Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The return of capitalism's contradictions




A version of this essay was presented at the Ecological Challenges conference in Oslo in September 2014. It has now been published as a chapter in the compendium Social Ecology and Social Change, just released by New Compass Press.


One of the animating beliefs of twentieth century social ecology was that capitalism had tamed its dangerous contradictions. “The unprecedented fact remains that capitalism has been free of a ‘chronic’ crisis for a half century,” wrote Murray Bookchin in his 1989 essay, Radical Politics in an Era of Advanced Capitalism “Nor are there signs that we are faced in the foreseeable future with a crisis comparable to that of the Great Depression,” he went on. “Far from having an internal source of long-term economic breakdown that will presumably create a general interest for a new society, capitalism has been more successful in crisis management in the last fifty years than it was in the previous century and a half.”

Indeed, a robust, incessantly growing capitalism, shorn of past weaknesses and instabilities, was precisely the nub of the problem. With the help of the state and Keynesian economic innovations, capitalism had subdued its internal contradictions. But this success left in place a “new, perhaps paramount” external contradiction. The “clash”, as Bookchin put it, “between an economy based on unending growth and the desiccation of the natural environment.”

It is true that social ecology did not exclude the possibility that capitalism could relapse into a chronic stagnation nor believe that the system’s contradictions had somehow vanished. Bookchin regarded capitalism as “one of the most unstable economies in history” and inherently unpredictable. But the “traditional radical notion” that periodic or chronic crises would unfailingly occur was “uncertain”, he averred, and the prospect of capitalism sinking into a “major chronic crisis” remained unexpected.

I think we need to face the fact that the unexpected has happened, and both capitalism’s internal and external contradictions have come to the fore. I believe the economic events of the last few years have demonstrated that, in the advanced capitalist countries, rumours of the death of capitalism’s contradictions have been greatly exaggerated. The crisis that has emerged is unmistakably chronic in character and cannot be mistaken for a periodic downturn. This has important implications for how a post-capitalist, ecological movement relates to masses of people whose material underpinnings are declining and unstable.

But it is equally important to recognise that, contrary to the hopes of leftists in previous eras, crisis and stagnation does not mean that capitalism is about to self-destruct. Nor are there legions of class-conscious proletarians ready to, in Marx’s famous words, “expropriate the expropriators”. What makes this crisis unique is that it has emerged after capitalism has vanquished all meaningful opposition, borrowed deeply into society, and expanded across the globe.

I would like to proceed from an agreement as to what capitalism is. In line with social ecology, I’d argue that capitalism is primarily a system in which money is invested to make more money, and so on ad infinitum. This creates an insatiable necessity for growth. Zero-growth capitalism is a contradiction in terms. “To keep to a satisfactory growth rate right now would mean finding profitable opportunities for an extra $2 trillion compared to the ‘mere’ $6 billion that was needed in 1970,” says Marxian geographer David Harvey. “By the time 2030 rolls around, when estimates suggest the global economy should be worth more than $96 trillion, profitable investment opportunities of close to $3 trillion will be needed.”

But in the core, advanced capitalist countries – the US, Western Europe and Japan – the growth rate, though still positive, has not been satisfactory for some time. Between 2001 and 2011, the rate of economic growth in the US was 63% below that of the 1960s. In Japan, growth between 1973 and 2008 was just one quarter of the level it reached between 1950 and 1973. In Western Europe, it has contracted by more than half. In the UK, the rate of GDP growth was 2.7% in the 1980s, 2.2% in the 1990s, 1.8% between 2000 and 2010 and 1.3% between 2010 and 2014. In the core countries, decline is in evidence virtually everywhere.

There are differing theories as to what lies at the root of this stagnating growth. One culprit that looms large in many explanations is a drop in the purchasing power of the mass of people. A 2011 report from the UK Resolution Foundation, Painful Separation, describes an extreme “decoupling” of average incomes from the rate of economic growth. Since the 1970s, the report says, median pay has grown at less than half the rate of economic output in the US, Canada and Australia. In Britain, France and Germany, median pay tracked economic growth for a long period, but, in the past decade, has increased by less than half the growth rate. Only in Scandinavia and Japan has the divergence between economic growth and average pay been “mild”, the report concludes. In recent years, this contraction of wealth has been intensified. According to the US Russell Sage Foundation, the net wealth of the typical American household declined by a staggering 36% between 2003 and 2013. In the UK, real wages, the value of wages when you factor in the effect of inflation, have dropped by 8.5% since 2009, the largest fall since the 19th century. Four out of ten of the new jobs ‘created’ in Britain since 2010 are self-employed and well-paid managerial posts are being replaced by more ‘elementary’ jobs such as cleaning.

So you are left with a stand-off between two intractable features of the economy. On the one side, a ‘wall of money’ (as one English economist, Harry Shutt, puts it), demanding more and more profit-generating opportunities and, on the other, the declining purchasing power of the majority of people. This is not a recipe for economic health. The unavoidable consequences are, in the absence of productive investment for which demand is lacking, an increase in speculation (the buying of assets, currency futures or collaterized debt obligations for example, in the hope their value will rise), and spiralling household debt. These are both prime underlying causes of the 2007-9 economic crisis, and revealingly, nothing that has happened subsequently has done anything to ameliorate them. It can be argued that privatisation, which began in the 1980s, was another way to utilise all this ‘surplus capital’. But state-owned services and assets are obviously a finite resource. And despite the best efforts of governments like that of the UK, the gravy train cannot go on forever.

It is very hard to escape from this situation. To do so would require reversing the war on organised labour that has occurred since the 1970s, and I can sense no appetite among employers to do this, or placing restrictions on credit and raising interest rates, which though they may reduce household debt, would have the unfortunate side effect of sinking the economy.

Given this, the official government reaction has been to put the economy on life support through the printing of enormous sums of money (officially known as Quantitative Easing), pioneered by Japan and now part of the economic toolkit of the US, UK and most recently, the European Central Bank. This is done in conjunction with near zero interest rates, which makes the borrowing of money incredibly cheap. Meanwhile, the political and economic authorities feel they have no option but to reboot and reinstall the casino economy.

But if nothing is done to change the underlying conditions which brought forth economic crisis, merely a smoothing over of the cracks, then the extreme likelihood is that further crises will erupt in the near future. In fact, the current crisis has yet to play itself out fully, as the economic torpor in the Eurozone aptly demonstrates. Not for nothing is this called ‘the Great Recession’. The economic engine of capitalism is clearly sputtering, despite huge government action and financial rescues. The successful “crisis management” that, at the end of the 1980s Bookchin credited capitalism with, has been transformed into a series of desperate measures. Capitalism’s contradictions, thought to have been banished to the history books, have emerged resurgent.

However, there are important caveats to be made before we become engrossed in making comparisons with the last great crisis of capitalism, the Great Depression of the 1930s. The first concerns poverty. The inhabitants of the wealthy core capitalist countries are clearly getting poorer but, in the main, they cannot be classed as poor. Contrary to the predictions of Marxism, the working class in these countries enjoyed burgeoning wealth throughout most of the twentieth century, particularly in the decades after the Second World War. According to the economist Thomas Piketty, whose book Capital in the 21st Century predicts growing inequality in the coming decades, the emergence of what he terms a “patrimonial middle class” in the 20th century should not be underestimated. Tens of millions of individuals in Europe or 40% of the population, says Piketty, “individually own property worth hundreds of thousands of euros and collectively lay claim to one-quarter to one-third of national wealth: this is a change of some moment.” These people are not destitute and “do not like to be treated as poor”, Piketty asserts. Despite the fact that the 1%, and especially the 0.1%, seem to inhabit a different universe, both materially and spiritually, to the rest of us, we haven’t suddenly jumped in a time machine and travelled back a hundred years to an era when the top 10% owned virtually everything and the bottom 90% nothing. So Bookchin was not being blinkered when he noted in the 2002 essay The Communalist Project that “almost 50% of American households own stocks and bonds, while a huge number are proprietors of one kind or another, possessing their own homes, gardens and rural summer retreats.” It is just that, many millions of people in the wealthy countries are now going, in the words of one recent book, “down the up escalator”.

The second qualification is that low growth and recurrent economic crises are malaises that seem peculiar to the wealthy capitalist countries. Yes, China was affected by the global financial crisis and economic growth slowed there, but it still reached over 7% in 2012. China, with its chronic air pollution reducing life expectancy, is contending with problems generated by a vigorous capitalism, not a faltering one. Likewise, the Turkish economy expanded by 8.5% in 2011. So called ‘emerging markets’ have the advantage of increasing populations and a rising middle class. Economically speaking, they are more sustainable.

But the most important caveat to understand is that a dysfunctional capitalism displaying contradictions that are harder and harder to hide, is not simply going to disappear. Bookchin’s departure from the Marxist orthodoxy of the early twentieth century stemmed from an exasperation with the idea that, because of its internal development, capitalism would inevitably collapse and give way to socialism. This old leftist conviction was entwined with a resolute faith that a class conscious working class would be ready and willing to take over when capitalism faltered, and guide society to a communist future. “For generations,” Bookchin wrote in his 1989 book, Remaking Society, “radical theorists opined about the ‘inner limits’ of the capitalist system, the ‘internal’ mechanisms within its operations as an economy that would yield its self-destruction. Marx gained the plaudits of endless writers for advancing the possibility that capitalism would be destroyed and replaced by socialism because it would enter a chronic crisis of diminishing profits, economic stagnation and class war with an ever-impoverished proletariat.”

What makes the current period of economic stagnation and chronic capitalist crisis unique in historical terms is that, in the palpable absence of a revolutionary alternative, capitalism shows no signs of self-destructing or meekly conceding to “socialism”. It was, ironically, Lenin who remarked that there were no “absolutely hopeless situations” for capitalism. And the present situation is far from hopeless. Capitalism will, despite its attendant shocks and contradictions, and despite growing evidence in its heartlands of stagnation and decline, inexorably go on. There is no such thing as a “last stage” of capitalism while capitalism still exists. The last stage can only be identified retrospectively when, and if, it is replaced by another economic system. The system will not jump, it has to be pushed. And no-one is pushing.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of people, even in the wealthy countries, are wage and capital dependent. They need jobs and money and a functional economy. This means that they have a clear interest in re-installing the economic system whenever it breaks down. “So long as the basic institutions of capitalism remain in place, it is in rational self-interest of almost everyone to keep the capitalists happy,” wrote American mathematician David Schweickart in his 2002 book, After Capitalism. “Economic growth is in the immediate interest of virtually every sector of society – growth in the straight-forwards sense as measured by GDP”.

This truth holds in spite of low growth and recurrent recessions or crises. Consider the clamour to do ‘whatever it takes’ to restore business as usual after the 2008 crash when the system really did threaten to break down and there was the immediate danger of ATM machines not dispensing cash and companies not being able to pay their workforce. With no alternative on the horizon, political elites were always going to intervene with trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. That is why it’s presumptuous to describe any of capitalism’s increasingly visible contradictions as fatal. The aforementioned David Harvey, lists 17 contradictions of capital in his latest book, but maintains only one of them is “potentially fatal”. “But it will turn out so,” he elaborates, “only if a revolutionary movement arises to change the evolutionary path that the endless accumulation of capital dictates. Whether or not a revolutionary spirit crystallises out to force radical changes in the way in which we live is not given in the stars. It depends entirely on human volition.”

So is there any value in being aware of capitalism’s resurgent contradictions if they are probably not fatal and even if they result in economic breakdown, simply produce a clamour on the part of the public as well as elites to restore the system to, if not health, at least basic functionality? The point, I would suggest, is that there is a crying need for a post-capitalist, ecological movement to articulate an alternative to a capitalism that is seriously not delivering for millions of people, and not delivering in a way that hasn’t been true since before the Second World War. I was brought up with the idea that, although capitalism may have terrible side effects, it delivered the goods in terms of rising wealth and consumerist distractions. That, from where I’m sitting, is simply not the case anymore. Whereas, not so long ago, politicians promised a better future, however much those promises were empty PR flannel, now their message is conspicuously negative. Politics has become nasty and vicious (and in its treatment of the unemployed and the disabled verging on the sadistic) and all about adapting to the demands of a creaking economy. Forget the sunlit uplands, the future comprises differing gradations of pain.

I believe a social ecology and assembly democracy movement that wishes to thrive and become a genuine rival to capitalism has to respond to this new situation and mood. If I were to crudely summarise the message of social ecology up to this point, it is along the lines of capitalism incessantly grows, creating soulless and energy draining urbanisation and megacities. And at the same time as it destroys the natural environment and pollutes, the market economy steadily remakes society in its own image, commodifying more and more aspects of life and imposing a buyer-seller relationship. But explicit within the concept of ‘post-scarcity’ was the assumption that the material foundations of people in wealthy capitalist countries were assured.  The post Second World War era, Bookchin wrote, was infused with “a buoyant sense of promise” and this feeling of optimism was “clearly materialistic. A radical ethic developed, he asserted in Remaking Society, possessed of “the reasonable certainty that the abolition of oppression in any form – of the senses as well as of the body and mind – could be achieved even on the bourgeois grounds of economic instrumentalism.” The trouble with the capitalist machine, as well as its potential, was not its internal contradictions, but that it had become remarkably stable and successful. I am not arguing that capitalist growth is no longer a problem. Even during the ‘crisis years’ of 2008 to 2012, the advanced capitalist countries grew by around 1% a year, which is high by long-term historical standards. Economic stagnation in Japan has been accompanied by a rise, not a fall, in carbon emissions. And commodification has, if anything, intensified post-crash as the rich countries try to resuscitate growth. However, what cannot be ignored is that capitalism is no longer the prosperity machine of old for millions of people in the rich countries. A growth in absolute poverty, mass unemployment, under-employment, low-paying self-employment, declining incomes, housing precarity and evictions, and a disavowal of responsibility to vulnerable people dependent on vanishing state welfare benefits, are all features of this new landscape. The buoyant sense of promise Bookchin discerned in the spirit of the 1960s has been transformed into virtually its polar opposite – an atmosphere of dread and fatalism.

What this signifies is that if social ecology wishes to really make headway as a movement for ecological transformation, it needs to invigorate its social dimension. It is revealing that, Kurdistan aside, the outbreaks of assembly democracy that have occurred in recent years have all taken place in countries suffering from economic breakdown and trauma – namely Argentina, Greece and Spain.  In addition to assemblies of indignatos, co-operative economic alternatives, in energy, food and housing, for example, have flourished in Spain post-crash, partly for the prosaic reason that the dominant capitalist economy has simply ceased to be a reliable presence in people’s lives. If capitalism fails, alternatives will happen, that is an absolute guarantee. The question that remains is what will be the relationship of the economic alternatives to the popular assemblies that also spring up. As a theory, libertarian municipalism, the political dimension of social ecology, is strong on how political power can be reclaimed from the state, but less so about how it can be wrested from capital. There is little doubt that representative democracy has failed. It has exposed itself as simply a component in the economic and political oligarchy that rules Western societies. But to take on that oligarchy requires an assembly democracy to, for example, provide public oversight of and control over a new public system of credit and banking. And even if it is agreed that that state is the crux of the oligarchy, the issue remains that millions of people are dependent on state public services and benefits. To merely leave them to the wolves in an existential rejection of the state and all its works, is not an option. A post-capitalist movement must be defensive as well as creative.

Despite the proliferation of sages, no-one really knows what will happen to capitalism in the wealthy countries in the coming decades. The only certainty is that we are in a period of uncertainty. “The validity of a theory and a movement will depend profoundly on how clearly it can see what lies just ahead,” Bookchin said in 2002.  Yet what lies just ahead is far from clear. It is quite possible that a new and overwhelming financial crisis will occur, leaving the state unable to bail out financial institutions and other corporations and thus precipitating a wave of bankruptcies and a destruction of capital value comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s. This will leave some form of state capitalism as the only possible option and create millions more ‘superfluous’ people – superfluous in capitalist terms. Capitalism is no longer capable of playing the role assigned to it by social ecology in the past: that of well-tuned, efficient machine that spews out endless change in all directions, from compound growth to urbanisation, from work to climate change, from ethics to popular culture, while itself remaining free of volatility and disequilibrium. The machine itself is now malfunctioning. This changes everything.

Friday, 6 March 2015

You are set free, there are no conditions

Some thoughts on Basic Income

 I wanted to look more deeply into the idea of a basic income because, although the idea of giving everyone an income unconditionally has broken into public consciousness in recent months, the concept is still swathed in uncertainty, speculation and myth. So in hopes of casting more illumination:

Why is a basic income needed now?

The case for a basic income can, I think, be distilled into five elements. That it will give security to people for whom steady, secure employment is an unreachable aspiration; that it will enhance individual freedom; that it will act as a counter-weight to the all-pervasive influence of the market on society; that it will enable a more responsible attitude to the environment to become a reality. And because of galloping technological change rendering human labour redundant, that it is, in any case, a practical necessity.

Professor Guy Standing, one of the advocates of a basic income, argues that the global labour market has quadrupled in size since the 1980s. The result has been a decline in real wages. A primary victim of this development has been, what Standing terms, the ‘precariat’. This is a class comprising millions of people for whom insecure, temporary, short-term or self, employment has become the norm. They possess nothing that can be likened to a career and merely exist to serve the interests of employers – to whom they are simply disposable labour costs. This ‘precariat’ class is mushrooming in Britain, at present, where under-employment is double its pre-recession level, 38% of the workforce is part-time and 15% self-employed. “We need a new system of income distribution,” says Standing, “in which people have a right to basic security to exist as a human being in modern society.”

Here is a Belgian documentary about basic income:


The one smirking, the other timid

Basic income has been described as “freedom income” and I believe one of its effects would be to finally bring an end to the condition of ‘wage slavery’. This term, which was widely used by the Left in the 19th and early 20th centuries, connotes the dependence of most people on their usefulness to employers. They have to sell themselves in some way. If they cannot, they are denied the means to exist. With the decline of the welfare state in the UK, and the rise of food banks, ‘wage slavery’ has become a palpable reality for millions.

Basic income will abolish this dependence. Employers and potential employees will encounter each other as equals. The fundamental deception of which Karl Marx famously spoke, of treating people as commodities but leaving them powerless to negotiate their full worth when they negotiate their sale as commodities in the labour market, will cease. Enno Schmidt, one of the organisers of the Swiss group Generation Basic Income, says a basic income gives people the power to ‘say no to a bad deal’. With a level of unconditional income in place, for the first time in history, he says, a genuine free market situation will exist between prospective employees and employers. This change in the balance of power will likely give a spurt to the automation of poorly paid, repetitive jobs, an area of the economy that is currently the kernel of economic ‘recovery’ in the UK and elsewhere.



The society of the market

 But although it will give power to the commodity known as ‘labour’ (people, in other words), basic income also has the potential to diminish the reach of market relations into society. It is becoming apparent to quite mainstream thinkers, such as Michael Sandel for instance, that we don’t just live in a market economy, but, increasingly a market society. That such an insight was originally made by leftist thinkers, like Murray Bookchin in the 1970s, does not negate the fact that the process of ‘marketisation’ is speeding up.

This is evident from a cursory look at what has happened to housing, healthcare, education and public services in the last two decades or so.  Basic income cannot, of itself, impede these developments, but it can, in my opinion, generate an opposing force. With the decline of the welfare state, people’s time, if they are not in full-time employment, is dominated by the need to find new ways of making money. Witness the astonishing growth of self-employment in the UK, for which there is no corresponding demand for self-employed services. A basic income, if set at a reasonable level, can liberate people to pursue activities that generate little or no profit, and, most significantly, for which profit is not the overriding intent. “Imagine the creativity, innovation and enterprise that would be unleashed if every citizen were guaranteed a living,” says Australian union organiser, Godfrey Moase. “Social enterprises, cooperatives and small businesses could be started without participants worrying where the next pay cheque would come from. Artists and musicians could focus on their work. More of us would be freed to volunteer our time for the public good.”

As the English social critic, Mark Fisher, has noted, the domination of free market capitalism, the putative incubator of risk and change, has resulted in its mirror opposite – cultural stagnation and conformity. The emotions thus generated, he writes, do not inspire “entrepreneurial leaps” but “the turning out of products that very closely resemble those that are already successful.” Maybe a basic income, if it frees people from the compulsion to seek immediate financial reward, can reinvent the society of risk, and enable ‘cultural leaps’.

The free time potentially enabled by a basic income would also make democratic self-management a realisable option for the first time in history. The hurried, time-pressed society in which we live makes rule by elites, private and public, all but a certainty. But with less time swallowed by work, democratic rule through citizen assemblies, participatory budgeting, worker self-directed enterprises and other forms of direct democracy, becomes possible.

Environmental blackmail

A basic income, believes Enno Schmidt, means that no-one can be “blackmailed with their existence” to do work they don’t wish to do. This ‘situational logic’ is, currently, an unerring feature of capitalism and leads to the paradoxical situation of the economic system producing effects, such as global warming, which few people actually desire but are nonetheless consequences of its successful functioning, an outcome that is also desired by most people. Such tyranny of immediate self-interest seems an inescapable bind which traps the vast majority of people. But a basic income, if set at a high enough level, could offer a way out.

Naomi Klein, in her climate change book, This Changes Everything, laments “the paucity of good choices” that lead Louisiana fishermen to reluctantly take work from BP cleaning up the same Deepwater Horizon oil spill that destroyed their livelihoods. Indigenous communities, she writes, who own the land coveted by mining and oil companies, face a similar choice between jobs and training in the short-term and the inevitable long-term come-back represented by the effects of climate change. Basic income could render this job blackmail impotent. 

We, Robot

But looming over these reasons why a basic income is desirable, is another urgent justification. That it is becoming a necessity as human labour is rapidly superseded by technology. According to two Oxford university economists, 47% of current employment might disappear in the next two decades because of automation. The common reaction to this is that massive technological advances have happened in the past and the jobs they eviscerated were replaced by different kinds of paid employment. But this new industrial revolution may take, in labour terms, far more than it gives. 

According to the writer John Lanchester, it isn’t just factory jobs around the world that are going to disappear because of automation. White-collar jobs, too, will vanish. “We are used to the thought that the kind of work done by assembly-line workers in a factory will be automated,” he writes. We’re less used to the thought that the kinds of work done by clerks, or lawyers, or financial analysts, or journalists, or librarians, can be automated. The fact is that it can, and will be, and in many cases already is.”

We are haunted by “the spectre of uselessness.” If ‘the robots eat all the jobs’, as Lanchester puts it, the effect in this capitalist society will be an almighty increase in profits accompanied by a haemorrhaging of purchasing power. Aside from providing material support to millions of ‘superfluous’ people, basic income may be the only way to keep consumption stable in this new world.

But, nonetheless, a basic income is rejected by many on the Left as an evasion of the real problem.

Why is a Basic Income opposed by large parts of the Left?

The reason is that the problems identified by advocates of a basic income – inequality, insecurity, poverty and the effects of computerisation – are considered to be effects of a particular kind of capitalism, namely globalisation, or capitalism itself. And they cannot be vanquished by merely bolting on to the economic system a radical new way of redistributing income.

Labour left commentator, Owen Jones, believes political changes since the 1980s in the UK have created an ‘hourglass’ economy, comprising well-paid professional jobs at the top and poorly paid insecure jobs at the bottom. The correct response, therefore, is to create secure middle income jobs, through for example, building council houses, introducing a living wage and implementing what has become known as the ‘Green New Deal’. This involves large investments in renewable energy and insulating homes. A basic income is not needed.

The problem with this “eco-Keynesianism” is that, though the spurt it provides to new secure jobs and stable consumption may be real, it is a one-off injection whose benefits will likely slowly evaporate. Basic income, by contrast, is a permanent solution.

The Piketty nightmare

But there is another leftist objection to a basic income that, I believe, has real merit. This criticism is that a basic income merely deals with the effects of capitalism, without trying to tackle the underlying causes. That is, basic income tries to abolish exploitation, and the fundamental inequality of the relationship between prospective employer and employee, but turns its head away from the forms of ownership that create this inequality.

And left untouched, these forms of ownership, in the context of rapid technological change and the destruction of white collar as well as manual jobs, will only further concentrate great wealth at the top of society. This is an amplified Thomas Piketty nightmare in which income from capital (based on ownership) spirals upwards, while income from labour (based on working) declines. Inequality will race ahead, a phenomenon that can, theoretically, be redressed by the radical redistribution of a basic income. But the only reason for accepting the great financial burden represented by basic income, on the part of elites, is fear of consequences of not doing so. At present, however, the dominant emotion detectable among the higher echelons of society is not fear, but supreme confidence.

In this sense, basic income, should it happen, is much like the compromise of post-war social democracy. Social democracy accepted leaving the amassing and allocation of profit alone, in return for the concessions of full employment, strong trade unions and some public ownership. Basic income can be said to make much the same kind of deal, except the concession demanded is unconditional material support. But social democracy, though victorious for three post-war decades, was eventually fatally undermined by its failure to challenge forms of ownership.

So I can see that, on its own, a basic income is not enough and will probably not succeed. But an unconditional income, regardless of how production is organised or ownership composed, is desirable in itself, simply because it is the greatest single way I can think of to increase individual freedom. And if the Left is not about increasing individual freedom, then what it is for?

In the second part of this analysis, I want to examine who a basic income is for. If it is just for the so-called ‘precariat’, it is doomed.