Tag Archives: economics


Glad to see the debate on UBI is starting to get beyond the surface gosh-wow. From a bit at Teh Graun:

In their incendiary book Inventing the Future, the authors Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek argue for UBI but link it to three other demands: collectively controlled automation, a reduction in the working week, and a diminution of the work ethic. Williams and Srnicek believe that without these other provisions, UBI could essentially act as an excuse to get rid of the welfare state.

W & S are smart to suggest those provisions, but I’d suggest there are a few others necessary to avoid the trap that the aspiring nosferatu of the Adam Smith Institute are so keen to spring.

So, look: the state sets a standard rate of UBI, presumably on the basis of some basic standard of living; perhaps they even put it on an inflationary ramp so it increases over time. Lovely: everyone can afford the basics, and you can work to level up from there is you want to.

However, if housing provision is still predominantly handled by the private sector, rents would rapidly raise to the highest point that the UBI would bear, coz rentiers gonna extract rents. Ditto privatised medicine. Ditto food production. Ditto infrastructural provision. In an unreformed market economy, whatever the set rate of UBI was would be inadequate very quickly — like, a matter of years rather than decades, if not faster. Because when we talk about markets being efficient, that’s what we really mean: their rapid maxing out of all possible rent extraction in any given system. (Yeah, you though efficiency was all about using less, didn’t you? That’s a useful illusion, which is why you’re encouraged to keep it. But no: market efficiency is exactly the opposite, in that the efficient market leaves nothing unused.)  In a nation of legitimised thievery and tollbooth economics, putting money in the poor man’s pocket serves only to enrich the thieves over the long run; hence the poorly-disguised boners around the C-suite table at the ASI, no doubt.

This is not to dismiss UBI, to be clear; it’s a rational and achievable reform of state welfare systems. But in the absence of land reform, significant regulation of businesses, and the partial or total renationalisation of infrastructure and housing, it will fail, and fail fast. If you want to provide the basics to everyone, you’re going to have to intervene in the systems of provision… and you can bet your bottom dollar that the ASI won’t be genuflecting to that idea any time before the heat-death of the universe.

The Naked Lunch: Christmas and capitalism

Here’s a great opening ‘graph for a seasonal cyberpunk satire:

“I heard my first Christmas music of the year in District 1. It was the 1st of August, 27ºC outside and All I Want For Christmas was drifting out of a market stall dedicated to selling Santa hats.”

Only it’s not from a piece of fiction at all; it’s from the first installment of @iamdanw’s account of his travels across China with the Unknown Fields expedition. Having talked to others who were on the same adventure, the megamarket of Yiwu is likely the least weird part of the story.

Bill Burroughs used the phrase “naked lunch” to describe “[the] frozen moment where everyone sees what’s on the end of every fork”. Dan’s essay above, then, is Naked Christmas — where everyone sees what’s on the end of every supply chain.


From the “things that make me furious” department

An oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, already the size of New Orleans and growing fast. This on the same day that the rig’s owners, BP, are patting themselves on the back for doubling their profit margins over the last year and another major oil company announces a 50% leap in profits over the last quarter, while the rest of the world languishes in recession, markets plunge in response to the Greek economic crisis, and Goldman Sachs try to retrospectively justify shafting everyone but themselves, up to and including the government trying to prosecute them for such.

I bet you sleep real easy at night, you grasping shitheads.

The politics of despair – a ‘face-meets-desk’ post

All things considered, I’ve been pretty cheerful of late – a situation I’ve worked hard to maintain, primarily through the sensible avoidance of political news of all types.

But sometimes you just can’t avoid the worst of it … and so now I’m off to the kitchen to make a pint of espresso which I can inject into my eyeballs to hopefully ameliorate the clangorous echoes of anthropogenic FAIL.


Well, I was prepared to put the election of this racist over-privileged buffoon down to the innately British habit of supporting the person least suitable for the post, no matter how nonsensical their ascension to said post would be.

But then this morning someone Twittered me a link to a news story about Americans holding prayer meetings at gas stations. So that God will help to lower the prices, you see.

And then I read about politicians – ostensibly on the same side of the political divide – not only discrediting one another simply because they want the big chair at the head of the table (and if I can’t have it nor can you, so nyaaah), but also quite deliberately undermining any remaining semblance of public respect for education and experience (and, seemingly, basic common sense) by playing the Everyman card.

Good grief.

The funny bit is that people regularly tell me that anarchism is an untenable political philosophy because it would invite greed, self-interest and mob-rule stupidity to take the wheel. In which case I’m not entirely sure, at this precise moment of time, what we have to lose.

Now, where’s my coffee? I worry that I’m slowly turning into Warren Ellis …

In which someone else throws my OMGbleakdarkfuture trigger

I am, by nature, a cynical man. A pessimist, even – especially when it comes to matters environmental. Some might even say overly negative. I’ve certainly shown evidence of depressive traits.

But even I feel like Happy Bozo The Happy Petrochemicals Clown by comparison to Peter Watts:

“There was never a time when things could be turned around with such petty gestures. You want to effect real change? You’ve got to address the root of the problem: human psychology. We evolved in the moment, we evolved to recognize imminent and proximate threats: pestilence, predators, an alpha male coming at us with murder in his eyes. The site of a rotting corpse or a deformed child makes us squirm; the toothy smile of a great white freezes our blood. But we never evolved to internalize graphs and columns of statistics. They may be real; they just don’t feel that way.”

That’s the most cheery paragraph. And just to preempt any possible confusion, I’m linking to that post because I think he’s utterly right.