An Interview with Dr. Kate McFarland (Part One)
Interview by Scott Jacobsen
*Transcribed from informal Skype chat, content not quoted in full.*
How’d you get an interest, and how’d you get involved, in basic income?
There were two phases. My initial interest came from early on, when I was in my late teens. My involvement started one year ago.
As a teenager, I was interested in Ayn Rand and Libertarianism. I believed in freedom, free markets, no restrictions on the pursuit of self-interest –but I noticed a tension between this view and other things, as a teenager, such as underground music.
I was into certain bands at that time. If bands went to make money in the marketplace, it wasn’t something for them to do without becoming ‘sellouts’. If you want music artists to pursue their own interest, you expect them to not really ‘give a rat’s ass’ and to make great music. This conflicts with selling to the public.
In this one area, I was concerned about it [Libertarianism]. I could see places for people to not make a profit. These ideas conflicted with the Libertarian ideals –this free-market framework.
For a while, I had cognitive dissonance and unresolved tension. That is, a conflict between a ‘morally correct economy’ and my deeply held conviction of people pursuing art and knowledge for its own sake. They shouldn’t have to worry about profit.
At some point, in a random Libertarian publication, I learned about the basic income experiment in Manitoba –the Mincome experiments. This didn’t seem like a bad idea: give people enough money for their basic needs, and with these met, people have the freedom to pursue whatever they want to pursue.
I stuck with this for a while. This fulfilled the need for believing in something morally decent to me. It wasn’t relevant to college or graduate work. I wasn’t politically active at all during my 20s. However, I had this shoved away in the back of my head.
My involvement came about a year ago. The circumstances of this were finishing my PhD in early 2015. I became involved in late 2015. One thing that influenced me was not having a basic income. For the first time in my life, I did not have economic security.
All through college and graduate school, I was paid through stipends from scholarships and fellowships, and graduate assistant positions. There were either no work requirements or the connections to jobs (like teaching and grading) were at best rather nebulously defined.
All of a sudden, without ever thinking of education as job training or working a normal job, I was left on my own post-graduation. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I very much did not want to look for a standard job. Obviously, a basic income would have helped me.
At the same time, we have the rise of the Bernie Sanders movement. Many friends were followers and part of the Fight for ’15 Movement. I didn’t understand how a living wage would help someone like me.
That is, I work on things that interest me; it seems like a good idea. [But] a $15/hr minimum wage does not help if you’re not in a waged position. There is plenty of good work that needs to get done which is not necessarily suitable for wage labour.
I began thinking again about basic income. It accomplishes the basic goal of eliminating poverty. So, I started mentioning it to people. And it turned out I had friends who had heard of it. I started researching what had been written on it. As it turns out, there were some articles being written, and groups and individuals working on it.
I started subscribing and following these articles and people, respectively. Later in the year, I started following Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) on Facebook. They started putting out calls for reviewers. I reviewed for them and then began writing for them.
From this work from PhD to basic income, it is a passion for you. It takes a lot of time. What is the main passion in this initiative for you to become an activist and devote a tremendous amount time to it? I can look at the number of publications alone.
There are a few motivations. So, one thing is I enjoy the type of work. It’s challenging. I’ve done work writing for newsletters before. I am continuing to do this. I am doing an annual newsletter for my academic department.
What I do with BIEN is so much more challenging. I learned a couple different software platforms. In addition, I have to keep up on the day-to-day research. I have to do a lot of investigation. I have to find a lead about some topic, new announcement, or new study.
I am coming into this as a non-expert by any means. However, I want to present the information in an accurate way. There is a demand to do research and figure out things that I’m learning for the first time.
Also, I want to represent information without leading readers astray.
I do not want them to have false inferences or beliefs. I want them to have true beliefs via true information.
I [also] really like the fact that this work is something I can do on my own time in my own place. I don’t have to go into an office. I don’t have bosses looking over my shoulders, at least directly. If I were to have a job, this is embodying my own ideal. I can sit and write. It is variety and a challenge. It is for a good cause. I deeply believe in this. I work with cool people.
I do not work in an office. I interact via Skype and email. I am totally independent. I can work from my apartment, a coffee shop, and at the bar, whatever. It’s like the perfect job, even though it doesn’t pay.
I have multiple aspects of work that align with my values, personality, and work preferences. It seems like the perfect fit. If I can continue to afford doing this without relying on a job, and if I keep doing this for the sake of the movement and myself, and if I stick with this, I want to see where this goes.
I’ll at least do something that I tremendously enjoy that is a fit for a while.
This interview is continued in Part Two, where McFarland discusses her values in news reporting.