Here’s a bit from a Charlie Brooker column 17 years ago. Still funny.
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!
On June 15th, in an unprecedented act of generosity, we’ll be sending a free PDF of the most recent New Escapologist (Issue 12, featuring Will Self) to everyone on the Escapology mailing list.
Don’t miss out. Join the mailing list today to get our latest issue for free!
Good news item about the rise of Universal Basic Income, the pending Swiss referendum (all eyes on Switzerland this weekend!) and the various pilot schemes due to go ahead in 2017:
Crucially, [UBI] is also an idea that seems to resonate across the wider public. A recent poll by Dalia Research found that 68% of people across all 28 EU member states said they would definitely or probably vote for a universal basic income initiative. Finland and the Netherlands have pilot projects in the pipeline.
This weekend the concept faces its first proper test of public opinion, as Switzerland votes on a proposal to introduce a national basic income.
Probably best to overlook this weird little (I suspect editorial) addition though:
In an increasingly digital economy, it would also provide a necessary injection of cash so people can afford to buy the apps and gadgets produced by the new robot workforce.
On your “off” time, you’re checking your phone and working anyway, and, when you’re not, you’re giving The Man back the money you sold most of your life away to obtain.
This doesn’t come from some radical rag like New Escapologist, folks. It’s the closing remark of a review of Captain America: Civil War.
That we’re all cast asunder in a gigantic juicing mechanism may be the only conclusion a thinking person can draw after two hours and 27 minutes of wrinkle-free, sexless CGI bludgeoning but it’s a refreshingly honest thing to see printed in a national newspaper.
They’re bullying us. You can skip these films, but they will keep piling up, and you will be regarded as one of those weird people who still expects to enjoy your popular culture. It’s part of the corporatization of everything.
The review’s an interesting read beyond this, actually. The critic points out that the movie isn’t bad exactly but that it’s nothing–an empty cavity of corporate nowt–and that blockbusters haven’t always been so cold and empty. At least Indiana Jones, he says, “clearly liked sex” but Captain America and Company seem to live for “earnestly deployed pseudo-techno-jargon”.
Issues One and Four are both classics. The first has an interview with Judith Levine and my Invitation to Escapology essay that started the whole thing off. The latter has a smashing article by Reggie C. King about Sartre’s and Flaubert’s tendencies to stay in bed for long stretches.
Anyway, I printed too many for our last zine fair and there are now some leftover copies haunting our apartment, making a mockery of our minimalist living space, so I’d like very much to give them away to you for a quid apiece. Get ’em while they’re hot! And cheap!
To buy them, simply visit the shop today and click the “Buy for £1” button you’ll see there.
Not a bad way to introduce a friend to New Escapologist.
All dough raised will go into the kitty to print Issue 13.
UPDATE: The discounted copies of Issue One are now sold out. Thanks for your support! Issue Four is still available for a quid though: get them while they last.
UPDATE 2: That’s the surplus stock all sold out. Thank you very much, everyone.
Existentialists think that what makes humans different from all other beings is the fact that we can choose what to do. In fact, we must choose: the only thing we are not free to do is not to be free. Other entities have some predefined nature: a rock, a penknife or even a beetle just is what it is. But as a human, there is no blueprint for producing me. I may be influenced by biology, culture and personal background, but at each moment I am making myself up as I go along, depending on what I choose to do next. As Sartre put it: “There is no traced-out path to lead man to his salvation; he must constantly invent his own path. But, to invent it, he is free, responsible, without excuse, and every hope lies within him.” It is terrifying, but exhilarating.
However tough it is, existentialists generally strive to be “authentic”. They take this to mean being less self-deceiving, more decisive, more committed, and more willing to take on responsibility for the world.
Most of the time, we don’t do this very well. Why? For Heidegger, the fault lies with our bewitchment by a non-entity called das Man, often translated as “the they” – as in “they say it will all be over by Christmas” (or the “one” in the phrase “one doesn’t do that”). We can’t say who exactly this “they” is, but it is everywhere, and it steals the decisions I should be making by myself.
For Sartre, the problem is mauvaise foi, or bad faith. To avoid facing up to how free I am, I pretend not to be free at all.
I slightly regret not putting a bibliography in the back of Escape Everything! especially now that people have started asking why there isn’t one.
So by jove, I went back to the book and built a bibliography. Good job I have near-total recall when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s here. Happy to discuss the books and articles in the comments thread there.
What does working less actually solve, I was asked recently. I’d rather turn the question around: is there anything that working less does not solve?
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the ability to cut a big chunk off our working week. Not only would it make all of society a whole lot healthier, it would also put an end to untold piles of pointless and even downright harmful tasks.