, and improving OER.

However…

In general, without a stable basic needs floor to stand on you aren’t capable of benefitting from access to educational opportunity – including those opportunities made possible by our collective efforts in open education. And unfortunately, as long as basic needs problems persist, those whose basic needs are not being met will be essentially incapable of taking advantage of the opportunities created by OER, while those whose basic needs are being met will be capable of taking advantage of those opportunities. Consequently, while basic needs issues persist, OER will likely expand some of the gaps we intend for it to shrink.

I can’t tell whether he’s covering his back or advocating for full communism now.

Source: iterating toward openness

Image: CC BY Atelier Disko, Hamburg und Berlin

Brexit Britain means food prescriptions on the NHS

I cannot believe this is happening in my country as we prepare to enter 2018. Food banks and developments like these are born of political choice, not economic necessity.

As reported in The Independent earlier this month, food poverty in Britain is contributing to an increase in Victorian illnesses like rickets and stunted growth in children.

More than 60 per cent of paediatricians believe food insecurity contributed to the ill health among children they treat, according to a 2017 survey by the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health.

Dr George Grimble, a medical scientist at University College London, said food poverty was “disastrous” for a child’s development, resulting in nutritional deficits, obesity and squandered potential.

Source: The Independent