Saturday, July 28, 2012

The end of the European dream

The European debt crisis is making the front page, again. Moody has changed the outlook of Germany to negative and Spain is forced to borrow at more and more unsustainable rates. The fate of the Euro is more and more uncertain and while it is not certain, it is quite possible that Greece, and perhaps other Mediterranean countries, will abandon it at some point of the future. This, of course, would trigger a trust crisis which would in turn further damage the position of a currency which has no need for that. The value of the euro would fall and the chance of some state going bankrupt would greatly increase.

Of course, and contrary to what many doomsayers would like to believe, states can and do survive bankruptcies. Those familiar with the history of Denmark will remember, for instance, that Christopher II of Denmark pawned nearly his entire kingdom to German magnates between 1320 and 1332. Yet Denmark still exists and is still a kingdom. You see, states have an enormous advantage over corporations : they generally command the loyalty of their subjects and can therefore tax and draft them.

That is what Christopher’s successor, Valdemar IV, did. He used his wife’s dowry to get back some mortgaged lands he overtaxed to repay the rest of his debts. When that didn’t suffice...well, a royal army in full array could be very convincing.

Closer to us, when the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, they decided to repudiate the Tsar’s debts, which caused a lot of complaining back in France (and still does, to some extend), but hardly more. States have defaulted on their debts or printed banknotes to inflate their way out of them. This is not without consequences, some of them drastic, but it certainly beats letting bad debts accumulate and smother your economy.

Those are, however, political decisions and that’s exactly the kind of decision the European Union has been designed to avoid.

Western European Civilization, of which the European Union is the last incarnation (possibly as in Llywelyn the Last), formed during the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire from the fusion of Germanic and Roman culture under the Catholic Church. Unlike Chinese civilization, in which the unity of “everything under heaven” is an imperative and India, which hardly cared about political unity until it was forced upon it by the British Empire, Western Europe has always considered unification as a worthy goal, but consistently failed to achieve it.

The attempts at restoring the Western Roman Empire met with limited success. Justinian reconquered northern Africa and Italy, but failed in Spain. Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor and recognized as such by Byzantium, but held neither Britain nor Spain. Charlemagne’s empire fell to civil war in 843 and its successor states were promptly besieged by Vikings, Hungarians and Bretons. Its existence, short as it was, enabled, however, the imperial idea to survive in both the Papacy, which came to consider itself as the supreme authority in Western Europe, and the Holy Roman Empire, which claimed the legacy of Charlemagne.

As often happens, the Papacy and the Empire undermined each other’s legitimacy during the Investiture Controversy, a long struggle between Pope Gregory VII and Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor (and their respective tame intellectuals) over who would appoint bishops.
While the Pope came out the victor with the Concordat of Worms in 1122, the Investiture Controversy paved the way for the affirmation of the kings (notably those of France and England) against both the Emperor and the Pope. As soon as in the XIIIth century, the French king declared himself “Emperor in his own kingdom”. At the very beginning of the XIVth century, after the convenient but officially natural death of Boniface VIII while he was negotiating with the king of France’s special envoy Guillaume de Nogaret, the pope recognized the authority of Philip IV over the Church of France in temporal matters.

When the Reformation fractured until then spiritually united Europe, the sovereignty of the kingdoms was too well established to be contested. This does not mean, however, that the idea of an European Empire had been abandoned. The Hapsburg of Spain and Austria during the XVIth century, Louis XIV of France during the Spanish Succession War and finally Napoléon Bonaparte tried to recreate it, under one form or another, and failed. The order the victors imposed at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 explicitly repudiated the imperial idea and was based upon a balance of power between the big European dynastic states and a guarantee of independence for the smaller players.

As the imperial idea seemed to recede in the background, a new conception of European unification appeared, which would lay the groundwork for the modern European (anti-)Union.

In 1795, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant authored a small book titled "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch", in which he argued that war could be made to disappear through a new international order based upon the generalization of republican governments and the institution of the rule of law at the international level.

Obviously Kant’s ideas were not immediately implemented, but they laid the foundations for what one might call an "international liberalism", based upon the refusal of international war, as its “mainstream” counterpart was based on the refusal of the ideological civil war. In both cases, the idea is that the only way to keep people (and countries) from killing each other is to appeal to their egoistical interest, by using the twin tools of the free market and the abstract law. One finds this idea, for instance, in Norman Angell’s (in)famous pamphlet The Great Illusion, which argued in 1909 that war was now futile due to the formation of a global market.

The European Union, as it was created after the horrors of Nazism and the colonial wars, is, to date, the most achieved implementation of this principle. The predecessor of the European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community, was formed in 1950 to prevent another round of European wars (in itself a worth goal), through the creation of a common market for coal and steel.

To quote the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman :

The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.

[…] In this way, there will be realized simply and speedily that fusion of interest which is indispensable to the establishment of a common economic system; it may be the leaven from which may grow a wider and deeper community between countries long opposed to one another by sanguinary divisions.

By pooling basic production and by instituting a new High Authority, whose decisions will bind France, Germany and other member countries, this proposal will lead to the realization of the first concrete foundation of a European federation indispensable to the preservation of peace.

[…] In contrast to international cartels, which tend to impose restrictive practices on distribution and the exploitation of national markets, and to maintain high profits, the organization will ensure the fusion of markets and the expansion of production.

The two initiatives which could have oriented the future European Union in a more political direction (the European Defence Community and the European Political Community) failed during the mid fifties and all subsequent treaties, even though they entailed significant sovereignty loss for the member states, followed the logic exposed by Robert Schuman’s declaration, that is the construction of a common market, managed by an administration according to an agreed upon body of regulations.

Of course, an administration is emphatically not a political body. It does not set policies. It applies treaties as interpreted by the court of justice. It is a headless body, but a very powerful headless body which makes very difficult for member states to promote anything but the creation of a common market where the possibility of a meaningful political decision has been reduced to almost nothing.

The poster child for this is, of course, the European Central Bank. It is independent and receives no order from either member states or the other European institutions. At the same time, however, being an administrative body, it cannot change policy. By statute, it must keep price stability, whatever the situation and at any cost. Inflating the euro, and taking political responsibility for it, is simply beyond its capacities.

Of course, further “federalization” won’t solve the problem, as this would mean, in the present context, giving the European administration more power to curtail the political actions of member states, without giving it the power, or the the legitimacy, to set policies of its own.

Fans of Isaac Asimov will remember the Second Foundation's undead empire, created by calculation and ruled by calculation.

The problem, aside from the fact that an unelected, unanswerable elite is always bad news, is that such a system can work only in periods of sustained growth. You see, if the cohesion of your society is only based upon a promise of ever increasing prosperity... well, let’s say you’d better deliver.

With peak energy, economic growth is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. There may be still some efficiency gains to be made, but on the whole, the only way to create real wealth (not the administrative spending included as wealth in GDP measuring) is by taking it from a neighbor. That is what happens at the global level with the rise of China and the use of the financial economy by the USA to extract wealth from their periphery. That is what happen at the European level with the Euro acting now as a wealth pump, funneling the resources of the south toward France and Germany.

That means that the European debts are essentially unpayable. Without real growth they are bound to become even more so with every passing year, concentrating resources ever more in the hands of an ever smaller number of people. And of course, this will even worsen when oil production ceases to stagnate and begins to decline.

At some point somebody will have to emulate Valdemar IV, default on his debt or leave the Euro to inflate his way out of it. Bankers and traders won’t be amused but will quickly learn that money doesn’t command loyalty. Those who won’t be able to run will then have an interesting discussion with a court... or a lynch mob.

The problem is that the European administration cannot take this decision. It is not a political body, it cannot change its policies, and those are liberal in nature. The first rule of a free market is that debts must be paid, no mater the costs and the consequences, and it is a rule it cannot break.

Nations states will have to do it, therefore, either together in some grand conference, or more probably alone, after the crisis has put some radical into power. When this will happen, the European Union will simply vanish as the USSR did after the August Coup and the Belavezha Accords. Those who still nurture the dream of a political Europe, whether it be the Europe of Regions of my own political family or the Europe as civilization of the volkish far right will have to accept, as I did, that Europe has become an hollow shell and that time has run out. It is around nation states, not necessarily the ones we know by the way, that Europe will have to face the long descent, until they too dissolve.

As for the dream of an unified Europe, it will have to wait for new empires to come out of the forests of the coming Dark Age, but, of course, by that time, it will no longer be the Europe we know.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

(There ain’t no) green jobs

Jobs, or rather the lack of, have been a major issue during the last French elections. This is hardly surprising as mass unemployment has been a fact of life in France for a whole generation. Unemployment rates have begun to climb during the late seventies and have hoovered between eight and ten percent since then. Of course the real figure is probably higher. Like its American and British counterparts, the French government will do anything in its power to lower the unemployment statistics, including sending people into pointless vocational courses so as to get them off the official unemployment rolls.

It is no wonder, therefore, that most political discussions in France revolve around jobs, how to create them, how to keep them and what to do with those who can’t get any. The value of a policy is measured by the number of jobs it creates or destroys. It is why, for instance, the main French union (the CGT) supports nuclear energy : it provides a lot of (unsafe) jobs.

Of course, should only one reactor undergo a catastrophic meltdown, a significant part of the country would be definitely out of job. The very concept of catastrophic meltdown being unfrench, however, this is nothing to worry about.

It is no wonder either that everybody’s political programs focus on how to create jobs. The communists want to create jobs by making everyone a civil servant of sort. The socialists want to create jobs by subsidizing them, but they presently can’t because they don’t have the money. The moderate right wants to give more money to those who already have a lot of it in the hope that it will somehow trickle down, not that it matters very much if it doesn’t. The National Front wants to hunker down behind barbed wires, which should somehow create jobs, Muslim people need not apply.

As for the Greens, they want to create green jobs, a lot of them, preferably through generous state subsidies. Make no mistake, those green jobs does not involve growing green things. The group the Greens represent, namely the enlightened upper middle class, wants reasonably well paid and prestigious jobs, and herding sheep in central Brittany definitely doesn’t qualify.

Jobs are remarkably close to niches in a non-human ecosystem, which is hardly surprising since human societies basically work like simplified ecosystems in which the dominant species, as well as some of its parasites / symbionts / commensals, can assume a high number of roles.

And as you know, the maximum number of niches a given ecosystem can support depends upon the energy inflow it gets from its environment.

To understand how this relates to human societies, it is necessary to go back to pre-revolutionary France and to one of the first economic schools, the Physiocrats. The Physiocrats, the best known of whom were François Quesnay and Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, believed that agriculture was the only source of wealth, and that this wealth, produced in the fields, was then distributed among the three classes of the society, namely the peasants, the land-owners and what they called the “sterile class”, which included craftsmen and traders.
Of course, such an analysis was extremely subversive in a country where the nobility was forbidden to work. The Physiocrats favored enlightened despotism and their main model was Qing China, with its class of scholar-bureaucrats, who were also agrarian landlords, and its absolute monarch who could impose his will on his Empire without burdening himself with such technicalities as the rule of law.

Needless to say, they were opposed at every corner by both the nobility, which wanted to retain its old privileges, and by the bourgeoisie, which was not interested in becoming a “sterile class” under the thumb of a Chinese style bureaucracy. Despite a few successes, such as the ministry of Turgot, from 1774 to 1776, they failed to impose their views and quickly become irrelevant when their enemies forced the king to convoke the Estates General in 1789.

They were right, however, in viewing the production of goods and services as mere consumption of the agricultural surplus, provided we consider the agricultural surplus as a proxy for energy surplus, which it was in 1774 France. Even though they also used wind and hydraulic power, pre-industrial societies were totally dependent upon solar energy. They captured it by growing plants, which transformed it into various nutriments human and animal muscles used to produce (not necessarily useful) work.

Starting with the early XIXth century, we have replaced chlorophyl-mediated solar energy by fossil fuels, first coal, then oil and gas. This has enabled us to create huge surplus of energy and to buy ourselves a lifestyle which would have made His Majesty Louis XVI white with envy. This has not changed the nature of our economy, however, the production of goods and services is still a consumption. The only difference is that the surplus is no longer provided by peasants. Those no longer produce energy, they transform fossil fuels into food and are therefore no different from your average industry worker.

Those that produce the energy surplus the rest of us is using, are, mostly, coal miners and workers of the oil and gas industry. The sterile class comprises all those who provide good and services, as for the land owner class... well, there is no shortage of kleptocrats. Of course, the boundary between the kleptocrats and the providers of goods and services is somewhat blurred. If your average Wall Street trader or big shareholder is doubtlessly a kleptocrat any responsible government should fiscally bludgeon to death, it is an open question whether the fashion designers or fake artists who cater to their needs are lesser kleptocrats or providers of much needed services.

What is sure is that jobs are a cost for a society, a necessary cost, but a cost nevertheless. As our ability to extract resources and energy from our environment declines, so will our ability to fund high diversified highly specialized jobs – exactly the kind of jobs the Greens want to create.

Of course, you can expect anybody with a minimum of political clout to fight to make sure it will be some other guy’s job that will be sacrificed. The kleptocrats are already doing that, but they are hardly alone. All organized groups are using unions and political parties to preserve their interests.

That is what the clamoring and pleading for green jobs amounts to : an attempt by parts of the industrial establishment and of the upper middle class to secure their position within the society through overt or covert public subsidies, and an attempt by the same groups to legitimize their resource grabbing operation by promising a lot of people (and nature) will benefit from it.

Needless to say, subsidizing solar panels in Brittany (to take an example I know well), whether it be through tax cuts or by buying the electricity thus produced at a guaranteed, and rather high, price, is pure unadulterated greenwashing. In fact, any energy source which relies on state subsidies to remain viable is likely to be an energy sink as well as a scheme by some industry guys to divert public money their way.

This does not mean there are no sustainable jobs to be created, but they are unlikely to be green or to be supported by the green establishment. They won’t cater to the needs of the wealthy and probably won’t give much prestige to those who will do them. They belong to the realm of appliance reparation, second hand trade, home (cheap) refurbishing, local manufacturing and of course domestic production, far, very far away from the costly glittering of the solar panels and of the Parisian salons.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Campagning with the Greens : the basic income delusion

As you may know, there have been legislative elections in France. In my constituency, I supported the Greens because... well, because there was a national agreement which could (and actually did) get us a MP and officially endorsing this girl was a part of the deal. As for my opinion about the whole thing... well, let's just say that sometimes you just have to do your job.

The main positive point, was that I could observe the inner working of the local Green group (at least the faction which had won the rather brutal fight for the nomination) and was forced to attend a few rallies I would not have bothered to go to otherwise. During one of them – a so called "political coffee session", somebody raised the infamous basic income question.

For those who are not into radicals politics, basic income is an income granted unconditionally to all citizens (or inhabitants) of a given polity. France has already something of the kind. It is called the RSA (for Revenu de Solidarité Active). Any French resident above 25 without any regular income is entitled to a monthly grant of 474,93 €.

As incomes go, it is a very basic one. The median salary in France is around 1600 € and I rent my three rooms flat for 517 €. Saint-Nazaire is by the way a working class city and housing tend to be cheap down here. I probably couldn't find an equivalent apartment in Paris for thrice this price. Even though it can be supplemented by other aids, RSA is not something you can feast on. You can survive with it, but hardly more. It also has a negative income tax

Of course, it was not about this kind of basic income our green activist talked. What she meant was an income close or equal to the French minimum wage – around 1100 € a month. It is a popular idea among degrowth people and some sections of the Green movement and of the far left. My last girlfriend was very much into it, and it definitely is a bad idea – the girlfriend in question was a bad idea too, by the way, but it is a bit beside the point.

The main reason for it should be obvious to anybody vaguely aware of the coming energy descent. Even its proponents acknowledge that the feasibility of a basic income system is highly dependent upon the continued existence of the industrial civilization.

As the French philosopher André Gorz wrote in 1989 :

...The connection between more and better has been broken; our needs for many products and services are already more than adequately met, and many of our as-yet-unsatisfied needs will be met not by producing more, but by producing differently, producing other things, or even producing less. This is especially true as regards our needs for air, water, space, silence, beauty, time and human contact...

From the point where it takes only 1,000 hours per year or 20,000 to 30,000 hours per lifetime to create an amount of wealth equal to or greater than the amount we create at the present time in 1,600 hours per year or 40,000 to 50,000 hours in a working life, we must all be able to obtain a real income equal to or higher than our current salaries in exchange for a greatly reduced quantity of work...

Neither is it true any longer that the more each individual works, the better off everyone will be. The present crisis has stimulated technological change of an unprecedented scale and speed: 'the micro-chip revolution'. The object and indeed the effect of this revolution has been to make rapidly increasing savings in labor, in the industrial, administrative and service sectors. Increasing production is secured in these sectors by decreasing amounts of labor. As a result, the social process of production no longer needs everyone to work in it on a full-time basis. The work ethic ceases to be viable in such a situation and work-based society is thrown into crisis...
André Gorz, Critique of economic Reason, Gallile, 1989

The idea according to which the rule of the machine will break the historical connection between work and income is as old as the Industrial Revolution. It is implicit in early marxist thought. Thus in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Karl Marx himself wrote :

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

Which means that under Communism, people would have a perpetual free lunch, what basic income fundamentally amounts to. We know, of course how it turned out and actual Marxist regimes and parties quickly developed a strong work ethic, sometimes to the point of ridicule – does somebody remember Stakhanov ?

Of course this did not mean that the idea of a generalized free lunch died. It merely migrated to the techno-optimists, who replaced the "higher stage of Communism" by technological progress, which would cause workers to be progressively replaced by robots and automated factories. This would greatly increase the richness of the society, but also have a devastating impact upon blue collar retail and wholesale employees and drastically shrink the middle class, making a generous basic income both feasible and socially and politically necessary. The only other option would be the development of a permanent underclass of former workers and employees, with all the politically unpleasant consequences this may entail.

This is, for instance, the thesis of Jeremy Rifkin in this monument of the techno-green thought, that is The End of Work, but the theme is pervasive in science-fiction, for instance in Kurt Vonnegut's first novel Player Piano, which, incidentally showed that a basic income guarantee was perfectly compatible with alienation and oppression.

The problem, of course, is that this future of robots automated factories shall never come to pass. It is not automation per se that fueled the industrial revolution and gave our society, but access to fossil energy. Without coal, oil or gas to fuel them and the highly complex social apparatus they need for their manufacture and maintenance, our machines are useless.

Moreover, the ability of our economy to create surplus, which can be used, among other things, to fund a basic income system, is steadily decreasing. As we replace easy oil and coal by less than adequate substitutes such as lignite or tar sand or, gods forbid, ethanol, and are forced to devote more and more resources to energy extraction, the net surplus, on which our civilization lives, shrinks. Add to this the need of maintaining a gargantuan infrastructure, both material and immaterial, with a stagnating or declining resource base, and it is easy to understand that even if our nominal GDP still grows, it becomes more and more difficult to mobilize it to get something actually done.

That is exactly what is happening today in still rich Europe, and it is obvious that even though our GDP is theoretically large enough for us to grant all our citizens a basic income, so much of it is tied up by debt and infrastructure maintenance that even keeping our welfare system in its present state is probably impossible.

There is, however, another, better and deeper reason to reject basic income : it has been tried.

It was the bread part of the infamous "bread and circus". Originally a nation of small farmers, the late Roman Republic developed a serious case of latifundism as debt-crushed peasants sold their land to great proprietors and fled to Rome, searching a job most of them did not find. In 123 BC, Tiberius Gracchus had the Senate vote a grain law under which a portion of the grain collected as revenue for the state was sold at a subsidized rate to citizens. Tiberius Gracchus also pushed for a rather drastic land reform, which caused him to have a lethal encounter with a chair during a very manly senatorial debate.

The habit of distributing free or very cheap grain to the Roman pleb caught on, however, and in 58 BC the popularis politician Clodius Pulcher set up a regular dole of free grain after having been elected as a tribune – at that time politicians did make good on their promises. Cesar and Augustus appear to have been embarrassed with the whole thing but did not dare to abolish it altogether.

Later emperors continued the practice and even supplemented the dole with olive oil, wine or pork. The rationale was that as long as the mob was kept well fed and entertained, it would leave politics to the emperor and his court. It did not work very well with the army and the praetorian guard, but it was very effective with the Roman crowd. As the poet Juvenal stated in his Satires :

Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses

Of course, at the end, bearded foreigners with a strange accent and a funny religion took over the breadbasket of the Empire and their leader, a gentleman by the name of Geiseric decided that grain ought to stay with those who produced it.

Rome could implement the free grain dole only because it ruthlessly looted its own provinces, destroying its own resource base and paving the way for its own demise. We would have to divert already scarce resources from the maintenance of our own civilization, speeding up its disintegration. The principles behind the basic income and the Roman grain dole are the same, however : entitlement, dependency and alienation.

The proponents of basic income claim that we deserve it because our societies are so rich. The problem is that this richness does not come from nowhere. A part of it is the product of a a failing but still vigorous imperial system which transfers wealth and resources from the south to the north under threat of military force. Another part come from the frenetic overexploitation of non-renewable natural resources, which basically means we have stolen it from our descendants. For what is probably the most favored class in the whole human history, past and future, to claim it deserves to divert still more resources so as to be able to live well without contributing anything is pure unadulterated entitlement.

It is no accident that most supporters of the basic income come, in France at least, from the higher middle-class (the bobos) or from their poorer siblings : the RSA revolutionists. The RSA revolutionists are radicals who claim to despise "the system" and to seek to overthrow it, while being totally dependent on its continued existence for their very survival. They are especially common in the autonomist branch of marxism, which advocates struggling against "capitalism" outside organized structures through direct action, which in practice amounts to piling up symbolic acts while living in the margins of the society from state subsidies.

Basic income is, in fact, the logical consequence of the idea according to which the Universe must give us everything we want, provided we clamor loudly enough for it.

Of course, that does not mean we must abolish welfare before it becomes unsustainable. Welfare has nothing to do with basic income, because its goal is to help people in need, as long as they are in need but not an hour longer. It is basic human solidarity and it is telling that the same monotheist religions who say "Whoever doesn't want to work shouldn't be allowed to eat" make the giving of alms nearly mandatory. Islam even makes zaqât (obligatory alms) one of its pillars, along daily prayers, fasting and pilgrimage.

Those are two distinct concepts.

According to its proponents, it will liberate us, and enable us to devote our time to art, culture, or what Jeremy Rifkin calls the Third Sector - voluntary and community-based service organizations. This, however, is a bobo’s utopia. In real communities, nothing is really free. If help is freely given, it is under the assumption that it will be freely returned at some later moment. If cooperation is so widespread, it is because it is necessary to the well-being, and sometimes to the very survival, of each individual.

By distributing resources freely, the state, or whatever will have taken its place, replaces in fact an horizontal relationship between members of a same community by a vertical relationship between an individual and the political power that feeds him – and might stop doing so at any moment. The likely result will not be community building, but social fragmentation and increased control from above.

This won’t even increase the control any individual has on his own life, quite the contrary. From this point of view, basic income is the continuation, some will say the fulfillment, of the process which, starting from the Industrial Revolution, turned craftsmen and craftswomen into unskilled workers and supermarket cashiers. While the craftsman could be poor, he was still the master of his craft and of his own life, dependent upon no one but himself. The dispossessed factory worker, who replaced him, accomplishing meaningless, repetitive tasks, was but a cog in the machine, totally disconnected from the product of his work. The workers of a specific factory, taken as group, could however, take a collective pride in the fruit of their labors. The average recipient of a basic income would be nothing but a passive individual, without any professional or social identity, and while a minority could find themselves in voluntary activities, the majority will become like characters of The Machine Stops of Player Piano, idle and thoroughly alienated, deprived of the possibility of controlling their own life and, most important, of doing something.

In Player Piano, the main character, a member of the elite, thinks of retreating to a farm without water or electricity then take part in a doomed revolt against the technocratic order to give back to men the freedom to do something with their life and of making things worth taking pride in.

I think I would have followed him, if I did not know that this absurd basic income idea was fated to die with the industrial civilization.