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?

in a post-politics age, does winning or losing always mean losing?

Talking of the current British Labour Party leadership campaign, I tweeted the following a few hours ago:

What did I mean?  That the constant alleged dialogue between leaders and led in this early 21st century wasn’t really moving much beyond kings, queens and serfs: the grand man (now woman too) of history versus the movements of the masses seemed to resolve matters clearly neither one way nor t’other.

This other tweet then came my way this morning.  On the back of a Guardian article which headlines its thesis with the idea that Jeremy Corbyn offers his supporters a clarity no one else cares to, Sarah responds thus:

The only clarity being one of permanent opposition.

John Harris does add the following observation of Corbyn, mind (the second part of which is interestingly parenthesised, as if of an easily sidelined importance):

 […] What mattered to them, it seemed, was not how much Corbyn may have taken from Karl Marx but qualities that have as much to do with tone as content, and clearly set him apart from his rivals: clarity, moral oomph and an evident sense of purpose.

(There was a time when Labour’s big figures could combine an emphasis on the pragmatics of power with precisely those things: between 1994 and 1997, Tony Blair was a particularly dab hand. But something about the current Labour generation suggests that knack has been lost and left the vacuum into which Corbyn has happily stepped.)

The parenthesised bit, however, to me anyway, is of an utmost importance.  It defines in its description of circles long unsquared – long untouched even – the inevitable decay of Labour and its ability to generate and understand the imaginative power of ideas.  In the progressive (ie regressive) inability of left-wing politics to do much more than confusingly ape the right’s apparent juggernauts of righteously received opinion, we can see why it’s so easy for someone like Corbyn to promulgate his own repetitive and recursive policies successfully, as he dresses them up with the humanity we all deserve and hanker after.

For it’s the latter’s wrapping-paper that makes the difference.  In everything else – that is to say, in a broadly shared and fundamental lack of any creative approach to policy-development and making – Corbyn differs little from the Tories, Lib Dems or indeed practically any other party currently floating flotsam-like amongst the real and clearly unmet needs of our society.

But in his expressed and manifestly sincere morality, he cannot be matched.  And that makes the difference.

In truth, we’ve spent so much time not being properly represented by the (un)representative politics of the past forty years that we’ve probably got used to what we might call a post-politics age: an age where protest substitutes democratic engagement; where, in fact, winning or losing means whatever the result, we all will lose.

In such circumstances, who’d care about the devil’s detail?  Hell is our inevitable destination: at least let us adorn the road of good intentions with pleasantries and a sense of decorum.

That is precisely what Corbyn offers us.  And it doesn’t matter whether his clarity leads to another ten years of Tory rule, because even if Labour did manage to win a general election one day in the future, most people would continue to suffer the victory of its utter absence of ideas.

The choice today for all of us voting in the Labour leadership campaign is between two sad alternatives:

  1. left-wing clarity, and ten more years of righteous Tory rule
  2. right-wing fudge, and ten more years of righteous Tory rule

I do however wonder whether anyone, any one of us, any supporter, member, voter or thinker, might be able to imagine and creatively pursue a third option, occasionally given in previous times: an inclusively humane clarity, and ten more years of Labour government, where government means a collaboration amongst all concerned.

Of collaboration and cooperation we’ve heard precious little.  Mainly it’s been big egos trampling on small people.

So in order to achieve some element of power, do we also have to ape the Tories in this?

Or can we begin to re-believe it might be possible to forge our very own way?