Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), during a talk at SXSW, was addressed by a tech entrepreneur with a question about automation (how should we act as a society and how will we be able to find a purpose in life as jobs are appropriate by machines).
AOC’s answer placed automation in the broader context of socio-economic inequality: automation is not the problem, and we shouldn’t be haunted by its specter, but rather be excited about it. The problem, AOC states, is that “(…) we live in a society where if you don’t have a job you are left to die (…)”.
The risk is in the reinforcement of the trends that are already occurring with the “automation of injustice”. Automation accelerates economic inequality, she says, and we should be concerned about fixing the current socio-economic system: we are at the most prosperous time in our history, but many are left behind, thus it is imperative for us to figure out new ways to administrate wealth.
Whether the solution is “taxing robots” as proposed by Bill Gates (which AOC considers a clever, acceptable way to suggest taxing corporations), higher tax rates on top income brackets, or some form of wealth redistribution, we need to entertain ideas that would leave us with the possibility to siphon off the benefits brought by automation. It could give us the potential to focus more on studying, inventing and creating art: “Not all creativity should be bound by wage,” she says.
By entering a time in which scarcity is no longer the only reality known to man, and with capitalism being based on scarcity, “our technological advancement as a society has outpaced our system for handling finite resources”, AOC states.
If the system was not broken, people could already be working less, and focus on activities which are currently not considered work, but that would nonetheless benefit individuals and society. But money is appropriated by corporate greed:
“We’re paid on how little we’re desperate enough to accept. And then the rest is skimmed off and given to a billionaire.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Picture credit to: The Cut.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) tabled a Resolution on the United States House of Representatives (H.RES.109) which hinted, in a first version, that “the Green New Deal would take care of people who are “unwilling to work””. That last bit of the sentence started a political hurricane in the United States. In that country, work is seen as tightly linked to jobs, and jobs are conceived as essential to value, and so “unwilling to work” is simply understood as “lazy”. Period. So, taking care of the lazy just sounds nonsensical to most Americans.
Because most people and politicians in the United States equate “unwilling” with “lazy”, it’s very difficult to pass on the message that “unwilling” might actually mean unwilling to perform a certain job/task that can be revolting, disgusting, unfair, tedious, repetitive and/or badly paid. Rigid work ethics and years of living in an economic crisis has also helped to lower people’s expectations, and be more open to exploitation. What is at dispute, at bottom, is the nature of work.
On the aftermath of those three words having been read on an official document, AOC was showered by a rain of criticism, particularly from Republicans, while being left isolated by colleague Democrats. Everybody fled, including AOC and her assessors. In an attempt to clear the record, AOC team tried to link it to the GOP, then alleged the release was a draft version. On the “final” version of the 109’th Resolution, cited above, indeed no reference is made to “unwilling to work”, or “unwilling” anywhere. Also, the reference to “basic income programs”, which was a part of a draft text for the Green New Deal that had already hit the news (for more positive reasons) was eliminated. So now, the creation of a Green New Deal, as proposed by AOC and some of her team and fellow Democrats, is completely devoid of references to basic income and unconditionality, while referring only to “universal access to clean water” and “universal access to healthy food”. And, on the H) paragraph of the 4th chapter, one can read the more fundamental and still core Democrats value as far as work is concerned: “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States”. What remains to be seen is how AOC and other supportive Democrats envision achieving these universal rights – e.g.: access to clean water, healthy food and a decent income – without actually implementing a basic income in the country.
Basic income supporters / activists say, however, that the unwillingness to work is one of the reasons basic income should exist. American philosophy professor and author Karl Widerquist says it eloquently: “This idea that somehow people who are unwilling to work are bad or lazy is a horrible idea. Because whenever there’s a job offer and somebody doesn’t want it, what you have is a dispute about wages and working conditions”. Andrew Yang, the American presidential candidate who is running his campaign on the basic income concept, said that, in fact, the language (“unwilling to work”) “is unfortunate. It does make it easier to try and portrait [UBI] as extreme”. Widerquist added that “It’s really horrific to use the threat of poverty and homelessness as a work incentive”, qualifying that as “monstrous”. However, it seems, the monstrosity hasn’t been enough to break the bond most Americans hold dear, between wealth and work.
Senator Chris Murphy, on this issue, has stated that, although he thinks basic income is not sellable to the American public right now, the discussion about it should start today, because, to him, it will become a necessity in “decades” from now. In other countries, though, far away from the US geographically, economically and culturally, such as India, not only that debate has been going on for decades, but recent developments indicate that implementation of a basic income type of policy is on the verge of becoming a reality.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cartoon. Picture credit to: Folding Hamster.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) “keeps kicking ass”, as put by Nathan Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Current Affairs magazine. Unlike other young left-wing politicians in the past, who end up conforming and moderating their views on important political issues, according to (Democratic) Party Elders’ advices, AOC keeps a sharp edge, which has already won her the name “radical”. Instead of falling into meekness or fright, she has actually embraced the nickname, by stating that “I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country.” And she gives examples: Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation signature, Franklin Roosevelt with the first Social Security program. Among others, for sure.
According to some, then, AOC has been pushing nothing but “radical” ideas, ever since she was elected as an MP in Congress, last November. She starred the presentation of a Resolution which outlined the very ambitious “Green New Deal”, allowing the United States to meet its environmental duties as far as energy use and production are concerned. Using that same document, she has been also advocating for nothing less than the end of gender and class divisions in the American society, along with the abolition of poverty. Moreover, she has mentioned that the pursuit of basic income will probably be a part of a real progressive agenda for the country.
Not happy with that, and because “she doesn’t take crap”, AOC went on to defend that taxes should be raised to as much as 70% for the ultra-rich. Naturally that this proposal was met with horror by many right-wing politicians, but it seems that, actually, the proposal is sensible and is backed by 59% of Americans (recent poll by The Hill-HarrisX). This apparently “radical” proposal is also supported by mainstream economists like Paul Krugman, plus a surprising 45% of Republicans (71% of Democrats support it). AOC hasn’t found these survey results surprising, since she recognizes that “What we see, overall, is that the vast majority of Americans know that income inequality is one of the biggest issues of our time”. This fair tax hike would, according to Washington Post’s Jeff Stein, be enough to cover for Bernie Sanders’ public college plan, erase over half or deeply alleviate student debt in the US, get Barack Obama’s plan to offer universal prekindergarten off the shelf…or a very modest unconditional income of 280 US$/year for every adult citizen in the country.
On a final note, AOC has also shown to master online communication, which really helps her message coming through and, most importantly, get discussions going. Using Trump’s favorite online toy, Twitter, her comments have generated more monthly interactions (11,8 million) than the sum of three of the most popular Democratic senators Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which is also more online interaction than the largest American corporate media outlets…combined.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Picture credit to: The Daily Beast.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young Democrat MP who has recently included basic income in a Resolution about climate change (coined the “Green New Deal”), has also mentioned it at a Netroots Nation event in August 2018. The mention is very brief and grouped with “universal college, education, trade school [and a] Federal Jobs Guarantee”, which had been in and out of the Democrats agenda since the 1940’s.
The Democrats political platform does not mention basic income, despite recent efforts by Ocasio Cortez (with the above-mentioned Resolution), although it goes through a lot of policies for low-income workers and families. However, it hints at an expansion of current social security programs, enhancing their range towards universality, as in the following passage:
“The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program should be expanded for low-wage workers not raising children, including extending the credit to young workers starting at age 21. The Child Tax Credit (CTC) should be expanded, for example, by making more of it refundable, or indexed to inflation to stem the erosion of the credit.”
The 2020 BIEN Congress was to be held in Brisbane in Australia from the 28th to the 30th September 2020. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event has been cancelled. BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more
A series of conversations from around the world that explore the relationship between the Covid-19 pandemic and Basic Income. Read more