No more “deserving” vs. “undeserving”: why we need a guaranteed basic income (and a parallel to intuitive eating)

farm with ducks and chickens and barn in background

What would you do, if you could do anything? I have a few ideas…

David Graeber (of “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” fame) has a great interview on PBS about the need for a guaranteed basic income to replace our current system of complex, dehumanizing bureaucracies. He says:

The problem is that we have this gigantic apparatus that presumes to tell people who’s worthy, who’s not, what people should be doing, what they shouldn’t. They’re all about assessing value, but in fact, the whole system fell apart in 2008 because nobody really knows how to do it. We don’t really know how to assess the value of people’s work, of people’s contributions, of people themselves, and philosophically, that makes sense; there is no easy way to do it. So the best thing to do is just to say, alright, everyone go out and you decide for yourselves.

I agree, so hard, with his critique of bureaucracy. From personal experience with unemployment benefits, I can tell you it’s a little bit soul-crushing to have to keep proving, week after week, that you’ve done enough job-hunting to deserve to pay your rent; and that’s just the tip of the government-benefits iceberg. There are so many poor and working-poor people for whom navigating the bureaucracies of food stamps, housing assistance, heating assistance, welfare, etc. is a full-time job of its own. See, for example, this piece about the ridiculous, invasive, confusing hoops that food stamp recipients have to jump through in order to eat.

Let me be clear: right now, while there is no alternative, we need those bureaucracies. We need to defend them against attacks from the Right, and push to expand them when possible. Right now, food stamps keep people from starving.

But in the big picture, in the long term, we can do better. I envision a society in which a guaranteed basic income is considered a right. I envision a society in which no one has to justify themselves, a society that doesn’t divide people into “deserving” and “undeserving”–a society that doesn’t make people jump through hoops for their basic human rights. A society that recognizes that, by virtue of being alive, everyone deserves enough money to live. (For what it’s worth, there’s plenty of empirical evidence that giving money directly to poor people decreases poverty and has other positive effects.)

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Sunday links, 3/23/14

waffles with blueberries and maple syrup on pink sparkly heart-shaped plate

Even my plates love waffles.

Fa(t)shion
Youtheary Khmer’s spring collection is amazing!
-Danimezza rounds up ten gorgeous plus size dresses.
-Joanna rounds up lots and lots of pretty florals. *swoon* Sadly, many of them are not available in the US.
-San Diego people, check out the rad fatties yard sale and swap!
The Big Fat Flea’s tumblr has some awesome fatshion.

Fat Acceptance
-If you’re in Michigan, check out Amanda Levitt’s talk on fat visibility at Oakland University.
My weight problem isn’t my weight.
-I’ve been frustrated by this too: must every YA action heroine be petite?
-I so wish I could be in Portland for Big Sexy: A Sexy Showcase for the Fat and Fabulous!
Congress on Obesity: ego over accessibility.
-I love all of the pictures that Accidental Disney Princess posts of herself dancing, and these ones are especially beautiful.

Climate and Sustainability
Reclaiming abuelita knowledge as a brown ecofeminista.
-Hells yeah: Massachusetts emerges as the hub of the fossil fuel divestment movement.
-A haunting piece of art about politicians’ inaction on climate change.
No, we’re not just “environmentalists.” It’s much more than that.
-Andy Smith points out how indigenous people are successfully using social media to fight for their rights, costing corporations hundreds of millions of dollars.
-Zadie Smith writes a moving elegy for a country’s seasons.

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Living in the post-employment economy: on permaculture, sex ed, and perpetually closed doors

During my senior year of college, I attended the Women, Action, and the Media: WAM! conference here in Boston, hoping to find career ideas and opportunities. Instead, I found there were plenty of people doing good work, but few making a living–and most of the latter had put in years of unpaid or barely-paid work to get there. Few organizations offered entry-level jobs with a living wage and a clear career path. The only way I could see to get into most positions was to work unpaid internships, or start your own project on top of working full-time elsewhere, and keep doing it until either it became profitable or you gained enough experience to apply for one of the few jobs available.

And this was before the global financial crisis of 2008.

It was intensely discouraging and disheartening to graduate into a world where there’s so little relation between work and pay, and it’s only gotten worse.

Throughout the nearly seven years (!) since I graduated, I’ve been constantly researching jobs and careers and alternative life paths, trying to find a good fit. Every time I come across someone doing work that sounds appealing to me, something I could see myself doing, I look at how they’re doing it. And almost always, it involves a superhuman amount of work, an amount of hustling that I just don’t have in me, an extra source of income, or all of the above.

One recent example: I read Paradise Lot, a book about the how the author and a friend built a permaculture garden on a small urban lot in Western Massachusetts. Permaculture appeals to me immensely, and I still hope to learn it someday, perhaps while WWOOFing if I can ever make it work. But through much of the time described in the book, not only was the author designing his own garden, but he was also working at a local grassroots organization and writing a permaculture encyclopedia–while also recovering from a traumatic brain injury.

Another example: Heather Corinna of Scarleteen, a site that provides comprehensive sexuality education to young people, recently wrote that the site will go on strike unless they receive enough donations to make their work sustainable. Corinna writes that she has been working for 15 years without a living wage, often while working multiple other jobs at the same time, because she cares so deeply about the work–but she can no longer keep that up. And, as she notes, she’s not the only one; a lack of funding and jobs is endemic in the field. I’ve seen this firsthand: one of my friends is trained as a sex educator, but she’s in the same position I am, taking whatever administrative/clerical temp jobs she can find to make ends meet.

I thought about going into sex ed, briefly, when I was interning in the media and communications department at Planned Parenthood (also during my senior year of college). And then I saw there were no jobs.

It’s easy not to realize how many doors have quietly closed, until suddenly you see them all.

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Robots and drones can’t replace us: even more ways to make a living in a green economy

I keep reading articles arguing that we don’t really need human workers anymore, now that machines can produce (and sometimes transport) stuff. It’s often used to call for a basic minimum income, which I support.

But it makes no sense to me. The making of stuff is currently the cornerstone of our economy, but it doesn’t have to be–and it really shouldn’t be, because it’s quite literally unsustainable.

And there’s so, so much work that needs doing–very little of which can be automated.

I’ve already written about twenty ways people could make a meaningful living in a sustainable economy, and I just keep thinking of more. Here are another ten:

1.) Staffing food trucks, especially ones that serve underserved neighborhoods–such as Fresh Food Generation, an exciting new project here in Boston. Food trucks are a great way to provide delicious, healthy food at low prices, since they have less overhead than restaurants, and they can travel to serve different populations.

2.) Picking up food scraps by bike and then turning them into compost, like another new local business, City Compost. If this model became widespread, it could make a huge dent in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by food waste.

3.) Working at haunted houses like the one in this video, and other creative projects that both bring joy to their communities and provide jobs for local young people.

4.) Making processed food products–yes, in the literal sense of the word, which is not inherently a bad thing–such as jam, cheese, butter, bread, baked goods, maple syrup, sauces, dips, canned fruits and vegetables, and candy.

5.) Journalism.

These days, journalism has become a “glamour industry,” one that’s closed to all but the most privileged–but we need the opposite. We need people with diverse backgrounds to report, uncover, analyze, speak truth to power, hold leaders accountable, help us make sense of our world.

6.) Massage therapists, meditation teachers, personal trainers, and fitness instructors who teach everything from aerial acrobatics to Zumba, ballet to burlesque, yoga to water aerobics: to make joyous movement, stress reduction, and physical well-being accessible to as many people as possible.

7.) People who fix things, such as this pop-up repair shop in New York.

8.) Photographers, videographers, event planners, florists, makeup artists, and other local small businesspeople who provide services for celebrations and life events (which I talked about a bit in this post).

9.) Scientists researching diseases and chronic illnesses. There’s so much work still to be done!

10.) Creating organic vegetable gardens in the yards of homes, businesses, and schools, like yet another Boston-area business, Growing for Good. This is a great use of existing resources to build local resilient, sustainable food systems.

10 more ways to make a living in a green economy

Cupcakes: a vital part of any economy.

Jobs have been on my mind a lot lately…if by lately, you mean the past three years or so.  It’s a lot less depressing to envision what the job market would look like in a sustainable economy than to think about the shitty choices it offers now. And if we’re going to build a better economy, we have to start by imagining it, right?

So here are ten more ways that people could make a living in a new economy:

1.)  Delivering city freight by bike.

This would be a win-win all-around, as it would lower carbon emissions, decrease traffic, and provide exercise to the bike messengers.  Here in the US, we don’t have the necessary infrastructure for such wide-scale biking: but building it would create even more jobs in construction and urban planning.

2.)  Cupcake bakers. Because a revolution without cupcakes is not one worth having.

3.) Artists, writers, performers, and other creators of all stripes.

As my friend Bethany says, “The truth is, we don’t know what is possible. Which is why the pushers of envelopes, the stretchers of bodies and minds, the pioneers, the prophets, poets, and weirdoes are so vitally important.” See also this piece about why artists and designers are just as necessary as more “practical” jobs.

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Jobs in a shareable society: how do we get paid if no one is buying?

Despite my love of shiny shiny things, I am generally in favor of a society focused less on consumption and more on community. Our current levels of consumption as a society are unsustainable and harmful to both workers and the environment; if you want a good in-depth analysis of these problems and some potential solutions, I highly recommend Annie Leonard’s book The Story of Stuff.

But there’s one thing I keep wondering when I think about transitioning to a less stuff-focused society, and reading this post about planning a shareable wedding helped me put my finger on it.

The author’s wedding, which included contributions from creative friends and lots of DIY, sounds wonderful. I especially like the idea of a make-your-own-mojito station, which I’m totally stealing for future use:

Think about all the things you can make instead of buy. Instead of programs, we painted the day’s agenda on a big smooth piece of wood, propped up on an easel. Instead of a full cocktail bar, Michael made a giant pitcherful of sugar-mint-lime mash the day before, and guests enjoyed the make-your-own-mojito station with instructions and ingredients. And instead of store-bought invitations, we designed and formatted our own, and printed them at a local copy business for under a hundred dollars.

I have no problem with the author, or anyone else, planning their weddings or other events this way (although I would caution anyone considering using “friendors” to think about it carefully and be aware of the risks).  But when I see such stories held up as a model for “how we should do things,” it leaves me wondering: if everyone did it that way, what would happen to all the professional photographers, florists, wedding coordinators, artists, designers, craftspeople, and bakers?

More broadly, if we move toward a model of sharing–that is, replacing paid labor with volunteer work done by friends and family–where does that leave people who make things and provide services for a living?

One potential way around this conundrum is the basic national income, which would free people from having to work to survive. Under such a system, people who want to make art could do so without having to find a way to make money from it, and people who want to volunteer for their friends could do so without losing out on much-needed wages. But even then, there are probably many people who would want to do these types of work. After all, being an accessory maker, photographer, event planner, graphic designer, florist, or maker of tiny wedding cake replicas sound like fulfilling and rewarding jobs–exactly the kind we’d want more of in a new economy.

How do we move away from ubiquitous commercialization, from the constant beating drum of buy-buy-buy, without devaluing creative work?

I know this is a rather theoretical question, as we’re nowhere near a large-scale shift away from consumption. But I care about figuring out social and economic models that would work for as many people as possible.

Sunday links, 10/20/13

Fall is glorious.

I apologize for the lateness of the links roundup–my brain was way too tired on Friday to deal with it, and I was out all day yesterday. But I will make up for it with lots and lots of interesting stuff (thank you, internet, for being so smart and thoughtful this week).

Fa(t)shion
-As a cupcake fanatic, I am contractually obligated to announce that ModCloth now has a plus size cupcake-print dress (!).
-North Carolinian fatties, check out this upcoming clothing swap!
-There’s one for Philadelphians too.
-Fellow Bostonians, check out the launch event for Thicky Chicky, an online plus size boutique. (I finally get to attend one of those glamorous fatshion events I see all over the blogosphere, yay!)
-Fancy Lady Industries, known for their iconic fat necklace, now has beaded tiaras and other cool new handmade things.
-Skorch’s top ten plus size Halloween costumes.

Watching Amber Riley dance always makes me happy.

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