On what I'm currently doing with my life: See this recent interview and Resolution for 2018: Make Myself Useless, and (if it's publicly published) My Life as Experiment.
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My original supporters knew me as a writer for Basic Income News, the news service of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) (see my articles here), though some might know me best from my other roles, such as organizing the content of the 2017 North American Basic Income Guarantee (NABIG) Congress. I myself used to describe myself on Patreon as a writer and editor for Basic Income News, and occasionally by invoking other titles and affiliations, such as “Secretary of the US Basic Income Guarantee Network” or “member of the Executive Committee of BIEN”.
But that was a big mistake. It is not in my nature to inhabit one specific occupational role and settle there; that's why I am an "anti-careerist" (see the interview linked above). I embrace opportunities to learn new information, acquire new skills, make new connections, and so on, but I also move on when I begin to feel stunted in my personal development.
At present, I have largely moved on from the basic income movement(s) altogether. I am not policy advocate (and I'm certainly not a journalist...). When it comes to roles related to the interests that drove me to basic income to begin with, I see two as prevailing at present: the Visionary Dreamer and the Living Example.
1. The Visionary Dreamer
Whenever I have the opportunity to write in detail about my own “utopian” dreams, I will strive to subject my own views to as much critical scrutiny and analysis as I would inflict upon anyone else’s arguments--even more. At the same time, though, I do see myself as having a role in agitating people to think about alternative visions for society--agitating people to rethink such mainstays as the ideas that one ought to work for a living, that nearly everything has a price (and the idea that one ought to work for pay), that education is valuable primarily as a means to obtaining a job, that leisure is valuable primarily as a means to recharge for a job, and others.
For the benefit of any basic income people who are here, I will mention specifically that I hold at least three visions of a better society that relate closely to basic income or the basic income movement, which I’ll call here by the following tongue-in-cheek pseudo-pejorative titles: Free Labor, Something for Nothing, and The Right to be Lazy. The first captures the core of my support for a basic income or similar policy that divorces work from pay. However, it is something I seldom see discussed, let alone stressed, among basic income supporters. The latter two touch upon issues often discussed by basic income supporters; however, I myself am skeptical of the potential of basic income (or, at least, basic income alone) to achieve the aims.
- Free Labor
“What would you do if you didn’t have to accept money for your work?”
This is this question, I believe, that truly cuts to the core of the unique and defining--yet under-explored--potential of basic income: by divorcing work and pay, a sufficiently high basic income could foster a society in which individuals are encouraged to work for no monetary compensation.
I believe that, whenever possible, work should not be commodified or converted into a paid job. Captain Jean-Luc Picard said, “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” But it is not necessary to await to the 24th century to find the latter impulses already active. Even in our consumer-driven capitalistic society, people sometimes perform work out of social and altruistic motivations, and people sometimes pursue work merely out of intrinsic interest or a desire to learn and grow.
The monetization of such work can result in the corrosion or crowding out of underlying social, altruistic, or intrinsic motivation. But it’s the latter motivations, I submit, that society ought to nurture--at least this is the world in which prefer to live--while doing what it can not to foster the motivation to acquire excess money and stuff.
See my article on “A Paid Volunteer Against the Monetization of Voluntary Labor” for my most recent in-print introduction to my thoughts on this issue. For some other work I find inspiring, see Michael Sandel’s book What Money Can’t Buy (especially the idea that monetization can be intrinsically corrupting), and Dan Ariely’s more abstract musings on social norms and market norms (here bracketing my concerns about the productivist assumptions that underlie the measures of "success" in much psychological and economic research on the effect of monetary incentives).
- Something for Nothing
As many in basic income community agree, there are some goods that ought to be considered basic rights, owed to everyone simply in virtue of their being persons. The question is what these goods are, and how they can be universally secured. It is easy to see the attraction of basic income here--a suitably high basic income, presumably, could be a way to guarantee a minimally decent standard of living as an individual right--but I think that basic income proposals must be submitted to scrutiny with respect to their ability to engender a “something for nothing” society.
For example a basic income only supplies money, but money per se is not a basic need; money is not food, shelter, security, sanitation, medical care, or so on. Sure, it might provide a way to purchase such goods--but this assumes that the relevant markets exist, are accessible to all, and provide goods of sufficient quality at prices affordable with the basic income.
Thus, one question that concerns me, especially as someone who dreams of the reduction of the force of commodification and market norms, is which basic goods are best supplied directly.
This extends not only to the question of whether a society should pursue universal basic services like shelter, food, transportation, and information, perhaps instead of universal basic income, but also to the question of whether society should guarantee a right to a job. Despite my rejection of the value and virtue of paid employment per se, even I acknowledge that the importance of fulfilling work for individuals’ sense of purpose, identity, and self-worth. However, without education, social networks, and continuous on-demand access to information and resources, for example, individuals would remain severely limited in their ability to procure personally rewarding work opportunities--even unpaid ones (challenging and fulfilling volunteer positions can be quite hard to find!). Financial security is necessary, but it is not sufficient.
If we aspire to a society in which the potential to live a post-materialistic “good life” is a right, not a commodity to be bought and sold, we need to scrutinize the extent to which basic income alone might be a cop out, or even counterproductive, given its affirmation of the market.
Furthermore, some proposals for funding a basic income are antithetical to the goal of providing other certain goods as “rights” that all should enjoy free of charge. I believe, for example, that most information (e.g. journal articles) should be freely available to all. I have seen proposals to tax profits earned due to intellectual property laws to help finance a social dividend type of basic income. But what we need, I maintain, is to abolish these laws so that people simply aren’t profiting from the act of depriving others their rightfully owed access to information. As another example, consider proposals to tax the use of natural resources to fund a social dividend. Some might be benign, but there are limits; imagine a hypothetical case in which the government auctions off its national parks to private parties. I’d contend that nature and natural beautiful ought to be accessible to all--a priceless component of the good life--not to be overridden by the government’s desire for a new means to raise taxes even if those taxes help fund a basic income.
- The Right to be Lazy
Some basic income advocates see basic income as a way to permit people to work less and spend more time cultivating passions and interests without working about whether they can generate earnings in the marketplace. I am not one of them: I am highly skeptical of the ability of basic income to effect a fair and equitable redistribution of work and leisure or, correspondingly, to foster a society in which most people (not only a few who are either independently well-off or content with a poverty-level existence) have substantial time to explore passions and interests outside of paid employment. But I share the dream, and I am sympathetic to approaches to basic income that view the policy as liberation from the “iron cage” of wage slavery.
I do not advocate basic income--or any other policy--as a means to attain this goal. Instead, I am interested in the question of what policy, if any, could attain it. What other policies and reforms would necessary? What could basic income contribute--or, given other necessary reforms, would basic income turn out to the play the role of the stone in stone soup?
These, again, are all questions for me to pursue in future work. For now, I invite basic income supporters to an article by Matthew Dimick (“Better than Basic Income? Liberty, equality, and the regulation of working time”), who makes some of the same points that I would.
2. The Living Example
My life is itself something of an experiment in living (if I may use ‘experiment’ in a decidedly non-scientific sense), and one not entirely dissimilar from a kind of “alternative lifestyle” that basic income’s more utopian proponents might hope the policy to make more widely available.
For one, I have always instinctively rejected the centrality of career advancement—or even pursuing a career at all—in my own personal conception of success and self-identity. Indeed, I feel this so firmly as part of my identity that I adopted the term (neologism?) ‘anticareerist’ as my handle on Facebook (back when I had a public page there). My use of the term inspired one of my own role models, D. Joanne Swanson, to use it in the title of her newest blog, The Anticareerist: toward a world beyond earning a living. I soon hope to start contributing to the blog myself; for now, read more about our interpretations there (“What is Anticareerism?”).
In addition, I am not driven to make money for its own sake, nor to “improve my standard of living” (i.e. to increase my potential to consume stuff) for its own sake, nor to earn a higher salary or consume conspicuously in order to signal my “success” to myself or others.
Max Weber states, in his provocative passage on piece-rate laborers in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, “A man does not ‘by nature’ wish to cam more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose.”
This is precisely how I feel most of time. To be sure, I sometimes feel a compulsion to expand my life in ways that happen to require money, such as traveling or enrolling in classes. In these cases, I might desire to earn more money as necessary to execute my aims. And, whenever it is too burdensome to stand in the way of pursuing my passions, I embrace opportunities to earn more than I need in my present situation: I think of it buying freedom for my future self, setting aside any excess earnings to support me when I withdraw from paid employment in order to devote more time to some unpaid pursuit, or simply to recalibrate and adjust to a new path of self-improvement and self-discovery. (I always choose liquid accounts, of course, for I cannot predict how soon I’ll find myself compelled to leave a present vocation and pursue a life change; the idea of investing in order to maximize wealth is alien to me.) I am currently in the position of the “future self” here, obviously, and thank my past self for setting aside some money for me.
This, in the end, is perhaps my most important role of all. It is, moreover, one that will outlast my direct association with the basic income community--for, of course, this general approach to life applies also to my involvement in the basic income community itself. It is what led me here. It is what allowed to seize opportunity when it arose, when it felt right, without my being chained to my past positions or career path. By the same token, however, I am not tethered here. I have the freedom to leave, the power to say to say ‘no’ to future projects and positions.
If you support me on Patreon, you are, in essence, supporting this life project. You are not funding my work on any particular job or project; you are financing me qua living experiment.
When it seems useful, I will write about lessons learned from--or, perhaps more accurately, conjectures inspired by--my lived experience. I have, for instance, written about the influence of my experience as a funded college student on my thinking about basic income (“I had something like a basic income; here are nine ways it influenced my views”). I intend also to piece together a memoir on my “rise and fall” in the basic income community, wherein I describe my involvement in the community--from beginning to end--as itself a paradigm instance of anti-careerism.
If it turns out to inspire others, I will write more about my lifestyle. If discussing aspects of my own life in a public arena helps to inspire other would-be anti-careerists to follow their instincts, or if it helps insecure anti-careerists to come to embrace their dispositions and inclinations, or if it helps closeted anti-careerists to open up to others, then it will all have been worthwhile to me.
(Note, by the way, that I refuse to write under a pseudonym; I am proud of who I am, and any potential future employers who reject me due to my online publications can suck it.)