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Hillary Clinton Didn’t Propose Universal Basic Income Because Centrists Won’t Fix the Future

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Hillary Clinton recently sat down with Vox's Ezra Klein to talk about what she "really thinks" nearly a year after she handily lost an election that was hers to win. The interview, which went online on Wednesday, is by turns surprising and utterly moribund.

Clinton discusses how prior to her electoral run she considered supporting policies that would make the Left salivate: a basic income for all, paid out of the pockets of the extractive industry, and single-payer healthcare. Yet in the same breath she dismisses these ideas out-of-hand, as if they never could have worked. This is the hard limit of establishment liberal politics, and her unflagging dedication to a broken system is one of the biggest reasons why Americans have tired of politics as usual.

Of a basic income, based on the Alaska model that pays out dividends from the state's oil industry to citizens, Clinton wrote in her new book that achieving this would mean raising taxes or scrapping essential social services. Ditching the idea was the "responsible decision." This is, frankly, bullshit. The Alaska model is funded by oil revenues (as well as investments in stocks and bonds), not income taxes. To extend it to the rest of the country wouldn't mean raising taxes or scrapping social services but expropriating revenues from an industry that ravages what is supposed to be a shared natural resource. And even if a basic income were funded through taxes, who might bear the brunt? Perhaps the mega-rich who hoard billions of dollars in foreign banks, far out of reach from the American people?

A politician with a larger imagination would perhaps see these opportunities and latch onto them. But not Clinton. Instead, she worries about having to explain to her enemies how she would achieve these goals and not having a good answer, because the answers are forever out of reach for her politics. Rather than grappling effectively with the biggest issues threatening our future: namely income inequality, climate change, automation-related job loss, and the health of our population, Clinton decided to work within a system that offers only patchwork solutions to a limited number of people.

Of single-payer healthcare, which has now been proposed by Bernie Sanders and 15 other senators, Clinton says that she supports it, at least in the abstract. According to her, though, the question of "who's going to pay for it?" made it a political impossibility during her candidacy. The way Clinton tells it, Sanders can't explain how to pay for it, and nobody can. At least, not without raising taxes on average Joe and Jane. But Sanders does have answers and explanations, and he released them publicly this week. The answers he proposes are: Tax high-earners, tax offshore wealth, close loopholes for corporations, tax capital gains, tax the finance industry, etc.

These revenue streams are out of reach for politicians like Clinton and other centrist Democrats who are terrified of upsetting an economic order that created the largest income inequality gap in American history. Even more, she dismisses single-payer healthcare and stronger environmental protections as simply being "whatever it is that might be viewed as universal and inspiring." But the environment, people's health, and their quality of life are not abstractions. Making them better is possible.

Centrist politicians, of whom Clinton is emblematic, can't see the bright point of light at the end of our very long and dark political tunnel. They like being neither here nor there, in the half-light of justice deferred, comfortably "between center right and center left," as Clinton put it, wherever the center of a center is supposed to be. Nowhere, I suppose.



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duerig
6 days ago
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As a centrist, I look back at history and see all the times when a shortcut to justice was found, and in almost every case, the outcome has been more injustice. Radical changes do not make the world more just. They break the world. It is only by a thousand tiny and insufficient steps that we move towards a more just world. It means at every stage we muddle our way through in our imperfect world. But an imperfect world is always more just than a broken world.

If a UBI comes, it will come at the hands of the centrists. It will start small and slowly expand over time. The revolutionaries can't deliver on it. Revolutionaries can only bring revolution. And revolution is the path to death and the failure of dreams.
gazuga
1 day ago
Wouldn't you allow that some inputs to progress in the last 200+ years have been revolutionary rather than incremental in character? Often a new pattern takes hold only by displacing an old pattern. Even if we agree most conscious efforts to reorder societies overnight ruin what they're trying to improve, what works for a while can also get hopelessly stuck.
gazuga
1 day ago
What I'm on the edge of my seat about is what happens when the burn-it-down progressives actually take power somewhere soon. Corbyn in the UK looks to be first in line. It's not a movement I associate with any interest in revolutionary politics or its workings. They're using the image of violent revolutions and the counter-image of waffling centrists as code for something more like the shortcuts successfully taken in the New Deal.
gazuga
1 day ago
That's incomplete, though. These folks have started to normalize political violence and system breaking in their language. I still think they're allergic to the tools to organize violence at scale (even if Nazi punching has them a little too worked up right now, as if that's a corner of the political violence matrix they can expand from). The literalness they profess in these extreme stances is, for all but a disturbed few of them, a bluff with the cards face up. And I think it's largely the same thing when they talk as if they'd fire all the technocrats and start emptying prisons and breaking up banks in their first minutes in office.
gazuga
1 day ago
What, then, is the actual theory of power running under their ideation? Will having jobs to do inside rule-filled pluralistic systems tame them overnight, or does the collapse of liberal norms give them access to a bunch of shortcuts that their predecessors never thought were available? What power is lying on the ground for the centrist smashers right now, and do they know how to wield it without knocking themselves out?
gazuga
1 day ago
I don't see things clearly enough make strong predictions. Still too dizzy from 2016.
duerig
1 day ago
There is a role for revolutionary idea, but not for revolutionary action. Many of the foundations of our current society that make it more just were once revolutionary ideas. And it is good that our current institutions have displaced what came before. But as much as it was a good idea to tear down the feudal order or to eliminate regional grain tariffs, for example, this clearly didn't work out for the generation of French men and women when these idea were suddenly put into force overnight. A nation without a center is a nation on the brink of collapse. It is a car without brakes. So the increasing trends to smear political opponents as not just wrong, but also moral monsters who eat babies has now spilled over into attacks on the center. Because somebody willing to work with baby-eaters is pretty much just as bad. This doesn't lead us to a good place.
duerig
1 day ago
The role of a centrist is to lose slowly. So that radical ideas that are good are implemented gradually over time. While radical ideas that are bad are held at bay until they become more obviously bad and then discarded. There were centrists who opposed universal suffrage. And there were centrists who opposed eugenics. Both were ideas that were suddenly very popular and gaining currency in society. From our historical perspective, it is easy to see why one was good and the other was misguided. But at the time, this was not clear. So to be a centrist, it is nice to be able to account yourself on the right side of history some of the time. But just as often centrists were on the wrong side of history. There really is no way to know for sure whether you are right or wrong. Subjective certainty is cheap currency that is easily obtained by everyone involved. So society works out best when there are both forces pulling it in one direction or another and forces trying to keep it centered. And when it is slowly pulled in the direction that its populace finds most attractive. The answer to radicalism isn't more radicalism. And it is very worrying indeed to see groups on the left falling prey to the same traps that 'conservatives' have succumbed to for some time. We already have a radical right wing. A radical left wing just makes things worse.
gazuga
1 day ago
I've never heard the role of the political centre described that way. I strongly agree that all radical changes need to meet resistance and suffer failures in order to find their best path (in many cases that path is straight into the garbage heap of history). I'll have to think more about whether centrists are history's surge protectors that let a society plug in different ideas and try them out safely, or whether it's other forms of feedback that do most of the regulating of good and bad ideas. Big claim.
gazuga
1 day ago
As for the left's turn to radicalism, it scares me too. The thing that might settle down all the guilt by association nonsense is the need to build coalitions. In an important sense, political power and coalition building are the same thing. There are those who prefer the aesthetic of losing who will always hold onto to the conceit that people a few degrees from their politics are baby eaters, but they're not actually taking part in politics when they do so. (Ironically, these are usually the same people who insist every iota of life is political.) What's obvious in many developed nations is that the centre and the left will have to listen to each other and get down to lowest common denominators, and soon, to put things on a saner track. I think symbolically the left may have to 'win' these exchanges, and the centre may have to eat some crow. Maybe the left is too aggrieved for a selective alliance to work at all. But attempting one is vital. Centrists and progressives may be each other's most hated outgroup in September 2017, but they'll have to summon up some praise and support when real mutual opportunities come into view.
duerig
1 day ago
My big historical claim is not that 'centrists' are the biggest force of inertia in societies. Rather, that the role of providing ballast in a societies politics is a crucial one because radical change is almost uniformly disastrous. For example, in non-democratic societies the bureaucracy of a state is likely to act as that ballast rather than the politicians or aristocrats that make up the political class. It is when we look at modern democracies that politicians themselves seem to show themselves as either centrist or radical rather than simply a dynastic power broker.
gazuga
1 day ago
Gotcha. Related question then. Assume politics in the west only gets crazier and less open to compromise. Do you think the 'ballast' will begin to retract into unelected bodies that are more tapped into how things work, a la non-democracies? There seems to be no check on the growth of the state, even when politicians galvanize negative feelings toward it. Thousands of bureaucrats with heavy rulebooks won't find instructions for revolt in any of the pages no matter how loudly their leaders shout for it. Military leaders ignoring presidential orders might begin to feel routine. Is this deep state ballast necessary for the centre to hold in your view or does it only borrow against a future collapse?
duerig
1 day ago
That sounds like a plausible future outcome. It is a very frightening society because it would represent a gradual loss of the society and institutions that we have right now which I value greatly. Including autonomy, participatory power structures, and democracy itself. While revolution is almost uniformly disastrous, gradual changes are not always for the better. Some of the most worrying moments in the current administration are the times when the president has seemed to be on the brink of a power struggle with our institutions. Because if that ever happens, then no matter who wins, our democracy loses. We absolutely must have security and government services that are subservient to elected political control. If we don't, then we have a shell of a democracy which has rotted from within. The only way for our democracy to survive is if there are centrist politicians and centrist parts of the electorate. At the end of the day, being a centrist is about finding things to love about our society without losing sight of the shortcomings and ways it could be improved. A bureaucratic state wearing the clothes of a democracy will have those within the society that love it. But it seems worse than our present in crucial ways.
gazuga
1 day ago
Thanks duerig, I enjoyed this thread. You make the most impassioned case for centrism I've ever come across.
duerig
1 day ago
A centrist is someone who stands athwart history, yelling 'Maybe!' :-)
gazuga
1 day ago
Hahahahahaha, I'm stealing that!
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fxer
6 days ago
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"Tax high-earners, tax offshore wealth, close loopholes for corporations, tax capital gains, tax the finance industry, etc.

These revenue streams are out of reach for politicians like Clinton and other centrist Democrats who are terrified of upsetting an economic order that created the largest income inequality gap in American history. "
Bend, Oregon

Americans' Borrowing Hits Another Record. Time To Worry?

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Shoppers look at appliances at a Sears store in Schaumburg, Ill. At nearly $13 trillion, consumer debt has topped the previous record set during the financial crisis.

Americans owe more than ever before, with household debt hitting nearly $13 trillion. Some economists say the lessons of the credit bubble that led to the financial crisis are being forgotten.

(Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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duerig
8 days ago
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We are likely in a bubble given the crazy asset market. But aggregate household debt is just the worst metric here. Let me demonstrate:

Households have more assets than ever, with household assets hitting nearly $12 trillion. Is all this needless savings causing insufficient demand for the recovery?

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TABSHNO

Or, perhaps population goes up over time so aggregate measures of both assets and debt will always trend upwards. And one person's asset it another person's debt so these things will be linked.
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★ Serfing on the Giants’ Farms

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Josh Marshall has a great post describing in detail the control Google wields over the advertising industry, “A Serf on Google’s Farm”:

But here’s where the rubber really meets the road. The publishers use DoubleClick. The big advertisers use DoubleClick. The big global advertising holding companies use Doubleclick. Everybody at every point in the industry is wired into DoubleClick. Here’s how they all play together. The adserving (Doubleclick) is like the road. (Adexchange) is the biggest car on the road. But only AdExchange gets full visibility into what’s available. (There’s lot of details here and argument about just what Google does and doesn’t know. But trust me on this. They keep the key information to themselves. This isn’t a suspicion. It’s the model.) So Google owns the road and gets first look at what’s on the road. So not only does Google own the road and makes the rules for the road, it has special privileges on the road. One of the ways it has special privileges is that it has all the data it gets from search, Google Analytics and Gmail. It also gets to make the first bid on every bit of inventory. Of course that’s critical. First dibs with more information than anyone else has access to. (Some exceptions to this. But that’s the big picture.) It’s good to be the king. It’s good to be a Google.

Google’s monopoly control is almost comically great. It’s a monopoly at every conceivable turn and consistently uses that market power to deepen its hold and increase its profits. Just the interplay between DoubleClick and Adexchange is textbook anti-competitive practices.

It’s a long post but really interesting. I’ve almost certainly left a lot of money on the table over the last decade by eschewing the mainstream web advertising industry, but I don’t regret it. I also know that DF’s independent advertising streams wouldn’t scale to work for larger sites with dozens (or hundreds) of writers, editors, and designers.

I told the story a few months ago that I got dumped from Amazon’s affiliate program because of a single article from over a decade ago where I encouraged DF readers to bookmark my Amazon affiliate URL. I actually think that was allowed back when I wrote it, but apparently now it’s against Amazon’s terms. That’s fine. But the way they dumped me was a bit unsettling:

  • There was no warning. The first and only email I received about this was informing me that my account was already terminated.

  • Their only explanation was that “You are not in compliance because you are encouraging customers to bookmark your Amazon links, as opposed to clicking through your website to reach Amazon.” They did not include a link to the article or articles where I violated this rule. I strongly suspect it was this article from 2004.

  • The email came from an anonymous (and perhaps automated?) “Amazon Associates” email address. There was no indication that there was any way to appeal this decision and reinstate my account.

Here’s the full text of the email. The only thing I redacted is my personal email address. (You’ve got to love the “Warmest Regards” sign-off. I showed this to Jason Kottke last year, and he quipped “I guess that’s how you say ‘Fuck you’ in Seattle?”)

I would categorize my reaction to this email as “mildly annoyed”, but that’s because I had greatly decreased my use of Amazon Affiliate links over the last few years. In the early years of Daring Fireball, Amazon Affiliate revenue was a significant percentage of my overall income. It was never the biggest source, or even close to it, but it was significant.

If that were still the case, I would have found this email more than mildly annoying. There are a lot of sites that rely on Amazon Affiliate revenue. And when it works, it really is a great system: Amazon sells more stuff, readers who follow the links pay the same regular prices as they would if they hadn’t used the affiliate link, and publishers get a nice little cut of the transaction. But in no way is it a relationship between peers. Amazon holds all the power, and as evidenced above, they can just pull the plug at any moment, with no warning and no recourse.

They’re not evil. They just don’t care.

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duerig
19 days ago
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That is a great quote: "They're not evil. They just don't care."

The thing is that this applies to any decision made by a large organization. If I changed who did my taxes next year, my current accountant would likely not even notice. I'm just one small client out of many. If Google made the same kind of decision, it would likely lead to bankruptcies, job losses, and disruption for many lives. And that is just who they choose to pay to do accounting for them.

When you think of any of these large organizations (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.), any small change they make will have an outsized effect. Especially when it comes to their core businesses like advertising and search are for Google. At some point, not caring becomes evil. And at a certain scale of operations, it is impossible for a company to care.
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Supervillain Plan

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Someday, some big historical event will happen during the DST changeover, and all the tick-tock articles chronicling how it unfolded will have to include a really annoying explanation next to their timelines.
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duerig
22 days ago
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I was once part of a meeting where a great idea for simplifying the UI of a reservation system was slowly but surely sunk by the dawning realization that there were bizarre time zones that were half an hour or 15 minutes away from other time zones.
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tedder
18 days ago
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I worked for a company that was naively saving timestamps into a DB in the user's local time, which (of course) varied. No TZ info was kept with it. I rocked myself in a corner.
Uranus
mrobold
21 days ago
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This speaks to me on a deeply personal level.
Orange County, California
diannemharris
21 days ago
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So true.
skorgu
21 days ago
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Horrifyingly accurate.
alt_text_bot
22 days ago
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Someday, some big historical event will happen during the DST changeover, and all the tick-tock articles chronicling how it unfolded will have to include a really annoying explanation next to their timelines.
Snake756
22 days ago
In writing software, I've often asked 'Do we have customers in that stupid timezone'? Only one? Screw them. They can deal with this bug for their stupid timezone.
cjhubbs
22 days ago
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Pretty much, yeah.
Iowa

The NSA's 2014 Media Engagement and Outreach Plan

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Interesting post-Snowden reading, just declassified.

(U) External Communication will address at least one of "fresh look" narratives:

  1. (U) NSA does not access everything.
  2. (U) NSA does not collect indiscriminately on U.S. Persons and foreign nationals.
  3. (U) NSA does not weaken encryption.
  4. (U) NSA has value to the nation.

There's lots more.

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duerig
22 days ago
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All of these are true if 'access', 'collect', 'indiscriminately', 'weaken', and 'value' are defined in odd ways.
skorgu
21 days ago
Don't forget "everything"
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Jack-Off Hysteria Subsided Quickly

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Nilay Patel’s review of the iPhone 7 for The Verge last year contained 31 references to the word “headphone”. Dieter Bohn’s review this week of the headphone-jack-less Essential Phone contains three, all in one paragraph:

There is no standard 3.5mm headphone jack, which is basically a trend now. But at least it ships with a USB-C dongle (though not USB-C headphones). Trends be damned, I’m going to continue to be a curmudgeon about it, if only because once this week I left both the dongle and my Bluetooth headphones at the office, so I couldn’t listen to music or podcasts the next day.

As I wrote last year, “Nilay’s review is going to age about as well as a 2007 review of the original iPhone that devoted the same amount of attention to the lack of a hardware keyboard.”

I think Bohn devoted exactly the right amount of attention to this — it’s certainly worth pointing out, and that’s about it. I did find it slightly curious that Bohn didn’t complain about the fact that the Essential Phone doesn’t even ship with a pair of USB-C headphones, though — you either have to use the included dongle or third-party Bluetooth headphones. Seems nickel-and-dimey for a $700 phone.

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duerig
29 days ago
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The purpose of a review is not to create a stone tablet etched with words of Truth that will resonate through the ages. The purpose of a review is to give people at the time of release a good idea of whether a product is for them.

If a review emphasizes an unusual new feature (or the removal of a current feature), and people choose to buy an item anyway, then that review is a useful review. It doesn't matter whether or not users like the feature or are ok with the removal of a feature. What matters is that the review helped the users make an informed decision.
gazuga
29 days ago
My take lands somewhere between Gruber's and yours. Good consumer product reviews are a filter between a deluge of possibly relevant facts and a time-constrained audience. An early iPhone review that made 31 mentions of the missing hardware keyboard would have had a poor chance of informing people of what it would be like to use an iPhone versus a Palm Treo. It's easy to dig up reviews of early iPhones that attempted apples-to-apples feature comparisons when what they were actually reviewing was an orange. That's bad looking back but was also a disservice to readers at the time.
gazuga
29 days ago
Nilay's 31 mentions of the iPhone 7's headphone port is arguably a different case because the iPhone 7 had many comparable competitors, including the iPhone 6S. A good review of an incremental product needs to isolate improvements and inconveniences, including the inconvenience of learning new habits, and weigh them against one another so as to usefully guide a purchasing decision. In that sense I respect Nilay's choice of emphasis more than Gruber does.
duerig
29 days ago
I take your point. There is certainly the possibility of missing the forest for the trees. And if you are stuck in a rut, you can easily ask the wrong question "Sure, iPhone has a touch screen, but I can't use my Palm sigils!". But in this case, I think the best comparison is not to the original iPhone lacking a keyboard. But to the iPhone of a couple of years ago switching to the new lightning connector. No review that fretted about the transition has 'aged well' in the sense that nobody now would want to go back to the old connector. But they were still highly relevant, letting people know that by upgrading their phones, they would be breaking compatibility with potentially hundreds of dollars of accessories. Or require a lot of adapters at $20 or $30 each. And actually, I think that Apple learned the lesson of the switch to lightning connectors and that is why they included a headphone-to-lightning adapter in the box this time around.
gazuga
28 days ago
Great points. We more or less agree. Interestingly, Apple has a lineup transition ahead of it that could make previous controversies look like a cakewalk. The biggest problem is OLED production. Demand will exceed supply for the sexy new phone everyone is calling iPhone 8 but Gruber is calling iPhone Pro. (Here I'm with Gruber: if they can't sell tens of millions of units out of the gate, they can't name it iPhone 8.) That'll leave a lot of people confused and annoyed at the tradeoffs the new lineup presents, especially if entry level iPhones are only incremental. Then there's Pro model usability challenges like the home button living in software, Face ID potentially replacing Touch ID, etc. Expect a lot of scornful Daring Fireball links to ambivalent reviews and negative Apple thinkpieces this fall.
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