7 thoughts on “Post-pandemic, here’s the case for a participation income

  1. I agree with J.Q.’s case. As well as it making economic, social and moral sense it could also lead to complexity reduction. This is something sorely needed by our socioeconomic system so that hopefully it can be made sustainable.

    Our society and its systems are far too complex for any individual to understand and default silo-ing (specialization) is the order of the day where people only understand matters in their own specialty but can view all other matters only from the knowledge-incomplete perspective and bias of their own specialty. This seems to indicate that the highest order goal we should be looking for in any sustainability context, which is “civilizational agency”, is more than ever beyond our reach due to the increasing complexity of our civilization and all the machines, systems and institutions in it.

    By “civilizational agency” I mean the ability to decide and then direct the trajectory of our global civilization. If we had functional civilizational agency we would have both decided and already implemented a trajectory to stay under 1.5 degrees C global warming, to give an example. We have failed to do so. Much as we (supposedly) want to do these things, we do not have the civilizational agency to do them, or at least have demonstrated no ability to do them yet. Rather, the system continues to show the extensive fundamental characteristic of growing out of control in size and complexity.

    This condition we might term runaway hypercomplexity. Rather than this being a condition we can endogenously bring under control, it may represent a system which may only be brought under control by exogenous limits; for example limits to growth and even perhaps limits to complexity. The only feasible course, which might reduce our complexity without harm to scientific or technological development (which would still seem necessary as we all, for example, would like to see a vaccine developed for COVID-19) would be a reduction in formal system complexity and non-essential consumer system complexity in our economy.

    While knowledge, scientific and technological complexity ought to be permitted to increase, “rule-complexity” and consumer product range and consumption would need to be reduced for sustainability reasons. Rule complexity reduction especially needs to occur in the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector. Rule complexity reduction does not equal de-regulation in this case. On the contrary, a few inviolable rules would provide stronger system control (and system simplicity) than many weaker rules with special exceptions and loop-holes.

    In morality and under legalism, that which is not proscribed is permitted. This “liberal” principle tends to be extended to commerce. However, this gives rise to multifarious forms of commerce and financial instruments which require ever more complex legal and administrative rule sets (as well as control systems) to run, leading to complexity gridlock. Rather, the permissible operations and limits of commerce must be strictly set by a small rule-set of inviolable laws. The principle for commerce (not personal behavior) must be “that which is not expressly permitted is proscribed”. Innovation of financial instruments would be strictly controlled by this approach and yet personal, non-commercial behavior could remain as free as safely possible.

    This is a sketch of a possible way to attain civilizational agency. Democracy, science and technology must be as free as possible to be exercised subject to ethical considerations (moral philosophy). Commerce and self-interested competition (as opposed to social cooperation) must be strictly controlled and limited. It is the permissions of runaway selfishness, self-interest and commercialism which take us ever further from a controllable and sustainable political economy. One cannot be certain that this attempt would succeed at this critically late hour in human history. But we stand on the brink of catastrophe and some attempt must be made. Unfettered capitalism has brought us to this juncture. Clearly, the need now is to fetter it. I would suggest doing so in the manner outlined above. Formal rule complexity and opacity needs to be reduced but by implementing a much smaller rule-set of inviolable laws.

  2. Hi John

    Can you give a practical example of a rule that could illustrate your point. For example a rule that would restrain unfettered selfishness as a driver in a market.

  3. Participation income would be much better than what we currently have. I’d prefer a guaranteed minimum income based on based merely upon fitting in the human category more than any other while not being dead. This is to avoid arguments about what participation is. But given we have politicians who think filling in job applications creates jobs, any improvement will probably have to come with the opportunity to bully people in order to pass.

  4. I guess I am always posing counterfactuals. We cannot be certain there will ever be a post-pandemic period. There may be any or all of (and some of these will overlap);

    (a) COVID-19 producing annual epidemics like the flu;
    (b) COVID-19 mutations;
    (c) no true immunity;
    (d) no vaccine;
    (e) no properly effective treatments; and
    (e) rolling pandemics of further novel zoonotic diseases.

    A possibility which should be considered is an indefinite world lock-down where global regions remain permanently locked-down from each other. This will mean the end of international travel, the end of international migration, a large reduction in international trade and an increase in regional self-sufficiency (autarky). With these features will come concomitant de-growth of world and regional economies and reductions in environmental damage, for example a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

    These developments ought not to be feared but embraced. Only by controlled de-growth, controlled de-population and controlled simplification of the economic world system can we humans and the biosphere survive. This path is a “least worst” scenario. The worst case scenario is that we continue our attempted endless growth and totalising integration of the world economy. This is the path to be most feared. It will lead to uncontrolled collapse and an uncontrolled population crash. Death rates and global destruction will be much higher and the destruction much worse.

    While international trading in financial capital (until we develop something better), technology and inorganic goods can continue to some extent, the international movement of people and the trade and movement of many organic goods and living organisms (except for special cases) ought to be shut down. The terrestrial organic world needs both “re-wilding” and “re-islanding” to re-establish its ecology. The eons-old natural “islanding” of the continents, before the Columbian era, was what established terrestrial diversity of life. As we globalize and destroy diversity of life, we destroy global biological resilience.

    In the near term, Australia will have to maintain quarantine at all levels. The re-outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria is an example of what happens when the economy is re-opened too fast. I has also been the case that people have disobeyed lock-down requirements and gone to work and family gatherings knowingly while diagnosed with COVID-19. Sterner quarantine and isolation measures will have to be taken on all fronts or we else will soon look like the USA. There is no sign of any end to the rolling disasters in the USA and indeed the whole world (except for China and a few island and peninsular nations). Australia itself is now on the brink of the same disaster unless we take far more serious measures.

    The case and time for these participation measures is right now as an integral part of pandemic response and an integral ongoing part of the economy even if this particular pandemic is overcome. There will be more pandemics, more environmental collapses and more disasters in the uncontrolled collapse or controlled de-growth direction. Realistically, that is the only direction in which we are headed. We need to gear up for it now.

  5. John Quiggin’s participation income sounds a lot like the MMT Job Guarantee to me. A rose by any other name….

  6. Thought this quote from Keynes, apt…

    “The Lost Rebellious Spirit of Keynes
    The economist’s ideas are often reduced to stimulus spending. His life and work were much more radical than that.

    . ..” “There is no reason why we should not feel ourselves free to be bold, to be open, to experiment, to take action, to try the possibilities of things,” he [Keynes] wrote in one of his early arguments for a massive expansion of public employment. “Over against us, standing in the path, there is nothing but a few old gentlemen tightly buttoned-up in their frock coats, who only need to be treated with a little friendly disrespect and bowled over like ninepins.”

    Zachary D. Carter’s new biography, The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes


  7. Good job.

    Perhaps send to finance Ministers and Treasury, pointing out that your paper seems to have been favourably received and that it coud be considered as part of the post-Covid recovery. Regards.

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