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Spain to bring in permanent UBI

Spain is set to become the first European nation to bring in a universal basic income in response to COVID-19, with a statement that the plan is for it to be a permanent thing that remains in place after the pandemic has ended.

According to the Independent:

Minister for economic affairs Nadia Calvino told Spanish broadcaster La Sexta on Sunday night that the move was intended to help families during the pandemic.

But Ms Calvino, who is also deputy prime minister, said the government’s ambition was that UBI could become something that “stays forever, that becomes a structural instrument, a permanent instrument.”

Coronavirus: Spain to become first country in Europe to roll out universal basic income

This is an exciting development and it will be very interesting to see if other countries follow suit and whether or not the Spanish government lives up to their stated commitment to making UBI a permanent institution even after the pandemic.

We must change our society after COVID-19

Writing in the Guardian, Owen Jones says:

It is not macabre opportunism to debate what society looks like after the gravest crisis since the war: it is a necessity secondary only to overcoming the pandemic itself. This is a social and economic crisis, so who will pay is a question that must inevitably be asked and answered.

The column is focused on the United Kingdom, but the broad strokes apply to the rest of the world. We must change our society in the wake of this pandemic, which has highlighted and exacerbated the social and economic issues facing much of the world after decades of dismantling the post-WWII welfare state.

Whether the change will be for the better depends on who is willing to stand up and fight for what they believe in.

We’ve borrowed from the future; a carbon tax is just the interest on that loan

Regarding a carbon tax, Andrew Coyne (who is in favour of such a tax) writes:

But Canadians don’t care what it means for the economy at large. They want to know what’s in it for them.

How about a planet that remains capable of supporting human life? Do we not owe that much to the next generation, to say nothing of the millions of people already made refugees by the effects of climate change? 

Regarding the battle against climate change in mere economic terms is, at this point, a fool’s game. The global economy as we know it will cease to exist in the event of catastrophic climate change. Of course, the global economy as we know it is also the primary driver of climate change, so it needs to change dramatically — perhaps even cease to exist in its current form — to make a meaningful dent in the damage that’s been done to our ecosystem.

A price on carbon is a pittance compared to what’s coming if we don’t make a real commitment to combat climate change — and then actually follow through on that commitment. 

The notion that Canada shouldn’t bother, because other countries aren’t cutting their emissions, is nihilism on a national scale.

I’m hardly alone in this rather stark assessment. Gregory Trencher, of the University of Tokyo, writes:

[…] the political and economic institutions of our civilisation are fixated on enjoying the present and unable to account for the consequences of our actions on tomorrow. This may be all too easily observed in our financial behaviour, where individuals, corporations and governments are forever borrowing from the future in order to improve the present.

In the same way, the fossil fuelled party of our capitalist global civilisation is in the midst of a financial and ecological borrowing frenzy from the future. And not only are the spoils of our mastery over nature enjoyed by only a minority of the planet, but in geological terms, they are being consumed within an extremely short time-span.

We’ve borrowed from the future for too long. A carbon tax would begin to pay the interest on that loan. The principal may be something only time — on a geological scale — can eliminate.

There’s no such thing as a centrist

Hamilton Nolan, writing for Splinter, takes the bold position that centrists don’t exist.

Politics is not a bathtub that seeks a perfect mix of hot and cold. Politics is using power to achieve certain ends. The ends that people want to achieve are, consciously or subconsciously, aligned with broad philosophical beliefs.

I’m not sure I’d agree with the notion that centrists don’t exist. They do and are quite proud of what they see as the most rational, pragmatic approach to politics. But Nolan is right that politics, for the vast majority of people, is about ideals and deeply held values.

Compromise is often necessary, particularly in parliamentary democracies, but if you’re not starting from the point of an actual ideal (or, dare I say, an ideology) then what is the point? If you’re beginning your negotiations from the compromise position you might as well not stand for anything. You might as well, in fact, stand for the position of your political enemy, because when you have to compromise on your already compromised position, you’ll inevitably be giving them more of what they want than you otherwise would have.

The argument Nolan lays out for why the Democrats in the United States should embrace the left and stop being afraid to actually stand for something applies rather well to Canada’s New Democrats.

The NDP establishment seems so afraid that voters will reject the ideals the party is supposed to represent that they’re continually moving toward the centre. Meanwhile, the Liberals won the last federal election by running to the left of the supposedly left-wing NDP.

The centre is not a position to campaign from. In parliamentary politics, it is often the position one ends up governing from, but campaigning from the centre doesn’t give you broad appeal. Often, it makes it look as though you stand for nothing.

Updated on Sept. 28, 2018 to correct some minor typos.

Helping people without homes

Small business owners are taking care of the people who live on our streets. These are heartwarming stories, and I am familiar enough with most of the businesses mentioned to be fairly sure that the owners are all genuinely trying to help people.

But I think it’s worth remembering that this sort of narrative subtly ignores the fact that government is failing in its duty to house people[1]; if housing is a human right, as the prime minister has stated, then we as a society — represented by the state — have a duty to house people. Rights that exist only on paper might as well not exist at all.

Social housing built from shipping containers

This isn’t to say that the state needs to providing housing stock for the entire population but providing state-funded housing with low (or no) rent for the hard to house seems entirely reasonable. It’s the moral thing to do but, in case that’s not enough, remember that it’s also the economically sensible thing to do.

And, let’s not forget that governments in liberal and social democracies around the world used to build social housing — and they still do in some places. It’s only since the neoliberal turn that politicians have decided it’s up to private developers to provide affordable housing (something which is obviously not working, given the number of people who still don’t have homes).

This post has been edited since it was originally published, to correct minor typos.


[1] I’m not suggesting that this is the intent of the author or even an editorial decision the paper has made. I’m talking on a more macro scale about how our narratives about homelessness often mask the root causes of the problem.

Jacobin: What is Democratic Socialism?

This is a decent quote about the why of a democratic approach to socialism, rather than a militant revolutionary approach. The former matches the material conditions of today’s liberal democracies. The latter does not. That’s not the only reason, of course, but it is an important one that’s worth acknowledging in the face of people who like to fantasize about violent revolutions.

It’s one thing to know what democratic socialists fight for, and another to lay out a convincing path to realizing it. This is where democratic socialists truly differ with some of our friends on the socialist left. We reject strategies that transplant paths from Russia in 1917 or Cuba in 1959 to the United States today, as if we could win socialism by storming the White House and tossing Donald Trump out on the front lawn.

What’s needed is a strategy that takes seriously the particular challenges and opportunities that come with organizing in a liberal democracy.

Read the whole article on Jacobin: What is Democratic Socialism?

Link roundup: socialism, nutrition and social ecology

I used to post interesting links to Facebook. And I’d add some commentary when sharing them. But I try not to use Facebook anymore, except for some groups I’m in, so I’m likely going to start posting semi-regular link roundups on this site, as a way of sharing those links and commentary.

I may even post links to this blog on Facebook, once in a while, just until people get in the habit of visiting this site to see my random commentary (which, apparently, at least a couple of people found interesting and worth reading).

Without further ado, here are some things I’ve read online lately that I found interesting or noteworthy.

The nomination of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the Democratic candidate for New York’s 14th congressional district has got a lot of people talking about democratic socialism (even though she seems to be more of a Bernie Sanders-style social democrat). Hilariously, the right-wing media’s attempts to slander her end up promoting the ways in which average people stand to benefit from democratic socialism.

Maybe everyone should follow Nathan J Robinson’s advice to just stop worrying and embrace the left.

Moving on to a different type of politics, who really decides what goes into Canada’s food guide?

Continuing on the topic of nutrition, here’s more research showing that fat isn’t bad for us and it’s actually excessive carbohydrates causing heart disease.

This piece from David Suzuki on the Future of Nature doesn’t really say anything he and others haven’t said in the past, but I rather like this line:

Ecology is the study of the rules of sustainability, while economics is the management of our domain. Economics, therefore, should be applied under the laws of ecology.

That’s social ecology in a nutshell.

Suggesting that energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining might be the next big boom for Alberta, on the other hand, is a good example of putting economics before ecology.

Ruth Potts: I think we now need utopian thinking more than ever

This interview with lecturer and author Ruth Potts is really great. She has some great thoughts on utopia and utopian thinking, which resonate with my own thinking quite well:

The mistake people often make with utopia is to see it as a destination, a fixed end point. Instead, utopia is the process of first imagining, and then believing that we can organise the world differently, which empowers us to take steps towards it.

I’ve found that my own political thought has become a lot more utopian in recent months, and very much in this sense.

I don’t think we’ll ever achieve utopia. If we view utopia as a concrete destination, it’s impossible. But as a dream to strive toward, something forever out of reach but which inspires us to continually experiment with new ways to be free and make the world a better place for as many people as possible, it is incredibly valuable.

The full interview is lengthy, but worth a read. It spans topics like decentralization of industry and economy, “new materialism” and a lot of other anarchist and communalist ideas that are reminiscent of Pyotr Kropotkin and Murray Bookchin, as well as more recent thinkers like Kevin A. Carson.

Read the entire interview: “Utopia is all around us” – Red Pepper

Rutger Bergman wants to ‘make the state think like an anarchist’

This New Statesman interview with Rutger Bregman has me intrigued about the book he’s promoting.

“We need a completely different kind of democracy, a society where you don’t think purely in terms of representation,” Bregman explained, citing the Brazilian city Porto Alegre’s pioneering experiments in participatory democracy (citizens’ assemblies, for instance, determine public spending priorities). “I call it the anarchist state. The anarchists want to abolish the state; what I want to do is to make the state think like an anarchist.”

In a way, this quote matches nicely with my own politics. I tend to approach things first from the anarchist view, asking questions like: How can this be done with little or no state intervention? What is the most democratic, least authoritarian way to do this? What’s the fairest, most equitable way of doing this? And so on…

And then, as needed, I step back and start inching upward or rightward on the political compass until I reach what I feel is actually practical and achievable at this moment in time. Often, this ends up looking more like social democracy than libertarian socialism.

I suppose this means, as much as I can bluster and shout about revolutionary politics, I’m still fairly pragmatic when it comes down to it. Nevertheless, I like this concept of making the state more anarchist as a reformist step toward an anarcho-communist utopia.

A response to Frances Lee’s article on fearing their fellow activists

In their article, Why I’ve Started to Fear My Fellow Activists, Frances Lee writes:

We are alienating each other with unrestrained callouts and unchecked self-righteousness.

I tend to agree. I think the strict language policing and lack of room for dissenting opinions in some leftists spaces is a big part of why many blue collar workers, who would have traditionally found allies on the left, have shifted toward conservative politics.

It’s not that they’re voting against their own interests (and it would be patronizing to suggest that they were), it’s that they feel alienated by what they perceive as thought police and move toward the “anti-PC” side of the spectrum. You’re not going to get the stereotypical “Joe Six-Pack” to help you fight capitalism if you’re too busy trying to get him to self-crit about his incorrect pronoun usage.

None of this is to say that identity politics aren’t important. They are. But when they’re removed from things that will actually improve the material conditions of marginalized people, they turn into a sort of self-parody of “PC culture gone awry.” Using the correct pronouns for a trans* person is literally the least you can do and counts for very little if you’re not also fighting to improve conditions so that same person can, for example, use the bathroom appropriate for their gender without fear of being assaulted.

When identity politics devolve into battles over language, and only language, they achieve little and tend to look ridiculous to outsiders.

This is why the so-called “Dirtbag Left” love to mock liberals who don’t challenge the capitalist status quo and think that if we just use nicer language — without making any substantive changes to the rest of the system — we’ll have achieved total victory and the world will become a utopia. (The number of people who actually feel that way is probably small, but it’s an easy parody of tone-policing by the centre-left.)

Lee doesn’t merely complain about “unchecked self-rightousness,” however. They also offer possible solutions:

I believe that when confronting unjust situations and unjust people, sometimes hardness is necessary, and other times softness is appropriate.

Learning when to use which approach isn’t always easy, but it’s something we should all be striving toward.