Monday, January 4, 2016

A New Year, A New Economy?

I did not begin the day with any intention to write about anything in particular. Several ideas popped in and out of my consciousness during the day, but no one thing grabbed me.

But then I skimmed the new January 2016 issue of Too Much, diligently compiled by Sam Pizzigati, and saw a familiar name I hadn't encountered in awhile.


Pizzigati excerpts a quote from a recent (December 29, 2015) article by sociology Prof. Michael Schwalbe. "A Brief for Equality" published in CounterPunch was as poignant and erudite as I remember Schwalbe from two books of his I relished, Rigging the Game: How Inequality is Reproduced in Everyday Life  and A Sociologically Examined Life. Each of these books is worth your time if you enjoy clear writing and seek to understand what it means to live in a human society.

CoverThe Sociologically Examined Life: Pieces of the Conversation

In this recent article, Schwalbe pushes back on the liberal defense of equity as a meek response to those who suggest equality is neither possible nor desirable. Instead he gives a full throttle argument for a commitment to deeper equality. To lift the same quote that Pizzigati inserted in his newsletter from Schwalbe's piece gives a sense of both the argument he develops and his penchant for writing.

    "Many people steeped in the culture of capitalism have been taught to believe that an            equal sharing of the world's resources would result in a drab sameness -- a gray,
     sackcloth-and-ashes existence. But the opposite is true: equality would produce a                  flourishing of creativity and constructive diversity. The cultivation of talent that is
     possible no for only the privileged few would be possible for all."

Schwalbe offers numerous arguments to support moving towards true equality and away from the hideous inequality that surrounds us now in this short piece.

If you need to be convinced of the inequality problem, then simply flash back to Pizzigati's newest Too Much issue, or the many earlier issues he has compiled over the years documenting the growing gaps between us. I suspect if you've read this far, that won't be necessary, but you might well still be astonished at the figures and examples of the disparities both domestically and globally that he shares.

As it happens I've been inching through the recent distillation 101 Reasons for a Citizen's Income (2015) of Malcom Torry's earlier work.This is one policy approach that could address the inequality that Pizzigati and Schwalbe illuminate and discuss. I wrote about this idea a couple years back and have continued reading bits about it here and there (mostly there). It's an idea that has more interest in Europe than here. 

In fact recently Finland has committed to phasing in a basic income starting in 2017. Each individual will then receive the same basic monthly payment. The initial payments will not be enough for someone to live on and escape poverty, but the belief is that the income will increase after the initial phase in period. Some of the major advantages include the reduction if not elimination of bureaucracy that is involved in means testing and administration for other social benefits, as the basic income when fully in place will take the place of those.



Torry briefly summarize those 101 reasons in just 116 pages. If you want the deeper analysis behind each of these reasons you can peruse his 300 page treatment Money for Everyone: Why We Need a Citizen's Income Policy (2013). 

     “Citizen’s Income is a big idea whose time might at last have come. Malcolm Torry’s              book could play a part in making that happen. Everyone should read it.
     Professor Hartley Dean, London School of Economics.

 We certainly need to be exploring options to end the extreme inequality that is creating so many problems here and there. These writers help us begin to rethink our economic system. I just hope we're not too late.