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, inflation (decay of the value of “money”) 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.