Lessons from the Practice of Basic Income

Marcus Brancaglione. Lessons from the Practice of Basic Income: A Compendium of Writings and Data. Edited by Bruna Augusto. Translated by Monica Puntel, Leonardo Puntel, Carolina Fisher (São Paulo, 2016).

This is a collection of writings by Marcus Brancaglione. Brancaglione is President of ReCivitas (Institute for the Revitalization of Citizenship); Bruna Augusto, who edited the collection, is CEO. Among the activities of ReCivitas listed on its website are “structuring intellectual property licenses,” “creating new products for social investment,” and “governance platforms architecture”; as best I can gather from Google Translate’s unsatisfactory Portuguese-to-English rendering, ReCivitas is partly a sort of phyle or platform in roughly the same ballpark as Las Indias, and partly engaged in the same sort of commons-based municipalism as activists in Barcelona.

Brancaglione co-managed a crowd-funded Unconditional Basic Income pilot project in Quatinga Velho, Brazil. The project paid 30 reals a month to around a hundred members of the community for five years.

He argues that Basic Income is not primarily a redistribution of income, but more importantly “it is an instrument that restitutes natural rights and the fundamental freedom protection against the exploitation of alienated labor,” and “above all, an instrument of liberation from governmental dependency and political servitude and thus, of political-economic empowerment, especially for the more unprivileged and marginalized individuals.”

Although it’s always been the case that poverty is a political rather than a merely socioeconomic issue, that fact has become more apparent than ever today. Poverty is “not merely a state of relative lack of economic conditions, but it is indeed, much deeper and more comprehensive than that, it is the deprivation of fundamental freedom of all sorts: political, economic and cultural.”

Brancaglione rejects the neoliberal framing of poverty as an individual rather than a structural issue, along with its lionization of a “freedom of choice” relegated to consumer decisions within the structural parameters left by monopoly capital and the state.

He comes from a left free-market tradition that sees capitalism as a set of coercive structural features enabled by the state for the sake of rentier classes. Capitalism and state socialism are both variants of the same system of domination by the few over the many — both of which he distinguishes from the “free market.”

He distinguishes — perhaps reflecting some Georgist influence — between legitimate wealth and private properties, and nature which is a property common to all. Some forms of property like land and natural resources are rightfully common to all, and cannot legitimately be privately appropriated; others, like the fruits of individual labor, are rightfully private property and should not be violated by force. Genuine liberty cannot exist if the equal right of authority over common assets is violated. A free market — defined by voluntary relationships negotiated by parties equal in power — cannot exist when the revenues from common properties, which should be distributed as a social dividend to enable individual independence, are privately appropriated and the propertyless are forced into economic dependency on employment by the appropriators of social property.

Brancaglione sees the provision of basic income as a duty of goverments — “the duty of those who have control over the territory and its inhabitants and the commonwealth.” But when they default on this duty, and available resources for state funding have been privately appropriated, “nobody can prevent people to assume, voluntarily and mutually, the responsibility to supply the basic income.” He obviously doesn’t mean this voluntary assumption to be understood as a mere charitable contribution out of the incomes of the poor — rather, he strongly implies, one of the things government has no right to “prevent” is the expropriation of privately enclosed natural commons by society at large to fund a basic income when the state will not undertake that duty on its own. The people have a “natural right to common properties alienated as possessions of [nation-states] and private corporations.”

The Georgist influence comes through in his distinction between “goverments” and “states” and his treatment of states and landlords as different versions of the same phenomenon. The latter is illustrated (along with panarchistic tendencies) in the following passage:

The libertarian republics of the future are going to be societies without states or, more precisely, societies free from the national and private corporate monopolies over common and private natural properties. The governments of the future will coexist peacefully in the same territory as competitive and cooperative management societies, acting in a negotiated manner not only in the same space, but at the same time.

Brancaglione proposes a very anarchist-sounding agenda of federated local communities bypassing the state to create a counter-economy and appropriate illegitimately enclosed resources to fund a basic income.

Roughly speaking, my proposal is the constitution of small communities, completely horizontal, open and connected so as to form a network of social security without borders and which are directly financed by funds created by association of citizens, not being restricted to a venue, but by social investors from all over the world. Investors who can invest directly in the real economy of these communities, villas, cities with an enormous human capital and potential of development, instead of investing on bankrupt governments and rotten banks. Present poor and unprivileged communities… which, in the long run, could not only pay their own basic income, but also become investors or providers of basic income in other places in the world. People and societies which, in the face of the old and unsustainable violent and monopolizing possession systems would finally be able to conquer back what effectively is theirs; recover the control of their land and territories and consequently, their political sovereignty as a people with overall direct self-determination rights.

This idea of radicalized and horizontally federated communities supplanting the state and corporation is reminiscent of Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism and Harvey’s rebel cities.

The Quatinga Velho experiment reaffirmed a common theme among Basic Income advocates: that, far from disincentivizing effort and initiative, the economic security of a Basic Income actually increases them. “…[T]he opportunities, especially when one has the means to take advantage of them, increase the free initiative and the entrepreneurial ability, whereas the deprivations tend not only to reduce, but also to paralyze them.”

This is a writer who combines a lot of congenial threads of left-libertarian thought in new and interesting ways. Definitely worth checking out.

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Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist