Debunking stale lefty arguments against Guaranteed Livable Income
(or false dichotomies between GLI and social programs)
by anonymous 2007


On June 11th, 2007 the article "Guaranteed Income is a Wolf in Sheep's clothing" by Kathleen Donovan and Garson Hunter (both involved in social policy research at the University of Regina) was published on Act-Up Sask, an independent media website. The article described guaranteed income as a being a kind of right-wing plot to cut social programs and exploit workers and people on welfare. Full article here. Here is another response rebutting their arguments.

All the arguments of the authors of "Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI)--Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?" assume strict neo-liberal economic conditions without political mobilization to challenge it.

The struggle for GLI already posits the capacity of people to organize into a conscious and politically mobilized force. Talking about GLI and new social contexts are the first steps.  

Thankfully we have beloved visionaries on our side--unless the authors call Dr. Martin Luther King a "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing": "The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income."   --Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Chaos or Community, 1967

LIFE points out that GLI model already exists: "The model for a Guaranteed Livable Income has long been in place: all religious organizations, charities and academics--and many others who do not sell a product for a profit--already have a Guaranteed Income."

Conflicting interests support guaranteed income for very different reasons. That doesn't mean it won't help the poor--and everybody else.

The Guaranteed Livable Income is called just that to distinguish it from the far less adequate right wing versions promoted by investor/corporate/capital interest whose desire is to maintain consumption at the lower income and unprivileged end of the working class. Because our system is capitalist, this means there is intense pressure to continue consumption, regardless of the social/environmental costs.  

More consumption=more profit for those industries that are more dependent on purchases from the working and unemployed poor. So of course economists like Friedman will support it. Not all right wingers are equally venal anyway. Contradiction.

The key term is "Livable": Not one of the institutions or people mentioned by Donovan and Hunter invoke the concept of "Livable" in their articulation of Guaranteed Income. Livability means de-linking income from the coercion of forcing people to struggle for the permanently scarce supply of jobs. Livability must apply to all people--work or no work. To date, all other concepts to describe GLI have omitted the concept of livability.

(See also labour activist Jim Smith's article separating survival from work)

Livability includes sufficiency without consumption. Other phrases are still tied to the history of consumption. This assumes scarcity of necessities, proliferation of created desires, jobs for the sake of jobs and the collapse of leisure time for the majority.  

So livability will make sure people have enough to rent in quiet, clean, well-maintained places, surrounded by natural habitat. Livability will ensure enough pesticide-free, locally grown, lo-carb, humanely produced food, low on the food chain. It means enough income to educate oneself and children--as defined by the GLI recipients, not the academic institutions. It means enough income to access public transportation and the means to travel to vacation recreation without increasing the planetary carbon load. GLI will help bring dramatic increases in investment for public transit.  

Why? Many heavy industrial workers will opt for less but sufficient income and more leisure time, forcing auto-oil capital to shift from carbon based products to inherently more carbon-free/efficient products such as trains, bicycles, clean buses, wind turbines and solar panels.  

Of course this implies visionary just transition policies of labour unions involved in these industries. They already made such visionary demands shortly after World War II in logging and armaments industries. An end to clear cutting was demanded by the Industrial Woodworkers of America and newly unionized armaments workers were demanding conversion to civilian products.  

This came about more so in Canada, but anti-communist hysteria prevented a complete and just transition to fully civilian assembly lines. The point is that organized labour has the capacity to work toward the end of industries that are not socially nor ecologically useful.

On the false dichotomy between social programs and Guaranteed Livable Income:

An absolute distraction of the authors is the false dichotomy between social programs and Guaranteed Livable Income. People have the capacity to fight for the preservation and expansion of social programs, while making new demands for the bold new form of economic justice--GLI. The alternative is to accept the chronic tyranny of welfare, with its shame and insufficiency.  

But if the authors of "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" are on board with raising the welfare rates to at least $25,000/person/year--heck, we can still call it "welfare," if there's such attachment to the word. How about "Guaranteed Livable Welfare?" Most progressive people agree I hope that welfare is ominously inadequate. Let's just be honest and remove its brutal means test and raise it at least five times.  

Subsidy to corporations? Let's focus on removing their personhood, and then see how long they coerce the workers into continued low-wage tyranny, through the vast subsidy called "army of the unemployed." A high GLI will force them to pay more for workers to bring them out of leisure time. We work 2 days a week for ourselves right now--and three for the bosses. That's the subsidy that high GLI will end immediately.  

Rebutting the other myths:

GLI a threat to "Decent jobs"? 50% of "work" does nothing useful for people, plants, animals and bio-habitat. It's simply about amassing profits for the few. GLI a threat to affordable housing? I thought the current frenzy for nice west coast homes is because a small but sizable proportion of people are flooded in money these days.  

Increasing everyone's income--and politically organizing to keep rents at smaller proportions of income--will force landlords to maintain housing stock that is more affordable and appealing for millions. 60% of us rent.  

I certainly honour the historical struggle to create welfare--and it must not be dispensed with until a GLI is in place. But suggesting that the reason we should oppose GLI is because it will compete with all other social programs for funding is simply the voice of fear, ignorance and political vacuousness.  

I find it very amusing that Jim Stanford's perspective was invoked to affirm the fears of GLI, whereas the poignant voice of Dr. Guy Standing is absent from the authors' discussion.  

Anyone willing to read Dr. Standing's brilliant "Why unions should campaign for a basic income" will witness the evaporation of all of the given arguments against the GLI. Download by clicking on this link.  

Dr. Standing speaks with at least as much wisdom as Mr. Stanford--he was the senior economist at the International Labor Organization and Director of the ILO Programme on Socio-Economic Security.  

Mr. Stanford sadly reveals with good intention I'm sure, the paralyzing problem in labour called business unionism. This is in spite of the CAW's important reputation for social justice unionism. Auto workers just may be enticed to slack off paying their union dues with the glimmer of GLI out the factory gates. Where does that leave the better paid union executives and their slightly more consumerist lifestyle?  

I'm not saying they are all guilty of this, but it's time for labour leaders to do what Communists and Anarchists did in unions until McCarthyism--organize with a vision for radical social change, not just bargain over the table for the wages, benefits and working conditions of privileged workers--as important as bargaining is. GLI is just the start of things labour needs to agitate for. Even Tommy Douglas wasn't scared to say what we ultimately need--socialism.

Finally, about enough "money" for GLI: Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians founder, instructs us that in the '50's corporate Canada paid 25% of all tax revenue. Now they pay 8%. That's a shortfall of billions of dollars for all unmet human needs.

Even accepting the false and religious construct of money, we know whose hiding and hoarding the money for everything. Let's politically organize to get it and start funding all urgent needs, including a carbon/mliitary/nuclear-free future and a GLI.

Anonymous author and longtime supporter of Guaranteed Livable Income (aka Basic Income)

Read another response to Donovan and Hunter's arguments