Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rejecting nationalism

My view is that nations are artificial constructs of no inherent worth, and there is no reason I should value citizens of the nation I happen to have the nationality of, above other fellow humans.

In practice, of course, nations are there, it's impossible to entirely ignore them, when discussing practical policy, but I can utterly reject the underlying logic.

I think it is wrong to vote for parties that favour your own nationality above others. Voting is in practice an altruistic act: your own vote share and therefore impact on the result is so small that you cannot personally benefit from your vote in national elections. The only justification for voting is not self interest, but doing something for the common good.

I strongly feel that when people favour their own nationality they are being tricked by base instincts that evolved with tribal groups of ca 150 people, and which now get applied to nation states, where there are no comparable genetic ties.

When I instead look at the question, who should I care about for the common good, I find it obvious that humanity should be the right reference.

As such I get annoyed without end about for example EU arguments turning around the national interest. What is so difficult about being in favour of helping Spanish people in need, just the same way a Brit from London can favour helping people in Sunderland?

And if you wonder, why I do not want say Germany to spend 90% of its GDP on a basic income distributed to all the world's citizens, things need to be practicable and take account of where we are now. To get away from the nation state, and allow for example complete freedom of migration for all the world's citizens, and not just those of the EU, will take time. That freedom can be negotiated with say South Korea easily enough without disruption to the EU or South Korea, but it could not with say Africa. Not instantly. The long term vision is naturally that all fellow humans can freely decide where to live.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Better together

I am neither a citizen of the UK nor of Scotland, nonetheless, I've got an opinion, and would prefer the UK to stay in the EU and Scotland to stay in the UK.

This is particularly about the symbolism. What actually is changed, should either union be formally broken, is up for negotiation anyway and can range from virtually nothing to quite a lot.

Switzerland may not be an EU member, but to get access to the single market, they've signed up to virtually everything EU members do. In fact, they are even part of the Schengen passport free zone (just as Norway and Iceland), which the UK and Ireland have not joined.

I also think that renegotiated unions are also what is in the best interests of Scotland, the UK and the rest of Europe respectively.

Splitting formally just poisons the atmosphere and makes the renegotiation harder on all concerned. And after all, neither Scotland nor the UK want real separation. Scotland doesn't want its own currency for example, and I doubt people there are keen on complex bureaucracy to be able to work in England for a few years.

Nor do I think that UK tourists want to queue for visas for their Spanish holidays, or that the UK would want different standards for cars etc., so that products made for the UK market could not be sold in the rest of Europe and vice versa. This sort of thing would most definitely make the UK a lot poorer.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New comment by me on UBI

The idea expressed in your first and last graphics is neat*, but I think what happens is that, very roughly, we exchange a 100% benefit withdrawal rate for 10% of the population and a 50% marginal tax rate for 90% of the population, with 

81.5% taxes for all. And that is not helpful in terms of work incentives. 

Let me give you a few illustrative numbers that'll help show how this sort of thing happens: 

Divide into 10 income deciles, and define poverty level as 70% of average net income, and assume the bottom decile has 0% of the total gross income. Also assume a 50% flat tax on gross income. That's not far from actual in Europe, and including eg healthcare into the overall marginal tax picture may not be too far from actual in the US (you give an example above of 8696 Dollars out of 50000, which alone is 17% of income). 

The bottom decile then needs to get 3.5% of income and this is withdrawn at a 100% withdrawal rate. 50% of gross income is taken as tax, and of that 46.5% can be for things like healthcare or schools or the military, and 3.5% is for transfer payments. 

Now, we decide that 100% benefit withdrawal is too much and negatively impacts work incentives. So, we do not withdraw benefits for the first decile. Seeing, that the second decile would then be faced with 100% marginal rates, we don't withdraw there either, and so forth, until the tenth decile. Now, we do not spend 3.5% on transfer payments, but 35%. The extra 31.5% of course needs to come back in via taxes, so our flat tax goes from 50% to 81.5%. 

I hope these numbers help to show, why some politicians like to talk about lower marginal tax rates for the poorest (Ian Duncan Smith in the UK for example), but in practise find it impossible to actually lower them, and why attempts to achieve this tend to end in the cliffs you describe rather than the UBI graph you show at the end. 

I like UBI as a measure to ensure a rock bottom standard truely for all, but to get around the marginal tax problem, I think some of the transfer payment needs to be linked to a work requirement. This is only secondarily because of the production contribution of the bottom decile, though it should be possible to get that from (purely illustrative numbers) say 0% to 3.5%. It is primarily to make receipt of benefits sufficiently unattractive that few people are drawn away from the normal labour market, into subsidised, low value creating activities or complete inactivity. I think we can guarantee comfy, attractive or reasonably paid jobs to everyone, but we cannot guarantee both simultaneously, 300 Euros a month for reading to children in kindergarten, or 900 Euros a months for cleaning the kindergarten toilets. That's possible, 900 Euros for the kindergarten reading (or equivalent) would draw too many people away from productive work (much confusion about this in the UBI debate, here I mean work that contributes to what we can buy with money, ie gives value to the UBI itself or net salaries, reading to children in kindergarten may be societally useful, but it does not help create anything that can be bought for eg the UBI money). 

*It is incidentally a very common line of argument in the UBI debate also over here in Europe. - See more at:

New comment by me on sortition

There is a presumption here that special interests (=minorities) being able to get their will in spite of majority opposition is always a bad thing. Yet, minorities have no reason to unquestioningly accept a dictatorship by the majority which runs strongly against their interests. They have a fair case that the decision should be a result of negotiation with the minority having sufficient power to ensure a compromise solution. At its most dysfunctional you see the “majority rules” view of democracy right now in Thailand or Iraq. We had in the UK in the case of Northern Ireland.
But even with less fundamental issues, often the desire for participation is triggered when people feel very strongly about a particular issue, and then they want means of influence. It is not just the rich and powerful that are being accommodated in their desire for influence in representative democracy. Whether it is animal rights activists or anti abortion activists, or farmers, or miners, they get a much stronger voice in today’s representative democracry concerning the issues they care about most strongly, than the majority does.
And I would argue that this is actually a good thing to quite some degree, because our society is a voluntary compact between many individuals and groups, and in this compact the negotiation element of decision making should be important and weight should not just be given to simple voter numbers, but also to how strongly people are affected by decisions.
We may not implement this perfectly (via lobbying, via having some decisions being delegated to local councils, or to the parents of a school district), but this is an element I do not see at all (at least not explicitly) in the sortition proposals.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

My three top priorities for the pirate party movement

Reform of:

Intellectual property


Taxes and benefits

Intellectual property is at the heart of today's knowledge economy, and it is fundamentally different from normal goods and services. The manufacturer of a car or of a book has costs for an extra copy.This is not the case for intellectual property such as scientific articles in journals, yet many of my articles are now behind a paywall with Elsevier charging heavily for each article viewing. Intellectual property is not really property, it cannot be stolen like a car. It is more like a tax that the licence holder may charge for a limited period to ensure that the intellectual work required gets done and rewarded. This is actually quite an important distinction, as it shifts the emphasis from protecting property rights to ensuring value is created.

Taxes and benefits are so complex today that they hide the true tax rates of the 99%. They are also contradictory in their incentive effects. On this I have written a lot already in this blog.

Lobbyism and the influence of vested interests (in particular top earners) is I think the root cause for this state of affairs that capitalism rhetoric notwithstanding has more to do with rent seeking than with economic efficiency. I see a reform of democracy as critical and the idea I find most promissing is a truely representative chamber, one drawn by lot. Their members would not be beholden to lobbyists and would not need to fight elections. They would have the time to sift the evidence presented by experts carefully being paid well to do this full time, and unlike ordinary voters they would be few enough in numbers that every one of them would know that their vote actually might make a real difference.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Excellent French work on basic income

and especially this spreadsheet:

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


How many do still work?

About 6% regularly, about 4% sometimes. Salary and work times are very low.