Economics for the People, Jamming, 27/03/2017

So I had a great time live-tweeting the New Democrats’ Youth Debate this weekend. And watching it as well.

I continue to be impressed by Guy Caron, for one thing. Whether or not he wins the leadership, I hope his profile, power, and influence in the NDP, in Canada, and global progressive politics grows.

There are two aspects of that hope. One has to do with his tireless advocacy for basic income. Basic income is a transformational economic policy, for two reasons as far as I understand the issue, economic and moral.

While I think Caron and Niki Ashton are the best candidates among the
NDP leadership field, Caron's intellect makes me think him best suited
to be Canada's Finance Minister. In that role, he has the potential to be
epoch-making, beginning a process of economic transformation not
under the emergency conditions of Varoufakis in Greece, where crisis
and sabotage caused his failure, but in a prosperous, resilient Canada.
In a strictly economic sense, basic income is a solution to poverty and inequality. By taxing profitable corporations, wealthy individuals and families, and stock transactions fairly in comparison to the rest of society, you can provide funds for everyone to supply their basic needs of food and shelter.

That lifts people out of poverty, and gives otherwise desperate, hopeless people an anchor in their lives. As modern industry continues to automate and artificial intelligence advances, there will simply not be enough good jobs in the economy for the world’s entire population.

There probably aren’t enough such jobs already. But basic income in an automated industrial society would keep demand high enough to prevent economic collapse. If unemployment rates are huge, but economic productivity high due to automation, the economy will end up collapsing – Very few people will be able to buy the huge amounts of goods and services created.

This (along with his motives to simplify and reduce welfare state bureaucracies) is why the model neoliberal economist Milton Friedman first proposed basic income. But there’s a moral reason why basic income is necessary for a state’s welfare obligations too.

Basic income removes morality, blame, and condescension from our welfare systems. There will no longer be an excuse for you to spit on those who don’t hold jobs, as if they were all lazy good-for-nothings. Surely, some of them are.

But maintaining demand levels in the face of widespread automation and job loss – high productivity and low employment – doesn’t give a damn if a jobless person is a bitterly disappointed ambitious striver or a 400 lb mooch. And neither should we.

Milton Friedman. The era of the conservative libertarian economist,
the shadow of Mt Pelerin, the neoliberal consensus, the fetish of a
free market that has never, could never, and will never truly exist,
must finally come to an end. Their ideas have wrecked the dreams
of generations.
If you want to get high and mighty, you can say it’s about justice. But I prefer not to be high and mighty – humans rarely deserve it. But we shouldn’t let our moral beliefs about who does and doesn’t deserve to life a dignified life interfere with how we want to maintain our economic prosperity.

I mean, who are we to judge? Who is anyone? Only God can determine anyone’s actual moral worth. And even when we’re dealing with God, there’s plenty of room for appeal and argument.

But here’s the second, and I think larger, cause of the hope I see in Guy Caron’s candidacy. For too long, people like Friedman and the conservatives, libertarians, and oligarchs who’ve followed his teachings have had total public ownership of economics as a science.

The people who speak the language of economics for the public are people whose policies and ideas are rarely in the interest of public welfare, health, and prosperity. They’re people who represent the interests of oligarchs.

Caron is an economist who is dedicated to using the science of economics in the interests of the people and the common wealth. As his profile rises, he joins Thomas Piketty and Yanis Varoufakis as leading progressive economists. He’s joining a global leadership of people rededicating that science to the service of the people.

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