As much of the developed world struggles to address the growth of income inequality, there has been emerging consideration of a guaranteed basic income. There are a number of variations, but the basic idea is that government would eliminate the various forms of social welfare that are currently in place, and would instead send each citizen an annual amount sufficient to cover basic living expenses.
If you have a check, I’ll take it.
What one would receive under the basic income guarantee is determined by overall income. Besides serving to truly stimulate economic activity, it ensures the end of severe poverty, and the high costs of neglecting deep poverty.
The reason this won’t get anywhere in the US is that we took the exact opposite course. We are the rare modern nation that decided our jobless poor, and many of our unemployable, are undeserving of the most basic human rights (per the UN’s UDHR) of food and shelter. Out in the real world, not everyone is able to work, and there aren’t jobs for all. The US shut down and shipped out a huge number of jobs since the 1980s. Although the Obama administration has certainly increased jobs, we have only 7 jobs for every 10 jobless people who still have the means to pursue one (home address, phone, etc.). We have a poverty crisis, not just a low wage problem. When was the last time you heard an American call for restoring basic poverty relief?
The reason We the People can’t get anywhere is because the US Constitution is basically a property rights document, with a few humans rights thrown in, four of which corporations now possess. Paraphrasing the great George Carlin: Capitalism requires pitting the middle against the poor so the rich can go to the bank. I’ll add that racism is a well worn tool used to politically divide the people; it’s been and continues to be very effective.
Basic income proposals are not crazy, anyway not in this incredibly wealthy nation. All wealth in this nation was created through the exploitation of the land, her people and resources. A basic income for the theft of a wealth that began with our ancestors and continues today is little to ask. From entire generations of First Nations people, Black and Brown people, and the uneducated and unpropertied men and women immigrating from Europe and Asia, to their descendents alive in the US and yearning to be free, a minimum wage really is a slap in the face. Corporations have used the US Constitution to disempower workers and move jobs out of the country, so they can make even bigger profits.
The narrow political discourse in the US has been widened thanks to Sanders’ presidential run. Isn’t it time to ask for what we really want rather than settle for what the 1% allows.
Jobs are disappearing. Not just the positions of factory workers and customer service employees, but those of professionals like surgeons, accountants, architects, lawyers, and even the clergy. Robot “teachers” are interacting with students in Japan. Those who write are being replaced by robot “journalists.” Computers excel at tasks that can be reduced to algorithms. And that means, according to a comprehensive study by Citi and Oxford University, that nearly half of American jobs are susceptible to automation. What remains is the service economy, especially in the low-paying field of health care, in which the number of jobs increased by 23% in just one year.
Regarding a universal minimum/basic income, for example, it can be viewed positively.
Where has been been experiments and pilots in Manitoba for example, and it has proven very successful. The reason it doesn’t cause “everyone to just stop working” is because when fear of death, hunger and homelessness are removed, people are actually free to pursue what they want to do, rather than feel forced into doing something they hate (which is the mental-health basis for what we currently perceive as “laziness”- think about it: why do we not consider it to be cruel, abusive and sadistic that we actually live under a system where the main motivator is the constant threat of death and homelessness?) You have to think outside the box and realize that dynamics will shift for people in a way that will change a lot of notions that we currently see as “unavoidable” (or, sadly, “natural”) under the status quo. A basic income ensures that people don’t live in poverty, but it doesn’t provide for a luxury life-style. If you want to sit back and do nothing (which won’t actually happen, according to evidence)- but if you want to, fine. You should be free to do so. It should not mean that we should lose our humanity and decide that you are an “unworthy” person who deserves death and starvation. If you want something better, however (like a luxury lifestyle), then you would have to “earn” that money. Also, this would just be a stepping stone, for now.
One thing, though, about the implementation aspect of a basic/universal/guaranteed income: it must be done in a way that is “right-wing-proofed”, somehow being able to mandate it in a way that prevents future conservatives with power from using it as a means of austerity by dismantling everything else in terms of our Welfare State social safety-nets and then under-funding the basic income. We’d have to somehow ensure the inclusion of a non-negotiable guarantee into the program, tying the $$-amount to the cost of living, for example, among many other things. It needs to be an income that ensures - without any exceptions - that nobody nets less than they currently do in monetary and non-monetary income and benefits. Also a cap on income would need to be introduced along with a basic income program (aka “maximum income”), where nobody - whether they are a CEO or whatever - can make more than a certain (ridiculous) amount of money. This would ensure that the corporate sector doesn’t just continuously make up for the basic income and thwart its purpose by simply raising prices, to raise the price threshold of everything.
We must be absolutely opposed to the notion that a basic income be “means-tested” (i.e only for “low-income” people) and in favour of universality, when it comes to this specific issue, because (among many other reasons) it would eliminate the classist stigma of “oh, you receive a basic income? You must be a lowly poor person”, which is exactly the same kind of classist stigma that came into existence when our current welfare systems were implemented back in the day. Universality eliminates that kind of stigma immediately. Think of our universal healthcare system, for example: when it comes to seeing a doctor in Canada or the UK, access to him or her regardless of who you are, and whether you are rich or poor. There is no classist stigma associated with receiving healthcare services because ALL people - regardless of their income or wealth-status. Universality also avoids the creation of too much red-tape and bureaucracy, as the administration of the program is much simpler when it is administered to everyone, rather than having to means-test every case.
Automation and new technology makes possible an unlimited output by systems of machines which require little input from men and women, thus making it more possible for the elimination of poverty. One of the main brakes on the unlimited capacity of a robotic production system is the fact that distribution is determined on the basis of income-through-jobs. This link between jobs and income must be broken through a recognition of the right of every individual and family to have an adequate income regardless of job or lack of job, so that this new method of creating wealth can emerge.
But the UBI is no panacea to the problems of capitalism and we shouldn’t pretend it is. Any Citizens Income will always be framed within the tight parameters that capitalism will permit. A reform which will only be passed if it fits in with the agenda of the employing class, will have sufficient built-in constraints that it will fail to satisfy the expectations and hopes of our fellow workers and as the reform was made in the name of “socialism” and promoted by those calling themselves “socialists” then the subsequent disillusionment and disappointment will not be with capitalism and the owning class but with the actual idea of socialism and those recognised to be “socialists”.
What UBI proposes is a reform of the welfare system that would benefit only those on benefits, allowing them to receive these as of right without means testing or the obligation to try to find work. For many supporters it only makes sense that the budget for UBI would come from cannibalising existing welfare. UBI would not exist as an add-on benefit. The logic is to shut down housing benefit and the rest, and replace them with a single cheque. The welfare system can finally be eliminated. Nice if you could get it but hardly likely as long as capitalism lasts. The more extravagant claims about a basic income being a transition towards the abolition of the wages system and breaking the link between income and work are just that – extravagant claims. This is one reform which will only see light of day when the capitalists have to take desperate measures to distract the workers from abolishing the wages system.
“What do we owe the nation, and what do we owe each other?”
Global Economic Enfranchisement
An equal share of the interest paid on global sovereign debt
An actual social contract
Are there protections to guard against incentivizing larger families for larger income? I have not seen this addressed and will start looking. I would greatly appreciate someone pointing me in the right direction if you already know.
Means test suck. How would you like to be a means tester where people that didn’t even know you hated your guts?
Detested employers will pay a price.
Gaining sufficient control of the governing apparatus through elective gains to get this type of program would probably be step #1. Freeing people from the economic pressures of just trying to exist and allowing them to have more free time means the population can become better informed and participate in the governing process. This has always been a major concern of elites. Consumption and various forms of entertainment along with the ubiquitous threats of some manufactured menace, have been key tools to keep the population’s attention diverted. A major function of the public relations industry. The PR types will have to work harder.
The structure of a type of guaranteed income system is taken by you to be intermingled with, yet subservient to capitalism. You then made a presumption that I find needs questioning. You stated:
[[[ But the UBI is no panacea to the problems of capitalism and we shouldn’t pretend it is. Any Citizens Income will always be framed within the tight parameters that capitalism will permit. A reform which will only be passed if it fits in with the agenda of the employing class, will have sufficient built-in constraints that it will fail to satisfy the expectations and hopes of our fellow workers and as the reform was made in the name of “socialism” and promoted by those calling themselves “socialists” then the subsequent disillusionment and disappointment will not be with capitalism and the owning class but with the actual idea of socialism and those recognised to be “socialists”. ]]]
The theme that the inevitable failure was preordained such as to blame socialism, and I assume to reduce the influence of future socialist agendas, is a strange idea that had been mentioned last year by some who were surely trolling against Bernie Sanders. It makes no logical sense. Outside of right wing spin, of which common sense is not a prerequisite , no one is blaming climate control groups, like 350.org, for the lack of procedures and planning to counter climate change. People know where the resistance is coming from. The destruction of New Deal policies over the last half century was not due to the failure of the New Deal and New Deal politicians but to the lack of New Deal politicians in the two ‘major’ parties. No sane person, again outside of the right wing, is blaming the New Deal’s demise on the New Deal itself.
This has been the old standby propaganda by the right wing, even long before the McCarthy period. Any decent and rational proposal was condemned as ‘socialism’, equating it with communism, which by the propaganda bible meant it was a deadly enemy to freedom loving people the world over. Workers rights, voting rights, minimum wage, overtime pay, Social Security, Medicare. All ‘threats’ to freedoms loving people. The younger generations, free of the brainwashing attempts of the past half century and who get their information from IT sources and skip the bastion of propaganda, the main stream media, are not buying the old bs for a second. As was anyone with their eyes opened. The Sanders’ movement and the Green Party supporters have demonstrated this.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
While i can recognise positive aspects of UBI, i also recognise that there is much more to the story than is often presented by its proponents.
First of all it is not a new or novel suggestion. Have you read about the Speenhamland System
So we do have a long and extensive experience to judge UBI. It is not some sort of abstract hypothesis. Similar projects periodically crop up throughout history. In fact it can be claimed that the first UBI was as far back as the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr (573-634 CE), who introduced a guaranteed minimum standard of income, granting each man, woman, and child ten dirhams annually; this was later increased to twenty dirhams.
Thomas Paine advocated a citizen’s dividend to all US citizens as compensation for “loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property” (Agrarian Justice, 1795).
Napoleon Bonaparte echoed Paine’s sentiments and commented that ‘man is entitled by birthright to a share of the Earth’s produce sufficient to fill the needs of his existence’.
So we should look at why it has not been adopted in the modern age of capitalism.
I should have elaborated on the downsides more in my original post
For example, The head of the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region says she’s not sure a guaranteed minimum income program is all its cracked up to be.
"Employers may decide, ‘Well, we don’t need good business practices, we don’t need to create well-paid positions, we don’t need to create secure jobs because people will be taken care of.’ "
The latest proposal in Switzerland was mentioned. But this part of the argument was not highlighted:
“Wages are going to adapt themselves to become a complement to Basic Income. For example with a Basic Income of 2500 Swiss Francs, someone who at present gets 8000 Swiss francs from his employer will not get more than 5500 or so wages which will come to be added to his Basic Income.”
So, anyone with a wage above the poverty line is not going to be better off: their income will be exactly the same, with instead of it all being paid by the employer, part will be paid by the State and part by the employer. This would lead to a massive downward pressure on wages. Basically, they were proposing a reform of the welfare system that would benefit (if it worked as planned) only those on benefits, allowing them to receive these as of right without means testing or the obligation to try to find work. Nice if you could get it but hardly likely as long as capitalism lasts. The more extravagant claims about a basic income being a transition towards the abolition of the wages system and breaking the link between income and work are just that – extravagant claims.
To propose breaking the link between jobs and income while retaining the market economy is to misunderstand the objective of capitalist production — production for sale on the market. It is fantastic to imagine that capitalist enterprise can compete in the domestic and world markets without reducing labor costs. This is a prime essential. And it is this very drive for profits and reduction of labor costs which speeds the introduction of automation. The use of automation for the benefit of society is incompatible with the market economy.
Further, the aim of redistributing income — the retaining of money — indicates the retention of a commodity society. The need for money arises from a scarcity relationship because of the need to facilitate the circulation of commodities. But money can play no role in obtaining the needs of life when they have become — through cybernetics — as abundant as water and sunshine. In an economy of abundance, only the right of access by everybody to what is produced makes sense. The suggestion, then, for reorganizing society by “distributing effective demand” is merely another continuation of the status quo, a proposal — in effect — to distribute poverty among the workers through legislative measures revising the tax structure.
Support for the UBI from an American right-wing economist is also worth a read for another sort of vision for the implementation of the UBI.
if a Basic Income scheme is ever introduced, it’s not likely to be more than some limited reform of the tax and benefits system. But even it were to be introduced in full it could turn out to be counter-productive for the working class by leading to an across-the-board decrease in wages. It can be viewed as a very dangerous reform, one full of risks and unintended consequences.
A UBI would present the most disadvantaged among us with an open road to the middle class if they put their minds to it. It would say to people who have never had reason to believe it before: “Your future is in your hands.” And that would be the truth.
Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His book advocating a universal basic income, “In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State,” was first published by AEI in 2006.
But, of course, even Tricky Dicky Nixon was in favour and i read his proposals was killed off by Southern racists damnocrats who believed it offered increased economic independence to african americans
A more detailed critique of UBI than i could supply can be read here
Taxes would not have to go up to pay for this. All that would happen is that because everyone would get it regardless the ones who are earning plenty would just get it taken back off them via tax. So give with one hand and take with the other, but they would not feel it because they end up with the same money in their pocket.
Secondly the reduction in administrative costs would be a saving to the government so there would be less overhead in running this system.
Would people not bother to work? Obviously not, if you can work and top up your income by how much you want then 90% of people would do that. The current welfare systems which take away your welfare as soon as you start working are a disincentive to work because although you may gain money by working, you lose your freedom and it costs you money in transport and having decent enough clothing and childcare etc to even bother working. With a UBI as a base then working becomes worthwhile because it increases your income so you actually get some payback for losing out in other areas.
Crazy? Nope: a low-overhead way of assuring some minimal access to resources. Inflationary? Sure, could be. But you could cover for that by cutting back on credit to banks.
I like the idea of a guaranteed basic income, but I disagree strongly with the idea that freedom is of no use to people who are poor. On the contrary, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are absolutely vital for those who are destitute.
It’s interesting that when an article on the subject of a guaranteed income or stipend is revised (as you stated it’s not a new concept in human history), it’s usually prefaced with some cautionary wording that ‘this may sound somewhat strange or at the least different, but…’ Yet the range and mechanisms of formal financial market interactions and the liberties they possess are exercised daily and represent the very essence of things ‘strange’ or ‘different’.
I recall Noam Chomsky, who has been at MIT for well over a half century, talking about recruiters from the financial world soliciting graduates. Their chief targets were not those majoring in economic or finance but in math and physics, despite their having no formal education in economics/finance. But they were sought out because they were trained in analyzing and creating complex systems.
The first major plateau for a society would be to have a functioning democracy. It’s safe to venture that no major nation state has every experienced actual functioning democracy. It would necessitate the populations’ participation. This is historically antithetical to elite rule. That real functioning democracy has virtually no history is a testament to how hard the resistance of the ruling class, with their demand for hierarchy and its associated control and exploitation, has been and will continue to be. But if true functioning democracy is achieved, its salubrious, self-perpetuating nature will allow a society to freely evolve a more and more healthier and compatible existence. An evolution into true socialism.
Countries have had various forms of social democracy but not true functioning democracy. It’s more than just implementing some needed policies, as important as the New Deal was. Ironically, the New Deal saved capitalism. A transformation to actual socialism would be not just a plateau but the light at the end of our evolutionary tunnel… Equality, supplying the resources from birth for all to thrive and participate as an active element of society which maximizes individual and societal potential. And there’s no fear of a loss of ‘identity’ since maximizing individual potential is the greatest ‘individualism’ one could have.
You make some intriguing observations, one being the necessity for any society to possess a fully functioning democracy if it is to progress further.
I find it strange that in all my readings of the lesser evil arguments, particularly these days with Clinton and Trump, two cheeks of the same ass, we are exhorted by Chomsky and Michael Albert in todays essay on Common Dreams to vote for the lesser evil and we are told that it is merely holding our nose so that we can continue the fight for the next four years.
What i find strange is neither man, as far as i know, actually promotes an electoral system which is fully based on the lesser evil voting strategy - ie proportional representation, in particular, the single transferable voting system.
I find little argument in the liberal media for a change in the American voting system, except for some reform to reduce the manipulative disenfranchisement conducted by some right-wing Republican states.
I can only presume that for the so-called democrats with a small d, real change is not what they desire.
A very interesting essay. However Ms. Kennedy did not address the two proverbial 1500 gorillas in opposite corners of the room. They are Capitalism itself and its destructive spawn called Climate Change. Capitalism is a very exploitive and destructive hybrid economic system. Capitalism is simply an adulterated version of the natural economic system practiced by peoplekind long before ivory tower and high rise mavens of the wide and not so wonderful world of money defined it as otherwise. Capitalism is simply the functioning of the ultimate abacus on steroids. Capitalism is the ubiquitous Zero-Sum Game that by its nature must have a never ending supply of losers. A pestilence that engulfs humanity to the point of our very destruction. Taking us down the road to the now almost inevitable capitalist end of the capitalist game - our own destruction! A system with perverted people standing at its controls and raking in the cash/points.
As someone who spent the majority of his working career as a small business owner I often felt the detrimental effects of the mega corporations as they squeezed the maximum amount of Profits from the basic human economy. The human economy was and is one of barter and exchange predicated upon the intersection of the “wants and needs” of one person intersecting with those of another resulting in a “a fair exchange of goods and/or services” with accompanying mutual satisfaction of both parties. Capitalism’s Ivory Tower Mavins have conjured up an entire intellectual apology for Free Market Capitalism that its politicians can use to make our exploitation legal and profitable to the very very few at the top of its food chain. Unfortunately throughout our twisted history the few have almost always controlled the economy, the society, its politics and most of all its wealth. This is the natural state of what can best be described as Monarchical Capitalism where the Monarch and its 1% have always ruled with various forms of the Iorn/Invisible Hand. Even the deliberately misnamed experiments in “Communism” in both The Soviet Union and The People’s Republic Of China were/are nothing more than Monarchical Capitalism where all of the benefits accrued to their cult of 1% winners. In Post Soviet Russia Putin and his 1% are now very open as the new same old bosses of Monarchical Capitalism. And we all know the story of the new royalty of The Chinese Communist and their New Monarchical Billionaire Class that exploits their people in the same old historic ways. Tyrants have been and continue to be the driving engine of any form of Capitalism. Here in the West it is illustrated simply by the fact that 62 people own as much wealth as the bottom half of Mother Earth’s population. We all understand the tyranny of those in the Super Capitalist Class. Unfortunately way too many Americans are lulled into complacency by the False Luxuries Of Life that keep them imprisoned in mazes of endless and joyless labor which leads only to their spiritual death long before they are carried to the grave - once again becoming an early grave.
When I was in Vietnam I quickly learned that the US being there was a lost cause. The residents were suffering under Monarchical Capitalism that had been their history whether from their own tyrants or under the recent tyranny of the French and then the good old USA. In the late 1960s this country was coming to the end of its respite from the disastrous incarnation of Free Market Capitalism that would have destroyed the World Economy if FDR and his policies had not pulled it and the world from the brink of such destruction. The False Dichotomy Of Communism v. Western Capitalism prevailed as convenient political cover for tyrants of all stripes - be they called democratic/free societies or communist states. Here in the West we have been suffering from a much more benign form of tyranny while many other parts of the world have suffered from a very brutal and often fatal form of tyranny. In Vietnam the people chose the illusion of a guaranteed income and well being through Communism - another false choice that has never existed. This clearly illustrates that when given a choice of basic human existence through economic equality and well being we will clearly elect to make such a choice. That is why the Capitalist Class has demonized such choices and through propaganda makes the Western World believe the only choice is their brutal form of economic existence!
We all want the security of being able to live a life that fulfills our basic human needs. Unfortunately it seems that Psychopaths and their Sociopaths always rise to control We, The Rabble. No. A guaranteed income is a basic human desire and need and we are at the cusp of it becoming an economic necessity. I predict that technology will liberate us from the clutches of The Capitalist Class and their Climate Change. If we but Demand It! The change will not come through the Corporatist Political Parties that dominate the politics of the Western World. It probably will not come until we are well into the next and imminent economic crash. Then we will have the opportunity to hopefully execute and bury Free Market/Monarchical Capitalism and return to our organic barter and exchange economy regulated by responsive altruistic governments. I am confident that a guaranteed basic income will be recognized as a part of our universal rights.
I would IMPLORE this author and Common Dreams to talk about funding Basic Income not using just tax revenue, but also currency expansion, such as issuing Treasury Dollars with no debt attached. Since money (Fed Reserve Notes) only comes into existence as debt - there is always more money owed than there is money in existence. That means the dream of “debt free living” is actually mathematically impossible in our system. Issuing Treasury Dollars as Basic Income could help America and the rest of the world pay off this “debt overhang” we have created with our debt-based monetary system.