LETTER TO MY MP

To a Tory 5/10/13:

I don’t know whether you read “The Yellow Advertiser,” but if you saw this week’s (Southend/Leigh/Shoebury edition, week ending Oct 4th) you may have noticed that certain local residents are protesting the sale of caffeine-based energy-drinks to children. I am a youth-worker at ***** **** and we are increasingly appreciating the seriousness of this situation. Caffeine is a drug, a habit-forming stimulant drug linked to all sorts of physical health problems plus a range of psychological disorders from paranoia to hyperactivity. To be sure, it’s not crack-cocaine: no-one would argue caffeine should be prohibited to adults, most of us here couldn’t survive a day without the stuff! But marketing this substance, ever so cheaply, in shiny logo’d cans, absent any information regarding the possible side-effects, to teens and pre-teens is a crime, or at least it ought to be. As far as I can tell, every youth-worker in Southend agrees that there is something sinister in “energy-drinks”: here at ***** **** we are observing the symptoms of drug-abuse among minors, we can provide you with specific examples of kids whose health and behaviour have been hurt by the consumption of these drinks. I made a comment on Facebook about this phenomenon and received responses from teachers and youth-workers and parents all over the country agreeing that there is a problem.

I’m wondering if this is an issue you are interested in being involved with? To the best of my knowledge no British politician yet has: but the matter is beginning to boil, in America senators and congressmen have raised the alarm, in Canada and France medical authorities have been urging a ban, in the UK a scattering of shops are already refusing to sell this drug to under-18s. But few businesses will choose to turn down money, just as few children can be expected to possess sufficient self-mastery to overcome sweet addictive poison. Leadership has to come from above and has to involve a change in the law. What ethical or political argument could reasonably be made against this proposition; who would assert that the physical and mental health of children is of less importance than the (relatively minor) economic interests involved?

The Tory thanked me (22/10/13) for contacting him, and appreciated that I am concerned… Then: “[The Food Standards Agency’s] advice is clear that children should only consume caffeine in moderation. To support this, the statutory labelling regulations state that drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre must be labelled with the term ‘high caffeine content’ in the same field of vision as the name of the food.” More: “The British Soft Drinks Association published a voluntary [!] Code of Practice in April 2010 that recommends prominent labelling on energy-drinks, such as ‘Not suitable for children, pregnant women and persons sensitive to caffeine.’ In addition, [blah blah blah.]” He thanked me again for contacting him.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Everyone should be against the kiss.” – The Kurdistan Islamic Group.

THIS IS WHERE THE WAR IS

Notes Towards A Future, Part I

“How do we turn the noise of Information into the coherence of Vision? Plainly no-one is going to do it for us. Whether a resonant, resonating world culture evolves out of all this cacophony is strictly up to you and me.”
– Michael Ventura, “Shadow Dancing.”

“I am now convinced that the simplest solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a new widely-discussed measure: the guaranteed income. A host of psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security.”
– Martin Luther King, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?”

A citizens’ initiative in Switzerland has forced an upcoming vote in the Swiss parliament on the single most important, most progressive, most truly revolutionary idea in modern thought; an idea that has advocates across the political spectrum, a program that sounds like Socialism but was championed by the arch-Capitalist Milton Friedman along with various Libertarians and The Green Party and Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu and top aides to President Nixon; a notion that, pace MLK, isn’t new but has been propounded and at times adopted throughout history, from Abu Bakr, first of Islam’s Rightly Guided Caliphs, to the great Radical Thomas Paine to Napoleon bleeding Bonaparte to Bertrand Russell: the Basic Income Guarantee.

This is the promise that, as old Napoleon put it, “man is entitled by birthright to a share of the Earth’s produce sufficient to fill the needs of his existence.” In short, every single citizen of a country (and ultimately of the world) will be given a regular sum of money equivalent to the amount currently received on State unemployment benefits i.e. an amount calculated to be sufficient to purchase the necessities: somewhere to stay, something to eat, water, electricity, clothes. The Basic Income Guarantee: for everyone, whether glue-sniffer or tycoon, layabout or lord, the message is unconditional, the message is Welcome to the world! The accumulated wealth and exponential know-how of tens of thousands of years of struggle mean we don’t have to struggle anymore. A living is no longer something we have to earn.

The first obvious objection to this measure is the cost: but according to some forecasts it may be cheaper than the system we already have, where grudgingly-given State benefits ensure no-one need freeze or starve to death on the condition that they’re suffering or they’re looking for jobs they don’t really want, jobs that increasingly don’t exist. The bureaucratic burden of e.g. filtering recipients and snooping on the sick to make sure they’re really sick and inventing useless “Back To Work” schemes can be dispensed with, Income Support and Job Seeker’s Allowance etc. can be dispensed with, the stigma attached to being without work in an age where the liberating promise of technology is increasingly making “work” redundant can be dispensed with, replaced by the egalitarian Basic Income Guarantee, which would require just a bare organisational structure arranging payment into bank-accounts or similar.

But! say the Puritans, even if this were viable – and a number of Nobel laureates in economics think it is – wouldn’t we be creating a world in which everyone, everyone sits around getting drunk and high and watching TV all day every day? The first thing to notice about this argument is that it gets raised at the prospect of working- and middle-class people enjoying a bit of liberty but no-one ever sounds the alarm about the upper-class, born into such security, such dangerous potential for decadence. The argument falls apart: on the whole our aristo’s manage to occupy themselves fruitfully. (Similarly, whenever there are riots the corporate media is quick to blame “unemployment”: why then don’t we see the sons and daughters of kings and queens at the front of every mob?) Of course life has its losers, and doubtless a guaranteed income would be used by some to fund an unproductive, wasteful existence: so what? Let the dead bury themselves: living a worthless lazy TV life that you’ve chosen to live is at least a fraction more noble than being enslaved in a worthless workhorse treadmill life that no-one would ever choose.

But most of us know that even freed from the threat of starvation we would continue to develop and to contribute to our tribe, we are naturally curious, naturally producers, naturally social-minded; some of us have taken full advantage of what Welfare State already exists and have managed to avoid too much drudgery, nonetheless we work, we are drawn to volunteerism, to community projects and creative endeavours. There is a certain amount of empirical evidence in favour of this statement: because the Basic Income Guarantee isn’t just an issue in Switzerland, it’s being talked about all over the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income) and has been trialled in a few short-term experiments. No firm conclusions can realistically be drawn from a handful of small pilot projects in Namibia and India, yet what results there are are promising: where the Basic Income Guarantee was implemented, child malnutrition was reduced and child school-attendance increased; crime was down by 42%; economic benefits were found which completely refuted the notion that assured comfort would lead to laziness: in fact, local industry was boosted as a number of small businesses were launched, would-be entrepreneurs encouraged by the knowledge that there’s only so much they can lose.

The idea that a universal leisure-class would be destructive to our global economy, would create a lazy and unproductive humanity living off endless pizzas and PlayStations, is thus shown to be false; and we still have one argument against it left over: where do the supposedly slothful masses get these takeaways and video-games? Because “Basic” means just that: the guaranteed income covers the cost of one’s needs, no more. Very few human-beings have a taste for asceticism: we want cars and computers and spices and fluffy handcuffs and books, we want smarter clothes than our neighbours, we want a whole lot more than bread and veg and central-heating. Plenty of us will still go to work in the shops and corporations that will still be around to employ us: that’s the power of the idea, the core of its acceptability from Right to Left: there is nothing revolutionary about the Basic Income Guarantee, nothing is overturned, society is barely changed, still the very very rich will get very very richer all the time, still the discontented can sit in pubs complaining about the vast economic inequalities and the evil multinationals and braindamaging adverts and junk products that will all continue to exist. Here however is a liberation beyond mere revolution. The Work Ethic is dead; long live the Play Ethic!

WE WANT

BANG!