UBI roundup

Last weekend’s referendum saw UBI democratically rejected in Switzerland. The people’s choice! Offered Utopia, they don’t want it.

Actually, it’s not that simple. UBI (Citizen’s Income) is a huge idea and is competing with the deeply-ingrained Protestant work ethic. We may need to destroy work worship before (or at least in tandem) with a successful UBI campaign. It’s also expensive and nobody’s quite crunched the numbers convincingly yet, despite noble efforts.

A decent summary of the current state of play in the Guardian is sympathetic to UBI but says the next round of campaigning must be stronger in its numbers.

Before it can be seriously considered for a manifesto, further cost-saving compromises – such as restrictions for citizens who already receive a state pension – may need to be considered. The trick, then, as so often in progressive politics, will be to dream big, and then proceed with care.

Meanwhile, the Economist published a largely superb piece summing up the situation.

Both supporters and critics agree that universal basic incomes would challenge the centrality of paid work to the way people live.

I read it looking for a good argument against UBI but the ones present were a bit flimsy. For instance, the concern that the world would become filled by pointless ice cream parlours as a result of a new play ethic:

Hans Peter Rubi, a 64-year-old in the small town of Olten […] was given a pension of SFr2,600 on being sent into early retirement, and became an entrepreneur. He has used his pension to start an exotic ice-cream parlour. The avocado ice cream is proving difficult to perfect, and the innovation of staying open through the winter has yet to pay off. He needs a good summer for the business to be profitable; but he can afford to fail. “My security now is that I have my basic income. It gives a security to take a basic challenge.” … In a world of universal basic incomes, it is possible that the streets would be lined with mostly empty ice-cream shops, as people used society’s largesse on projects no one really needs.

The dystopian image of streets empty of all but unfrequented ice cream parlours is a chilling one (no pun intended) and one I’ve thought of before, but I don’t think it would happen, at least not in any permanent way. Research shows that (a) most people wouldn’t stop working in normal jobs anyway and (b) after a period of too many of these leisure follies we’d realise the mistake and move onto the next big paradigm, be it idling or space travel.

So UBI was rejected in Switzerland but it really does feel like this is just the beginning of a huge international discussion. Back when we mentioned Srnicek and Williams’ book, Inventing the Future, I said “It feels like the cartridge is loaded” and I think that’s been born out. Mainstream political parties are discussing it now.

Speaking of booky-wooks, I highly recommend Utopia for Realists by UBI campaigner Rutger Bregman. His argument is mainly a pragamatic approach to UBI but he also sticks up for a 15-hour standard workweek and open borders. Weirdly, he and I got off to a bad start (I didn’t care for the first few pages because I disagree with the “nasty, brutish and short” progress argument and a naff quip about dishwashers being great) but I was soon caught up in his optimism and research-based reasoning. Good stuff.

Any old hoo, until we get UBI there’s Escapology. Break free! Run! Save yourselves!

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Cubicle woes

The Guardian‘s Dear Jeremy column is about work and career-related problems. I read it every week as a way of remembering what employment is like.

I really love this week’s quandary. It is titled “I want to throttle my talkative office partner”.

I share an office with a woman who is in her late 30s. My problem is that she talks to herself – all day, every day. If she is writing an email she reads it out loud; if she is working on her PC she talks through the process. The boss won’t allow a radio and because I use the phone, I cannot wear headphones. I have tried doing the same but she just talks louder.

I have also tried saying “Sorry did you say something”, but this is obviously too subtle. I even said “Shush” once and told her to stop muttering to herself as I was trying to concentrate. She sulked for half an hour, then started again. Help – I might just throttle her soon.

Hahaha! Offices.

Locked Down After Lockdown

The idea that office life is over is almost certainly overdone. Not everyone loves typing away on the sofa day after day, panicking about being out of the corporate loop.

Bloody hell. Imagine “panicking about being out of the corporate loop.” Excuse me while I fill a whole bucket with sick.

But for those lucky enough to have the choice to work from home, the collective near-death experience we’ve endured as a nation may be prompting a re-evaluation of what matters. Commuter dads [for instance] who once rarely saw their children awake have got used to the casual intimacy of being around them all day long.

Nope. Sorry. I’m going to need another bucket. Not for the sentiment (which I agree with) but for the phrase, “commuter dads.”

Don’t worry, things improve. The columnist asks if office life will soon be a thing of the pre-pandemic past. Spoiler: it won’t be, but some Escapologist-pleasing changes might yet be afoot.

The piece goes on to describe some of the post-lockdown measures currently being proposed to revolutionise working practices in light of the need for social distancing. Among them are a wonky but surely beneficial “four days on, ten days off” modality and our old friend, the Four-Day Week.

Personally, I’d settle for the sort of open-ended furlough for workers (and non-workers) of all stripes in the form of UBI. Eh, readers?

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I Fled Shrieking From That Madhouse of Boredom

I’ve been reading an humongous tome of autobiographical essays by “Designated Bad Seed” of science fiction, Harlan Ellison. I love his alive, cantankerous writing so much, and these essays have reconnected me with a deep well of pluck I’m sorry to say I’d forgotten about. Thank you, Uncle Harlan, wherever you are.

What I’d like to tell you about today, my fellow Escapologists, is a particular essay from this book in which Ellison describes working a drudge job for Capitol Records in 1953. He describes a first day of anxiously working quickly, fearing being judged not good enough by “the Demon God of Industry”, and then being told to slow down by a co-worker because his pedal-to-the-metal processing power makes the others look bad.

He talks to a long-serving Wage Slave, “a mouse of a creature” who has been filing bills of lading for eleven years, against his dream to “just go with the wind.”

The terror that froze my soul cannot be put into words. […This man was] set irrevocably on a cubicled routine of pointless chores making money for Gods on far mountaintops… and I saw what my future would be if I left my life in the hands of those prepared only to dole out thirty-six dollars a week for another human being’s existence.

Sensing a future echo in utero, Ellison’s had enough:

I grabbed up that sack of bills, leaped out of my chair, sending it crashing to the floor, and with all my strength and lungpower flung them into the air, screaming “FUCK IT!” Amid the bills-of-lading snowstorm, I fled shrieking from that madhouse of boredom and dead dreams on West 57th Street, never to return.

As far as I know, to this day, Capitol Records has an unclaimed check for one-half day’s work, in the name of Harlan Ellison.

Hah! Great isn’t it? I really just wanted to share this inspirational moment with you–you fine people with eyes on the door–but I also recommend The Harlan Ellison Hornbook more generally to anyone with low blood pressure.

Start Big: On Ends and Means

Listen. I might have discovered a previously-unobserved source of human misery. If we can work out how to escape this thing, we can probably all be a lot happier.

We might be even happier at work and not want to escape it if only we could escape this problem. We could be happier at school, happier in our own heads and, yes, happier on the toilet.

I know it sounds grandiose to go claiming a new discovery and all, but describing sources of misery–revealing them for what they are–and working out how to escape them is sort of my job now. And I’m digging deep.

So what is this newly-discovered reservoir of despair? Pop-Tarts? Well, that’s a good guess, madam, but no; the misery inflicted by their kind is already a matter of record. What I want to talk about today is:

a mass failure to begin with the end in mind.

Or possibly:

a tendency to confuse ends with means.

Wait! Wait! It know it sounds oblique and may not be as actionable an improvement measure as, say, escape from social media, but you’ve just got to hear me out. Trust me, I have a headful (it’s a word) of thoughts and some strong anecdotal evidence!

The idea of “starting with the end in mind” comes, I’m embarrassed to say, from a self-help book I’ve not read properly on grounds of not wanting to rot my mind any further than it’s already been rotted by such things. Self-help books are like the sun: clear sources of energy that that should never be looked at directly.

But it’s rather good. I know “begin with the end in mind” sounds platitudinous like “start as you mean to go on” or something but it’s not so vacuous and the further I travel in time from that book, the more and more its significance dawns on me. It’s about having an actual end point–a finished product–in mind before you start doing something. It’s also about not confusing means with ends: going to work, for example, is a means (i.e. the mechanism required to make money to live on and also to contribute to some sort of a product or service) that is too often seen as an ends (“I am, finally and inherently, a proctologist. My arrival in the world of proctology is a final result. Just as I’m a husband and a flyfisher and a worshipper of Cthulu, I’m a proctologist.”).

We fail to begin with the end in mind sometimes as individuals (one might join a gym with a general hunch that it’s healthy and it sounds good when you say “so I’ve joined a gym”) but, more significantly, we fail to begin with the end in mind as a society too and the result of this is that individual people are too often plopped into situations and environments without knowing what’s really going on. Life is confusing and frightening, right? Well, I think a big part of that is that we’re too often kettled into tight quarters where the end has not been explained to us. The end is too often poorly defined in the minds of those telling us what to do too: the “end,” often, might not even exist. When we go to work, we don’t know what Company A is really in service of and we don’t know what that thing it’s in service of might itself be in service of higher up the totem pole of society: all we can do it turn up, complete the tasks assigned to us, and take home the paycheque. All we’re left with is means.

Many of the hopeless jobs I’ve been pressed into over the years probably felt hopeless to me because I didn’t know what they were for. And on those rare occasions that I did get a sense of what they might be for, they were usually so far into the suburbs of anything worthwhile, that the handing in of Mr. Notice wasn’t far behind.

Someone of my dad’s generation might say that the ultimate purpose of a job is besides the point and that you should just be happy to be working and getting paid for it. Just turn up, punch the clock, do the work, get out. Simple. But that’s because he worked in secondary industry with a clear and tangible purpose at all times; he didn’t know boredom–true, soul-rusting boredom–in the way that we do. It’s hard to sit on a chair, watching a clock tick down, or faffing with Excel without being told what this is all for. I mean, even if the Prime Minister just went on TV to say, “Look, almost all of your jobs are actually pointless. But we’re morally unprepared to pay you to stay at home, so we’ve had to invent busywork for you. Sorry about that. But, just to be clear, your sitting on that ergonomic swivel chair is the whole end as well a means.” At least that would be something.

It drove me nuts, this sense of alienation. I have a natural impulse to visualise the end result of things. I can’t help it. You’re probably the same. If I’m writing a chapter for a book, for example, I need to know in my gut how it relates to the other chapters, how it fits into the broader scheme of the book, and how that book slots into the world’s knowledge. I can’t help but imagine what sort of cover the publisher will give to the book and how attractive or ugly it’s likely to look or on people’s nightstands. That’s normal, isn’t it? Does a parent-to-be not preemptively picture the face of their wee one? It’s a natural impulse surely, not just another case of me being a delicate petal.

If your job was to report to a factory and to drill equally-spaced holes into six-inch lengths of metal tubing and then to pass it down to the next person, you’d probably be told at some point that you’re making flutes. You might then reasonably suppose that said flutes go off to market where they make (a) money for your employer and (b) music for ears and that (b) music if not (a) money is an inherent good and therefore an end. I suppose this job, being repetitive, would get boring after a while but at least you’d know what the heck was going on, just what all of your hole-drilling was in aid of.

Some white-collar workplaces have “mission statements.” Maybe there was one tacked up on a notice board or laminated and Blu-Tacked to a load-bearing pillar in your last office. Those mission statements are supposed to dovetail elegantly with everyone’s job descriptions so that everyone knows just how they contribute to the organisation’s agenda and how their duties relate to everyone else’s duties and how everyone–despite our varying degrees of happiness, busyness, and reluctance to be there–is actually on the same page and serving the same Grand Vision. It seldom works like that though does it? In the private sector, missions mutate to keep up with market forces (and are bogus to begin with since the mission of any company is to “make money” for a boss or for shareholders, any talk of “a passion for jell-o” or “bringing jell-o to the world” being obvious nonsense). In the public sector, mission statements tend to be so wilfully obfuscating and are rendered in such twisted perversions of language that nobody can relate to them much less understand the bloody things. The effect of all this is that people just have to turn up, perform the tasks they’ve been told to perform, and not to trouble themselves over what it’s all for, what Great Machine they’re helping to drive into the future.

This hunger for meaning–a need for basic orientation–was rarely met in any of my white-collar jobs and it was maddening. You’d be welcomed into the office on Day 1, given directions on your daily activities over the course of perhaps a week, but a wider sense of what all of this was in aid of was either assumed or explained exclusively through an HR-prepared induction pack of contractual waffle and out-of-date “organograms.” It was a bit like being stuck in the trunk of a moving car with a hood over your head and being asked, for reasons unknown to you, to solve a Rubik’s cube. It’s not impossible or anything, it’s just tedious and pointlessly mysterious.

I was thinking about all this recently and it occurred to me that a sense of not really knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing–a feeling of being lost at sea when you’re dutifully standing right where the world has told you to be–is probably the source of untold unhappiness at work.

At school–another time in life when perfectly-happy intelligent people are gaslit into worrying we might be misanthropes–we are seldom told what the lessons are about: why we’re being told these things, what they have to do with us. A general understanding may have been instilled in us about the importance of “passing maths” so that we can graduate high school and move on to the next artificially-maintained stage of life and on and on and on, but it all seems so absurd and irrelevant when you’re sitting there at a desk, being told about Ox-Bow Lakes.

In Geography–a subject I generally liked–we had a teacher who was good at getting us through exams. His trick was to teach “facts” by rote. It worked. We all passed Geography with flying colours. By “facts” he really meant “details.” A geography exam could not be blagged, he said, on general viewpoints or ideas about the world. You had to be able to write “the Cotswolds” or “1978” or “the Maasai Mara.” Points were awarded for these details. He gave us all sorts of wacky mnemonic techniques and bashed facts into our heads until we could recite them automatically without even switching on the conscious parts of our brains. Now I think about it, it must have looked quite eerie from his perspective and rather like something from Children of the Corn. “Ox-Bow Lake, sir,” we’d all say in chorus, “Jurassic limestone, sir.”

I did not find this strategy objectionable at the time because learning facts divorced of context was at least easy and it meant I could get back to gazing longingly at my girlfriend or reading comics or whatever it was. And yet now, as an adult, I find myself wondering what an “Ox-Bow Lake” might actually be. I know they’re a kind of lake. I can draw one from above. I can even tell you about how its is formed and how it relates to “meanders,” to “eutrophication,” and to “natural erosion.” But I don’t know what much of that really means or where one one of these fabled Ox-Bow Lakes might be. Are they in England somewhere? Are they in Africa? Mars? To this day, I have no understanding–intellectually or viscerally–of what, really, an Ox-Bow Lake is. I can just parrot some words I learned by rote.

Surely, I wonder now, there must be better ways of teaching kids. Surely no marker of exams ever thought “Oh yes, this youngster really understands the complexities of the Ox-Bow Lake.” It’s all so “phoney,” as Holden Caulfield–whom we did not study in English class–would undoubtedly say.

What I’m saying here is that these geography facts and so much else at school were endured in isolation with no end in mind: no reasonable context was given for any of it. The lessons started at the wrong end of things: before teaching this sort of hyper-specialised nitty-gritty, shouldn’t we be told something general about life (like, where we are now, historically-speaking, and on which operating systems, geopolitically-speaking, do our lives run) and then, should we graduate to such ludicrously granular specialities as needing to know about the various types of freshwater lake and their formation, about how it all relates to us and our place in the world? Just like “orientation” in a job, how about some orientation from schools on the relevant basics of present-tense Life on Earth?

(Curious to know if there’s a school of thought on this, perhaps called “contextual learning,” I look it up. It turns out there is but despite the general theory being noble–“teachers […] present information in such a way that students are able to construct meaning based on their own experiences”–the rest of it is really a lot of softy twaddle and involves hands-on “experiences” instead of the noble Aristotelian tradition of classroom- and book-learning, which is a lot of pedagogic wisdom to throw in the bin. You went too radical, Contextual Learning!)

So a kid is not schooled “with the end in mind,” nor is end of schooling is not kept in mind at all, only the means (which consists, if memory serves, of getting the regulation backpacks and calculators, sitting still, respecting your teachers, not chewing gum, and doing homework on time — urgh). If the end of school is to prepare students for life in a practical way, it’s obviously not fit for purpose. If the end of schooling is to teach an understanding of the world, it’s not doing that either. But I don’t really know what the end of school is because it was never explained.

Imagine if the Prime Minister came on TV again to say “I’ve been talking to the Secretary of Education and, essentially, we just want to keep young people off the streets, alright? So sit tight, grow up, and then you can do what you like.” Again, at least it would be something.

Politics meanwhile is a veritable haven of failing to start with the end in mind and getting wound up in means. Everyone’s got their tribe and nobody wants to ask what the end of that tribe really is. Your first encounter with politics probably involved a political party broadly aligned to an ideology or–more likely–your witnessing a reaction to a party-political statement by someone whose opinion you valued at the time. You’ll have heard your dad complaining about Reds or your mum complaining about Blues and it’s enough to get you started on a lifetime of political opinion-having.

One needs to step back and ask what it’s all for. In the United Kingdom, where I live (and will continue to live until my actual country of residence, Scotland, votes to leave the UK in favour of Europe in a couple of years) the Conservative Party aren’t even slightly interested in what it’s all for. They aren’t so much interested in running a country as holding onto power (and therefore money and limelight).

A Labour Party campaigner I used to follow on social media before I quit had two passions in life: campaigning for a Socialist Labour Party and getting them into power; and what she called “self-destruction.” She’d routinely post pictures of evidence of scarring or of drinking and smoking too much. It didn’t look like she was seeking help or anything: it was more a case of “Self-Harm Pride” or something. I swear I wasn’t being judgemental–go ahead and self-destroy if that’s what you’re into–but I wondered if the Socialism didn’t conflict with the self-destruction. I was too shy to ask.

I don’t look at social media any more, but I asked a young Socialist in the pub what he thought about this. “Isn’t destroying yourself just doing the Tories’ job for them?” I suggested. “If the Tories want make their mates rich through privatisation and to punish the poor by inflicting austerity measures and dismantling the welfare state, isn’t it just helping them along to abbreviate your own life and compromise your own wellbeing?”

“Maybe,” he said, “but looking after yourself is what a Libertarian would say.”

And he’s probably right. Whenever I do that political compass thing, my position is firmly in the Libertarian left. But it makes me wonder what the point of Socialism could possibly be if it’s not to raise the quality of life of individual people. Even Corbyn (while discussing automation in 2018) has referred to “a chance to raise living standards and give people more control of their own lives.” Because that’s the point. It’s not about righteous fighting (which is a means, not and end) while willingly suffering (even inflicting) hardship and rejecting the good life on class grounds. What’s the point of that? Self-destruction isn’t “solidarity;” in damaging yourself–whether actively like the activist I’m talking about or passively through self-neglect–you’re harming a member of the crowd you’re trying to save. You’ve confused means with an end.

At work, at school, and in politics it would be good if the actual “end” could be kept in mind. Performing actions without understanding the end is, I’m increasingly convinced, the origin (the absolute epicentre!) of alienation and therefore the font of misery. We probably wouldn’t want to escape those institutions so badly or to engage with them so half-heatedly if someone would just take the time to explain what’s going on, how everything fits together in the world, and what the “end” of everything really is. This is more and more important the higher one goes in thinking about society: work, school, and politics are but elements of a world. What about the social world at large. How do we want to live? To trot out a hoary old Wildean wit-nugget:

“a map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of utopias.”

And that’s my point. Utopia–whether we’re talking personal and individualist or social and wide-reaching–is an end. And without that end in mind, any project you undertake is doomed. So. Begin with the end in mind. Build it into the foundations, my tolerant and long-reading friend, bake it into the brownie while the brownie’s still still a dough, start with the end and work, like a writer of detective novels, backwards from there. Don’t mistake means for ends. Don’t sweat the small stuff: if you want to run a project or plot any course of action, or if you want to know how to spend your days: START BIG.

An Escapologist’s Diary. Part 52: Bank Holiday

It’s an extremely sunny bank holiday here in Scotland.

There was a nice vibe on the street this morning. “Gosh, this is alright,” I thought, “We’ve not done such a bad job of building a world.” Yes, the fine weather had a lot to do with this mood but it wasn’t only that. It was the sense of quiet industry and the leisurely getting about. I felt, unusually, that I could relate to the people I saw. They weren’t rushing everywhere. They were scrubbing steps, cycling, putting out sandwich boards, walking with a light jacket slung over one shoulder, arranging things in windows.

You’d expect a bank holiday morning to be quiet and it was, but it was hardly devoid of activity. The shops — small business and supermarket chains alike — all seemed to be open, their keepers and shelf stackers setting up as usual. Even our local Post Office was open for business, though the actual deliveries I believe have stopped until Tuesday. There were still a few white-collar commuters about (Britain’s largest employer, the NHS, does not close for bank holidays) but a far smaller number of cars than usual. This made a huge difference; it meant fewer decibels, noticeably cleaner air, less hostility and impatience, and opportunities to cross the roads in a leisurely manner instead of waiting for a light to change or for a gap in the traffic. It struck me as a pretty good pace of life and I wished it could always be this way. Things hadn’t ground to a halt but it wasn’t stupidly busy either, no harried faces, no sense of dread.

I mention this to say that a slower pace of life doesn’t mean an end to industry, an end to meaning, an end to money-making or getting from one place to another. It just means balance. It means enough people sleeping ’til 10 and having leisurely breakfasts and enough people keeping the world running. Why, we could take it in shifts! It would mean less pollution and fewer heads exploding with stress and anxiety. Wouldn’t that be good?

The art gallery my wife works for is open. The florist I pass each morning is open, as is the library. The pubs and restaurants soon will be. The universities are open. Public transit is running, albeit to a limited timetable. The Deliveroo fleet will be out and pedalling this evening.

So if all of these useful people are on duty as usual (and various street markets and the likes are opening especially for the bank holiday) why are the streets so quiet? Who exactly is off work and off the roads and in their beds? Could it be the bankers? Well, yes, it’s a bank holiday. But that can’t be so many people. The major international bank I use has only one branch (let’s generously assume 40 employees) and will surely be automated out of existence soon. So who are these people with a day off today and another on Monday?

Oh, it’s the people with bullshit jobs! The ones in jobs which aren’t really needed at all and which, in fact lead to the harried faces and the grief and the fumes and the rat-like scurrying!

The Skypark, I noticed, stands empty today. Ten or so stories of glassy desolation.

A bank holiday morning, dare I say, is a good real-time, 3D visualisation of how the world, perhaps post-UBI, could look without bullshit jobs. Cleaner, calmer, more leisurely and at peace.

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Dangerous Nonsense!

Here’s a Conservative MP called Nick Boles on Universal Basic Income, pretty much confirming what we always knew we were up against:

The main objection to the idea of a universal basic income is not practical but moral.

Its enthusiasts suggest that when intelligent machines make most of us redundant, we will all dispense with the idea of earning a living and find true fulfilment (sic) in writing poetry, playing music and nurturing plants. That is dangerous nonsense.

Mankind is hard-wired to work. We gain satisfaction from it. It gives us a sense of identity, purpose and belonging … we should not be trying to create a world in which most people do not feel the need to work.

Isn’t that the most delicious (not to mention adorable) thing you’ve ever read? Caught red-handed! Just in case anyone thought we were being paranoid, this is what the critics of the post-work society actually think.

The objection to freedom is not that we can’t do it but that we shouldn’t, because Work — brutal, superegoic knuckling down — is All. Apparently, we should just carry on toiling, no matter how pointlessly, until the whole world is used up.

This obsession with work is one of the only things standing in the way of our luxury, automated post-work society (which is why the destruction of the Work Ethic is key to the manifesto of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams). No wonder there’s a “moral” objection from people like Boles; we can’t have citizens going around “playing music and nurturing plants” like a bunch of toga-wearing hippies. Only obsolete graft is good enough for our people!

It does not occur to people like Nick Boles (or else they willfully dismiss the notion) that time might be occupied more pleasantly and usefully than in full-time employment, and that “work” is not the only way to find meaning in life. Art, craft, husbandry — “dangerous nonsense”!

(Elsewhere in UBI news, it looks like we’re getting some trials in Scotland; and Berlusconi has put it at the core of his Presidential campaign in Italy).

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Corbyn: a new settlement between work and leisure

UK Escapologists could do worse than support Corbyn’s Labour party. Not only has Corbyn proposed four new bank holidays and begun to investigate UBI, he had this to say about automation in his conference speech this week:

We need urgently to face the challenge of automation, robotics that could make so much of contemporary work redundant. That is a threat in the hands of the greedy, but what an opportunity if it’s managed in the interests of society as a whole.

If planned and managed properly, accelerated technological change can be the gateway for a new settlement between work and leisure, a springboard for expanded creativity and culture, making technology our servant and not our master, at long last.

As far as I know, he’s one of the only political leaders speaking in this way about the inevitable future (and dreary present-day reality) of work.

Here’s the Guardian analysis:

What is fascinating about Mr Corbyn’s speech is its hidden depths, most notably on possible “alternative models” to capitalism. The Labour party sees in the future not just the rise of robots, which might entrench economic feudalism, but also the worry that too many people will remain trapped in drudgery-filled, low-productivity jobs. Although Mr Corbyn did not spell this out, he referenced a little-publicised party report that fleshes out Labour’s view of the new economy. This states that accelerating automation is a key political project. Labour’s goal, the report argued, should be to accelerate into this more automated future “while building new institutions where technological change is shaped by the common good”. Mr Corbyn’s socialism is evidently more intellectually bracing than previously countenanced.

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50 Hoped-For Escapes

I once mentioned a website called 43things. It doesn’t exist any more but I wrote a note of something I found there. (Update: the site is back!)

43things was a social network about personal ambitions. You’d enter your dreams and goals and other people could cheer you on. When successful, you could write a little post about how you did it and whether it was worth it.

I mainly used it to eavesdrop on other people’s life plans.

I once popped the word ‘escape’ into the in-site search engine and came up with some 472 items. The result was like a measure of gross international unhappiness. Or at least dissatisfaction. Or, more positively, a measure of people’s desire to put things right in their lives.

Many of the ‘escape’ ambitions are either similar to other ones or don’t make sense, so I’ve boiled them down to a single report of 65 hopes for escape. It’s almost like a poem, composed by the Citizens of the Internet, circa 2013:

Escape the masses
Escape from Google
Escape into nowhere
Escape my past
Escape from this city/country
Escape the cubicle
Escape America
Escape from Alcatraz
escape death
escape reality
escape society
escape capitalism
Escape my parents
Escape From Jail
Escape materialism
escape Suburbia
escape from it all
Escape escapism
Escape…(for a while)
escape from myself
escape to a rainforest
Escape solitude
Escape from Zajecar for a while
escape from my life
escape winter
escape poverty
escape by train
Escape Debt
escape depression
Escape England!
escape the office
escape the routine
escape the midwest
escape the “curse”
escape from my ego
escape Nottingham
escape to paradise
escape plastic
Escape from Shawshank
Escape religion
Escape Ireland!
Escape from Iran
escape from LA
escape tradition
escape everything
escape from intolerance
Escape anxiety
escape from the matrix
escape to scotland
escape a life of corporate servitude

Pssh, I could tell you how to do any one of those.

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Expletive Deleted!

I’ll probably not post much more about Universal Basic Income to this blog (though I reserve the right to tweet about it) lest NE become too one-note while there’s so much going on with UBI. As this article puts it:

There has recently been a surge of interest in basic income. […] Long derided as unaffordable and conducive to idleness, basic income is now attracting support from many quarters and standard objections have been robustly challenged. This interest has prompted the launch of several basic income pilots around the world. One started on 1 January in Finland with others planned in Ontario, Canada, Oakland, California, Aquitaine and Catalonia, and discussions are ongoing in Fife and Glasgow. A US NGO, GiveDirectly, is raising $30m for a 12-year experiment in Kenya.

But before we go quiet on this front, let me tell you that Utopia for Realists is a rather good book. It’s light on ideology and instead draws on a wealth of facts and figures, projections and dispassionate analyses of trials. We need more of this, especially in the age of personality politics and post-truth awfulness. There’s a great chapter about the history of UBI in which I learned the following.

President Nixon (of all people and, hey, as of this week he’ll only be the third most-despised US president in history) tried to get UBI for America. It was during a swell of national ambition after the moon landing, and in response to an open letter signed by 1,200 economists supportive of UBI.

Trials were conducted and the Nixon administration came tantalizingly close to eradicating poverty in America. Alas, it never made it through the Senate.

Attempts to save the project were made for a number of years and, in 1978, it almost made it. What ultimately killed the project was a moral panic resulting from a particular statistic from the trials: a 50% increase in divorce rates. This happened, it was reasoned, because women in receipt of UBI no longer had to stay married to jerks just to have food and a home.

Too much freedom for women was the concern that canned UBI in America.

I’m not sure which is more appalling — the very fact of this concern (“I’m not ironing my own goddam babies!”) or (wait for it) the discovery in 1988 that the 50% divorce figure was the result of a statistical error.

This is probably how the world will end, isn’t it? Stinking moral judgement based on obsolete ideas and a made-up a fact.

It resembles, to my mind, the current objection that UBI would lead to idleness when (a) trials indicate that it won’t, and (b) morally, there’s nothing wrong with idleness anyway. People shouldn’t have to stay put in a kitchen — domestically or professionally — if they don’t want to.

If you want to get a taste of this book before buying it, here is its author, Rutger Bregman, speaking quite compellingly on CBC Radio.

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