Wages

Wages

Would you prefer a wage or an unconditional income?

Finland has decided to give 2,000 citizens the equivalent of A$844 per month for two years, no strings attached.

Crucially participants still get the money even if they find work. They can supplement the unconditional income with paid work as much as they like.

The debate on whether this policy is affordable, not socialist enough, morally wrong or simply the best idea since sliced bread, will expand as more jurisdictions try the experiment.

It will be a challenging discussion because the idea either pitches hard or soft at so many long-held beliefs.

Here are a few of them…

  • Money for nothing is always a bad idea
  • Laziness is inevitable if you give people all they want
  • Give people a safety net and they will soar way above it
  • Entrepreneurs just need a start
  • Robin Hood wasn’t such a great guy so why do all that over again
  • You can’t give money to everyone so all the rich buggers get it too
  • Labour has to be remunerated
  • Unemployment is just an inevitable consequence of the economic system
  • Mess with balance between capital and labour and the sky will fall in

Basic income raises fundamental questions about work. What it is, does and even if we need it in a modern society. And this is a debate we have to have. Not just for the moral and economic questions about work but because work will have to change [link to buying car post] as economies automate.

So, what do you think?

What would you feel about $844 a month just for being a citizen? More importantly, what would you do with the money?

New species

New species

It is a hugely exciting day today for against all odds and logic, completely out of the blue, and to my total surprise, given that I am not even a taxonomist, I have discovered a new species of ape… me.

I have a slightly bigger head than average, a wider girth, less hair, and some vaguely different genetics to my closest relatives. This, apparently, is more than enough to establish a new species.

So I am now declaring myself Homo spuriensis.

Of course, I am instantly critically endangered, as there is only one of me known to science. A specimen that is well past breeding age. This rarity status is both a challenge and a badge of honour. Being critically endangered means that some specimens of another species, Homo sapiens, will do their utmost to protect me. They will set up reserves and recovery plans and lament the loss of my previous habitat that they appropriated. This will make me famous but do very little to prolong my own existence or that of my unique genome.

All the other species sharing the planet, including the vast majority of the aforementioned H sapiens, will not give a rats. They will carry on minding their own business of gathering resources to promote their own genes. Nature will not even notice this new addition to the biodiversity lexicon.

It is possible that a few species of bacteria, virus, parasite or symbiont will take a liking to me but, again, this is not personal. They would have done this before my nomenclatural change.

The tragic prognosis is that Homo spuriensis will be extinct within a generation. Another sad, lamentable piece of evidence that spaceship earth is doomed.

I am sorry to bring you this initially exciting but ultimately depressing news but luckily there is another new species of ape just discovered in Sumatra.

Keep it real everyone.

Post revisited – Peeled potatoes

Post revisited – Peeled potatoes

In Monty Python’s infamous movie Life of Brian the masses lament their lot and decry “What have the Romans ever done for us?” only slowly realizing it was just about everything that made life livable.

This was, of course, a satirical stab at the economic system, the one everyone moans about all the time for its addiction to growth, our slavery to it, and the fact that it is so sacred that no one can touch it.

This post from 2011 begins with a similar lament but ends up somewhere else…

Peeled potatoes

In our world of doing it all easy, the latest labour saving option in the kitchen is pre-peeled potatoes.

What an outstanding idea. No need to whip out the peeler and waste time or get mud on your fingers. No more peels to get rid of and litres of water are saved from not having to clean off the grubby bits.

What, you are kidding!

How lazy can we get? It takes no effort at all to peel a potato or two. This has to be consumerism gone mad. ABC radio host Richard Glover thought so and created a funny skit to point out the craziness.

Only there are a couple of things.

First thing. An inevitable consequence of a market mechanism is that new products will emerge. Whatever people will buy, whether they really need it or not, the market will provide. The market will also provide things that they hope people will buy, often well before customers recognize that they might have a need for it. In the end, if a product works for even a few of us then it may be worth manufacturing. Witness, ‘peeled spuds in nitrogen’.

Second thing. There is always an opportunity for more efficiency in they system. If the supplier of the potatoes also recycled the peels into compost, this would be useful second product from the potatoes. Very few of the customers would do this and even if they did there would be no scale benefit.

We are at the stage where every nutrient and kilo of organic material that goes back into our agricultural soils is worth the effort given that fossil fuel based fertilizers are rapidly becoming another of our limited resources.

Our system of resource use is so bloated that there are efficiencies that will help our sustainability just about everywhere. All we have to do is look. One of these efficiencies, conversion of organic waste into fertilizer, will become commonplace. As will novel ways of doing it.

The idea that the recycling happens before the product reaches the kitchen might just be one of the better ones.


In short, the market is bad unless it is efficient.

What the Romans did was create efficiency through commerce that made lives easier and more livable in the time before sanitation, antibiotics, and mass transport. And for better or worse, the market has done the same for the majority of westerners since the industrial revolution.

But for the system to deliver livability for the majority,  over time, it has to be efficient and resilient, especially in the use of resources. Resource wise, peeled potatoes might work efficiently if the peelings are actually composted and returned to the farms that produced the potatoes. Market players can clip their margins along the supply chain so long as consumers are prepared to pay a premium for pre-prepared convenience. If they are, and the peelings feed worms, all is well.

Then we find out that 40% of Australia’s banana crop never leaves the farm because the fruit is misshaped. Not even in a parallel universe is this efficient. I can see Minions crying at the piles of rotting yellow.

We also know that wealth is increasingly concentrated because this is also how the market works. Money and resources churn but the clip ends up in the hands of a few. This is also a criticism of the Romans and any number of subsequent empire builders that followed their example — wealth is concentrated as the masses are exploited.

Except that the Romans did a whole heap of things that kept people alive and moderately well. And, arguably, in much better shape than they were before.

Our dilemma is the same.

Grubby

Grubby

I am not a Unionist, never have been. Perhaps, back in the day when labour was ruthlessly exploited by capital, I would have joined, but today it feels unnecessary. This, of course, is a delusion on my part.

My political nirvana, where left and right are conspicuously absent, would deliver progressive economics and social benefit through positive leadership without the need for exploitation. This centrism is also delusional.

So even as union membership declines along with their influence, I will concede that they are still needed. The balance between worker and employer will always be precarious.

Nevertheless, I have little time for the modern union movement, mostly because, to me, they epitomise a blinkered, dogmatic worldview that raises their issues ways above any other. My prejudice may not be a good thing, but it is what it is. Recently though, I found myself siding firmly with the unions as they rebutted claims of grubby slander on how they use their money.

Federal police raided the offices of the Australian Workers Union, the uniformed arrival to dig for dirt preceded by a media scrum who had obviously been tipped off. The union claims it has cooperated fully with the authorities on all outstanding matters. It is no coincidence that the leader of the opposition was once the leader of the AWU. On a hunch or a sniff of a lead, unleash the hounds on your suspect who just happens to have past connections to your main rival.

This is truly grubby politics designed to slander your opponent. The Americans call it a fake news, but fake or not, some of the mud will stick. The seed of doubt is watered in its cosy garden pot of compost. Keep the compost moist and the voters will do the rest.

But governments should not be able to manipulate police to achieve this end. When they do, it’s called fascism. And that has a very unpleasant history.

The AWU has my sympathy.

I will always be wary of unionist philosophy and especially of their tactics but when the government behaves in this way it makes unions look like saints. That should tell you enough.

The logic behind this kind of behaviour assumes we can be led by the nose.

It is imperative that everyone is vigilant enough to prove this assumption is always false.

Ideas that persist

Ideas that persist

Nor, considered aright, does it seem any argument in favor of the gradual extinction of the Sperm Whale, for example, that in former years (the latter part of the last century, say) these Leviathans, in small pods, were encountered much oftener than at present, and, in consequence, the voyages were not so prolonged, and were also much more remunerative. Because, as has been elsewhere noticed, those whales, influenced by some views to safety, now swim the seas in immense caravans, so that to a large degree the scattered solitaries, yokes, and pods, and schools of other days are now aggregated into vast but widely separated, unfrequent armies. That is all. And equally fallacious seems the conceit, that because the so-called whale-bone whales no longer haunt many grounds in former years abounding with them, hence that species also is declining. For they are only being driven from promontory to cape; and if one coast is no longer enlivened with their jets, then, be sure, some other and remoter strand has been very recently startled by the unfamiliar spectacle.”

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

This quote is from a fictional account published in 1851. I get that.

Except that I can’t help feeling that this passage reflects how Melville thought about this issue. He had been to sea of course, as a merchantman and on a whaling voyage, so he had first-hand experience with months of time to talk and explore what other mariners knew about the sea and its fish. Somewhat cutely, whales were fish back then.

Melville chose to ignore the evidence as many a purveyor of fiction is want to do, and refashion it. He used spin in a novel.

Or did he?

The ideas that actions of hunting could deplete such animals on unfathomably large oceans defied logic to the Victorian generation. It just could not be possible. The evidence of obvious depletion, reduced distribution, lower contact rates and changed behaviours, just did not fit the worldview.

In ‘Awkward News’ there is a passage reflecting a similar thought in the minds of early settlers to Australia. Here so vast an expanse of country lay before the first, second, third and even subsequent generations of rural folk that no amount of vegetation clearing could ever deplete it.

It is a though there is something in our DNA that programs us to ignore the possibility that resources could ever be in short supply. We seem to have to believe that resources are infinite.

This helps us in two ways.

A belief in every renewable resource buffers us from the fear of lack. This is a powerful base fear, for starvation is a slow and emotionally painful death.

It also allows us moral latitude for actions that deplete resources, especially pertinent in the case of whaling that was a brutal culling of wild sentient creatures for commercial gain. If the belief is that taking a few whales does little or nothing to their long-term survival as a species it mollifies the obvious brutality of killing individual animals slowly with harpoons and lances.

Same idea with bulldozers and chains. Removal of native vegetation is justified because there is plenty more of it across the horizon.

Jump forward 160 years and the demand for natural resources has increased beyond what could have been imagined in the 1800’s. We don’t need whale oil anymore and, for the most part, whales are back in the stomping grounds of their ancestors if not quite in the same numbers as before.

We do need land though. Water too. And space to live and recreate in. The world has shrunk perceptibly with technology able to whisk us over the ocean at speeds and distances that the old whalers would have defiled as some evil magic.

Yet that DNA is still expressed.

Many of us continue to believe that resources are either infinite or if, for some bizarre reason, a resource is used up, our technological ingenuity will conjure up a replacement that is better and more profitable.

Whatever we do those base fears of lack are still there. They persist and our emotional response remains to ignore them or refuse to believe that their realities will ever be realised.

It should be a sobering thought. Only our response is to thrust our heads in the metaphorical sand and hope that that nagging feeling will go away.

When we look up again all is well because, for sure, “some other and remoter strand has been very recently startled by the unfamiliar spectacle”.

Malcolm

Malcolm

Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcom, what in the name of all sane people is going on with you?

Is it because you were rolled the first time around for holding fast to a policy that actually would have worked and indeed did work for a time when your successor was only shouting loudly?

Is it because the feelings back then really scared you to the core undermining confidence and purpose so much that it was only when you decided to return to fight again that life meant anything?

Is it because there is so much fear of loss now that you’ll do anything you think it takes for it not to happen again?

Is it that you love the limelight so much that your life will be over if that light shines on someone else?

Is it Lucy?

Is it… Well, is it you Malcolm, and you are not the conservative progressive dude with a bit of social nous we thought had come to the fore with an opportunity to shuffle off into history the stupid white men?

Is it the system Malcolm, the endless cycle of media grab and inanity that passes for public consumption of news that has sucked you in along with all the other morons?

Is it wrong Malcolm?

We all think that it is.

Will your new car be your last?

Will your new car be your last?

It is a sunny day in 2037. An autonomous electric vehicle pitches up to take you to work, complimentary with your skim latte with one. Siri is ageing now but she can still alter your order given you are really trying to reduce your sugar intake.

This routine happens one, maybe two days a week because there is not actually much office style work needed anymore. On the other days you “work” in your service jobs that are really more like recreation activities that ensure you and those you help are not sent insane with boredom.

Monday you are golfing followed by a visit to the hospital to chat with Fred who is old but has cancer and no family to visit him. On the way back you get the car to stop at the lookout on the escarpment because, after all, there is no hurry.

Tuesday you have a virtual meeting with your nerdy mates who still want to design the ultimate solution to world peace by growing enough food. The conversation is recorded, summarised and logged so later you can flag the good bits. The AI has done this a few times already so there will be very little chaff to remove. Turns out that, as usual, the gems were few and far between.

Wednesday your meetup is in the coffee shop. When the car gets to your place it has already collected a couple of your other meetup buddies who live nearby. They have to wait while you put the groceries in the fridge that ordered more milk. Obviously, the supermarket drone sent bacon and cheese too, to max out efficiency.

Thursday you don’t need the car. It’s your quiet day.

Friday comes along and you fancy a swim. The nearest beach is 70 clicks away but the train is so fast that you cover the ground almost instantly. This system of rapid public transport and small autonomous vehicles connected to transport hubs works pretty well now that most journeys are to places of interest and recreation rather than the CBD. Virtual conferencing is now so real that even the big companies that seemed to want to hang on to their boardrooms have realised that the expense of face to face dick waving can’t be justified. Given their workforce is either a robot or working from home the central office is empty anyway.

On the way back from the beach you look into a holiday via the voice-activated screen in the car that has not even looked like it would have an accident in a million years.

All your options from the last time you thought about this flash up along with suggestions from a few thoughts you voiced in the virtual chat you had earlier in the day with your cousin in Turkey. The choice is too overwhelming so you ask for the ‘our choice for you’ option that has been spot on every time so far.

It has been quite a while since you even thought of asking the AI to look for offers on buying a car. It’s not even worth the search. Cars are way too expensive to own and ownership has no additional utility.

Welcome to the new world.