so was austerity designed to stop or promote unconditional basic incomes?

More of these stories appear by the minute.  This from Finland, for example, has been rumbling away for a while:

The growing demand for a solution to austerity economics seems unstoppable – and in many parts of the world, unconditional basic incomes (UBI) are gaining ground.

In the eyes and on the tongues of the chattering classes, at least.

I’ve already argued elsewhere that UBI – and its guaranteed income streams, both for essentials as well as items of a more luxurious nature – could mean the end of traditional business models, in particular for the content industry:

Once #UBI comes in, tech, food, leisure and car corps will of course benefit from such predictable spending. But in every big change in society, someone always will lose out. And in this particular case it will surely be the content industry as it currently stands. Who’ll need paid-up journalists – or even a resource-hungry ad-plagued website – when volunteers, using cheap or zero-cost social media, tablets, smartphones and PCs they inevitably have for other purposes, can supplement their guaranteed income from the state with other activities of such a pleasurable and community-focussed nature?

And so seeing how, in this way, UBI would suit significant parts of the techie sides of big-business capitalism down to the ground, I automatically assumed that austerity’s promoters and sponsors were working in cahoots with the aforementioned big business.

But now I’m not so sure.

Let’s analyse what the Tory-led government here in the UK was doing since 2010.  That is to say, demonising the poor, in particular those dependent on state benefits, to such an extent that they have ultimately been blamed for the supposedly parlous state of the wider economy.

Yes.  Many have explained the strategy away as a distracting action to divert attention from the truly culpable individuals and orgs, mainly involved in the murky ins and outs of the financial services sector.  But it’s an awfully complex movement of smoke and mirrors, simply to hide from the public what they already know, fully know, to be the truth: rich people like rich people, and want to remain rich in the future.

Why go to all that trouble, knowing the British are always going to tend to put up with a helluva lot more than that?  Revolution and riots – with very few exceptions – are simply not what the long-suffering inhabitants of these islands get up to.

I think those who plan these things, or at the very least think carefully beforehand, are aware that the right wing of any politics – never mind that of the British body politic – would lose all reason to exist, absolutely entirely, if unconditional basic incomes became par for the course.

It’s not the redistribution of money that would destroy the right wing either.  No.  It’s simply the opportunity to turn one group of people against the other that would become fairly impossible.

But it’s not only the right wing which would lose out with the introduction of UBI.

Imagine a society where workers no longer needed to unionise.

Imagine a society where work was a weekend break.

Imagine a society where leisure was the 9 to 5.

Imagine a society where the sacred bond between jam tomorrow and striving today was broken forever more.

It’s not just the right which is looking to promote – and needs to perpetuate – austerity.  It’s also a certain group on the left which can’t believe in a civilisation where we actually spend most of our time carrying out civilised acts of gentlenesses, kindnesses, love, humour and discussion.

Where leisure and pleasure rule over dialectic and critique.

Where people can do what actually makes them happy … and not what makes them tiresomely weary.

In truth, if UBI came in, the political classes would lose huge rafts of control over us.  For one thing, the economic decisions which always augur “tough medicine” would no longer need to be boorishly wheeled out.  The rich would remain rich of course, but who’d care if we received the humane minimum which we’d need to live and let live?  And all kinds of new systems of time banks, maybe even barter, the virtual exchange of services and products for sure, would sprout up in hyperlocal communities, as little people decided to remain little in the full knowledge that happiness was far more important than the accumulation of unnecessary wealth.

Meanwhile, aspiration would be seen to be the empty and hollow concept it’s probably always been all along.  Instead of being a political tool to fashion a vacuous lottery of material futures, designed principally to keep ordinary people under the lock and key of consumerism, we could see our way through to reforging its nature so that financial measures were no longer the definers of our lives.

Austerity as a kickstarter for getting UBI in place more quickly?  Maybe, a tad cruelly in the event, for some it has been so after all.

Maybe they thought, in the beginning anyway, that more good would eventually come out of the process than bad.

But more and more, I’m beginning to think that at least with respect to its purely political promoters – not necessarily transnational businesspeople either but, rather, those very vested national interests whose positions in society depend entirely on keeping otherwise rounded people in preordained and squarely painful boxes – much of austerity has been aimed at constructing a firewall around predictable changes to a society whose nature could be turned utterly upside down … especially if work was no longer to be a political tool of control, nor human dignity’s denial a way of keeping the workers fearful and down.

if i were a big clever capitalist …

I wasn’t sure whether to say “big bad”, “big diabolical” or “big disingenuous” …

In the end, I’ve settled for “clever”.  It’s fairly neutral.  I could’ve chosen “ingenious” too.  Or maybe “self-serving”.  I’m sure each adjective tells a story of moral baggage; their choosing – or not – just as much.

So.  Anyway.  The one I’m plumping for is the one in the title.

If I were a big clever capitalist, what would I do?  Faced with the “threats” of Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Jeremy Corbyn (shortly) in the UK, and a right-wing extremism which similarly serves to splinter received opinion everywhere (read the establishment’s power to decide what people are prepared to publicly think), I’d probably do something pretty much like what’s being done.

Less playing with fire, though.  And, now, with a much grander dose of urgency:

  1. For a couple of years I’d let austerity bite to a pretty savage degree, focussing on those who find it difficult to defend themselves in mainstream media.
  2. This would serve to create a narrative whereby the poor (whether in a condition to work or not) were to blame not only for their situation but also for the parlous state of an economy which once – many years ago – had journeyed hand-in-hand with a quite different narrative that stated it would aim to engage with the biggest majority possible (full employment; social security; health services for all etc).
  3. Meanwhile, I’d confuse the official parliamentary opposition into shutting up about the injustice of blaming the poor for their poverty, so making it impossible for the aforementioned opposition to develop any substantial counter-narrative.
  4. Once I’d undermined the poor’s sense of self-worth, and the opposition’s sense of right and wrong, I’d proceed to make the reasonably well-off a tad nervous about the privilege they were beginning to learn how to count.
  5. The goal of all the above being, of course, to keep everyone – whether poor or reasonably well-off – on very uneasy voters’ toes.
  6. Come general election time, the risks of “austerity lite” – ie austerity operated by people not entirely convinced by anything, it would seem – meant that “austerity full-on” was bound to win the day.  (Well.  Actually, 901 voters won the day – but that’s a bit of a different story …)
  7. This would then lead to a pendulum swing for the opposition itself, as halfway houses were shown to have failed dismally.  No “lite” anything – not any more.  Balance and equilibrium in reply had manifested substantial failure.  What was needed, instead, was “something else full-on”, to battle violently against what we assume to be Capital’s unremitting idiocy.
  8. Here, however, we come to the big clever capitalist bit.  Playing with fire, it’s true, as consciousness amongst those most hit by “austerity full-on” begins to come together, and as time is left for cogent contra-argument to find its mainstream.  But let’s imagine the following was the process; the following was the thinking of the big clever capitalist I would gladly become:
    1. Kick people into desperation through a manufactured austerity.
    2. Generate interest in all kinds of alternatives to traditional capitalism.
    3. Allow society to splinter into two grand blocs: a) the “haves” who slowly begin to fear they might one day not; b) the “have nots” who’ve little clear idea how to achieve anything concrete any more.
    4. Make bloc b) gravitate to a politics easily described as extreme (even though of extremist thinking we could surely argue any austerity has more than its fair share), so bringing together in full view of bloc a) the neighbours, friends and family who’d happily sign up to the terror of a democracy where the “have nots” can effect something concrete.
    5. Once the two blocs are delineated, and the differences and loyalties are sharp, and even as we recognise this is dangerously playing with fire, roll out in dribs and drabs – slowly, but ever so slowly – ameliorations of the nastiness that has been deliberately employed to put people out of dignified work.

I know.  It’s all too organised, structured and planned for any of the above to really tell useful truths.  But unconditional basic income (UBI), as an alternative to traditional capitalism, is a form of neo-capitalism that could maintain the former just about as is.

What’s the real problem for traditional capitalism structures when it comes to the figure of semi-permanent austerity?  Why, the lack of regular income streams which simultaneously serve to keep people more or less in place.

Fairly hard work – not very hard, just hard enough – was enough to keep us in the weekend money and weekly drudge without complaining too much.

In the future absence of such types of work (not only for technological reasons; also because of the capitalism I’ve been describing today), we not only lose our weekend money, we also begin to suffer a 19th century weekly drudge that, once more, truly means we have nothing to lose but our chains.

Yet imagine how that might completely change with a minimum level of unconditional, state-delivered and sanctioned comfort.

Imagine what would happen if the “austerity full-on” right decided, little by little, to trundle out such change.  They’d sell it as an anti-poverty measure, of course, and in essence that is what it would do.  Nevertheless, it would also, in reality and primarily, serve the needs of traditional capitalism to have a continuous supply of solvent customers.

They wouldn’t trundle it out before Jeremy Corbyn broke the back of a Labour Party whose back has already been broken, and whose cracks have been ineptly papered over, several times in the past twenty years.  No.  Politically, expediently, cleverly (to use that word again), the right would wait for Labour to fully tear itself apart.

But the cementing of any opposition’s final destruction – exactly what Peter Mandelson dreamed of with respect to the Tories all those New Labour years ago, but in reverse – would surely be on the table for Cameron & Co.

By cruelly allowing the dispossessed to clamour intelligently over the next couple of years for a place at the top table, and then carefully spinning the introduction of a radical initiative like UBI (which to an eternally “sensible” voting public such as the British could be made to seem a perfect squaring of all these complex circles), the right would not only beat Jeremy Corbyn but would also knock the labour movement into a corner it had openly chosen to paint itself: the corner where coherence born of long-suffering frustration led to the nailing of flags to masts of unchanging political analysis.

Capitalism’s strength once more: to renew its appearance and potential desirability, even as its practice has been generating its ugliest moments.

So.  To summarise.

If I were a big clever capitalist, most of the above is how I’d be planning to beat a labour movement, and parliamentary opposition, led by the figure of Jeremy Corbyn.

But then since I’m not, who am I to say?

how to give a community its voice (and how not to)

I’ve posted twice on this recently, here and here.

It’s a bit of a struggle, signing up to altruism again.

My father-in-law died early last year.  He died, to my wife’s huge surprise, a rich man; but not really beloved.  No one who lived with him, who we presume knew how rich he was, ever suggested he use his resource for the palliative care he deserved – nor even the surgery that might have helped.

Instead, he hung grimly on as the Spanish public health system permanently postponed this action or that.

Any inheritance out of that could hardly be described as anything but blood money.

My wife had to take out a loan for the legal fees and death taxes.  She’s still paying it; still finding it challenging.

We all are, as a family: my kids lives are on slo-mo, in fact … they were looking forward to start learning paths you only get the change to achieve once in a lifetime.

But, on the other hand, if that “once in a lifetime” is based on blood money … well, how on earth do you think that might make anyone feel?

We were assured some of the money would reach us by November.

It’s awful – though no more awful than for much of the austerity-hit world – not to know if you can pay your next bills.

Anyhow.  The bank in question, a truly dreadful bank, recently froze all the resource that my wife supposedly had coming to her: it said it needed a document.  We sent the document via Royal Mail international tracking, at the cost of seven quid – instead of the assured two or three days, it took a whole week to arrive.

The bank rejected the signed document because my wife hadn’t known to put a tick in a box.  It was obvious from their initial request, once explained the four alternatives, which was needed.

It was the giving of a new address.

Even so, they refused to authorise the tick via security questions or registered email – or even from within my wife’s online access.

They blamed the Spanish authorities.

They asked for a repeat document; they refused to allow a fax.

The repeat document was sent on Monday 26th January.  It sat with Royal Mail for two days, somewhere in Britain.

Then it sat for two days with the Spanish postal service.

It still hadn’t been delivered last night.

It cost seven quid to send; less than 20g in weight; a standard-size envelope.

Meanwhile, once received the properly completed document, the bank’s representative added a little suspiciously, maybe even a little darkly, its legal department would then take a decision as to whether the funds could be released.  After having the week before assured my wife it was the only document needed.

Prior to all the above, they’d had her waiting fifteen days for a cheque book they at first suggested was all she needed to transfer funds, only then not to contact her when the legal department stepped in and decided no go.

It’s one of the worst banks in the world.  I won’t say which, but if you’re a grammar fiend, it’s definitely not the infinitive!

*

Why am I telling you this in a post titled as this one is?

Because, in an austerity world, the lizards are still playing the game of “Us vs Them”.  At least, that’s what I suspect.  You can only be allowed to easily access the kind of funds which do indeed change lives, hopes and futures, if you are prepared to become far more like “Us”; if you are prepared to stop being the “Them” you’ve always been.

That’s how I feel it, anyway; at least in my fragile and vulnerable present.

I may be wrong: it may be utter incompetence.  But Spain is different: they use the cloak of incompetence to get stuff done at the expense of the deserving.

Perhaps, actually it’s not that different: isn’t that what the British Coalition has spent its time doing for five long years?

The real mental suffering my wife has been exposed to by her family is only compounded by the bureaucratic wheels neither of us have any understanding of.

At least one member of her family is probably certifiably psychotic; the other, about as passive-aggressive as they come.

And if we look at what’s happened to my sad, little, suffering family, writ so small and insignificantly as it is, and as it has been over the past year, so we can make a wider comparison to what has been writ large across the global austerity stage.

Austerity is not a tool but a weapon.  It’s designed to prevent people having the comfort, security, incentive and motivation to explain sensibly, rationally, thoughtfully and constructively enough why things just must be done in a completely different way.

We are all, all of us, all of us who still belong to the “Them”, running terrified of what’s going to happen next.

In that, the comparison with the continuous ratcheting game of Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union is perfectly reasonable.  In that, for the moment, anyhow.

*

So how does all the above, all of that, relate to my latest project?

The local wiki, chester.website, is an altruistic act on my part.  Altruism maintains humanity, life, hope and the futures which should belong to everyone.

That’s why I do it, why I’ve done it in the past, why I’m doing it now.  In order to remain strong enough to defend my wife and children; in order to keep a hold of the good part of life; in order to continue to reject its underbelly.

Austerity erodes people’s soapboxes: their desires to communicate; their confidence in being able to do so, in being valued for doing so, in even having a right to do so.

So if the big things are no longer within our reach, if the big things are being used to prevent us from speaking up, if we must jettison democracy’s right to speak out on major issues, if we must give up on our “one shot at happiness”, then at least let us, with the simplest of process, create spaces where kindness, solidarity and local neighbourliness can allow us to continue that appreciation of the good the world still holds.

For it is considerable, this good I mention; and wise, where it is to be found.