Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Basic Income Is A Con - Why Do People Fall For It?

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I'm implacably opposed to Basic Income (or whatever they're calling it today) because it's a badly-thought out policy built on a pie-in-the-sky Utopian ideology that brings together the most gloopy, ill-considered strands of Libertarian, Liberal, and Socialist ideals. What really creeps me out about it, though, is the cult-like unquestioning devotion its adherents have towards it. Let's take a closer look at this, shall we?


Why is it a con?


Look at the way its adherents portray it. Go on, look. Now look at these guys and what they have to say about SEO, Homeopathy, and work-from-home schemes. Now take a closer look at each one.

SEO


I could find no evidence that the people they claimed as clients were actually doing business with them except from the claims made on Screaming Frog's website. This is how they compare to other SEO companies: notice that they're nowhere in the list of SEO companies. In any case, SEO is a con. Yes, the search results can be gamed, but what do you find there? Usually, things you're not looking for, including ad farms. The most popular sites are not necessarily the best ones but the best ones become popular by providing their target audiences with what they want, be it funny cat pictures or tech news. Screaming Frog's main claim to fame is their SEO spider, which does the same thing as W3C's free website validator. Anyone who tells you that you can hit the top of the search engine's results AND be successful online using keywords, headings, and meta tags alone is being economical with the truth at best. It's the content that counts and it's got to give the people what they want or they will land there, all right, then jump back out again, disappointed.

Homeopathy


In which diluting a substance makes it stronger. I kid you not, they'll tell you this with a straight face. It's basically placebo therapy that relies on psychosomasis. Giving the patient a Tic Tac would probably be more effective. There would certainly be more active ingredient in it. That they can point to peer-reviewed studies means only confirmation bias; it wouldn't help their cause to point out scientifically provable truths, e.g. that water does not have a memory. "Okay," I ask every homeopathy enthusiast I come across, "which molecule of the water holds the memory?" I have yet to receive a response to that in which they didn't immediately change the subject. It can't work in and of itself because there's nothing in your sugar pill, or whatever, that can actually have an effect on you.

Work from home schemes


Some of my co-workers work from home and my neighbour Suzy does. I'm not saying they're all bunk, but a lot of them are. The ones listed here are the ones I'm talking about. Take a quick trawl through them. Some of them seem more legit than others, don't they? I've never actually been paid for taking part in a survey online, though I've done a few of them. Nor have I been enriched by hosting ads on my website or via promoting certain digital products by writing blog posts about them or devoting websites and social media accounts to them. Even if I'd been successful in gaming Google's search results, people would have had to be curious about or actively seeking the cloud-based accounting package, anti-virus software and web hosting services I was pushing to provide me with an income. I suppose I might have done better if I'd put more effort into getting eyeballs on my websites by talking about them online in other people's online spaces but I personally find that pretty obnoxious unless you're answering a question or actually trying to help someone by pointing them to a useful source of information. Of course, the ones that ask you for money up front are scams.

What they all have in common


What all of these have in common are dedicated enthusiasts and satisfied customers who are desperate to do you a favour by getting you on board. They also use a plethora of logical fallacies of relevance, which you can see listed here. I am deeply suspicious of any attempt to manipulate me and tend to lash out when I perceive it. See how many logical fallacies you can find here in this Twitter list of posts from the linked list.

Why do people fall for it?


Basic income appeals to those of us who want to live in a fairer, more simple world. The trouble with over-simplifying things is that you can and do end up making matters more complicated if you don't keep track of what is going on.

They're not interested in the fine details


I work as an administrator and something that came up last Thursday is a case in point. Order requisitions are an instruction to issue a purchase order to a supplier or subcontractor. Purchase orders are a promise of money; they're a bit like cheques in that respect. The amount of money on the purchase order (PO) is the amount you will be paid. Here's where it gets interesting. My employer provides a basic income of sorts to subcontractors of £150 regardless of the amount we are likely to owe them, the idea being to revise it up or down when the bill comes in. One of my tasks is to find out the correct amount owing via an itemised list of goods and/or services provided and enter these details onto the PO so that both ourselves and our subcontractor are agreed on how much is owed and what for, the idea being to keep track of what we're paying for so we can compare it with other subcontractors' rates and with other jobs we've used them for.

If we're going to implement any policy, shouldn't we be keeping an eye on how efficiently it works instead of patting ourselves on the back for being ideologically correct?

They're not interested in critical evaluation


Last Thursday one of our engineers sent me two order requisitions with a list of goods to be supplied by an electrical trade retailer. He put the list of items on, followed by the quote numbers, which were together on the same separate line. I had no way of telling which quote related to which items, so I had to ask him to email me the quotes, promising to tidy up the mess he'd made by being sloppy in his record-keeping. I got an email today complaining that it hadn't been sorted yet, so I phoned the administrator who had complained and explained about the proper procedure: match the items to the quote number. I told her I was waiting for the engineer to send me a revised order requisition or copies of the quotes so I could revise the order requisition for them. She told me to just used the jumbled version since the supplier would know which was which. Yes, but we wouldn't.

If we're going to implement any policy, shouldn't we be keeping an eye on the cost/benefit ratio? Shouldn't it be sustainable? One of the most celebrated examples of basic income is lacking in detail as to the costs, etc. (see page 8), because they didn't keep proper records. I'm not surprised. Policies based on ideology and blue-sky idealism require you not to critically evaluate them.

They're not interested in the practicalities, they just want the Shiny Thing


I ended up having to contact the supplier myself and ask them to email me the quotes. I finally received them about an hour before I was due to go home for the day. I got one order requisition completed today and if the engineer and the client's administrator moan again tomorrow, tough. It's their own fault it's getting done late. The basic income enthusiasts I argue with are no different from Linda and Pete*. By over-simplifying the job they complicate it, creating more bureaucracy because they're not interested in keeping proper, accurate records till the costs spiral out of control and someone needs to explain what's happening. Details matter. They'd have had that order requisition done on Thursday if they'd only set it out properly with each item linked to the relevant quote number. But their impatience means they'll have to wait till tomorrow AFTER I've cleared the Co-Op inbox if I don't have anything more pressing to do.

If we're going to implement any policy, shouldn't we be making sure it achieves its stated goals? Poverty is a multi-dimensional problem (p18), it can't be solved by chucking money at it. The same can be said for any social or economic problem. Individuals can act but if you want to clean up the environment, the costs are enormous. Good luck with crowdfunding that out of the people's disposable income. As for investing for your pension, be careful with that; the value of investments can go down as well as up. In any case there's less of an incentive to save if you have a guaranteed income to look forward to. Why bother if you're getting money anyway?

They forget that other solutions exist


For every benefit promised by the basic income snake oil salesforce there's already a scheme in place that does it better. Money to start a new business? Grants and crowdfunding are available. Want more free time? Get a part time job that pays well. Incentives to save? Mutual pension funds, ISAs and other savings schemes (I've got both). That some of the schemes we have now don't work or aren't effective doesn't mean you throw your brain out the window and go along with this nonsense in a fit of despair. It means you work out what the needs are and make a plan to meet them.

It sounds fair


It sounds fair that everybody gets it till you realise that "everybody" doesn't include foreign residents like me. So you expand it... but where do you stop? Is it really fair to give money to rich people who already receive taxpayers' money? I personally think it's unconscionable to take from the taxpayer to give to the idle rich, many of whom don't even pay tax themselves. If they're not putting into the system, why is it fair for them to take out of it when they don't even need it? That's the part where I lash out the hardest; money that could be spent on the poorest and most vulnerable gets redirected to Nick Griffin, Nigel Farage, and Alan Duncan, so there's less dosh available to give to people who need it the most. In any case, funding it via a flat tax takes more of the total wealth of those lower down the income ladder than those higher up because they can afford to invest and save, most of the rest of us haven't got that much to put aside for a rainy day — even for pension schemes — after paying the rent and bills. The wealthy do. Even the most generous progressive taxation regime does that, it just hurts the less affluent less because less of their total wealth is taken. Remember, taxes are generally levied on income — money coming in, not on money we already possess.

What can we do?


I oppose it as much as I can, arguing with enthusiasts whenever they pollute my Twitter timeline with it. I've had to block people who either dismiss me, change the subject, or repeat themselves because the only thing they can do is find new ways of reframing the same old argument. Good luck with that, I've been immunised against sophistry by arguing online with Libertarians for years.

Ask awkward questions


Asking questions about why they're not taking infrastructure, education, and tax-funded services into account will expose their leanings; right wing libertarians don't like the government doing things for us and prefer a society in which we pay for what we want with our own money. They favour funding it with a flat tax. Socialists believe that wealth is being redistributed, and liberals think it's more equitable. They want to fund it with a progressive tax. They all agree that taxes will rise on all of us and that those on the lower end of the scale will benefit because it's not means tested. They also want to automate it, but how do you automate reporting births and deaths, etc.? How do you make sure the people who need it the most get it and that fraud is kept to a minimum? Ask those questions. If you're not yet convinced that I'm right you soon will be.

Provide an alternative


I've been pushing middle-out as hard as I can  because I believe it's the future. It rewards work for a start, by raising the minimum wage. It provides money to spend in the retail and service sector while also providing tax revenues to spend on infrastructure, education, and essential services, which in turn provides jobs, which helps to create a self-sustaining virtuous cycle of economic activity. Without some kind of foundation, the economy will collapse. When a big factory or mine closes down, people lose their jobs, their standard of living drops and so does their disposable income amount. Middle-out provides the foundation jobs that help create a self-sustaining economy. You can't retail your way to growth, it's not sustainable. You can, however, build your way to growth working from the community outwards.

Make it personal


A decentralised distributed community-focused solution will always be superior to an authoritarian paternalistic centralised one that doesn't differentiate between individuals and their circumstances because it treats them all the same. And treating people as individuals means... administration. You can't automate a system for people and expect it to work effectively because algorithms don't understand their needs. You need human eyeballs on that stuff. This also means you can't expect the tax office to do a welfare administrator's job. That's not what it's for and they don't have the training. We will always need a welfare state because we'll always have the poor among us. The trick is to make it sustainable.

Conclusion


I've seen nothing in the arguments for basic income that have adequately answered any of my questions. At best, it's a libertarian socialist's pipe dream. At worst, it is UKIP's wildest dream since I, an Irish citizen who has paid into the tax system for 25 years, would be excluded from receiving it because I'm not a UK citizen. To rub salt into my wounds, I'd be taxed at between 40 and 50% of my income to provide pocket money for the wealthy. Even if I was included and if I did in fact benefit, who else would and how can we keep an eye on the cost if nobody's all that interested in how we're going to pay for it? I've got no faith at all in policies based on a best case scenario where people behave as expected because things go wrong and many people are douchebags. The worst thing is, I can't help thinking that if the basic income enthusiasts get their way and attempt to enact a Star Trek economy which all goes south, they'll blame absolutely everyone except themselves for failing to see the disaster coming. And guess who's going to have to pay for it? Muggins, here. I'm not having it and no amount of chanting "The greater good" and generally acting like a freaky cult member is going to convince me otherwise.



*Not their real names.

6 comments:

  1. Why wouldn't you get UBI if you were in Ireland? How does the UK tie in to this? Do you have any coherent arguments?

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  2. Welcome to my blog, Ms. Callahan. I am Irish and have lived in the UK since 1989. Since I'm not a citizen and the UBI being proposed by its UK adherents is for citizens only, I would not be able to receive it.

    My arguments are basically that the whole idea is based on an ideology based on blue-sky scenarios in which people behave well and nothing goes wrong. That doesn't happen in the real world where I live.

    What is it about UBI that you personally find attractive? How would it affect you, if implemented where you live? What about people you know?

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  3. Hi Wendy!

    I think of basic income as a solution to the problem of how to distribute spending money to consumers when, thanks to automation/technology driving down the value of labor, the labor market can no longer do so sufficiently.

    Do you have an alternative to basic income that *doesn't* reward work? Or do you feel strongly that people should be working?

    I have a blog. In my most recent post, I encourage people to embrace joblessness:

    http://www.suncho.com/blog/20150326_morality.html

    In the post before that, I briefly touch on why I feel that a minimum wage is pointless:

    http://www.suncho.com/blog/20140813_fighting.html

    And in the post before that, I mention basic income, but I don't go into too much detail:

    http://www.suncho.com/blog/20140430_privilege.html

    I'm always trying to better understand these issues, so I'd love to hear your critique of anything I have to say.

    Edit: Haha. I had a typo in my previous comment, but this one is otherwise the same.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Welcome, Alex.

      Full disclosure: I'm basically conservative. This informs all my opinions about pretty much everything.

      Now to address your points, courtesy of Twitlonger: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1slmnt8

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    2. Great! I have a lot to say, but I'll read all your middle-out posts before responding so we don't end up talking each other in circles.

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    3. Thank you, Alex. Much appreciated. Go to town on it, I need to know where it falls short of meeting its goal of creating a self-sustaining community-based economy that actually rewards the work we do. I look forward to seeing what conclusions you come to.

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