Monday, January 22, 2018

The "guaranteed basic income" debate gets another hearing in Christian Tod's smart German documentary, FREE LUNCH SOCIETY

Oh, yes: Here we are yet again back at the old let's-give-everyone-a-guaranteed-basic-income proposition. Turns out there is still plenty to say in favor of this, and -- after a slow beginning that seems to diddle around with only a partial guaranteed income --  the new documentary by Austrian economist and filmmaker, Christian Tod (shown below) entitled FREE LUNCH SOCIETY puts forth a damned good case for bankrolling such a "crazy" plan.

Beginning (and ending his film, too) with Patrick Stewart in a scene from one of those later Star Trek TV episodes, Herr Tod moves to some interesting history: President Richard M. Nixon, of all people, was in favor of such a scheme, but Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, was not and helped sandbag any congressional efforts toward this. Overall and down the decades, certain conservatives, progressives, even Libertarians have been in favor of this -- from Milton Friedman and Charles Allen Murray to Martin Luther King (shown below) and Frances Fox Piven (further below). So the idea is certainly more "bi-partisan" than one might initially imagine.

Perhaps in order to try to coax us gently into all this, Tod offers up Alaska and the manner in which, thanks to the benefits of oil exploration, the state was able to give back to its citizens a certain amount of "free" money each year. Certainly not nearly enough to live on, the income was still greatly appreciated.

As the documentary moves along, however, we grow closer and closer to what could be an amount actually large enough to live on -- frugally, it must admitted, but that's certainly OK. We look at some of the "experiments" here in the USA (usually halted in mid-stream or prior to their even getting under way) toward this goal -- in New Jersey, Seattle and Denver -- and understand, finally, that this idea is less about the distribution of money than it is about the distribution of power. The idea of "rent-seeking" by our current corporations is brought home, as well, and this may be something many of us had not previously thought about in this manner.

Along the way we hear from entrepreneurs such as Götz W. Werner (above) and learn more about Switzerland and even of what the African country of Namibia has attempted along these lines. Much of the film is absolutely thought-provoking and bracing, particularly as regards human behavior and the old caveat that guaranteeing an income will deprive the people of their will to work. We get some fascinating ideas about the citizenry, too -- for instance, how our current power structure prefers us to be consumers rather than responsible and informed citizens.

Finally the film explores the idea of technology and who really benefits from its advancement. As statistics have now proven time and again, it is not the labor market that benefits but those who control capital. This must change.  All ready now...?

From Icarus Films, in English and German with English subtitlesand running 92 minutes, Free Lunch Society is available now on DVD -- for purchase and (I hope) rental.

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