Unconditional income and republican freedom

Stuart White on "social democracy plus".

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the first part of Edward Lewis's interview with the political theorist Stuart White over at the New Left Project. Lewis has now posted the second instalment of the conversation. The first part dealt with the question what it is political philosophers and theorists do exactly. White suggested their stock-in-trade was the examination of the concepts that play a central role in political debate and deliberation - equality, liberty, justice and so on. The second part of the interview deals with a specific proposal put forward by civic or democratic republican thinkers like White: the idea of a basic unconditional income. White defends the notion in terms of the republican idea of freedom as "non-domination" (a conception that derives from the work of the political philosopher Philip Pettit):

If you want something that's going to empower people in the labour market so that they can escape potentially dominating employers, or escape family relationships in which they're potentially dominated, then an unconditional basic income looks like a very good idea. . . . [B]y strengthening the position of the disadvantaged in the labour market it thereby precludes relationships of domination between employers and workers. Consider situations where an employer can say to a worker "Do what I or say or else", where the "or else" is you'll get the sack and then you'll be starving on the street. With an unconditional basic income, employers can't make those kind of threats, because if a worker loses the job then there's still an income independent of the sale of labour power that he or she can fall back on. Even a relatively small basic income, if it's saved and managed well, can give a worker a lot more independence in the labour market.

Read the whole thing here.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

Pompidou Centre
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Harry Styles: What can three blank Instagram posts tell us about music promotion?

Do the One Direction star’s latest posts tell us about the future of music promotion in the social media age - or take us back to a bygone era?

Yesterday, Harry Styles posted three identical, captionless blank images to Instagram. He offered no explanation on any other social network, and left no clue via location serves or tagged accounts as to what the pictures might mean. There was nothing about any of the individual images that suggested they might have significance beyond their surface existence.

And, predictably, they brought in over a million likes – and thousands of Styles fans decoding them with the forensic dedication of the cast of Silent Witness.

Of course, the Instagrams are deliberately provocative in their vagueness. They reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s three-panelled White Painting (1951), or Robert Ryman’s Untitled, three square blank canvases that hang in the Pompidou Centre. The composer John Cage claimed that the significance of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings lay in their status as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them. The significance of Styles’s Instagrams arguably, too, only gain cultural relevance as his audience engages with them.

So what did fans make of the cryptic posts? Some posited a modelling career announcement would follow, others theorised that it was a nod to a Taylor Swift song “Blank Space”, and that the former couple would soon confirm they were back together. Still more thought this suggested an oncoming solo album launch.

You can understand why a solo album launch would be on the tip of most fans’ tongues. Instagram has become a popular platform for the cryptic musical announcement — In April, Beyoncé teased Lemonade’s world premiere with a short Instagram video – keeping her face, and the significance behind the title Lemonade, hidden.

Creating a void is often seen as the ultimate way to tease fans and whet appetites. In June last year, The 1975 temporarily deleted their Instagram, a key platform in building the band’s grungy, black and white brand, in the lead up to the announcement of their second album, which involved a shift in aesthetic to pastel pinks and bright neons.

The Weekend wiped his, too, just last week – ahead of the release of his new single “Starboy”. Blank Instagrams are popular across the network. Jaden Smith has posted hundreds of them, seemingly with no wider philosophical point behind them, though he did tweet in April last year, “Instagram Is A BlackHole Of Time And Energy.”

The motive behind Harry’s blank posts perhaps seems somewhat anticlimactic – an interview with magazine Another Man, and three covers, with three different hairstyles, to go along with it. But presumably the interview coincides with the promotion of something new – hopefully, something other than his new film Dunkirk and the latest update on his beloved tresses. In fact, those blank Instagrams could lead to a surprisingly traditional form of celebrity announcement – one that surfaces to the world via the print press.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.