The lifelong evolution of my relationship to an idea.
May 26, 2023
If you have no idea what I am talking about when I say ‘Basic Income’, go here.
I zoomed into the Annual General Meeting of Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) yesterday. I do not think I am an actual member of that organization. I usually decline to pay membership fees.
I am an old pest for these people but they let me attend their AGM anyway. I believe I had some influence on them opening up a bit and even holding public AGMs. But their ‘nomination committee’ does not want me to join the BICN bunker.
They are still not doing things in an open and ‘democratic’ way. But in these times of suppression and turmoil, that is pretty much impossible anyway. Every non profit group I know has trouble with the fringe fanatics and thought police trying to take them over.
Thus they do need a process for vetting prospective board members. However, if you are taking money from the public you do need to be open about what you are doing with it. You also need to be open to different ideas.
This is why I have become sceptical about the usefulness of ‘non profit’ groups. They are the sludge which fills up the empty space created by the absence of a real democracy. The paradox is that a BI will be essential to a real democracy.
So what did I discover in my latest trip into BICN land? They are gradually becoming more open in their proceedings. They have no choice if they are going to pursue their application for a “charitable” number from Revenue Canada.
This alone is a development. The issue I had with them a decade back was the hostility of many of them to raising any funds outside of hosting congresses every two years. They just wanted to be a talking shop forever.
Now, a few attendees even demanded an agenda. The chair still rejected that idea. She still just wants an ‘informal discussion’ about what has already been decided off camera.
One thing I am relieved about is that they are not doing this ridiculous “pronouns” thing. They still felt a need to do an abbreviated version of the “land acknowledgment”.
They are going to start holding conferences again. The next will be in May 2024 in Ottawa. I am unsure if I would want to attend that, given the ongoing pandemic.
They are getting some money from a couple of smaller governments, including that of the North West Territories. It seems these politicians have felt pressure to make some performances for a BI.
They had trouble finding any consulting firm to advise them about it. This would likely be because there have been some studies of BI from serious economists who find that a BI is unfeasible given existing government revenue structures. Thus they engaged BICN, who are oblivious to criticism of their pet project.
I had nothing to say to BICN people this year, even about their need to rethink and repurpose their hobby horse. I will not say much about that in this piece, which is mainly a history. I will explain in future blogs about how the concept of a BI needs to move forward.
However, in 2024 I will probably be trying to flog my book to them. I may even be doing it at their congress. My brilliant fictional masterpiece will have as a main theme that a Basic Income will not be possible until capitalism is ended.
I am sure BICN will not want to hear that. They are really very ‘liberal’ kinds of people, very committed to the status quo. They are exclusively about promoting the ‘liberal’ idea of BI; a ‘welfare 2.0’, a more efficient way to manage the surplus population.
Generally, that means doing a Basic Income through a Negative Income Tax (NIT). That is, through increased tax rebates as income declines, to prevent anyone falling below a minimum income level. For the retired federal civil servant person who is mainly responsible for stacking the BICN board as it is, the very flawed Canadian system of running government programs through tax credits and rebates is nonetheless like a religion.
This group has already become fully fossilized. Yet it will be around for about another twenty or thirty years, impeding the development of an understanding of a Basic Income economy. Alas, I had a hand in getting it started.
Many of the people on the board now will still be on it twenty years on. They will wake up like Rip Van Winkle and notice that an actual Basic Income has developed in Canada without them noticing and without any input from them. I will likely be dead by then.
Until all this comes to pass, I will continue to follow the development of a post capitalism consensus. I will keep track of the old line BI groups like BICN as well as the more promising groups which are developing. I will continue to promote the still novel ideas that there will be no BI until capitalism ends, but that post capitalism will not work without a BI.
Basic Income people will not see me in person much. My medical problems are such that Covid, and some of the other new or upgraded bugs being put into action, are very dangerous to me. However, I intend to electronically haunt their events and discussions, especially internationally.
My main advice to all Basic Income groups is that we will be going through several years of confusion and turmoil. There is little short term chance of getting any sort of UBI type program going. Now is thus a good time to pause and reflect on how to move forward.
I think these people should listen to me. I have things to tell them that they need to hear.
I am really quite brilliant and even have a university degree to hang on my wall. However, I am a weird looking, outcast type of person. Alas, I had a bad upbringing and have permanent, disabling medical problems I only, with great difficulty, got diagnosed and treated in middle age.
I am originally from Alberta. In order to obtain better health care and material support, I have moved to Vancouver and then to Toronto. I have managed to live to age 68.
My disabilities have greatly impeded me from achieving what I would like to have done. I have never had much success in working within organizations, including ones I helped create. In recent years I have found it more useful to focus on writing.
I have been an advocate of BI since long before it was called that; since the 1970s. I first became aware of the idea when I found Robert Theobald’s book “The Guaranteed Income; Next Step in Socioeconomic Evolution?” in a public library. It was published in 1966.
For the general information of all subsequent enthusiasts for the Basic Income idea, it crystallized quite suddenly right around 1966. It came out of the ‘war on poverty’ debates which went on in the USA at the time. Later that year, the economist James Tobin wrote a paper laying out a ‘Guaranteed Income’ for the USA, which used the NIT principle.
This was the ground zero for the idea now called Basic Income. I have never found any earlier proposals which would accurately fit the definition of a BI. I have never understood why some BI advocates have this need to concoct a history of the concept going back to Noah’s ark.
I looked into this idea. I followed the debates about it in the USA, especially the 1972 election campaign when George McGovern proposed his ‘Universal Demogrant’ and then suddenly dropped it. This was where the idea of a Demogrant, a Basic Income delivered as a flat monthly payment, was established.
Demogrant is an old term. It signifies a grant to an entire population, from the Greek word demos. It does not derive from the American Democratic political party.
During the 1970s several experiments were run in North America to assess the effects of a NIT. This involved giving a NIT to a few thousand randomly chosen people, or to the entire population of a selected area, and seeing how they respond to it. None of these experiments were particularly successful.
I followed the Dauphin NIT experiment in Manitoba when it was going on. I heard then that many participants were so frustrated with the process that they dropped out, despite the extra money. It involved a great deal of paper work every month, and was very intrusive into people’s lives.
I have always found such experiments to be slightly ridiculous. First of all, it is not right to experiment on people in that way. It is especially unjust to the people near the experiment who are not part of it.
Such experiments, or pilots as they are now being called, cannot tell anything not already known about human behaviour. It should surprise no one that when you give poor people more money, their lives improve. That is, until the experiment is done and the money stops.
These experiments are a fallacy of generalization. They assume that the effects of a BI in a small area will carry over when applied to an entire country. The only real lesson to be learned from the experiments, that a NIT is not the way to deliver a BI, was ignored.
I remained convinced that a BI was necessary, but that a demogrant was the way to go. If a BI was not done properly, it would turn into a very bad thing. It had to be enough to live on and there had to be controls on rent and other things to prevent the extra money from being grabbed back by the owner classes.
It was very hard to discuss the Guaranteed Income concept in 1970s Alberta. People were finally rid of decades of Social Credit government. They were resistant to anything ‘right wing’ or involving handing out money.
Some elder relatives of mine were deeply involved in the Social Credit fiasco of the 1930s. This very intolerant and abusive group originally got into power by promising to fix the great depression by issuing new money. They started by handing out their ‘funny money’ which proved to be worthless.
Many people connected BI with the Milton Friedman dogma which was becoming widespread at that time. To them it seemed to be about creating wage subsidies for employers, and a cover for cutting services such as health care. Of course, that is pretty much what the ‘dark side’ of BI is all about.
I lost interest in BI for awhile. I left Alberta. I became interested in Marxism.
Marxism is the only economic science which predicts or explains anything. However, most Marxists are jackasses. The basic problem with Marxism is the failure to work out how ‘socialism’ would actually work.
Thus I have become a kind of radical Gramscian. I am interested in how a post capitalist political economy would actually work.
It seems to me that this will require a ‘trinity’ of a BI, a ‘no debt’ banking and currency system, and a real democracy. There is enough to discuss in this to fill twenty blog posts. None of these points make any real sense except as ‘left’ issues.
However, I have found that most of the left in Canada are really conservatives or else are not interested in reality at all. Only in recent years has something like a serious left emerged again in Canada. I do what I can to get them interested in these ideas.
A good way to do that is to get the BI movement to become more left wing. A small BI ‘left wing’ is starting to emerge. Most of cloud BI land is still split between liberals and conservatives.
Liberals see BI as ‘welfare 2.0’; a way of managing the low end population as traditional welfare becomes unworkable. Conservatives, now called ‘libertarians’, still see it as a tool for dismantling government. Anyone claiming to be ‘neither left nor right’ is right wing.
The BI movement was revived in 1986, when the Basic Income European Network (BIEN) group was founded by some Belgian philosophy professors. They originated the term ‘Basic Income’ for the concept. Later, the ‘E’ in BIEN began to stand for ‘Earth’.
BIEN has been focused mainly on holding ‘congresses’ every two years in different cities in the world. People come and listen to each other read their papers about what they have done, or thought about, in relation to what they consider to be part of BI. It is a bit like the olympics of abstract thinking about social transfers.
I did not even hear about them until around the turn of the century. At that time I got onto one of the e-mail discussion groups which existed before things like Twitter. In this I was made aware of BIEN by a member of its board, Karl Widerquist.
I started convening discussion groups in Toronto about BI, and trying to build them into a local BI organization. This did not work well. Most people who attended where not really interested in the concept but wanted to talk about the crackpot economic ideas which were becoming common.
A fiasco occurred when somebody gave us a little money with which to work at promoting the idea. Someone embezzled much of it on the pretext of renting us a desk in a community space she was claiming to be creating. If you want to blow up a new group, give them a little bit of money before governance issues have been sorted out.
I sometimes found myself interfered with by Jo Grey. She seemed to have the idea that she was the Basic Income authority for Toronto because someone or something within the Toronto ‘social planning’ blob decided she was. She was no more effective than me at creating interest in BI in Toronto.
I remained connected with some Canadian people who were interested in BI and BIEN. Several of these people attended the 2008 BIEN conference in Ireland. There they decided to start a Canadian affiliate.
I was present when BIEN Canada was formally founded in Ottawa in 2009, and held its first BIEN style congress. That is, people delivering presentations on various aspects of a BI which they had been working on. Even there, the tendency to try to operate opaquely caused problems.
BIENCA held another congress in Calgary in 2010, which I did not attend. They committed to holding another congress in Toronto in 2012. Then they got into some dispute and broke up.
Nonetheless, one member committed to organizing the Toronto congress, pretty much on her own. After that, she retired from anything further to do with Basic Income groups. I think I understand why.
The Toronto 2012 congress was well attended by people from everywhere except Toronto. Jurgen De Wispelaere worked in Canada at the time. He got the factions together in an alcove at the congress venue, to refound the group.
Some points were hammered out. They were written out on a sheet of paper torn from my notebook. Chief among them was that the need for a formal structure and processes, and for the group to be incorporated.
Thus, the present BICN was formed. The commitment to incorporate was kept. The commitment to adopt a more transparent structure was not really kept, but we got all these committees which mostly did nothing.
They also committed to holding another congress in Montreal in 2014, which would also be part of BIEN’s congress. I committed to do all I could to help organize it, and to focus on that.
I found there was not much I could do from Toronto. I found myself thwarted at every turn in trying to create awareness of the congress and interest in BI. I was even chased around the University of Toronto campus by a nutty professor who said U of T was a non BI university, and wanted me barred from the campus.
I found the 2014 BIEN congress exhausting. There was too much to take in, in just two days. However, I met people I have otherwise only encountered over the net.
I was disappointed to discover that the BICN governance stuff had again gone underground. I was even more concerned about how the BIEN AGM was run. I was amazed that these highly educated people were unable to run a simple meeting.
Enough time had been put aside at the end of the congress to hold the AGM. Widerquist was the chair. He decided he wanted to use most of the time for something else as he thought the AGM would only take a few minutes.
The AGM took a few hours. Impatient janitors stood glowering with their mops. The big issue in contention was where the 2016 congress would be held.
BIEN was in the unfamiliar position of having two contenders for the venue. People wanted the two bids closely examined. This problem was finally resolved by the Portuguese delegation withdrawing their bid.
Thus, the South Koreans won the right to hold the 2016 congress. However, they were plainly amazed by the basic lack of competence shown by the BIEN board.
Another anecdote from BIEN Montreal 2014; I ran into BIEN cofounder Van Parijs by the nibbles table at a reception. I asked him why he thought that discussing a BI as a way to justify capitalism would convince enough people to support it. He just went blank and moved away, and I went back to chomping my fishy thing on a cracker. Ew!
The 2016 BICN congress was held in Winnipeg and I was able to get air fare together to attend it. This time I was not the only BICN member to express concern about the lack of transparent governance.
The BICN board annoyed some other people in a different way. A local native social service centre helped with the congress, allowing us to use their space on the second day, and prepared meals for the attendees.
One of the board members, without consulting anyone else, send around a notice warning everyone that the area around the centre was a high crime area and to stay inside the building. This did not go over well with many attendees. It went over even less well with the hosts and the meals became pointedly meagre.
The 2018 BICN congress was held in Hamilton. I was not well and could only attend part of it.
The 2020 BICN congress was also to be held in Hamilton but it and all subsequent congresses have been cancelled during the covid era. BICN has since then learned how to hold partially open AGMs by zoom.
One development of the Winnipeg congress was that quite a few Torontonians attended, especially young ones. I made an effort to draw together the “Basic Income Toronto” which most of them seemed to want. However, most of these people discovered they had to be focused on getting by day to day, with no Basic Income, and really had no extra where-with-all to be involved in anything.
I also found I was being poached for members by some persons organizing an Ontario Basic Income Network (OBIN). I would have been perfectly happy to have merged with this group. However, I was once again given the sandbag routine.
Soon after, the Liberal government began one of these “pilots” for a Basic Income, and organized a number of meetings to inform people about it. These were fun events. Several ultraleft organizations, including Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), attended to denounce the BI concept.
At these functions I was finally able to meet members of OBIN. Jo Grey was a prominent member and continued her snarky attitude toward me.
The pilot went on for ten months and was cancelled by the incoming Ford government. OBIN seems to have folded up then. It seems to have been resurrected a couple of times but currently has gone dormant again.
The Basic problem with any locally or provincially based Basic Income group is Basically this; only the federal government has the power to enact such a measure. Subnational BI organizations can be nothing more than glorified discussion groups.
BICN’s capacity to advocate for its cause has improved somewhat in recent years. Perhaps they finally read Joy Freeman’s “Tyranny of Structurelessness” essay which I recommended to them many years ago. I have also recommended Bourinot’s Rules of Order.
They seem to have finally recognized the need to raise some money outside of just a cycle of ‘congresses’. I am also surprised and pleased that they have come out with a publication discussing possible ‘options’ for delivering a Basic Income. None of them are realistic, but it is a start.
I am especially surprised that one of their options is a Demogrant. This may be a recognition that the American BI group, Basic Income Guarantee (USBIG), is strongly moving away from any NIT model. BICN has always had the idea of uniting with the American group, like they cannot understand that we are different countries with different cultures and different systems.
In recent years, people, especially outside Canada, have started calling this idea “Universal Basic Income” (UBI.) This is to make clear they are talking about a Demogrant model, not a NIT.
Canadian BI advocates are very slow to understand criticisms of their proposals, and that they are valid ones. They especially will keep repeating the idea that BI appeals both to the left and right. No, it does not.
Support for BI generally comes from the middle and right of the spectrum. The left still generally opposes what is being proposed. The criticisms of BI are well summed up here.
This brings me up to the present. I can criticize BICN’s approach much more intensely than Maytree. I can discuss how a Canadian movement for a UBI should roll going forward. I will do so in subsequent blogs.
My thinking about UBI has come to these two points. One, a UBI will not work under capitalism. Two, no post capitalist system will work without a UBI.
I will greatly elaborate on this. However, I have found that a story is usually the best way to clarify a new or difficult concept. I have started doing some fictional writing, mostly parables explaining political and philosophic ideas.
Since 2018 I have been working on a novel that demonstrates my ideas about UBI. I will be ready to publish it by the end of this year. I think it is a great read.
I will not do much more nonfiction writing about a UBI until I have The Novel out. I want to be able to illustrate my ideas for a post capitalist, UBI based world, using chapters of the novel.
The End. (of the beginning)
2 responses to “Me and Basic Income”
The Great thinker Robert Heinlein postulated as much in his book. Beyond this Horizon
Well worth a read.
If you don’t have Worldwide BI then you will have a huge influx from poorer Countries to Richer to an extent that will overwhelm its resources. That’s not Capitalism,it’s simple Maths.