7 Reasons Obama should support
a Guaranteed Livable Income:

by C. L'Hirondelle, Sept. 2010

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Intro: Demanding jobs as the solution to poverty is almost universally the default position of north american progressives. But it was still surprising to this read in Obama's 2006 book The Audacity of Hope":

"We should acknowledge that conservatives--and Bill Clinton--were right about welfare as it was previously structured. ...Any strategy to reduce intergenerational poverty has to be centered on work, not welfare--not only because work provides independence and income but also because work provides order, structure, dignity, and opportunities for growth in people's lives."


On Labor Day September 2010 Obama announced an infrastructure program to create more jobs and economic stimulus. No doubt much of this work is necessary, and the millions of unemployed hoping for an income will be happy, but this is just a temporary patch-work strategy--necessary to patch up infrastructure and to save people from poverty, but not a long-term solution.

7 Reasons to support a Guaranteed Livable Income instead of jobism:

1) Advocating jobs as an economic solution does nothing to ask the question that humanity must ask sooner than later: How many jobs are wasteful make-work jobs (Buckminster Fuller estimated 70%, Critical Path); how many jobs cause environmental harm; and how many activities that are necessary and beneficial are never considered work or a job because they are activities that have been traditionally done by women for no pay (such as motherwork)? Can we do an inventory of what work needs to be done vs. what work and resources are simply being wasted?

2) We need to redefine work and wealth or face a worsening toll on human health and the environment. Examples of new definitions:

"...only that work will be called productive that really produces, maintains and enhances life..."
Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen,
The Subsistence Perspective,

"[Wealth is the] ability to protect, nurture, support, and accommodate all growth needs of life"
--Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path 1982 (xxvi).

3) The idea of the work ethic is actually anchored to 500-year-old John Calvin. (Calvin was not all bad, in 1553 he lobbied to have his friend Servetus beheaded for blasphemy instead of burned at the stake.)

4) To end the the obsession with jobs for jobs sake; the idea of jobs as the solution to poverty is as well-rooted on the left as it is on the right.

The reasons for this:

Having a strong work ethic and a paid job is also often prized by people who have faced exclusion. For example, my father who faced discrimination because of being native in a small town in northern Alberta in the 1930s, was sensitive to being considered 'lazy.' Even at age 85 years he berated himself for sitting around too much. He didn't see keeping as healthy as possible while fighting several serious health problems was a form of 'work.' For many years he was against guaranteed income, but changed his mind as he saw how the economic system was failing more and more people with dire consequences for both individuals and communities. He also liked the idea of people having more time to learn useful things like growing vegetables, learning traditional 'old tech' skills, and parents having the time to teach these skills to their children.

Similarly, people with disabilities also face discrimination and exclusion. It is not surprising then that people who battle daily for their dignity, would want the dignity and acceptance that comes--in our society--from a paid job.

Some feminists worry a guaranteed income would be a step back for women. They battled their way "in" to elite job positions from which they were formerly excluded. But other feminists support a guaranteed income. They point out that demanding jobs does nothing for women who slave away doing no-pay, low-pay work. And many other feminists have pointed out the irony that women with high-pay elite jobs depend on low-pay women to do the work that they don't have the time to do. (e.g. watch, if you can, the movie The Maid, or read Global Woman: Nannies, Maids and Sex Workers in the New Economy.)

5) The Leisure Class does not worry about being called lazy. Quite the opposite, as Veblen pointed out, they worry that people may think they need to work. Examples of this in popular culture: Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind shaking her fist to the sky, outraged that she has to work in the fields... (not outraged when others have to work to get her dressed); the Upstairs People in Upstairs/Downstairs... or the debauched leisure class family in Gosford Park.

Back downstairs, people who have little-to-nothing materially, may only have one prized possession: their self-worth from having a job, and earning money.

The millions of unemployed in the U.S. (2010) are not demanding charity or a guaranteed income--they are demanding jobs and are lobbying for the Americans Want to Work Act.

To tell people that we need to implement a universal guaranteed livable/basic income because the era of jobs is extinct, may be felt as an attack on their source of self-worth. Saying that everyone is going to get money for nothing at may sound like a blasphemy and the first reaction may to burn the idea at the stake.

6) Around the world people are taking a deeper look into what exactly we mean when we talk about work and productivity. (See Questions about Work) They are beginning to see the cost of having an unquestioning acceptance of the jobs/hardwork mythology and how it is harming human health, happiness, and the quality of our environment.

Thus I have the Audacity to Hope that Obama and others will soon be willing to look at the Absurdity of the Job.

7) Getting out of the Box-Echo Chamber

With few exception, those on the right and left agree on the goal of jobs and hard work even though they have differing reasons for doing so. The following visual metaphor is an attempt to provoke some new insights that might help us get out of the left/right political ruts, echo chambers and boxes.

Inside the box orientation

Outside the box orientation

a) Upstairs leisure-class who promote the work ethic as it applies to the downstairs people.

b) Downstairs working class who believe in the gospel of work for work's sake. They demand work and jobs. They denounce laziness in themselves and others. They may have the goal of moving upstairs.

Upstairs and downstairs people both accept work and jobs uncritically as a permanent unchangeable structure of human life even though the jobs system is relatively new and the foundations are already crumbling.

People who do not derive all their self-worth from a paid job. They are oriented towards things that keep them alive and have an affinity towards earth, sky, water or their fellow creatures (even if those creatures are respectfully used as a food source).

Regardless of their income, they do not identify with either a ruling class or a working class.

Their goal is not to be in the upstairs (or downstairs) of a crumbling structure.

They are willing to re-examine new ideas and critique assumptions about about jobs and work.

They are willing to consider that jobs might not be a solution to everything.

The Inside the Box is also similar to the idea of the Echo Chamber. Outside of the box means being outside any Echo Chamber.

See also What is Productive

Discussion on Work

Questions on Work

Post-Script: In spite of Obama taking this openly conservative stance towards poverty, right-wing pundits in the U.S. accuse him of planning to replace welfare with a guaranteed annual income as part of the Piven-Cloward "conspiracy."

The conspiracists have it backwards. If Obama wanted things to spiral into chaos, he would keep 'welfare' as is. If he wanted the economy to stabilize, he would advocate a guaranteed income. But he's advocating job creation instead.

Guaranteed Livable Income has also been called Guaranteed Annual Income and currently also Basic Income Grant, Basic Income Guarantee or Citizen's Basic Income.

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