Basic Income, Decent Wages and John Clarke’s Radicalism: A Tale of Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Deja Vu

I have criticized Mr. Clarke’s views of basic income on a number of occasions, the most recent one being An Inadequate Critique of a Radical Basic Income: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Three: Basic Income), so i will simply quote a couple of his relatively recent posts on Facebook. The first post is dated May 17, 2022, and the second is dated August 4, 2022.. I will also briefly quote from an article he published on August 6, 2022, in Counterfire ( https://www.counterfire.org/articles/opinion/23380-the-false-promise-of-basic-income-in-wales ) and make a few additional comments. I refer the reader to the above-mentioned post for more detailed criticism.

“With a basic income program, recipients would be motivated to participate in the labour market and feel empowered to discover the most fulfilling way to work without fearing for their financial security.”

That quote leaps out at you as the clearest expression of the basic income delusion. What is proposed here is the provision of a level of income to millions of people that would utterly shift the balance between workers and employers in this society.

The article completely fails to understand that the capitalist job market rests on economic coercion and the seller’s market it envisages here would represent a devastating defeat for the capitalists. Yet this enormous retreat by that class is supposed to happen on the basis of a social policy redesign.

In reality, however, the measure that is being proposed here would work in a way that would actually worsen the situation of working class people because the payment would function as a subsidy to employers and as a cash replacement for existing public services.
Mr. Clarke simply repeats himself in a contradictory manner. Of course, if a minimum basic income is all that workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers can expect, then it would probably be better to leave the current welfare system as it is (although Mr. Clarke does not really provide any convincing arguments to the contrary). 
 
Mr. Clarke continues to assume that only a minimum basic income would be the aim of a movement to free workers from the dictates of the market for workers. He continues to contradict himself since he assumes, on the other hand, that adequate housing, free university tuition and so forth will arise with a struggle (see  Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One). Struggle for a radical basic income is not something in the cards, for him–but a struggle for various welfare reforms are. Why does he persist in assuming that those who advocate a radical basic income would presume that it would not require much struggle, indeed, a major struggle between workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants, on the one hand, and the class of employers and the government on the other?
 
Let us assume, however, that he is right. What proposals does he have from moving from the present welfare system to a society freed from the power of a class of employers? His proposals boil down to a refurbished welfare state, with various public services provided by the capitalist state. Of course, even if a refurbished welfare state arose, there would always be the threat of a return to some form of neoliberalism–which is what I argue in another post (see Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism).
 
Mr. Clarke accuses those who propose a radical basic income of being delusional. I will let the reader draw her/his own conclusion conerning the clarity of Mr. Clarke’s own vision of the nature of the real world, its problems and solutions to those problems. 
 
From August 4, 2022, Facebook:
 
“A Universal Basic Income would require a rethink of the values attached to different types of work, as workers would not be forced to accept just any job.”

I just saw this on Twitter and want to draw attention to it because it so perfectly captures the essence of the sadly pervasive basic income delusion. The problem is a failure to understand the nature and present condition of the society that we live in. What is being proposed is to take from the capitalist class their capacity to exploit workers by ending the economic coercion the job market rests on. This isn’t just about ‘values’ but a proposal to fundamentally challenge capitalism. I’m in favour of such a challenge but that’s a job for the mass action of the working class and not a social policy enactment.

You notice that the tweet pays no attention whatever to the means by which this shattering course of action might be achieved. There’s no proposal for the massive social action to completely change the balance of power in this society that would begin to make this proposal coherent. It is simply assumed that UBI has about it a rationality and fairness that can prevail regardless of social reality. Yet, because the political level is so low in this society, it is possible to write something like this and be taken seriously. If someone were to tweet out that “Staying young means never getting old,” the absurdity would immediately be apparent because those who read it would pass from the desirability of eternal youth to considering how likely it is to happen. Yet, the notion that governments that have worked for decades to intensify the exploitation of the working class are going to suddenly enact a measure that will overturn the very basis for capitalism is taken quite seriously.
At a time when what we demand and how we fight for it are critical issues, the faith based basic income delusion is a preposterous diversion that we must outgrow.
 
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Daphne L. Hunt

UBI = Universal Bandaid Income. Over the past 40 years or so, the corporate sector has contributed less and less to the tax “burden” and more of it is shouldered by individuals. These individuals don’t seem to get that that’s why their taxes are so “high” and they are getting less from them and yet they are yakking on about “personal responsibility” without reference to corporate responsibility. One tells them about the co-operative sector as a means of alleviating poverty and they sniff at it and say “fairy tales” or “granola” sector unaware of the $billions it contributes to GDP and tax revenue, helping people stay employed, and making a healthier economy. But John, you already know all that. I just needed to vent. Thank you.
 
Daniele Colajacomo

I agree with you. Whole policy changes do happen, but if the capitalist class retains its pivotal influence in law making and market manipulation, it will attempt, and likely succeed, in neutering the effects of basic income, likely by bankrupting the state as they try to do with every institution that works against their insatiable interest, then pointing the finger at ubi as the culprit.

Of course, if there is no class struggle, then any universal basic income that threatens the availability of workers for exploitation by employers would be successfully resisted. A social policy that is not backed up by organized power of the working class would be whittled away for the benefit of employers. 

The pilot program initiated in Wales certainly would not become universal. From the article by John Clarke in Counterfire

Following in the footsteps of a sizable number of their international counterparts, the Welsh government has launched a pilot project to study the possibilities of basic income. As it unfolds, ‘more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1600 each month (before tax) for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.’

Mr. Clarke is certainly correct to question whether such a program would be generalized (become universal) since it would probably threaten the job market, as he himself argues: 

In a capitalist society, the job market rests on economic coercion and, if workers or potential workers have an alternative source of income that meets their needs, their bargaining power is massively increased. For that reason, social benefit levels are set high enough to control social unrest but great care is taken to ensure that they are not adequate enough to discourage people from taking low paid jobs.

So, since such a policy would increase the bargaining power of workers. Mr. Clarke, however, does not mention that to aim for such a goal would also threaten the class power of employers. Such a goal could serve as an organizing tool and a rallying point to increase not just “the bargaining power of workers” but their class consciousness and their class power by having workers coming to understand that employers need to have persistent economic coercion in place if they are to control workers in the first place and that the workers need to organize to counterpose such economic coercion by aiming to formulate policies that negate such economic coercion.

What does Mr. Clarke propose as an alternative to a radical basic income? A refurbished welfare system (as I argued in my posts above. He also repeats his social-reformist rhetoric of “decent wages” in his published article: 

The great problem with basic income is that, precisely when there is such an acute need for a major fight back, it seeks a non-existent detour around the class struggle. If precarious, low-wage work has proliferated, rather than fight for decent wages and workers’ rights, it lets the exploiters keep their profits and asks only for wage tops up, paid for out of the taxes of other workers. In its response to technological displacement, instead of fighting for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay, it again lets the capitalists off the hook. [my emphasis]

Mr. Clarke nowhere justifies his assumption that radicals who propose a radical basic income “seek a non-existent detour around the class struggle.” My view (subject to change since a radical basic income policy is a means to an end of aiming to challenge the class power of employers and not an end in itself) is that such a policy likely has greater scope for challenging the class power of employers than a refurbished welfare state. It also has greater scope for challenging the class power of employers than the aim of “decent wages”–a figment of Mr. Clarke’s social-reformist or social-democratic imagination since there exists no such thing as decent wages in a society dominated by a class of employers. As I wrote in one of my posts cited above: 

Let me make a categorical statement: There is no such thing as a decent wage. To work for an employer is in itself degrading, exploitative and oppressive. The concept of a decent wage serves to hide this exploitative situation (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Mr. Clarke, apparently, only aims at refurbishing the welfare state rather than abolishing exploitation. Like Mr. Bush’s own references to exploitation, Mr. Clarke uses the concept as a rhetorical flourish (in his case, to criticize a radical policy of basic income) while conveniently “forgetting” the concept when it comes to the issue of whether wages can ever be decent.

Furthermore, there is no logical basis for counteposing a struggle for a radical basic income and 
“fighting for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay.” They are not mutually exclusive. Mr. Clarke fails to justify his implicit claim that the struggle for a radical basic income cannot include a struggle for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay.

The fact that economic coercion exists is used by this social refomer to oppose a policy that possibly challenges such economic coercion–because of the fact itself of economic coercion! It is like saying that because economic exploitation of workers by employers is a fact that therefore workers should not struggle to abolish economic exploitation. 

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