I have focused on basic income and housing on my Norwegian blog lately. I thought basic income sounded like a good idea at first, but it also has some potential to be negative.
Basic income sounds wonderful. It’s small enough that you are still encouraged to work because you couldn’t manage on this income alone. It would also make sure you didn’t end up on the street if you lost your job or never got one. The problem is the dependency this creates. The leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, Jonas Gahr Støre, said in an interview with the union magazine recently that he feared a development of an underclass in Norway. That would be in line with the development other European countries. There is an increasing number of people that need social benefits and food banks, even though they have a job. The union newspaper also had an interview with Simone and Sebastian Stolz , a “working poor” couple from Lübeck in Germany. They have had to ask for social benefits and food from the food bank for the last 12 years even though they have been working the whole time. There is an increasing number of people in Britain as well that get less, and according to an article in the Guardian 40 percent of British families are too poor to play part in society. More and more Europeans discover that the old belief that work will get you out of poverty, and that work will give you a stable life is no longer valid. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Norway will follow the same trend. We are after all just as much a part of the global market as everyone else, and there is a limit to how long our income from oil can insulate us.
When the Syrian refugees started coming here (although only 40 percent were Syrians), I tried pointing out that it might be too soon for the euphoria many Norwegians expressed. It was like we were supposed to hold each others hand, sing Kumbaya, give the immigrants the jobs we didn’t have and live happily ever after. Did I mention that this society also includes a fair amount of very visible religious activity in a majority culture that really doesn’t like that? Don’t get me wrong, I am in favour of immigration, both because we need it and because it’s the right thing to do, but I believe we need a correct proportion between the Norwegians that need help, regular immigrants, and people that come here specifically to work (Germans, Polish, Swedes and Americans are some of the major groups). It’s very commendable that we want to help the entire Syrian population, but it won’t help anyone if we discover later that the cost has been too high. It is our status during the most difficult financial period that determines how many people we can help, and that’s where we are now. Many seem to think that we should open the borders to everyone and worry about the costs later, but that could easily lead to violence.
I like independence and housing is an important part of an independent life. Here are some examples of tiny houses from the USA, and recycled ship containers in London. These could be a game changer because many could buy them without involving a bank:
I don’t like a society where everybody has an opinion about what I should and shouldn’t do, and there is a strong tendency to do just that in Norway. It’s not enough to do what people expect of us, but we must also do it the way people expect. Authorities have expectations as well. We are expected to accept any decision politicians make, and they tend to make decisions based on what they read in the newspapers, or on weak science. Imagine you wanting to protest something you believed strongly in. There are strong indications, and some might call them more than indications, that ADHD medicines and some vaccines could be a danger to some children. It is a well known fact that certain underlying conditions could result in a deterioration of the child’s health. I can imagine a situation where the parents are pressured into accepting medicines for a child with ADHD or a vaccine before a thorough examination has been done. Epilepsy is an underlying condition we need to consider before making a decision, and many have concluded too late that it wasn’t worth the risk. It can sometimes be difficult to detect epilepsy, so you really need to take the examination seriously.
If you rely on basic income or any other benefits, this could be used against you. What would you do if you were told that the authorities would contact the Child Protective Services or withdraw your benefits if you didn’t cooperate? Incidentally, the pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche Holding are on the list of the Norwegian Oil fund’s six biggest investment at the moment. At the same time the Norwegian CDC keep insisting that the enormous Tamiflu purchase in connection with the so-called swine flu pandemic was wise, even though this is not supported by scientists.
This may sound like too much of conspiracy theory, and I admit it doesn’t sound likely right now, but it can be problematic if the government has too much influence over our lives. It could also become a democratic problem. This is already a challenge in other countries where there are too close ties between the government and businesses.
Isaac Asimov published a pretty dystopic science fiction book in 1954. The plot of The Caves of Steel is set to 3000 years from now, and the Earth is overpopulated. People are forced to live under metal domes in big cities with tens of millions of people in each city. They survive on artificially produced food (yeast) and oxygen. When people went to a restaurant they didn’t have any options to choose from and they had to leave as soon as they had finished eating. Space was a luxury and the size of your apartment reflected your status in society. This society with extreme control was contrasted with the spacers, which were people on the 50 planets that had been colonised in the past. They lived in an equally strange society where robots did all the work, and having any form of physical contact with other people seemed disgusting to them. These planets were underpopulated, and small space was never the problem. Both societies were moving towards collapse, and the solution seemed to be a new planet where the earthlings gave up their strong skepticism to artificial intelligence. I also recommend Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge, Friday by Robert Heinlein and The Forever War by Joe Haldeman as a literary vision of where we might be in a distant and not so distant future. The distant part is mostly space travel, while we are not that far away from the societies these books describe.
Where do you start if you want to change your life? Independence may very well start with less debt and not depend on money from the government. I like on the one hand a guaranteed income that is not affected by a lack of success in the job market, but I also dislike the strong ties it gives you to people that can wreck you life. I have lived in small places where you have to relate to the same people in different positions. The person deciding whether or not you get a loan, or benfits, or medical treatment could also be in charge of your children’s after school activities, or a friend of someone that can make important decisions concerning your family. Being the new family in a place like this isn’t always a pleasant experience. I am therefore not convinced that basic income is the best possible future.
If you are interested in learning more about microhuses Tiny House design and Rich’s Portable Cabins might be a good place to start, while Occupy Madison could give you some ideas about helping people and building a community. I read a story on RT today that also seems relevant. Hamsters in France are changing behaviour after a diet of mostly corn. I wonder if that’s our future if we don’t get the diversity we need. That sounds like The Caves of Steel, which is a good reason to avoid dependency. We need to work for a future where we make decisions ourselves, and where no one could pressure us to follow the official standard of what a life should be.