The following satisfies an assignment for a graduate seminar in research methods.
(#4: Peer Reviewed but not Writing Studies Source)
Zelleke, Almaz. "Basic Income in the United States: Redefining Citizenship in the Liberal State." Review of Social Economy 63.4 (2005): 633-48. Web.
What problems or issues is the writer exploring?
|Dr. Almaz Zelleke|
Sociologist Almaz Zelleke articulates and challenges three of the dominant attitudes regarding citizenship and the amelioration of poverty in the U.S. in her 2005 scholarly essay “Basic Income in the United States: Redefining Citizenship in the Liberal State.” She then presents what in her view is a much more sound argument for citizenship criteria, defined by universal basic income. With the three dominant attitudes and policy prescriptions she critiques, the first is the paternalistic approach which claims individuals can only achieve citizenship and economic independence through paid work. The paternalistic approach also presupposes there is enough paid work to go around for everyone. The second approach she critiques, civil republican, “also sees paid work as the path to full integration into society, but its advocates emphasize the ideal of reciprocity as the basis for conditioning income benefits on paid work” (636). In other words, society provides the necessary conditions to provide work to the poor, and the poor must perform that paid work. “Fair workfare,” A. Guttman and D. Thompson term it (Qtd in Zelleke 639). Finally, Zelleke examines the third dominant category of theorizing citizenship, the socialist argument for work requirements. In this approach, public work is shared by all and all receive benefits.
What position does the writer take?
The paternalist approach is easily punctured; Zelleke points out the many who work full-time yet barely obtain subsistence levels. She cites paternalist writers like Lawrence Mead who endorse continued economic dependence on government benefits for individuals who work but are still poor, which essentially leads to a subsidization of low-wage employers. She argues, “Work requirements for the poor do not lead to a genuine independence, but only to a form of ideologized independence that obscures their structural subordination in the contemporary economy” (638). Zelleke finds the civil republican model more attractive than paternalism, but takes issue with the way civil republicanism neglects unpaid work in the home or community as a factor in the scheme of social cooperation or social prosperity (640). She critiques the socialist model of work requirements for a similar reason: socialist theorists impose “a uniform view of what activities are valued and rewarding on all citizens, rather than letting individuals choose for themselves” (643). Zelleke finds the socialist solution “egalitarian” but not “liberal” (643).
How is the writer intervening in an ongoing conversation?
Zelleke intervenes by providing thoughtful critiques of three dominant attitudes towards citizenship, the first of which (paternalism) dominates policy prescriptions of both major parties in the U.S., and then she advocates universal, unconditional basic income as a key to universal citizenship and as a way to eliminate poverty which persists in the richest societies in the world (644). She furthermore intervenes in the debate about basic income by presenting a particular argument in favor. For Zelleke, “the market is no less important a sphere of citizenship than the polity, and the ground rules should be similarly egalitarian” (645). In other words, basic income would contribute to the common good in capitalism because it would allow for all to shape and contribute the market, including the then relative poor and those whose life choices do not conform to dominant mores (646).
Where does the writer leave the issue?
Zelleke leaves the issue with a plea to supporters of universal basic income. She wishes that these supporters will “offer an attractive alternative vision of a pluralistic society in which all citizens have a guaranteed and inalienable minimum of economic, as well as political autonomy” (646). She knows that there is a substantial amount of (misguided) moral baggage embedded in the culture which views poverty as a certain type of pathology that must be stripped away. Zelleke ends reiterating that our libertarian economic sphere and our paternalistic social sphere is the worst of both worlds (646), which is precisely why advocates of an alternate vision must present arguments which appeal even to market fundamentalists.
How does this extend/challenge/complicate your thinking as a researcher?
Methodologically, Zelleke does not get too fancy. Fine by me. She relies on statistical, archival information, figures on Earned Income Tax Credits and so on, and she analyzes the work of prominent scholars who forward certain visions for social policy: Lawrence Mead (Paternalistic), Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson (Civil Republican), and Andre Gorz (Socialist). She notes where certain thinkers break with the mainstream; for example she writes, “Here, Gorz differed markedly with most American welfare theorists...” (642).
One area I wrestled with as a researcher is in her framing of basic income as a good to be achieved through and due to the capitalist system. This recognition of the good of capitalism - giving the devil his due, one (I) might say - shapes and frames her whole argument in favor of universal basic income. Zelleke articulates clearly that adopting her argument for basic income requires one “[overcome] leftist distaste for the institution of the market” (644). I thought, “But my distaste for the market is so strong!” As a researcher, I’m not ready to give the devil his due, so to speak, as Zelleke does when she writes, “To be sure, libertarian capitalism is a mixed blessing, responsible for so much of the inequality and insecurity the welfare state is designed to mitigate, but responsible also for the surplus that makes a generous welfare state, or basic income, a possibility” (646). Instead of giving the devil (so-called libertarian capitalism) his due, I think we should instead unmask the ways libertarian capitalism is an illusion, as I do in this blog post from 2011. We should illuminate the ways big businesses and the wealthy are actually the primary beneficiaries of welfare, and how we don’t really have a capitalist system -- we have more of a state-bureaucratic-capitalist system with heavy state subsidies, protections, and research & development for big business. With that being said, I also recognize that not everyone will be persuaded by that tack. Zelleke’s rhetorical and ideological framing of her scholarship may work better to persuade certain market-oriented audiences of the necessity of basic income. Which is why I applaud her methods, even if I am not ready to adopt them myself.
U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network Board Member Allan Sheahen discusses the guaranteed income bill with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television's "Bottom Line."