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Winnipeg Congress sessions Part two

piloting through tricky waters

While we were still up at the Neeganin center, we started to get to the big topic on people's minds; the idea of pilot projects for a Basic Income. It was becoming clear that we have a pro pilot and an anti pilot tendency.

Karl Widerquist, always adamant against "cheap support", pointed out that politicians are always looking for the cheapest way of telling people "yes". However, a pilot will also give them a way to say no; " come on, we already gave you a pilot!"

It is a way of holding off implementing a BI until interest wanes. A negative spin can also be built into the design of the pilot. There was some discussion of that, though there needs to be much more.

Most of the people present agreed with Karl that there was enough evidence now. Few supported the statement that it would be irresponsible to introduce a Basic Income without more study. However, I suspect that the minority who are infatuated with a pilot will not be easily dissuaded. It gives them a chance to play at being social engineers, getting mid level bureaucrats actually paying attention to them, massaging their egos a bit.

The data in the US studies was deliberately distorted to discredit a BI. News coverage of those old 1970s studies was also very negative-framing, as in "What if the government paid people to not work?"

John Mills from Hamilton in particular thought BI/GLI should be applied for now, and not waited around for until it becomes imperative.

Jurgen gets to actually help pilot a pilot

Jurgen De Wispelaere, who is Belgian but taught at MagiIl university in Montreal for some years, was on the board of BICN. He organized the 2014 meetup in Montreal. He has been involved with the international group, BIEN, for a long time.

Now he lives in England, but commutes to Finland to help the Finns organize their pilot BI project. The irony of this globe trotter is that he is worried that his home country of Belgium is going to disappear in the next few years. He has much to tell us about what he is learning in Finland. The of his video presentation will be especially valuable.

The first question to be asked, he says, is why should we do the pilot? This is because we need to roll out programs scientifically. There is a difference between a pilot project and a mere social experiment, as was the Dauphin/Manitoba mincome. With a pilot, you discover the problems and solve them, work out the procedures, and then expand the program. The pilot should be intended to be built up into a full scale program and this is a point which should be remembered.

Finland is presently under a center-right wing government. The Finns felt that a full BI would be too expensive and so decided to try a partial one, though still without conditions.

What they have discovered so far include the fact that a housing benefit will be impossible to integrate into a BI. As well, there a re huge legal issues, due to the Finnish constitution and European Union rules.

They are finding that the pilot is not so easy to do. They will need at least 10 000 study households for statistical significance, that is to make statistical analysis of results really reliable. Right now they do not have enough money to do the pilot/experiment properly. Jurgen says that if you are not committed to doing the experiment right, you are not going to get good results.

The guy who ran the original Mincome project

His name is Ron Hikel. He later went on to run a lot of projects for Canadian government and to teach university courses in public administration. He is still indignant about the five wasted years out of his life, and the waste of taxpayers money. which resulted when incompetent government never even analyzed the result of huge government spending.

Those who conducted the experiments were a bit naive and never expected the negative spin which could be put on them. They did not know which questions were politically important.

His advice to Ontario about a pilot? First, remember that a government commitment to a test is much different than a commitment to a program. Make sure you get objectives and means aligned. Get other governments involved. However, he also said that going it alone means fewer voices which must be pleased.

Here is a very important question to ask; will the pilot/ final program be on top of existing programs?

His advice to Basic Income activists; Publicly announce the aims so that it s hard for the government to wriggle out of them. Make clear that you expect the pilot to be widely understood, meaning widely publicized.

There will likely be a considerable effort to discredit the program. Civil servants will be concerned about having their own programs rolled up into the BI/GLI. Inevitably, someone will lose out and you need public policy decisions early on about who will lose.

It is important to avoid overselling the program. It is not a panacea for all social ills. However, if done soundly it will have a lasting and profound influence. But if it fails, Hikel says we will not see another chance in our lifetime.

Other things he spoke about were; the need to look into the U.S. experiments as well, making sure they are read. A problem in the Manitoba experiments were that it often led to harm or inconvenience to participants. They had to fill out over elaborate questionnaires. Also, interestingly, they were too much pestered by the press.

Two other odd bits of information about the mincome; the program was run entirely by contract workers, with no civil servants involved at all. Many people refused to participate because the income supplement was not high enough to bother with, and many dropped out for the above reasons.

Daniel Blaikie

Mr. Blaikie is a fairly young NDP member of parliament for the Winnipeg area. He talked about the NDP and a Guaranteed Annual Income, as the NDP seems to be calling the concept.

He also talked about his fight to keep the word socialist in the NDPs masthead, at their convention a few years ago. There seems to be a misconception that it has actually been dropped.

Blaikie also claims much responsibility for getting a commitment to study a GAI onto the party platform. He admits that party leadership in practice do not pay much attention to their party's platforms.

He understands that we cannot just cut a cheque for everybody and the poverty problem is solved. For example, it will not substitute for a housing strategy. Thus, left parties need to get into the debate. Otherwise it is left to the right wing as an excuse to divest from everything 'social'.

There is a need to strike while the iron is hot. But right now we are getting studies done everywhere. There is no need to keep proving that it works. Get it done and in place and deal with the imperfections later.

He is aware of of something called Marxism, and the Marxist objection to a BI. The super radical objection to a BI is that if the people get it, they will not become miserable enough to rise up. However, Blaikie notes that there is nothing in Marxism about a Basic Income, so there is no theory about what happens next.

If I had the chance, I would have pointed out that Marx would have approved of a BI/GLI. Further, I would have pointed out that Marx never said anything about violent revolution; that came from a later generation of communists.

However, I did not get in on question period. A lot of the limited time was taken up by the doofus who says he lived on the street three years by choice, just because he did not feel like working. He is as phony as all hell, and has a special bug about leftism and Marxism.

Worse, he is staying in the same dorm as me and I have to listen to his nonsense about how he lives on an island in Georgia strait and spends all his time doing community work. He has this very libertarian view of government.

Miles Corak

I spend too much time in front of the computer these days, because I subscribe to so many twitter and blog feeds. Periodically I prune them but end up adding more. After listening to Miles Corak 's spiel I subbed into his blog. Since I do not want my sitting time or gut to grow any more, I compensated by unsubbing from a blogger who had grown less interesting lately.

Corak is the kind of thinker I like, who gets right to the core of something. He is an economics teacher at the University of Ottawa. Some of his best points were;

The trouble with upward mobility, is that for someone to move up someone else must be bumped down, unless the economy is growing.

The general belief is that there is no glass floor for the wealthy, and so no need to deliberately bust up the top percentile. The focus is on raising the bottom.

But is there a contradiction here? If here is no growth, where does the bottom rise to? Will a BI need growth? Will it create its own growth? What if growth is not possible, there is an absolute limit to it?

I found that a very useful and disturbing way of looking at it. It is not about where the tax money will come from to raise everyone out of poverty, but the percentage of the total pie? Will it come from the wealthiest, or from the middle class?

Toward that, Corak also had something to say about the design of pilot BI projects. They will be site specific. What will what is happening in that particular community being used as lab rats effect the results? He noticed that the economy in Manitoba, especially agriculture, was booming during the mincome experiment.

What if a BI was tried out in a core poverty community, or in a middle class community? He is another theorist who understands that a BI cannot be studied in isolation, so how useful would the results of the study really be?

The Texan

This guy was fairly interesting, and a bit exotic with a real Texas accent and a kind of preacherly tone. He was not a totally obnoxious libertarian redneck. He did get the concept of civilization.

He was aware of technological unemployment and had the idea of society as one big corporation of which we are all shareholders. So we should get a 'dividend'. I've heard that before; social crediter speak.

He wants to put a $400 an acre tax on all land. It seems not to matter if it is in a desert or a downtown. This sounds much like the 'Georgists'. Us Canadians were too polite to ask him how that would work.

But he rejected some of the usual flaky ideas about funding a BI. He recognized that resource prices are unstable. Their extraction is polluting. They are unevenly distributed. The aim should be to minimize the use of resources.

Wealth is the outcome of civilization, of people acting in unison. All must give so that all must receive. Amen, brother.

However, he feels people should not get a GLI until age 25. After that, they shuld get $16 000 a year, in U.S. money.

Someone suggested to him that financing a BI/GLI was not really a problem; there was plenty of untaxed wealth. He replied that if you created a BI based on taxing wealth, it won't fly with Americans.

So that is where it stood and he flew back to America.

My session, with Elizabeth McGuire and Brandy Moore

Elizabeth McGuire is one of the organizers of the strong Hamilton BI group. She did an excellent presentation about how a BI should work. She was a tough act for me to follow. After me was a C&W singer from Saskatchewan called Brandy Moore who had a song about a guaranteed income for us.

We had a quite formidable argument for a more pro active BI/GLI movement, not quite in line with the executive committee. I think that is why we were lumped together and the session not filmed. I will recreate my participation in a subsequent installment of this series.

Elizabeth said that all these studies should be shelved. BICN should demand that there be no wastage of money by out of control bureaucracies. She echoed a lot of what Karl Widerquist and Ron Hikel said. These studies are an excuse to freeze discussion about BI and people are falling for it like chumps.

Other points Elizabeth made were; unions once campaigned for a forty hour work week. Why not campaign now for a 15 hour workweek? Someone shouted back that her figures about the hours needed to maintain present living standards, were optimistic. They may be but we can certainly use a shorter workweek. Start with thirty hours?

I love these front line social worker types, ones who are not working for a political network and are not administering contracted out welfare. They really tell it like it is.

Her model for Basic Income would make redundant about &165 billion in social costs and require another $30 billion a year in new revenue. What the amount of the grant is, she did not say.

Another of Elizabeth's models I loved was her way of getting local government on side. You do not ask them for a pilot. You get them to endorse the concept and press higher government for it. The natural allies are the board of health, emergency and community services, the city's general issues committee and the city council as a whole. She also added public housing organizations. It is important to have a large group of people who can make it out to events.

My own presentation was well enough received. I was worried that some people would not like what I had to say about the American BI people and the state of The States in general. I did not have a prepared speech, just notes, which was good because I did not know how much time I was going to get.

Everyone adored Brandy Moore. She said that she was originally from Vancouver, but went to Regina in 2001, on April fool's day. She thinks that might have been prophetic. She may indeed have made a foolish move because it seems Vancouver has become a center of the music business. However, it is horribly expensive to live there.

But Brandy is one of those people struggling to make a living in the music business. She actually makes a living as a data entry clerk working through temp agencies. She does not like the way she is treated.

She is none too prosperous and is not even sure how she is going to get back to Regina. She put out a bowl to collect donations and it filled up. I put a fiver in. She promised to continue to make herself prominent as she lobbied or the money to book a studio to record the "Because I'm Alive" song.

They got her to sing again at the closing plenary and she got more applause. Some people had the idea of making the song BICN's official anthem, which caused her to let out a whoop. I do not know how her idea of BICN funding a studio recording will work, given the politics of the organization. The core group tends to put the kibosh on anything except this cycle of congresses.

Brandy's web site is at http://www.brandymoore.ca/ Her plenary performance of "Because I'm Alive" is at https://vimeo.com/168468430