The Change Book: Fifty models to explain how things happen, by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

Profile Books, 2012, 1 78125009 9, hbk, vii + 167 pp, £9.99

For each of the fifty models there is a page or two of text and a page or two of diagrams. To give a flavour: There is a page about the ‘m=3 and n=1’ model: that is, we experience three dimensions of space and one of time. The text points out that the mathematics of quantum field theory can be formulated in rather more dimensions than that, but that more than three dimensions of space would offer too little stability, fewer than three insufficient complexity (and so no gravitation), and only a single time dimension permits causality inferences. (Readers beware: the authors have muddled up their ms and their ns.) The final paragraph theorises about a multiuniverse in which universes with different numbers of time and space dimensions are uninhabitable. The following page explains the situation with a diagram: and that’s wrong, too, because the text does foresee a universe with three spatial dimensions and more than one time dimension.

To take another, more successfully executed, example: a page of text explains why economic booms and busts occur (rising share prices attract investors, falling share prices prompt selling); and a diagram usefully portrays how expected share price varies more than earnings per share (which more nearly reflects economic reality).

The models are divided into ‘Explaining our world’ (the section containing the examples above), ‘Explaining my world’, ‘changing my world’, and ‘changing our world’. The divisions are somewhat arbitrary. Take the example in which we might be most interested in thisNewsletter: the Basic Income Model is located in the ‘changing my world’ section, but could equally well have been included under ‘changing our world’.

The two pages of text on a Citizen’s Income (pp. 84-5) begin with a paragraph on problems facing our society (‘the death of the social’), and then describe a Basic Income as a ‘polemical as well as fascinating concept based on the idea that those who want to work should not be hindered and those who do not want to work should not be forced to do so’. The advantages of a Citizen’s Income are well described (‘There would be no more unemployment nor the social stigma attached to it’, ‘The job market would be “freer”, etc.), and possible disadvantages are faced: for instance, ‘a restrictive immigration policy’. The authors finally offer some questions: ‘Would people become lazy …?’

The authors are clearly rather taken with the idea of a Citizen’s or Basic Income, and their enthusiasm is welcome, but the fact that the book is all about ‘change’, and preferably change as radical as possible, a Citizen’s Income is described throughout as a world-changing policy. Rather than calling the pages ‘Basic Income’, they use the title ‘What would turn our society upside down’ (without a question mark); and in the text the idea is called ‘polemical as well as fascinating’. This might not be helpful. Another way of describing a Citizen’s Income is as a minor administrative change that would deliver appreciable economic and social benefits, and it is by framing the proposal in that way that we might be more likely to see movement towards establishing a Citizen’s Income.

The following two pages offer a very useful, and rather less polemical, diagram, showing the connections between the current benefits system and a system based on a Basic Income (wage labour, money, and social status) and the differences: minimal bureaucracy in place of lots, freedom in place of stigmatisation, a focus on potential rather than a focus on need, and good wages for bad jobs rather than bad wages for bad jobs. The only problem with the ‘Basic Income’ side of the diagram is that’s entitled ‘utopia’. It wouldn’t be.

In the edition of The Big Issue for the 14th to the 20th January Mikael Krogerus has written a two page article about The Change Book. The three models featured are about the pain that results from change, about how world governance might evolve, and about ‘What would turn our society upside down?’ (this time with a question mark) – and here he repeats the full text and diagram from the four pages in the book about Basic Income.

There is much food for thought in The Change Book, and particularly in the pages on a Citizen’s Income.