But here’s the one that’s driving me berserk, why do only fools and horses work?
The first time I encountered the notion of a universal citizen’s income was when it was announced as a Green Party policy. I then saw Andrew Neil in his typical fashion dismantle the numbers around the Greens Citizens’ Income (a policy they proceeded to abandon).
It wasn’t until several months later when I was reading Agrarian Justice by the brilliant Thomas Paine (one of liberalism’s true forefathers) that I encountered the notion of a citizen’s income again, or a citizen’s dividend as it has come to be known. This prompted me to begin reading more about universal citizens incomes, encountering not only the support (notably from both the left and the right) the proposals had, but also the nuanced debates surrounding them. A basic income isn’t commonly proposed as a supplement to the welfare state but rather as a fundamental reform of the welfare state – a reform that in my opinion could deal with the ever-burgeoning problems of benefit bureaucracy (something British Film-maker Ken Loach showed to be dehumanising this year with his Palme D’or winning film I, Daniel Blake), labor automation (a force that currently ups productivity exponentially but in the process primarily steals jobs from the already socially marginalised low skilled workers) and abject poverty (a key factor in crime facilitation) to name but a few. Excitingly, since I started this article I’ve seen numerous pieces pop up in The Guardian and The Independent supporting and discussing a citizens income, in light of the proposal making some headway in Finland, New Zealand and Canada. Switzerland also recently had a plebiscite on the issue but unfortunately the proposal was rejected by the public. Namibia, India and Iceland are currently experimenting with a basic income and already there have been positive results.
Malcom Torry (head of the Citizen’s Income Trust) published a book recently entitled 101 reasons for a Citizen’s Income. In the work he elucidates how a Citizens’ Income could do everything from promoting social cohesion/ focalising national unity, to solving Piketty’s R>G equation (said equation basically symbolising that returns on capital have become greater than rates of growth, ergo creating and propelling significant income inequality globally). The book is broken up into four key sections: the economy, a changing society, administration and politics. The books provides a plethora of diverse reasons to support a Citizen’s income, and is an accessible text I’d throughly recommend to anyone who is remotely enticed by this potential reform.
Arguments for a Basic Income
In his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, the University of Cambridge’s leading development economist Ha Joon Chang challenged the argument that welfare makes markets un-dynamic. Chang noted how in America big companies face greater resistance and calls for protectionism from their workforce compared to their European counterparts, especially when undertaking the necessary industrial re-structuring that keeps the firms in question competitive on the global stage. This occurs as the US doesn’t have the same type of social security safety net for the workers to fall back onto when their job security becomes threatened.
He also makes an analogy between the logic behind the welfare state’s protective role for workers and bankruptcy laws/functions. A Citizens’ Income would promote this further as no longer would anyone be working for the ability to afford subsistence, they’d now be working for reasons such as a desire for surplus cash or perhaps even a personal commitment to the company and its goals. Now emancipated from having to earn to make ends meet, employees would no longer fear structural changes and foreign competition as not only would they have a strong economic boon to fall back on if worse came to worse, but also on a behavioural level employees would now more than likely welcome any changes that could make their companies better as they’d be more aligned and invested in the companies and their future prospects for success.
A Citizen’s income would further unlock the potential in much maligned zero hour contracts, as now we’d have an efficient benefits system that gauges and reflects that labour markets have now become extremely flexible in our globalised world. This metamorphosis of benefits would thus benefit both employers and employees, as now employees would not be adversely effected by the precarious shifts zero hour contracts provide, and employers would still be free to allocate available work as they see fit. We have already seen positive steps being taken in reforming zero hour contracts to make them less unfair on workers through the Boles ban against exclusivity clauses, a comprehensive basic income would further this evening of the playing field in the ever expanding realm of zero-hour contacts.
Introducing a Citizen’s income would induce a Kunnian Paradigm shift that would make the libertarian proclamation that all employees are free to easily switch jobs when their predicament becomes exploitative more meaningful and legitimate, as now no one would be dependent on staying in unfair coercive jobs (i.e like the controversial Sports Direct Warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire) just to provide for themselves and their family, and thus workers would be totally free to come and go as they please, and a classic criticism of free market capitalism would be addressed, thus affirming capitalism’s voluntary ethos.
Employment is globally becoming a less rigid and stable/stringent concept. Resistance to this indisputable shift manifested in France recently with protests over Prime Minister Manuel Vall’s labour reforms that aim to make it easier for workplaces to hire and fire. A citizen’s income responds to this shift in way that protects workers, whilst not taking a hammer blow to businesses and market dynamism.
An unconditional citizens income would mitigate the mental health issues caused by people having anxiety about earning enough to pay their monthly bills. Male suicide rates are shockingly high in many developed western countries, a tragic trend that clearly was seen to be exacerbated by job uncertainty after events such as the 2008 financial crisis, Britain’s austerity measures and Alberta’s oil sector contraction. This is just one example of a health issue that could be ameliorated by a citizen’s income, many others would be eased too, thus unburdening our national health service somewhat.
Free from this constant cloud of worry people would be invigorated, and now would have more time to focus their intellectual energies on more fulfilling and important pursuits. In their very interesting debate on America’s innovation slowdown both anarchist David Graeaber and PayPal founder Peter Thiel broadly assented that too many people are simply not en-franchised in a creative sense anymore; Graeaber in particular emphasised that people lack the personal time and resources necessary to maximise their imagination due to stifling social and economic status.
Furthermore they also both concurred that the large institutions that are supposed to prevent this and pull people out of this slump (i.e traditional government welfare) are deeply flawed, somewhat obsolete and ultimately fail to achieve their goals. A citizens income would free this un-tapped portion of the population; now with more open time to allocate to activity’s of their choosing, they could do everything from devoting more time to the voluntary sector (in turn nourishing the Big Society), to even creating their own kick-starter enterprises.
Means testing is growing harsher; work capability assessments performed by contracted companies (e.g. ATOS) have lead not only to an increased rise of people with mental health issues relapsing, but also suicide has sadly often followed the assessments (a journal report partly linked such to 596 suicides and a large amount of anti-depressant prescriptions). You can find countless traumatic stories of struggling people being forced to get back to work with degenerative conditions. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation released a report documenting how conditionality has and is expanding, with vulnerable recipient groups such as lone parents and the disabled, no longer exempt from frequent sanctions.
In work benefits have become a big issue here in Britain. In one of his videos Owen Jones put it powerfully saying that in today’s society people “earn their Poverty day after day”. The Government is now subsidising big firms paying their workers low pay. UBI critics have long cited the dangers of severing the connection between one’s labour and income; this severance is happening, and the government today is already spending large amounts of money to try and fix it. It’s a severance that looks like it’s going to grow more profound due to weak post financial crisis wage growth (IFS director Paul Johnson proclaimed that what we face is “historically unprecedented”). It’s getting so threatening to living standards that the OECD called for action to protect workers from this stagnation. Couple this with the Tory Government’s benefits cuts, shocking levels of food poverty and rising rents, and now the cost of living crisis only seems to be getting worse for JAMS, with a week’s work no longer providing enough pay just for basic up-keep itself.
I’ve already briefly mentioned automation but I think the point is worth re-iterating in detail. As part of his Futurism 101 series, fellow Wessex Scene writer Seb Steele wrote of how automation is disrupting jobs in many areas you perhaps wouldn’t expect such as journalism and stock market trading.
We shouldn’t consider this hyperbole, the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane warned last year that 15 million UK jobs could be lost to robots, particularly threatened were clerical, administrative and production roles he claimed. The answer to this is not to try to subdue automation and ‘weak AI’ development and the consequent positives such entails like luddites, but rather to embrace the future and accommodate this gargantuan displacement by putting a citizens income in place.
Many people on first glance at a citizen’s income instinctively write it off as hard left utopianism. This is a gravely wrong assumption as a citizen’s income actually is very similar to a negative income tax, a policy proposal that is very popular within right wing think tanks like the Adam Smith Institute and the Cato Institute. Milton Friedman supported this type of policy, and even Friedrich Von Hayek, the author of The Road To Serfdom, the very book Margaret Thatcher famously adored, vocally supported a guaranteed minimum income.
This is a policy debate that more comes down to authoritarians vs libertarians, as a citizens income is given and made available to all citizens unconditionally without extensive government stewardship of the rewarded funds. Power is being put into the hands of ordinary people.