Merrick wrote here yesterday in defence of the Citizen’s Basic Income. What I find interesting about the non-debate surrounding it is how a policy so close to the mainstream among polbloggers, could be so far from the shores of ordinary politics. Now, it’s easy to psychoanalyse the bloggers, to see what they see in the Basic Income. But why exactly is it ignored everywhere else?
The answer lies in what’s happened to our politics. The political class no longer acts on the basis of projected impact. They act to say something about themselves. Policy is replaced by narcissism. So, we stay in Iraq, not because we think we can win, but because it shows our enemies the kind of people we are. We scream about the War on Christmas, not because there is one, but because it’s a cipher for our thoughts about immigration. We fight a war on drugs, not because it’s winnable, but because it paints society’s disapproval of narcotic intoxication. We battle “benefit fraud”, not because it’s a sound strategy, but because we disapprove of people sitting on their arses all day at our expense. The fact that they are anyway, whatever policy we choose, and that it might be cheaper to leave them there than to chase them, is of little interest.
Of course, sensible people know that we’ve lost in Iraq. We’ll believe there’s a war on Christmas when we see an aisle-full of Winterval cards in Clinton’s. That drugs follow the iron laws of supply and demand. And that, for all the reasons Merrick mentions and plenty more too, a Citizen’s Income is a humane, efficient and maybe even possible way to proceed.
But no matter. The politics of Western capitalism is a politics of signals; the study of it nothing but semiotics. It’s easier to sell an incontinent emote than to get intelligent people to question what they know.
And on that note, I’m signing off for 2006. I have a three-week-old to cradle, and a three-year-old to chase round the house with a dancing Santa. From everyone here at The Sharpener, have a joyous and peaceful Winterval.