Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Economics of the future

In March 2010 I wrote a post titled, The world badly needs a radical idea.  Well, last Thursday I heard an interview with Guy Standing, Professor of Economic Security at the University of Bath, UK, who does have at least one radical idea as well as a perspective that coincides with mine.

In particular, he challenges the pervasive definition we give to ‘work’. Essentially, that ‘work’ must contribute to the economy. In other words, in the West, we have a distorted view that work only counts if we earn money from it. He gives the example: if a man hires a housekeeper, whom he pays, she is part of the economy, but if he marries her she effectively disappears, economically. I’ve long argued that the most important job you will ever do, you will never be paid for, which is raising children.

To give another very personal example, I make no money from writing fiction, therefore any time I spend writing fiction is a self-indulgence. On the other hand, if I did make money from writing fiction, then any time I didn’t spend writing fiction would be considered a waste of time. By the way, I don’t consider writing as work, because, if I did, I probably wouldn’t do it or I wouldn’t be motivated to do it. Writing fiction is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and treating it as work would only make it harder.

Standing’s radical idea is that there should be a ‘minimum income’ as opposed to a minimum wage. Apparently, this has been introduced in some parts of Brasil and there is a programme to introduce it in India. In Brasil it was championed by a woman mayor who supported the programme if it was given to women. Standing claims that the most significant and measurable outcome is in the nutrition of babies and young children.

Now, many people will say that this is communism, but it’s not about overthrowing capitalism, it’s about redistribution of wealth, which has to be addressed if we are ever going to get through the 21st Century without more devastating wars than we witnessed in the last century.

The core of the interview is about a new class, which he calls the ‘precariat’, who are the new disenfranchised in the modern world, partly a result of the concentration of wealth, created by those who still believe in the ‘trickledown fantasy’.


Eli Horowitz said...

It is an interesting idea, isn't it? The idea of a minimum income. Ironically enough, the first place I ran into this idea was in Thomas Moore's Utopia, although there it was in the context of something much more communistic than is required by the idea.

But I actually think that the internet has really brought this issue to the fore of people's minds. Because think about it: the internet is almost 100% unpaid work. Every site that relies on user-generated content (e.g. YouTube, most blogs) takes people's labor and distributes it to other people at (essentially) no cost - and that's not even mentioning the absolute saturation of the internet with piracy. All of these things are clear and incontrovertible evidence that much of the work we do - possibly even most of the work we do - is unpaid and so goes unaccounted for in the economy.

And, at least to me, this strikes directly against one of the foundations of capitalism. The whole idea of markets is that people will pay for what they value, and so the market will, over the long term, screen out all non-valued products. But obviously people won't pay for everything they like, even if they're given the opportunity to. I therefore completely agree that we need a way to address this flawed assumption in our economics, and I would be very interested to learn how minimum-income policies work in the few places they're been implemented.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Eli,

Yes, I've also considered how the internet, in its own way, subverts capitalist principles.

Whilst some people think for a living, I claim that I think for a hobby.

Blogging has allowed me to share my views, insights and philosophies, whereas publishing was never an option.

Regards, Paul.

The Atheist Missionary said...

Paul wrote: "I make no money from writing fiction, therefore any time I spend writing fiction is a self-indulgence".

It's not purely a self-indulgence if you create a piece of art that will outlive you and can be enjoyed by others. Elvene is one of those pieces of art.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Yes TAM, you're right.

I admit that getting Elvene 'out there' was one of my proudest accomplishments.

Regards, Paul.

Jack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jack said...

An economy is an abstraction, not a machine. It is people doing things for themselves, or for others in order to have a life of well-being. Economies have different forms. A capitalist economy is one that assumes that it is most efficient to organise things by raising huge amounts of money to enable people to specialise and to determine for themselves what they do as wage slaves. It does not necessarily produce well-being for everyone, even though everyone is fairly free to do what they want within their incomes. There are probably better ways of organising 7 billion peple on the planet - but I'm not sure anyone knows how to do it in a way which does not smash many heads.

Nor does capitalism materially reward creative people who can't find a way which gets people who resonate with the creativity to part with their dollar so that the creative person can eat, drink, wear clothes, buy iPads, travel to Europe, and drink wine in the evening. They just have to lump getting spiritually rewarded - which is arguably reward enough. But that's easy for me to say because I am materially comfortable.

Marx probably had a fairly good analysis of all this, but he got caught up in conflating descriptive analysis with normative analysis. His descriptive analysis got screwed up by English empiricism which defined value as price, while his normative analysis has arguably been thwarted for a few centuries by mongrels like Lenin-Stalin-Mao-Pol Pot etc....

As for the idea of minimum income - the idea of a "negative income tax" which guarantees a minimum income and does away with all other welfare payments was proposed 30 years ago by a Nobel-winning economist called James Tobin. Politically unacceptable even before neo-Liberalism.

The internet does not subvert capitalism. Because of network effects, it creates temporary monopolies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon...It furthermore fragments us and therefore divides us as much as it sometimes unites us. For those of us who write to the Internet, it is just us getting our jollies and making us feel powerful - when the reality is that we are more powerless than ever.



Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Jack,

Not surprisingly, you're a bit ahead of me on this topic.

Yes, I'm one of those people whose artistic efforts never gained any financial reward at all. ELVENE is actually a very enjoyable read, a real page-turner, but no one knows about it. I console myself by telling myself that I'd prefer to have written a really good book that failed than have written a dog of a book that succeeded.

There was a really good programme on TV, a year or 2 back, that looked at the internet from both sides. I think if it wasn't for Berners-Lee, it would be much worse. It allows dilettantes like me to express views and have conversations with intelligent people on the other side of the world. I'm not delusional enough to believe I can actually make a difference. My best hope is to stimulate people into thinking.

Regards, Paul.