Can UBI be done statelessly?

I asked a minor variant of that question (Is full unemployment…statelessly doable?) back in 2011. Lexi Linnell asks, Does universal basic income require a state? This is C4SS, so of course “without a state” means voluntarism-friendly. The whole way Linnell approaches the basic income question differs from mine at almost every turn. Her first question is whether basic income can be distributed without taxation. Mine is whether the level of economic development is sufficiently post-scarcity to make universal survival provisions feasible. Basically Linnell’s main concern is whether we have to participate in something so involuntary as paying taxes to a state, while my main concern is whether we have to participate in something so involuntary as pounding pavement, possibly for years on end, asking for permission to contribute to the production of products and services. Free market types have a strange sense of what is and isn’t voluntary.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not pro-taxation. All other things being equal, I welcome any efforts to abolish taxation, or even to create a “voluntary” form of “taxation.” Please note that by “all other things being equal,” I mean that favoring someone’s “voluntary” alternative to taxation doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice something of comparable or greater value from my value system. To people who derive the entirety of their value systems from something like the Non-Aggression Principle (as if it’s a mathematical axiom or something) I suppose, all values are, by definition, of lesser magnitude than “voluntarism,” so it’s automatically a no-brainer that creating a “voluntary” or “stateless society” alternative to anything is a step in the right direction. For me, the real world is more complicated and questions of values contain more subtleties.

For me the main pain point in endorsing the Resilience brand of basic income is the centrality of incentive. My particular brand of anarchism is rooted more in rebellion against human nature essentialism than rejection of (I honestly don’t see any signs of a rebellious streak in market anarchism) the state per se. The whole “humans are necessarily creatures of incentive” talking point strikes me as a statement of Skinnerian behaviorism. At best, it’s a statement of Freakonomics; a belief system I find dubious at best.

In particular, the Resilience brand of basic income relies on incentivizing businesses to participate in their scheme. The logic seems to be that businesses, by paying Resilience “taxes,” wouldn’t be just giving money away, they’d be buying access to the Resilience market, which is desireable, if nothing else, because it’s a population that has some level of economic security. The catch (and there’s always a catch) is that you generate tax revenues by spending money. “This means you have to pay the ‘taxes’ you have told the system you are willing to pay.” How is this “enforced?”

To solve this problem, one final rule is created: Anyone who sends money to an account that isn’t in the Resilience network is temporarily disconnected from the network. This has the effect of freezing their BI, as well as discouraging anyone from sending money to them. In other words, participants in the network are strongly disincentivized from transacting with anyone outside the network. The upshot is, in order for businesses to have network participants as customers, they must join the network themselves.

Therefore, businesses are incentivized to join the network because they gain access to a new base of consumers. However, since participants can set their own tax rate, why can’t businesses set their own rate to zero and avoid paying anything? While they could do this, it turns out that their customers’ BI would increase with a higher tax rate. A business which set its tax rate higher would have customers with higher BIs, so consumers will generally look for businesses with high tax rates. Presumably, this will reach an equilibrium where businesses are paying fairly high taxes but not so high that they don’t make a profit. In a sense, the tax rates themselves are set by the market.

Honestly, this sounds like the actually-existing economy. The survival of the people is contingent on the success of participating businesses. Basically, trickle-down economics.

What really depresses me about pro-market ideologues, even “left libertarians” and “market socialists,” is their knee-jerk rejection of those economic concepts that are Keynesian in nature. I think “alt currencies” may have some value to efforts to build less authoritarian (or even more “voluntary”) ways of living, but why should we gravitate to those in the blockchain family (which seem to be “hard currencies” by design, hence their attractiveness to libertarian and other “gold bug” types) rather than decidedly soft-currency approaches such as demurrage or Ripple? Why work with rather than against the idea of spending-driven economic growth? Why work against rather than with the idea that secular stagnation might be an actually-existing problem? And even if you do go with a “let’s spend our way to prosperity” model, deflation seems a more simple and direct incentive to spend that cash than a set of contractual obligations. So why go with a currency that is extremely inflation-resistant by design if the system you’re seeking to create rests on some kind of “you gotta spend money to get money” logic that frankly sounds to me like some kind of pyramid scheme (as does Bitcoin).

As I read this description of Resilience, I can’t help but think, this so misses the point as to why I might see basic income as a possibly positive development in the first place. The main reason why the idea of basic income appeals to me at all is because if I have a known future positive cash flow, I can make plans (more plans than I can without such an annuity). Even if the amount falls pitifully short of a livelihood, I have the knowledge that if somehow I can budget myself to it through some combination of extreme frugality and extreme punk DIY ethos, I can cross off the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (basically the rawest of raw necessities; “the grossest of groceries,” to quote Thoreau) in a more or less definitive way, and have the sheer luxury of even thinking about the “higher” needs without the constant intrusion of thoughts of whether tomorrow’s efforts to sell myself in the competitive market economy will prove fruitful. But here’s the thing: I pursue punk DIY ethos, not only to “…[study] rather how to avoid the necessity of selling…” (another Thoreau-ism) but also to be as independent as possible from the for-profit sector (from both the buying and selling ends, frankly). What really nauseates me about the Resilience brand of basic income is that not only am I expected to accept that the profit motive and the for-profit sector will always be with us, but I must actively support some combination of businesses. Sounds to me like the motivation for inventing Resilience is one part “create proof of concept for ‘voluntary’ basic income” and thirty seven parts “kill the dream of socialism forever.” Same as goals as “bleeding heart libertarianism,” it seems, but with very different methods, of course. Which is cute, because the only reason lack of basic income is problematic in the first place is because the working class has utterly failed to gain control over all the means of production.


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Quotebag #119

Rick Falkvinge:
Information hygiene means that you’re aware not of what somebody claims to do with your data, but that you understand what they are able to do.
Michael O. Church:
Value capture: people who are good at creating value tend to be below average in the social skills involved in capturing value. So, the hardest-working and best people see most of their efforts enrich other people. This is a depressing social problem that I don’t expect to see solved in my lifetime.
Duncan Cairncross:
There is NOT a tiny creative minority!! — we — the creative — are the bloody MAJORITY!
Kira Nerys:
If all your little advertisements aren’t purged from our systems by the time I get back from the Gamma Quadrant, I will come to Quark’s, and believe me, I will have fun.
In basically all cases, a conservative NLRB will want to reduce the ways workers can coordinate with one another, and increase employer discretion to terminate employees. When I raised this point on Twitter, someone said that this might be different under Trump because wouldn’t such a ruling feed into the political correctness and whatnot that he hates. And to that I can only laugh: at the end of the day, what conservatives want to do is shift power to bosses over workers, and they are really good at keeping their eyes on the prize.
If cracking Nazi heads is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Colin Keesee:
Own and defend your belief that coding classes will lift the working class out of poverty faster than demand side economics.


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What is covert cobbling?

Covert Cobbling is an idea from sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom. It appears to be a suite of strategies for reverse engineering engines of information asymmetry. This is basically what Josie and I would like to see accomplished with what we call pubwan. I have my thought leader, Frank Pasquale, to thank for bringing this concept to my attention via a retweet. Once upon a time, I formulated a list of defining attributes for pubwan, which seemed appropriate at the time. For example, I specified that by definition, pubwan would have to be non-profit. That is because I believed (and still believe) that profit models based on information are inherently asymmetric, which would instantly defeat the purpose of implementing pubwan in the first place. Another attribute I felt was appropriate at the time was lawfulness:

In fact, pubwan should draw its sources, methods and its proposed strategies from all manner of “openist” movements. Such movements include “open systems,” “open content,” “open source” and others. Obviously, this should not be generalized to “open <fill in the blank>.” It can’t be emphasized enough that pubwan is not “open season” on any organization, practice, person or philosophy. Not all features of all openist movements are appropriate for pubwan. For example, some public licenses prohibit use of the licensed information or technology for specified uses, examples including commercial, military, classified and non-educational uses. Others allow commercial use but allow free use only by noncommercial users. Pubwan is free. Free means you don’t have to pay. Free also means there are no strings attached. Note that it is the use of pubwan resources, not their preparation, which is unrestricted by pubwan. “Pubwan activities” are subject to all kinds of self-imposed constraints, which we have already discussed in some detail. By “pubwan activities,” we mean any volunteer efforts aimed at developing or improving pubwan, its technologies, its content, the organization of its content, its accessibility, inclusivity, ethical standards, technical standards, efficacy, data integrity, integrity in general, openness, sources, methods, etc., etc., etc. Lori believes that the Cypherpunks Anti-License is generally compatible with pubwan principles. Lori doesn’t know enough about legal issues to judge the appropriateness of any statement of copyleft to any set of objectives, but she likes the general tone of the CPL. This appreciation is of course tempered by the assertion that pubwan isn’t “anti” anything. Pubwan might benefit from a licensing and copylefting protocol of its own. On the other hand, the world at large might not benefit from yet another variant on the concept of public domain.

Since that time, I’ve re-considered whether lawfulness is a viable option for a pubwan movement, for various reasons. Mainly, because applied information asymmetry has become so high-stakes, and the difference in information gathering and leveraging capabilities between the public (as in public-spirited) and proprietary spheres has become so enormous, that illicit, and even covert, countermeasures may be a necessary evil in service to the greater good of reversing the degeneration of our society into a privately managed panopticon.

As of this writing, a Google search on the quoted phrase “covert cobbling” yielded only three results, one of which appears to be non-relevant and the other two are on Twitter. A search of Covert Cobbling on Twitter appears to reveal tweets only from attendees at some conference hashtagged #4s2017. According to Colin Shunryu Garvey, Covert Cobbling is necessary methodological innovation for opening blackboxes in the 21st century. Opening informational black boxes is the specific reason I came up with the idea of #pubwan. According to Sarah Myers West: “[Dr. McMillan-Cottom] calls for covert cobbling: disciplined methodological attacks on the black box, chosen to counter limitations of an individual method.” This suggests an all-hands-on-deck sense of urgency, as well as an eclectic approach to methodology, also very much what I have in mind for pubwan. Dan Hirschman: “Covert part is old/classic, cobbling is the new part – need to combine covert qual work with cobbling from every other method,” and “So, what’s the solution? “Covert cobbling”- real and legal secrecy means you need to do covert data collection.” This adds up to a pretty vague picture, so it’s quite possible that my take on covert cobbling is wrong. If so, my apologies to persons involved.

In addition to a commitment to lawfulness, the original formulation for pubwan called for non-secrecy. I’m wondering whether to move that goalpost. I deeply cherish the idea of a true transparent society in which transparency is omnidirectional; not the sort of unilateral transparency implicit in an informational power ratchet such as the pair of mirror shades on a cop or the one way mirror in the primate research lab. But informationally speaking, we are living in very dark times. The foes of transparency and public informational empowerment know who they are. They know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. They make maximal use of both intellectual property and trade secrecy when it comes to maintaining their one-way information valves. To put it bluntly, this is war. Perhaps instead of a collegial brainstorm of ideas for making the information landscape more navigable by the public, what will be needed is an underground resistance, operating at least partially in secret, always worried about infiltrators from both commerce and state, perhaps resorting to black-hat hacks. While I’m a little squeamish about that, I consider it a lesser evil than using monetization/capital-raising to launch pubwan from idea to implementation.

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Is libertarianism a gateway drug that can lead to alt-right affinity?

Back (say in the 1970s) when libertarianism was understood as “left on social issues, right on economic issues” libertarianism was, if anything, an antidote to tendencies such as alt-right and other forms of nationalism.

Somewhere along the way, libertarianism became the philosophy of “private sector good, public sector bad.” Has this affected the libertarian position on, say, queer rights? Perhaps in a time when the main threat to queer rights was the police, it was obvious to queers and libertarians alike that they were natural allies. If the main concern is employment discrimination, libertarians start framing things in terms of “freedom of association.” Since their concept of liberty is “negative liberty,” what they actually mean by “freedom of association” is “freedom from association.” That’s fair enough, as I see it, since libertarians are hobgoblins for consistency. But I don’t consider them my allies. If someone simultaneously believes that “the world doesn’t owe you a living” and “the world doesn’t owe you a job,” they are a social darwinist. When the “socially liberal” part of libertarianism consists of nothing more than opposition to literal persecution by the state of minority or other groups, while the “economically conservative” portion consists of nothing less than a demand for an unmixed economy completely cleansed of a civilian public sector (in the case of the night watchman STATISTS, or any public sector in the case of the “ancaps”), then we have a particular form of libertarianism whose platform basically translates to “it’s better to be strong than to be weak.” Does that make it a potential on-ramp to brown-faction nationalism? How could it not?

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Income as gift from the past

This. (h/t Jack Saturday)

A good starting point is the simple reality that most of what we all receive as “income” far, far exceeds what anyone can claim as the result of the “work” they actually do in the here and now. Once this fully documented reality is understood, the moral case for a basic income for all becomes very different from conventional understandings. The starting point is recognition that most “income” is, in fact, a gift of the past.

It’s obviously the case that an hour of labor results in far more economic production than in the past. It’s always seemed fairly obvious to me that this has more to do with the level of technology than with the level of worker productivity. It’s always puzzled me that most people seem to have some other explanation. Populism at its best wants workers to get a larger share of the GDP than they’re getting, so they argue that today’s workers are more productive than yesterday’s workers and therefore deserve more income. Like me, they see something fundamentally wrong about the fact that almost all of the gains accrue to the top level of the social-economic food chain, but their framing of the issue in terms of a more productive generation of workers always seemed weak to me. I want the left to be bringing strong, highly defensible arguments to the table. The dark side of populism, nationalism (particularly non-underdog nationalism), notes that first world workers of today are involved in a larger magnitude of economic production, not only compared to their counterparts from the past, but to their counterparts from developing nations. The hired guns singing for their supper at the pro-market think tanks want to neutralize populism; at least the positive kind, so they argue that the productivity gains are due to more productive capital rather than more productive labor. They even ápply their skill at sophistry to coming up with demeaning concepts such as “zero marginal productivity (ZMP) workers.” Gar Alperowitz’ claim that “…most of what we all receive as “income” far, far exceeds what anyone can claim as the result of the “work” they actually do in the here and now…” raises the possibility that the real source of income is neither the marginal product of labor nor that of capital. Defeating marginalist theory would go a long way toward restoring the long-lost dignity of labor.

A nice bonus about the idea that income in the present is a gift from the past (if true) is that it could contribute to neutralizing the strain of pro-austerity ideology known as deficit hawkery. The deficit hawks complain that measures to make life in the present less austere or precarious (which they refer to by the insulting term “entitlements”) are the moral equivalent of stealing resources from future generations. Alperowitz’ hypothesis would suggest that most of the valuable resources available to future generations will consist of advancing knowledge, some of which is advancing even as we speak. Without a doubt at least some of this knowledge is being advanced by poor-as-churchmice adjuncts or maybe even in a few cases unpaid enthusiast programmers and other technical hobbyists who might be similar in some ways to me.

One thing that would make me very enthusiastic would be a solid mathematical model that demonstrates that “wealth creation” (utility creation? social welfare creation?) is more characteristic of the processes like discovering, tinkering, learning and expositing what one learns, than of processes like earning profits, or even working. It would be neat if there were a think tank for that.

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All cars to come with a location beacon

It says in the always-recommended Freedom to Tinker blog that

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing a requirement that every car should broadcast a cleartext message specifying its exact position, speed, and heading ten times per second. In comments filed in April, during the 90-day comment period, we (specifically, Leo Reyzin, Anna Lysyanskaya, Vitaly Shmatikov, Adam Smith, together with the CDT via Joseph Lorenzo Hall and Joseph Jerome) argued that this requirement will result in a significant loss to privacy. Others have aptly argued that the proposed system also has serious security challenges and cannot prevent potentially deadly malicious broadcasts, and that it will be outdated before it is deployed. In this post I focus on privacy, though I think security problems and resulting safety risks are also important to consider.

I actually like this proposal. I’m post privacy, in the sense of being someone who has concluded that privacy is a technological impossibility and therefore a lost cause. The requirement for cleartext is something I see as a feature rather than a bug. What peeves me off royally, far more than the amount of data I’m shoveling to the data brokers with “my” devices, is that there isn’t a legible copy of that data stream for my own use, in self discovery, or what was meant by “quantified self” in a more innocent time, before that term (along with “sharing economy”) got brutally co-opted. My casus belli these days, rather than privacy (or even transparency, which unfortunately has become a weasel word) is information asymmetry, more precisely, the amelioration and preferably neutralization of it. I’m personally more comfortable (actually, less uncomfortable) with data about me being accessible to the world at large than available to paying clients under the understanding that it’s proprietary data. Plus I like the idea of the world of traffic analysis being opened to open source/open data/pubwan types and not just purveyors of “secret sauce” solutions to emerging industries like semi-autonomous vehicles, optimization of logistics, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see a downside to this. Most importantly, the security concerns. Many people place some value on the largely empty phrase “privacy policy” because it promises that access to personal data will be vetted, so supposedly it will be aggressively kept out of the hands of cybercriminals. If it’s put into the hands of narrowcasters and precision-target marketers, well, at least they’re not criminals, and as they say, TANSTAAFL. Also, even my post-privacy self would like some trips to be discreet. I’m thinking I can live with plaintext geotelemetry being either allowed or required, if a hard off switch is provided. But since the “selling point” of this is helping “emergency services,” we can be pretty sure that’s one feature which will be disallowed. Honestly, just the stated reasons are reason enough for a NO vote from me. But I do sorely wish there were a place in the world for an internet of nonproprietary things, that communicate with the world at large, and generate data that somehow manages to be actionable without being monetized. I know, I know, information wants to be valuable. (Sigh)

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Data donor cards

I propose we create a new category of consumer. The way we do that is by some of us announcing that we are, in fact, consumers of this new type. I propose that some number of us (myself included) proclaim ourselves to the world (on the public record) that we the type of consumers who #VolunteerInformation. In the spirit of free software embracing both “free as in beer” and “free as in speech” (or free as in freedom), I want the world to know that by “volunteer” I mean both “volunteer as in voluntary” and “volunteer as in unpaid.” The latter provision is every bit as important as the former, as I believe that monetization necessarily implies value subtraction (or at least the delivery of diminished value by the imposition of artificial rivalry and excludability). For such consumers as myself (and hopefully I can recruit numerous others) it would be ideal if clinical facilities have easy access to our “data donor cards” as well as any “organ donor cards” we may or may not have. Perhaps open data licenses, like open software licences, can come with some restrictions regarding proprietary use, or at least require publication of findings in open access journals. Perhaps a data donor card itself can be rigged in such a way that “reading” the card automatically triggers data transmission into the public realm, sort of like some of those cop-cam apps that supposedly share video in real time. If there can be a data donor card for clinical use, why not for point of sale use and perhaps other uses?

Of course there are privacy concerns, but let’s all step back three feet and recall why privacy is of value in the first place. Here’s a hint: It’s not of value only to those who “have something to hide.” For most of us it’s most likely to be of value when we have reason to “play our cards close to the vest,” such as negotiating things like wages or prices. Well, guess what? The business community (in this context it really is that monolithic) already knows your “price points” and “pain points,” and the location of all the “cliffs” in your own personal many-dimensional “utility function.” After all, a business doesn’t have to be a “tech giant” to have purchased enough “data products” from “HR consulting firms” or “marketing consulting firms” to have a decisively advantageous level of #InformationAsymmetry relative to a mere individual. Even if you’re applying for a job with a small business, you probably had to sign away your privacy rights as part of the process, and your life is an utterly open book to them already. Privacy is already a lost cause, and the reasons are rooted in technology and not amenable to legal reforms. Thinking about it in terms of opportunity cost, whatever privacy you lose (donate!) to the public domain has already been lost to the data silos. Plus you get to stick it to the man, at least in a small way, by diluting the exchange value (which exists only due to exclusivity) of the data confidentiality you’ve already lost to the proprietary version of knowledge discovery.

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