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Yanis Varoufakis’ amazing reframe of Basic income
Yanis Varoufakis produced half-hour video presentation and question-and-answer session. It was an address for the Future of Work Conference, in Zurich, Switzerland, 5th May 2016, at the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute. In this presentation Yanis Varoufakis, totally reframes the concept of how wealth is created in nations and the societies they structure. He argues for a new view of minimum basic income, not as a safety net to save people who may fall, but a foundation on which people can stand to rise up as productive citizens. His presentation includes the new technological context that for the first time in history, smart machines will eliminate far more jobs than they create. This then, according to Varoufakis, necessitates a basic income for all citizens.
What is really significant about this presentation is the creation of an alternative view of wealth creation which he brings about through reframing the concept of how most people think about wealth.
In the United States, it is a common concept that governments tax individuals, small businesses, and large corporations, and in doing so take wealth from those who create it, and then redistribute that wealth through governmental programs—programs which some people want and other people don’t want.
Yanis Varoufakis turns this dominant view of wealth creation around completely. He cites the iPhone as an example. He said that every part of an iPhone was created by some kind of government grant. Then, he says, after investment and technological innovation by the public, it is then sold, or given to private sector businesses which then make profits from it for executives and investors.
In the recent meeting Yanis Varoufakis had with Noam Chomsky at the New York Public Library on April 26, 2016, they held a conversation which was primarily about economics. Noam Chomsky cited the shift in corporate development and profit-seeking from electronics to biology by corporations. He mentioned that most of the discoveries which are now turning into medicines, for example, are possible only due to biological research carried out with public money, distributed by governmental grants to public institutions such as universities and other agencies, enabling vast profits for a few instead of the many.
A good example of this is the Human Genome Project. This vast undertaking began in 1990. It was funded, according to the Wikipedia article about it, this way:
“In 1990, the two major funding agencies, DOE and NIH, developed a memorandum of understanding in order to coordinate plans and set the clock for the initiation of the Project to 1990. … The $3-billion project was formally founded in 1990 by the US Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, and was expected to take 15 years.”
The discoveries of the Human Genome Project are beginning to be applied to a myriad of problems such as health care and agriculture.
The Wikipedia article went on to state this:
“The sequencing of the human genome holds benefits for many fields, from molecular medicine to human evolution. The Human Genome Project, through its sequencing of the DNA, can help us understand diseases including: genotyping of specific viruses to direct appropriate treatment; identification of mutations linked to different forms of cancer; the design of medication and more accurate prediction of their effects; advancement in forensic applied sciences; biofuels and other energy applications; agriculture, animal husbandry, bioprocessing; risk assessment; bioarcheology, anthropology and evolution. Another proposed benefit is the commercial development of genomics research related to DNA-based products, a multibillion-dollar industry.”
The transfer Yanis Varoufakis and Noam Chomsky spoke of, in the case of his project, began to take place in 1998 in the same Wikipedia article:
“In 1998, a similar, privately funded quest was launched by the American researcher Craig Venter, and his firm Celera Genomics. Venter was a scientist at the NIH during the early 1990s when the project was initiated. The $300,000,000 Celera effort was intended to proceed at a faster pace and at a fraction of the cost of the roughly $3 billion publicly funded project. The Celera approach was able to proceed at a much more rapid rate, and at a lower cost than the public project because it relied upon data made available by the publicly funded project.”
So the public invests in a huge program of research, then the government hands it over to private companies for profit. This is a reversal of the primary way Americans have been told about how wealth is created. It actually is, in many cases, public-to-private, not the other way around.
What Yanis Varoufakis does brilliantly in this talk is to advocate that this process of governments creating aggregate wealth for society be the basis and reason to give each person in that society a solid financial foundation on which to stand for reaching up to live a good life, and to, in turn, contribute to society. In this way, he reframes a minimum basic income, not as a giveaway of free stuff to deadbeats, but as a fair allocation of aggregate wealth by a society to each of its citizens.
Yanis Varoufakis is currently not only speaking of such changes in how our societies should create prosperity, he has written a book about it. It is titled “And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future”
He is also going beyond speaking and writing to movement building. He co-founded a movement called the “Democracy in Europe Movement by 2025” which has a shorter name called “DiEM25.” The website includes a short and long manifesto which describes the movement’s grievances and demands. The website is http://diem25.org.
I’m eager to know what you think of his innovative analysis, his book, and the Democracy in Europe Movement for 2025 (DiEM25) which he and his colleagues have co-founded.