Posts Tagged ‘Parishes’

Vox Political on the Basic Income Guarantee

May 21, 2016

Also on Thursday Mike put up another fascinating piece about the growing support for the Basic Income Guarantee. A non-party thinktank, Reform Scotland, has recommended replacing the current system of in-work benefits with a guaranteed basic income, in other words, a citizen wage. The report Mike quotes states that it would combat wage-slavery, by releasing employees from having to work for their living. Instead,

employers would find it difficult to exploit workers, and would be pushed to offer decent wages, good terms and employment conditions in order to attract workers. People would have greater freedom to pursue meaningful, suitable and appropriate employment rather than having to take any job to avoid poverty and destitution.

De-commodifying labor by decoupling work from income liberates people from the “tyranny of wage slavery” and leaves a space for innovation, creativitity and rebalances power relationships between wealthy, profit-motivated employers and employees.”

Mike in his comment on the piece states that if this was carried through, it could destroy 40 years of Tory employment policies. These are, after all, about getting the maximum amount of work from a cowed and impoverished workforce.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/19/the-basic-income-guarantee-and-why-it-would-destroy-40-years-of-conservative-policy/

Something like it has already been done in a town in Canada. Even Sarah Palin when she was governor of Alaska did something very similar. She used the profits from the rights the oil industry had to pay to the Alaskan state to give a portion of them to Alaskan voters.

In fact, this is merely a modern form of a very, very old idea. The Utopian quasi-Socialist, Thomas Spence, in the early 19th century recommended breaking Britain up into a federation of autonomous parishes. These parishes would own the land around them, the rents from which would be used to give each man, woman and child a basic income. If you like, a citizen wage.

A similar idea was advocated in the 1920s by Major C.H. Douglas and his Social Credit Movement. This was before the Keynsian revolution supposedly made his ideas obsolete. Douglas noted that plenty of goods were available; it was just that the workers were unable to afford them. He therefore recommended that the government should issue a system of voucher so that people could purchase the items they needed.

A friend of mine with a background in economics also told me that there has been support for similar ideas for a citizen wage by the Social Democrats in Germany and elsewhere on the continent. Part of the argument here is that although relatively few people are employed in the manufacturing sector, nevertheless it is still extremely important to the economy. In order to stimulate consumption, and thus production, people should be given the means to purchase more consumer goods. And so the unemployed and working people should be given greater benefits, so they can buy the articles on which the economy depends.

You can imagine the screaming from the Tories and the Daily Heil from here, if this ever was proposed down here in England. There would be more bluster and ranting about the ‘squeezed’ middle classes, and punishing hard-working people in order to subsidize the lifestyle of welfare scroungers and chavs. Which doesn’t mean it should be done by any means. In fact, our economy and social welfare as an industrial and civilised nation may depend on it.

Village Power Companies, the Spencean Land Plan and the Bulgarian Peasants’ Party

May 29, 2014

A village was in the news last week for setting up its own solar power company. I’ve forgotten which programme it was on. It could have been the local news, Points West, on the BBC 1 for this part of the West Country, or, alternatively on the One Show. The village had initially been intended for fracking, but the villagers had examined that and very firmly decided against it. They had turned instead to solar power. They had set up a massive array of solar panels, which not only provided the village with its own energy, but also sold some on to the national grid. The power company was owned by the village as a whole, and each villager received a dividend from the profits generated by the company.

The feature was accompanied by questions about the practicality of such schemes. It was pointed out that you needed an awful lot of solar panels and would have to wait several years before the investment paid off. The number of solar panels required were so great, that it was well beyond the ability of a single person or family to afford. There were also questions about whether individual villagers should be included in the scheme, if they didn’t want to. The schemes’ inclusion of all the villagers made this a possibility, though the organisers made the point that because of the way it was actually set up, this didn’t actually happen.

Very many people now have solar panels on the roof, providing them with cheap electricity, or selling it to the electricity companies. This was the idea expanded from a single household to a whole community. Way back in the 1990s New Scientist had also carried a story about scientists working to develop power units, which would allow household to generate their own electricity and sell also sell it to the power companies, very much like the system with household solar panels.

It also reminded somewhat of Thomas Spence’s land plan. Spence was an early late 18th and 19th century Socialist. He advocated reforming Britain into a federation of autonomous parishes. Each parish would own the land in common, with the profits from the rents given out each quarter day to all the parishioners, whether men, women or children. It was effectively a form of land nationalisation, with the land turned into a co-operative.

It also reminded me somewhat of the programme of the pre-Second World War Bulgarian peasant party, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union under its leader, Stamboliiski. BANU weren’t Socialists. They strongly supported private property, but believed in an egalitarian world where each individual would own enough, with no one having too much or too little. But just as humanity had an individual dimension to its nature, which demanded private property, it also had a social aspect with required co-operative action. They thus advocated that the Bulgarian peasant farmers should unite in a system of co-operatives that would allow the country to develop and enjoy modern prosperity.

R.J. Crampton describes this part of their ideology this in the book A short History of Modern Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987) 87.

It was only in 11918 that BANU adopted an official programme, the ultimate objective of which was to create an egalitarian society based upon private ownership of the means of production and the absence of the exploitation of one man’s labour by another. The focus was primarily but not solely upon the peasantry. The party’s, and especially Stamboliiski’s vision, was of a society in which no peasant owned too much and none too little land, in which they lived in clean, modernised villages furnished with electricity, communications and recreational facilities and a developed educational system. Though private property was to remain the basic form of ownership – Stamboliiski had once described it as ‘the motive force for work and progress’ – individual properietors were to help each other through the cooperative system, which was to provide credit, to store harvested crops, and to market produce. The cooperative idea was a fundamental aspect of Agrarian ideology, and was meant not only to provide material benefit, but, through that provision, to lead to the evolution of new forms of civic political morality and organisation. Stamboliiski’s long-term vision saw a society in which all producers had voluntarily joined the cooperatives, and in which the latter had become so influential that they provided the basis for local government and administration. Cooperation was not only to provide a new form of local organisation, but could, it was felt, even lead to the merging of nation-states into a free association of peasant communities – a true peasant, or green, international.

It seems to me that the village power company in rural England was merely a modern form of Spence’s land plan and BANU’s village co-operatives, except whereas Spence had based his utopian society on communal land, this was based on communal power. Nevertheless, it also shows that as society and technology develop, the old, Utopian Socialist and radical ideas return. They are still relevant, even in the Tories’ supposedly new age of cut-throat Thatcherite individualism and private enterprise.