Basic Income vs Jobs

Politics produces endless strange outcomes. Yesterday, I encountered a Guardian item by Ben Tarnoff attacking universal basic income from the left.

Yeah, well, sure; why not?

I’m not sure that all of Tarnoff’s thesis hangs together, though a lot of his arguments are difficult to dismiss because other highly qualified voices support them. A long stretch in the middle basically rebuts that the popular narrative that economic inequality is the product of automation and “inevitable” globalization. Instead, the author lays blame on intentionally pro-elite trade policies (passed off as globalization), “the transformation of the tax code, the growth of the financial sector, and, above all, the collapse of [organized labor] since the 1970s.”

Economist Dean Baker makes and provides ample evidence for much the same arguments, almost every day. He has written more than once that “robots putting people out of work” is a red herring, and that automation is entirely compatible with full employment and a growing middle class, if we reverse policies that favor capital over labor.

I find his case persuasive, and generally endorse his specific prescriptions. Mr. Tarnoff’s objection to basic income seems a bit less convincing; a lot of it seems to be driven less by substance than style. He portrays the concept as a scheme by tech billionaires to “give us an allowance to live on, and keep the rest for themselves,” and “crumbs left by the bully who steals your sandwich.” In practice, though, I’m unclear that this is really all that different from his one-line alternative: “Better to own the robots collectively, and allocate the surplus democratically, than leave society’s wealth in the hands of its luckiest members.” Unless I’m missing something, basic income accomplishes two of these three objects, and it’s unclear to me how much meaningful difference collectivized robot ownership would make if the wealth produced by automation is redistributed. Possibly Mr. Tarnoff assumes that basic income must mean small-scale redistribution—”crumbs”—but besides its name I’m not sure that the concept is actually incompatible with much more aggressive leveling.

Meanwhile, though, I feel like something is missing from both his vague rebuttal to the “robots are going to take our jobs” story and from Mr. Baker’s more rigorous version. Both seem to assume on some level that society not only can produce lots of jobs despite automation, but should. I’m not clear that this is a very worthwhile goal.

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Basketball, Winning & Contentment

I have been thinking lately about the complexity of happiness, and how it so often differs from getting what we want. I feel like 2016 Cyclone men’s basketball is a wonderful illustration.

This past March, when Cyclone MBB ended its tournament run in the Sweet 16, I felt afterward like this was about as happy an ending for me as any possible. Basically because it felt like the team achieved all that was within reach.

Iowa State moved through the first two rounds—improving immediately upon a first-round upset loss last year—then exited after a game against an obviously superior opponent. I don’t remember the details, but the result was not a humiliation, nor was it close enough that I was left anguished that “they were so close, they had it, why couldn’t they finish?”

There was really no heartbreak element. Our guys reached a respectable plateau—the Sweet 16, surpassing more than 75% of all the other tournament teams—and the next step was just beyond them this year. Okay.

Of course, if offered it, I would have chosen more.

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Small potatoes travel, advocacy, etc.

As the French say, “it goes.” (Ça va.)

I made an extended weekend visit to Hamilton, Ontario recently. It was just about worth going, which is to say that it was nice, but it felt like I hardly left. Oh well. It was strange to realize that it had been more than 10 years since I was last in Canada… I suppose I had seen the obvious major cities, the exchange rate was unfavorable for a long time, and I’ve been spending my travel dollar on other destinations. Still, there is a whole other country right there, and there are things to see outside of Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver.

Original Tim Horton's

Store number one.

Hamilton is nice enough to visit. It’s cute, really; I kept thinking “that’s cute,” “huh, that’s cute,” “this is cute.” So many cute, little houses. Cute Hess Village. The Tim Hortons museum is incredibly cute. (If by some chance you plan to visit, Timmies store number 1 is at 65 Ottawa Street, at the corner of Dunsmere, and I presume that the mini museum on the second floor is open 24/7 like the eatery downstairs.) The Art Gallery of Hamilton is cute, though n.b. their web site and banners may give the impression of a rather larger collection than they actually have.

Probably the best reason to go is to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, which is actually in close-by Burlington; just the glasshouse areas alone are worth the admission and in season I’m sure the full grounds are spectacular. If you happen to visit the cute town of Dundas (where I stayed), their local museum is well worth a visit. The Canadian Warplane Museum is also popular; I was satisfied though not enthralled, but it did provide what’s probably my most popular Twitter post ever:

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Hancher vs Hilton & life beyond politics?

Lately it feels like my life has been subsumed by overtly political concerns and activity. I look down the front page of this blog, and posting has been a bit more sparse than usual, but more significantly almost everything in recent weeks has been tagged “politics.”

It’s a presidential election year, and I’m reading too much about that. I don’t know if things were different decades ago, or if it’s more my personal feelings changing, but US presidential contests seem like they have become not only all-consuming but invariably near-apocalyptic. Good news, we seem more and more to have real choices; bad news, the nature of those choices combined with the growing power of the office make it difficult for me to say “oh it’s just politics” and turn back to “real life.”

I would probably be getting more actively involved already, if not for having already just about maxed-out my personal energies for Lakewood Hospital. After weeks of dithering, our city council has confirmed the November general election as the date for our referendum on their vote to close our community hospital. So, just under 35 weeks to go. 😐 Then I can (maybe) have my life back! Certainly I could use more in my life than slow, tiring and usually dispiriting campaign hack work. As I’m not sure what else that is at this point, though, I’m doing a little stock-taking.

First, I have completed the manuscript for a third book, and at some point in the next year will present to the reading public Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents.

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Bill Curry on strategic voting

Bill Curry has touched on some themes I’ve been trying to express a time or two, and I am glad to see it.

We once left tactical thinking to politicians. Then issue advocates began hiring pollsters. Now voters are getting into the act. The effect is to turn the marketplace of ideas into a casino. It’s hard enough figuring out if a candidate represents your values without having to speculate about his appeal to others. You don’t go to a store to buy what you think someone else wants, yet primary voters do. One reason for all the tactical thinking is the paralysis of government; if you think nothing will get done, you focus less on policy. Polarization’s another; if you hate their party more than you love yours, what matters is picking a winner. The biggest culprit is the media.

Following politics on TV you learn nothing beyond the horse race. Pundits specialize in predicting the recent past.

The entire article is here.

Dynasty’s end*

I can’t suppose that I will give up prediction, or even political prediction, entirely. One has to act upon some kind of concept of the circumstances around us, and how they may change or not change in future. I should, though, at the least be more cautious.

To adapt a line from the master, “if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers… kindly whisper ‘JEB‘ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”

* Or is it? Hardly the moment for me to make such a sweeping prediction, is it?

Kathryn Kane reviews Cotton’s Library

Every now and then I search the web for any new comment about my books, and by chance, last night I found a new review of Cotton’s Library. Author Kathryn Kane recently posted an extensive comment on Cotton’s Library at her blog Regency Redingote. Just a couple of fragments:

The history of the Cotton Library is not a dull tale of piles of books and the scholars who cared for them. It is laced with bribery and intrigue, larceny and danger. It is also a story of the discovery of hidden treasure, for Sir Robert Cotton bound a number of smaller works in with others. As time passed, many of these works were forgotten, only to be rediscovered when the collection was cataloged. …

…Truth is often stranger than fiction, so, if you love books, libraries, the history of collecting, or the intrigues which are sometimes associated with same, treat yourself to Cotton’s Library: The Many Perils of Preserving History.

There’s even recognition for the maps, charts and other artwork that I’ve posted here for free use. I scarcely know what to say. It’s like all of this has been worthwhile.

So let’s just say thank you, and I’m very pleased that you enjoyed this book.

Other tribes’ lives matter

I have been fretting, lately, about which if any 2016 presidential candidate will speak up against America’s ongoing campaign of bombing and shooting up predominantly Muslim countries. Gradually, I have resigned myself to the fact that the answer is “no one on the official candidates list.”

This feels just a bit more disappointing, this year, given how much the official list has been gatecrashed. As Ben Norton opined recently, “both hegemonic parties in the U.S. love war,” and any difference is one of hawks vs. warmongers, rather than doves vs. hawks. Yet Bernie Sanders, who is now in a neck-and-neck chase for the Democratic Party’s nomination, is not even a Democrat! If ever there were a year for a breach in support for the military-surveillance complex, it seems like 2016 might be it.

Apparently, not. Norton wrote that within a two-party universe, “Sanders is almost as anti-war as it gets.” But that isn’t very anti-war, it seems.

This quote from an interview has finally confirmed what I’ve suspected for some time, which is that Sanders would basically continue the Obama administration approach. If only by default, this seems to be the overwhelming verdict of the Democratic Party at present: as long as you don’t put enough “boots on the ground” anywhere that people start using the word “war,” the Pentagon, CIA, etc., can pretty much kill whom they want. Over at Slate, Joshua Keating recently made a great point that in the 21st century this is not really a relevant determiner of “at war” vs “not at war.” We should be at least as concerned with drones in the air and bombs on the ground as we are with “boots on the ground.”

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America goes bonkers, contd.

Recently I wrote up a post about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and the Overton window, but I have since decided to throw it all out. In a way, further reflection has convinced me that the whole Overton window concept may not even be useful any longer, as my earlier post was in fact implying, even if I hadn’t realized it. At this point I think a single “window” of what’s possible in American politics, at the national level, is not even accurate as a simplified model. It feels like a relevant update would now involve something out of a nightmarish video game, with multiple holes opening, closing, changing size, etc., simultaneously without any reference to one another.

Obviously Republican America has ceased giving any heed to any universal idea of what’s practical, or of anything else. I mean, what is there to say? The latest word from those pundits still attempting to make meaningful observations is that the GOP establishment is, now, preparing to embrace Donald Trump for president because they find him less offensively deranged than his leading rival. I’m not even sure what part of that sentence it would make sense to emphasize; it’s all surreal.

In the meantime, some kind of much more modest but still dumbfounding suspension of reason seems to be creeping through Democratic America. I’m certainly not unbiased, but here’s what I’m seeing. A growing number of putative liberal voices are

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Rugged defeatism

Browsing through Andrei Codrescu’s wonderful New Orleans, Mon Amour last night, I was reminded of some comments about Crescent City politics. New Orleans, Codrescu observed, features a

…peculiar mix of backwardness and upside-down priorities… matched only by an even more peculiar mix of bravado and hype. The highly vocal locals imagine that they can weather anything if only nobody bothers them to take part in the political process. Years of corruption and neglect have made cynics of them all. And lord knows that voodoo isn’t going to save us.

Yet, what we might call “rugged defeatism” seems, appropriately for voodoo country, to have a zombie-like inertia. Minus the literal voodoo, meanwhile, the same attitude seems to run equally deep in northeast Ohio.

Hearing the negativity in Lakewood about prospects for thwarting liquidation of the city’s hospital, I’ve begun to recognize a new, darker side to the seemingly defiant point of view summed up in this minor local icon:

"CLEVELAND: You've Got to be Tough!!"

Seen on t-shirts, etc.

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