Planning Meeting 5th Jan at the Swan 7:30pm

To discuss the topics for the next few discussion meetings.

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Brexit, Trump and the Russians

Friday 1st December, 7:15 for a 7:30pm start, Unity House, Fennel Street, Loughborough

Discussion to be introduced by Ray Sutton.

Have the Russians tried to influence the American Presidential elections? Are they trying to influence Brexit? How would they do this? And why?

How much influence can social media really have?

 

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A “Soft” Brexit?

A very interesting discussion at the last Friday Room discussion, “an Anarchist view of Brexit”.

I have clarified my views on Brexit. I voted remain and I still of that view. At the time I accepted that the EU governance is hardly representational, that its long term agenda, “ever closer union” was not what I wanted. Since then my view on this is, if anything, even stronger. I now see as a “Brussels elite” whose covert aim is to retain and increase its power, which has been responsible for a few bad key decisions. Yes, this is a threat. But mostly long term.

However, Global corporations are far more to be feared. They are essentially amoral, hughly powerful, but we have absolutely no control over them. They have the potential to wreck the environment and threaten to have a profoundly toxic effect on our culture and society.

Alone, Britain would not have the will or the inclination to stand up to them. A Tory government would most likely just roll over and have its tummy tickled. “Run the NHS for you?” Yes please! “Dominate the media?” luverly! All finance run by the Global Banking Syndicate? Utopia! This to me is far more scary and immediate than the EU.

The EU has demonstrated that it has the clout to stand up to the global corporations. It is not totally amoral and mostly supportive of culture. It is open to influence, although not nearly enough.

As a result of the referendum we are in a different place. I don’t think there is any sense in trying to undo the referendum, rather we should focus on uncoupling ourselves from the EU autocracy.

The detailed policies, all the separate treaties and trading agreements should be left as they are. The advantages of change are at best arguable. Many of the agreements are complicated and remaking them in a rush is foolish. Let’s keep things as they are unless there are really pressing reasons for change. Economic predictions are always notoriously unreliable and particularly in this case.

My vote now would be for a Brexit that does not change existing policies but changes the way policies are made in the future. A Brexit in which all EU edicts are negotiable.

If this is what is meant by Soft Brexit, then I think there would be a clear majority vote for it. Given such a Soft Brexit as an option, I think only a minority would now vote remain.

I suspect that total withdrawal is what the global corporations (and Russia?) really want,  resulting in a loud and well funded lobby. However, those that voted leave would surly be divided on a choice between Hard and Soft.  As they start off accounting for only slightly more than half the total, the arithmatic indicates that only a minority are likely to support a Hard Brexit.

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Brexit: An Anarchist Approach

Thanks to John for organising this month’s Friday Room discussion on ‘Brexit: an Anarchist Approach.’  I was intrigued by the topic, having only the vaguest idea about an anarchist approach to anything, let alone Brexit: black flags and Conrad-inspired images were all my mind could dredge up on the subject.

Claire and Mike from the Anarchist Federation were greeted by an enthusiastic but sadly depleted group as – in an ironic twist – the evening coincided with a farewell dinner for Glenys Wilmott, the area’s retiring MEP.

Unsurprisingly, there is not one single anarchist view on Brexit or the EU.  Many anarchists opposed the EU as a super-state which exerts control over large populations and therefore voted for Brexit.  But most voted to remain, through a belief in internationalism and the power of people to work together across national borders.

Anarchists are against power-structures.  They oppose the nation-state and the ‘giving away of power’ (as they see it) to elected representatives.  They do not organise through political parties but are active in many campaigns, such as anti-nuclear demonstrations, anti-oil pipeline and anti-fracking protests.  Anarchism looks beyond capitalism and the nation-state for its vision.  Although not members of political parties, most anarchists tend to be on the left politically.  They do not usually vote in elections as they see these as too distant from the lives of individuals to make a difference, but single-issue referendums are different and many did vote in the EU referendum as this is a more direct process.  We had much discussion afterwards about how (and whether) democracy might be improved by having referendums, say, on each budget or piece of legislation.

Anarchism seeks the freedom of the individual to act within society unconstrained by national or international structures.  They support the right of people to be unwaged if they need to be.   However it is difficult to state anything with any certainty about what anarchists believe, as there is no ‘party line’ and every individual is likely to have a different view.  Many anarchists do believe, however, that ‘leave or remain’ was a false choice, and that a better choice would be to retain the nation-state or remove it.

Although anarchists tend to be on the left politically, there could perhaps be some crossover between their ideas of individual freedom and those of the libertarian right.  In campaigning they make a distinction between violence against property, which is considered acceptable, and violence against people: however they are not committed to non-violence and will act in self-defence.

When asked what an anarchist utopia might look like, they described a situation where people’s needs were provided for simply and on a local basis.  There is a lot of support for the idea of doing away with money and perhaps going back to a barter system.

The talk generated a lot of discussion around the EU vote, referendums and the strengths and weaknesses of the anarchist utopia, as described.  In areas of Iraq and Syria called Rojave, anarchist regimes are being established now and for further ideas you can go to:

http://www.freeworldcharter.org/en

Kirk out

 

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An Anarchist View on Brexit

Friday 3rd November, 7:15 for a 7:30pm start, Unity House, Fennel Street, Loughborough

The ongoing Brexit saga is never out of the news. Understandably so, as many people face a level of uncertainty – whether economic, political or based on the simple right to remain or move freely. At the same time, there has been a rise in nationalist and populist politics here in the UK and abroad. At this meeting, a speaker from the Anarchist Federation will present an anarchist view of Brexit and its context within the current crisis of capitalism.

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Friday Room, 6th October, 7:30 pm

Friday Room meets this week, 6th October at 7:30pm, in Unity House, 21 Fennel St, to discuss the social and political consequences of automation.  Is this round of automation likely to create as many jobs as it destroys?  Is Universal Basic Income a realistic and positive prospect?  What other implications does automation have?

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Basic Income: Three narratives

There is widespread support for a basic income of some sort, as shown by Amanda in turning a solution into a problem, but it is not clear how it could come about. The debate seems to have got hung up with a narrative of reforms to the benefits system. I suggest that there are two alternative narratives which should be considered alongside this one.

Narrative One: Universal benefit

The current benefits system is notoriously complex and there is universal recognition that it works badly, is expensive to run and is frequently unfair.

A universal benefit would be a substitute for a lot of payments already being made, dole, sickness benefits, state pension etc. but the details are complex. Two serious models have been made, one by the Citizen’s Income Trust in the “70s, the other recently by Compass.

Both use models to work out the details. They both predict that most of the money for the basic income replaces the existing payments and the difference coming from raised income tax, would not be excessive.

Both studies propose a range of schemes. Both include minimal schemes where the Basic income would be about £60 per week or £3,000 per year. (As a reality check, the national living wage for a 40 hour week is £300 or £15600 per year. The NHS costs a bit more than £2000 per person per year.) These schemes would be implemented by DWP.

There are problems:

There would inevitably be a transition period as work patterns and pay levels adjust to the new regime. This has two important implications, first is that there would winners and losers and extra provision would be needed to support those who lose out during the transition. The total cost of introduction over and above the tax burden when fully up and running, is likely to be considerable.

There will be vocal opposition to any suggestion of funding the scheme from income tax, however irrational.

There is uncertainty about it working. A possible outcome is that it would reduce the incentive to work and result a large number of people will choose to live in idleness. There are a number of trials around the world which suggest a positive outcome, but these have been on a small scale and cannot demonstrate what would happen in the long term when society adapts to a radical new regime.

When the question is asked “why do so many working class people vote Conservative?” high up in the answers is a low regard for the welfare state. There seems to be a general feeling that, in its present form, the welfare system is bad solution the (admittedly difficult) problem.

People need occupations and incentives to pursue them. Increasing ones income is a strong incentive. The welfare system has a “claw-back” mechanism, so coming off benefits into employment means that most of the increased income from wages is cancelled out by loss of benefit. The incentive offered by greater income is removed. There can be situations where people are worse off when they get a job. (The poverty trap. Bad.)

With a basic income, entering employment means the wages are a total gain and represent the strongest incentive.

Narrative Two: Citizens’ dividend

(This needs a soap box.)

Fellow citizens. Our country has grown rich. The onward march of automation has brought us  to a state where we could all live in reasonable comfort.

We got to this state only because of the toil and intellectual efforts of our ancestors.

Our ancestors made this investment. We should all now be reaping dividends on our inheritance, distributed most fairly as a citizens’ dividend.

A Citizens’ dividend is ours by right!

Narrative Three: Economic compensation

This narrative is about economics. It has two sides. The first starts support for the idea of a basic income voiced by some economically significant people; Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of facebook and a top venture capitalist in silicon valley (Interviewed on BBC TV prog.). We need to take these people’s views seriously because their particularly insight into the potential disruptive effects of automation and artificial intelligence.

Up to now the economy works something like the game of Monopoly. In the game all the players collect £300 when they pass go. I guess that if they didn’t, the game would not work.

In real life everyone is a player. The economic system depends them having an income when they “pass go”. With the continuing development of automation/AI, there is a looming situation where the demand for labour declines and an increasing number of players will not be able to play the game.

A basic income would be the equivalent of “£300 on passing go”. It would be a compensation for the decline of the historical income and essential keep the game going and to prevent the economy from seizing up.

The other side of this narrative is about resources. Over the last few decades non-renewable resources have become scarcer, pollution greater and the economic consequences increase. This fits well into the model from of the report “Limits to Growth”. We can be confident that trend will continue over the next few decades and is set to become a major determinant of the economy.

To tax is to discourage. It seems to me a no-brainer that, with meaningful work becoming scarcer, income tax, which discourages work, should be replaced by resources taxes, that discourages the consumption of resource.

The big problem with this is that income tax is progressive and resource taxes are regressive.

The result of resource taxes will be to make goods more expensive which hurts everyone. Distributing the tax take as an economic compensation in the form of a basic income solves this.

This has already been done. In Alaska the Economic Security Project was set up in 1976. Revenues from Alaska’s oil and mineral leases went into a fund, and every October  a dividend check is sent of up $2072 per person. This year 71% of Alaskans voted to continue the scheme rather than reduce taxes.  They are not closet lefties.

What next?

The universal benefit narrative of making significant step changes by the DWP is problematical. The combination of sheer complexity, an understandable uncertainty of the consequences combined with necessary government caution makes it unlikely to get off the ground.

The trend to less resources and more automation maybe remorseless, but it is gradual, with a time scale of a few decades. The wistful dream of returning to full waged employment gradually becomes less plausible. Profound changes to the economic landscape are happening but there is no cliff edge.

A step change is not a good idea anyway. The introduction of a basic income will have profound knock-on effects for industry, society and culture. Raw materials become more expensive and labour becomes cheaper. The business world has always adjusted to change, but does not like sudden change. Although the indications from all the trials is that people react positively, it is impossible to tell how society will change in the long term.

Another argument for a gradual introduction is that we have no clear idea of the level at which a basic income should be set. This has been a big concern in the first narrative, with some arguing that anything less than a living wage is not worth consideration, others argue that is too much and would enable people to live comfortably in idleness. The truth is that we simply don’t know.

A gradual introduction means that we watch what happens and decide later.

Conclusion

There is a strong case for introducing a Citizens’ Dividend paid for by levies on resources, pollution (eg a CO2 tax) and maybe dividends.

It should be introduced gradually over a period of at least 10 years.

The role of DWP would be merely reactive. Benefits would be reduced in response to the increasing Citizens’ Dividend resulting in a reduction of the burden on ordinary taxes.

A starting point might be to allocate the entire fuel duty to the Citizens’ Dividend. The amount would be modest, about £430. It should be revenue neutral, with the loss to the treasury cancelled by a reductions in benefits and state pensions.

From then on increases to fuel duty would lead to a general increase in prices but for the poorest this would be more than compensated for by an increase in the Citizens’ Dividend. Richer people can easily compensate by using more efficient cars. Win all round.

Next would be a gradual increasing carbon levy, again general increase prices for most goods but for the individual compensated by the Citizens’ Dividend and by choosing goods that are more carbon efficient.

Where do we go from here? There seems to be cross-party support. Letter to MP? 38 deg petition? Back the doing of a proper analysis?

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