Comments on Karl Widerquist’s Webinar on UBI Experiments

I watched an interesting webinar today. That is about all I can do these days, watch webinars and other TV and internet stuff. The weather is such that I do not feel like doing much else, even writing blog posts.

The star of the show is my old acquaintance, Karl Widerquist, of the board of Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN). He is now a full professor at Georgetown university. I have met him a couple of times at such BIEN events as I can get to.

I have blogged out a response to a couple of his writings lately; https://blog.burble.ca/2020/01/14/another-paine-in-the-ass-for-serious-ubi-proponents/ and https://blog.burble.ca/2020/06/02/a-growl-about-preindustrial-age-myths-about-modern-political-economy-as-related-to-basic-income/#more-202

He certainly is a prolific author. This time he has written something about the pros and cons of “experiments” in Basic Income. For those not up to speed on the concept of a BI, it is about giving everyone enough money as a right so that they are not poor.

An enormously complicated international debate has developed around this idea in recent years. I am an old advocate of the concept but I feel I have to largely back away from it for awhile. That it is attracting more interest does not mean the idea is actually going anywhere.

I believe the problem is the BIEN group itself and some of the national groupings like Basic Income Canada Network which have spun off from it. These are the wrong kinds of people to be advocates for such a transformative idea as this. To them the BI idea is a philosophic football to kick around. What is needed is a serious research and advocacy organization.

Because of a lack of direction of the discussion of a BI, it has been taken over by chatterers who have taken the discussion in a wrong direction. Recently there has been an obsession around “tests”. That is, governments or private groups running experiments in the effects of giving impoverished people a “Basic Income”; some extra money that is not taxed back from them.

Many of the more sane adherents of a BI have been delicately suggesting that this is not a good way to go if you are actually interested in getting a BI enacted as a government program. Alas, the cult of “The Test” is utterly intractable to the idea that tests are not really very helpful and get in the way of serious advocating for a Basic Income. In fact, not long ago when I suggested this to some of these people during a discussion of the aborted experiment in Hamilton Ontario, I was shouted down and accused of being against BI.

So Widerquist is now doing a webinar on a book he actually put out almost two years ago now. I haven’t read it.; I think I recall promising him to buy it once it came out in Paperback. These academic publishers are fairly extortionate.

It seems not to have been very well promoted. It certainly is not having much effect on the blather fog surrounding Basic Income. Almost all I hear still is, “more tests, more tests, more tests…” It really has sterilized discussion around BI, which perhaps is the idea.

Widerquist has been very moderate in his criticism of ‘test’ fanatics. I suppose he believes he has to be; he is on the board of directors of BIEN and may not want to get booted off it. As I have demonstrated in a couple of forums, many of these ‘testers’ are really in love with their hobbyhorse and really into ‘cancel culture’.

This confirms my own opinion that the whole mess of BIEN and BICN needs to be abandoned by serious people. We need a new ‘mothership’. We need a new name for “Basic Income”, as this signifier does have some problems. My suggestion is “Livingrant” and I have a still rather undeveloped website in that name https://livingrant.ca/ .

But here we have Widerquist’s opus on the subject. Here is a webinar promoting it to BI enthusiasts. It does not look like a recording of this webinar will be available soon for readers of this piece. However, a friend of Wider’s has provided us with his notes of the proceedings. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dYvt6XGydNg9uKMcweydMdgrBm9kj1i8qNmuYqSTnRI/edit

Wider spends a lot of time and bandwidth making a point I would make much more simply. That is, that the whole idea of BI ‘tests’ is an example of a kind of logical fallacy called ‘generalization’. That is in this case, assuming that what happens with a small number of subjects can be extrapolated to an entire society.

To repeat, the implicit message of the webinar, and presumably Wider’s book, is that all these tests are really a waste of time. He seems too polite to say it outright. He goes along with the idea that something scientifically useful might come out of them, but it is not clear what.

It seems the biggest argument for more tests is that it creates “movement”. This was the point of a couple of other participants in the webinar, including Enno Schmidt who famously poured a dumptruck full of coins onto a square in Switzerland a few years ago.

Having been around activist issues for a lifetime, I have become very sceptical about the usefulness of these kinds of ‘movements’, and of these kinds of stunts. Most of this shit is about the egos of people looking to draw attention to themselves; people with no depth or competence. The main effect is to conjure up a lot of cheap support for BI but also to repel more serious people.

But in this is probably the big reason for the proliferation of these ‘test’ proposals. As another UBI advocate I follow, Jurgen De Wispaleare, put it; “politicians are always looking for cheap ways to say yes to you.”

Of course, capitalism cannot coexist with a BI. Faced with any concept threatening to its system of power, the ruling class does what it does; get people lost in boomfog, an illusion of progress, until enthusiasm wanes. To keep offering up ‘tests’ of BI, which self obsessed busybodies can make asses of themselves over, in the process discrediting the idea, is a good way to do this.

Wider’s strong point is this; that UBI is never going to pass any of these tests. The ruling class is never going to accept any idea that does not get its human herd working harder. Yet the whole point of UBI is to allow people to work less.

Therefore, the clowns demanding more ‘tests’ of a UBI have failed the test and need to shut up and go away. But they will not, so serious advocates of a BI need to move away from them and rethink their strategy.

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