The Prehistory of Private Property: A video introduction to the new book by Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall

The Prehistory of Private Property: A video introduction to the new book by Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall

This short video introduces the new book, The Prehistory of Private Property, by Grant McCall and me. The book examines the origin and development of the private property rights system and the experiences of peoples who have lived in other systems to debunk three false claims commonly accepted by contemporary political theorists. These false claims are: (1) Inequality is natural and inevitable, or egalitarianism is unsustainable without a significant loss in freedom. (2) Capitalism is more consistent with negative freedom than any other conceivable economic system. (3) Private property is somehow “natural,” meaning that when free from interference people tend to appropriate and transfer property in ways that lead to a capitalist system with strong, individualistic, and unequal private property rights.

The book presents a great deal of anthropological and historical evidence that show that all three of these claims are false: (1) Many societies known to anthropology have maintained egalitarianism and freedom. (2) The least free people under capitalism are significantly less free than people in societies with common access to resources. (3) The first people to “appropriate” property tend to share resources; the elite private ownership system was forced on the world by the colonial and enclosure movements beginning only about 500 years or so ago and not fully complete yet.

The book is not primarily about Universal Basic Income (UBI), but it attacks many arguments used against UBI and other forms of redistribution. It also makes a brief case for UBI in the very last chapter, as the video explains.

As a bonus, early in the video, if you look closely, you can see Alexander de Roo eating breakfast in the background.

Thanks to Ali Mutlu Köylüoğlu for inviting me to give this talk and for recording and posting it.

-Karl Widerquist, Morehead City, North Carolina, June 17, 2020

Punk Band Records a Song with Indepentarian Argument for Basic Income

Punk Band Records a Song with Indepentarian Argument for Basic Income

Indepentarianism exists. The Danish punk band, Husligt Arbejde [House Work] has recorded an indepentarian song, “Borgerløn – the power to say no,” which translates into “Basic Income – the power to say no.” According to Google translate, the band describes its music as “aggressively political, minimalist punk.”

“Indepentarianism” is the theory of justice I began to lay out in several works including my book, Freedom as the Power Say No. Universal Basic Income plays an important role in that that theory. I was overwhelmed to find the idea has made it into a punk song. I thought it might be a coincidence. (It’s a basic and obvious argument for UBI.) But I contacted the band and sure enough, the song was about the book.

Most of the song is in Danish. Only one line, “the power to say no” is in English, but they say it over and over again. The lyrics are below in both Danish and English.

Original Danish lyrics:

Kan en luder sige nej?
power to say no, power to say no
Kan en ansat gå sin vej?
power to say no, power to say no
Må en fattig bøje sig?
power to say no, power to say no
Er man fri uden sit nej?
power to say no, power to say no

BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED

Staten si’r den elsker dig
power to say no, power to say no
mens den strammer garnet om dig
power to say no, power to say no
Løb for vækst og BNP
power to say no, power to say no
“ellers går systemet ned”
power to say no

, power to say no

BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED

Liberal politik
power to say no
det var det vi aldrig fik
power to say no
Hvad er egentlig faktisk frihed?
power to say no
Det er økonomisk frihed!
power to say no

, power to say no

BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED

Velfærdsdamer, kontorister
power to say no, power to say no
Arbejdsprøvning, tusind lister
power to say no, power to say no
BU-REAU-KRA-T
power to say no, power to say no
Vi vil hel’re være fri!
power to say no, power to say no

BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED
BORGERLØN FOR BORGERFRIHED

English lyrics, translated by the band:

Can a whore say no?
power to say no, power to say no
Can an employee go his way?
power to say no, power to say no
Must a poor man bow?
power to say no, power to say no
Are you free without your no?
power to say no, power to say no

BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM

The state says it loves you
power to say no, power to say no
while tightening the yarn around you
power to say no, power to say no
Race for growth and GDP
power to say no, power to say no
“otherwise the system will crash”
power to say no, power to say no

BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM

Liberal politics
power to say no, power to say no
That’s what we never got
power to say no, power to say no
What is real freedom?
power to say no, power to say no
It is financial freedom!
power to say no, power to say no

BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM

Ha! Welfare ladies, clerks
power to say no, power to say no
Work testing, a thousand lists
power to say no, power to say no
BU-REAU-CRA-CY
power to say no, power to say no
We’d rather be free!
power to say no, power to say no

BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM
BASIC INCOME FOR BASIC FREEDOM

This isn’t the only Indepentarian song. Years before I began writing philosophy, when I was living in New York, going to school, and playing in bands, I was already formulating ideas along these lines, and some of them came out in my song, “The Home of the Fat Homeless.”

The lyrics are contained in the picture below (toward the bottome left):

Common Arguments Against Basic Income Don’t apply to the Emergency BI

‘Most economists will agree that the economy needs injections of cash right now.’

The economy needs injections of cash right now

The Guardian newspaper asked me to write an opinion piece about the Emergency Universal Basic Income (UBI). They changed my headline but otherwise, printed it as I wrote it.

America is in crisis. We need universal basic income now. By Karl Widerquist, the Guardian, 20 Mar 2020

I’m reprinting it here in full:

A few members of Congress recently have suggested that the United States government institute an emergency Universal Basic Income (UBI) in response to the twin crises of coronavirus and the stock market collapse, which many economists believe could signal the start of a significant recession. UBI provides an unconditional sum of money from the government for permanent residents whether or not they work. Proposals for an emergency UBI vary. One common suggestion from lawmakers is $1,000 a month for adults and $500 a month for children for four months or more if the coronavirus persists. This amount would be an enormous help in this crisis.

 

I’ve studied UBI for more than 20 years, and I find that opposition to it usually comes down to two main arguments: that everyone should work or that we simply can’t afford it. Whether these are valid or invalid arguments against UBI in normal times has been debated for decades, but they simply don’t apply to the emergency UBI during the current situation.

 

Right now, we don’t need everyone to work. In fact, we need a lot of people to stop working. We don’t want food service and healthcare workers who might be sick to go into work and infect people because they can’t afford to stay home. In an economy where millions of people live paycheck-to-paycheck, an emergency UBI would give non-essential employees the opportunity to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak, slowing the spread of the disease. The more people we have who can afford to stay home the better off we’ll be, at least for the duration of the outbreak.

 

Most economists will agree that the economy needs injections of cash right now. When economies slide into recession, there is a “multiplier effect” as people lose their jobs and businesses contract, they spend less. Other people then lose their jobs or contract their businesses, and this multiplier effect continues. The economy shrinks, income declines, and money literally disappears from circulation.

 

Governments can help stop this process by creating money and injecting it into circulation. After the 2008-2009 economic meltdown, the United States government and governments around the world created trillions of dollars worth of currency out of thin air and injected it into the economy, usually by buying back their own debt, in an effort to stimulate demand and reverse the multiplier effect. Buying back government debt isn’t necessarily the best way to stimulate the economy, however. The money goes mostly to people who are already rich, and they have very little incentive to invest that money when everyone else is losing income.

 

An emergency UBI is just about the best economic stimulator that exists in modern times because it gets money in the hands of everyone. No one’s income would go to zero due to stock market-related layoffs or corona-related precautions. That income helps people maintain some of their spending, which helps prevent others from losing their jobs through the multiplier effect.

 

Congress should act now. An emergency UBI, providing $1,000 per adult and $500 per child, per month, for four months or as long as the outbreak lasts, can help everyone get through this critical time. The sooner our government acts, the sooner we start to recover. We don’t know how bad coronavirus will get. We shouldn’t have to worry about how we will be able to buy food and pay rent as well.

 

 

The economy needs more money and less labor.

 

We need people to spend money.

 

And we don’t need them to work for it.

 

 

CNBC Interview of Karl Widerquist on Emergency Basic Income

Annie Nova, “How the Trump cash infusion would help millions of Americans: Interview with Karl Widerquist.” CNBC, Mar 18 2020

Coronavirus precautions in California

Empty streets in California

Annie Nova, of CNBC, recently interviewed Karl Widerquist to ask about proposals for an Emergency Universal Basic Income during the twin crises of the coronavirus and the stock market meltdown.

To prevent millions of Americans from running out of money amid the coronavirus, the government has announced plans to send out checks to them soon.

When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made the announcement about the cash infusion on Tuesday, universal basic income proponents felt validated. Now, the group of those calling for such a policy, if only in a temporary rendition, is quickly growing. Already some 1 in 2 Americans say they support a program in which the federal government sends out regular checks to everyone, regardless of their earnings or employment.

Tech entrepreneur and former candidate for president Andrew Yang centered his campaign on a $1,000 universal basic income. He dropped out of the Democratic primary last month, but now the hashtag #YangWasRight is taking off on Twitter.

As the pandemic forces schools and businesses to empty, Democratic senators, including Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, have called for immediate $2,000 payments to adults and children below a certain income threshold. Meanwhile, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, proposed giving every American adult $1,000.

CNBC spoke with Karl Widerquist, an associate professor at Georgetown University-Qatar and a founding editor of the journal, Basic Income Studies, about how a cash infusion could help Americans. (The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Annie Nova: Why do you think the Trump administration is considering sending cash directly to Americans? 

Karl Widerquist: Some people have no other choice but to go to work, whether they’re sick or whether their child is sick, and it’s really not good to keep this threat over the heads of our entire working class. But the economy needs money and it needs money to go into the hands of people who will spend that money.

AN: Why is this policy preferable to the payroll tax cut the administration was also considering? 

KW: The payroll tax is slower to take affect and it only effects formal workers. Informal workers, contract workers, the self-employed, single parents, children and the homeless need this money more than anyone else, but they’ll be left out by the rebate.

AN: How would a cash infusion make this less of a crisis? 

KW: In very important ways. You’ve got a bunch of people who’ve been told, ‘Don’t go to work. Stay home. We don’t need you to wait tables and cook meals.’ And these people need to eat. That’s the first line. But it also has ripple effects across the entire economy. The stock markets are tanking, in such an enormous and rapid rate, that it implies we’re going into a very steep recession right now. During a recession, not everyone can find work, but we need them to keep up their spending because when they don’t spend, then the businesses where they buy stuff, they lose money and they go out of business. That increases unemployment. It’s what we call in economics a multiplier effect. So a universal basic income is going to keep people working by keeping people spending.

Annie Nova

Annie Nova, CNBC

AN: These proposals often call for giving children money, too. Why?

KW: We give money for children because that’s why parents work. Parents have to go into work because their children need food, shelter and clothing. They need to pay the rent for the rooms in which their children live. If a bunch of people are having to stay home from their jobs, if they’re unable to pay their rent and if they’re unable to buy food, their children are going to suffer.

AN: Sen. Romney recommended a $1,000 payment. Some Democrats up to $4,500. How much is enough? 

KW: Replacing people’s entire income is not necessarily what you want to do. That preserves existing inequality. If I’m staying home from my  $100,000 a year job as a university professor, and the person next to me is staying home from their job as a minimum-wage dish washer, I shouldn’t get any more than they do. What you want to do is stop income from collapsing, and the best way to keep it from collapsing is to make sure everybody has a minimum amount.

AN: What could go wrong with the payments? 

KW: I’m a little worried about the conditions. When you put conditions on at a time like this, when we’re in an emergency, there are problems. You waste money on figuring out who’s eligible and who isn’t and then you make mistakes. You’re going to give it to some people who don’t deserve it, and you’re going to deny it to some people who do.

AN: You have politicians on the left and right getting behind this cash infusion. Does that surprise you? 

KW: The increasing polarization in this country is really sad to see. Hopefully, once in a while, we still can pull together. Both sides of the aisle are recognizing this is really a double crisis, with coronavirus and the stock market collapse happening all at the same time.

The North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress has been cancelled because of Covid-19

The North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress has been cancelled because of the Covid-19 virus. The organizers have released the following announcement:

With great dismay, we must announce that the NABIG 2020 Congress in Hamilton, Ontario in May will no longer be possible, due to public health concerns related to COVID-19.

Within the last few days, developments in the United States, Canada, the greater Toronto and Hamilton region, and announcements from the World Health Organization have made this decision the only responsible course of action.

I want to sincerely thank all those people in several countries who have contributed to the Congress, from organizers and speakers, to everyone who submitted workshop proposals, local organizations and interested individuals everywhere who were hoping to attend. It is extremely disappointing to make this decision as we have put so much work into NABIG 2020 but it would be far worse to continue when there is no possibility of holding the kind of successful event we wanted this to be and when we could be putting people at risk by doing so.

We at BICN and USBIG are considering this a postponement but are not yet able to tell you what will happen in the future because we cannot know the extent of the health and economic impact COVID-19 will have and for how long. Please be assured, however, that we and our partners are already thinking about other dates, alternative kinds of events or formats and the potential for other initiatives to keep the basic income movement strong.

Please take good care and be well,

Sheila Regehr, on behalf of the NABIG 2020 Planning Committee


To get in touch with BICN please contact our General Manager, Ben Earle by email at info@basicincomecanada.org.

https://www.basicincomecanada.org/