Two or more years ago, only a few libertarians and some innovative left thinkers were talking about guaranteed income. Last year, more proposals and opinions began to trickle in. Now, governments are experimenting with it, political parties and think tanks are endorsing it, and opposition is surprisingly mild.
In a way, it's not hard to see why. For countries with a strong tradition of social democracy and regulated markets, dividend income is another (more efficient) arrow in the quiver. And in the U.S., where half of all Americans are economically insecure and battles over minimum wage take place against a backdrop of a wholesale abandonment of supportable wage work, it's increasingly apparent that our capacity to create full-time livable work income for even most Americans is melting down.
Of course, part of the case for basic income is that the value of money itself is fluid, and can be democratized. That's what groups like Positive Money and PBI bring to the table. As for the rest of the story, here are several important reads from merely the last 30 days on the ideological convergence and current widespread embrace of basic income.
Why liberals and conservatives love it . . .
Guaranteed Basic Income dates back to the time of Abu Bakr, the successor to Mohammed, who ensured that every Muslim citizen was given enough money to sustain their basic needs for the year, paid out of the Caliphate's treasury. Early Christians it is believed operated in much the same way. Throughout history, figured from Thomas Paine to Napoleon Bonaparte, to the economist Milton Friedman have all advocated for a guaranteed basic income to sustain people. The liberal case is that it eliminates poverty. The conservative case is simple. A guaranteed basic income eliminates the need for multiple government agencies, as well as the expensive bureaucracies needed to manage them. Would recipients of this income become lazy? Not likely. Healthy people always want to work and contribute. Few people would be satisfied with a basic life on a basic income. While the stress would disappear, since nobody who was responsible with money would need to fear homelessness or starvation, people could spend their time on education, job training, or finding better and better jobs. They would be free to pursue a passion in an attempt to make that passion pay off. This is how the guaranteed basic income would facilitate the formation of new businesses. Finally, the added money in circulation would all be spent, thus providing permanent stimulus to the economy.
Why the coming robot employee army will make it absolutely necessary . . .
A guaranteed basic income is one possibility to ensure people can sustain themselves and achieve their working potential. A guaranteed basic income means every citizen is given a check, presumably funded by taxes on those who are making the most profit off displacing workers in the first place. The nation is wealthy enough to do it, with the United States being the most productive nation in the world.
Such a development would allow displaced workers to retrain themselves without fighting for mind-numbing jobs that pay well-below sustainable wages. It would also force wages to rise, because they would compete with the guaranteed basic income. The artificial minimum wage could be abolished as well as several expensive government bureaucracies.
The other, darker, alternative is to create a massive underclass of people who have virtually nothing to subsist on. To prevent chaos, the government will have to feed and house these populations, and even then, collective upset will be a constant threat. A guaranteed basic income may be more costly, but it will be less costly than a hard leftist revolution bred in super-slums.
Empirical evidence of basic income's tendency to increase social cohesion, other benefits . . .
The experience of the BIG pilot suggests that the universal cash grant liberated people and the community from the individually and collectively draining and devastating impact of poverty. Many people living in Otjivero-Omitara said that they had only survived previously by asking and begging for food. This was profoundly embarrassing and undermined their capacity to have normal social interactions and the development of constructive community relations and real community spirit. The payment of the BIG has dramatically changed this. Begging has basically stopped and people reported that they can now visit and speak freely to each other, without the fear of being seen as a potential beggar. Judging from the observations of community members, researchers and members of the BIG Coalition, it would appear that a stronger community spirit developed over the period of the first year of the BIG.
The village organizers told me that the castes don’t normally “come together”, but the women of different castes in the villages did come together, for animal husbandry, buying cows and livestock, other financial and other training and SEWA meetings.
Again, as in Namibia, there were numerous additional positive effects including a marked increase in economic activity, improvements in nutrition and overall health, improved school attendance and performance, increased savings, lowered debts, and improvements in housing among others.
. . . but perhaps the most amazing of all findings in regards to increased incomes and improved personality traits, comes from a 10+ year study in North Carolina, where just four years into it, about a quarter of the households being studied saw an increase in their incomes of about $4,000 per year per tribal member as a result of casino dividends. Because of this, and because this just so happened to take place during a long-term longitudinal scientific study, some incredible effects have been observed in the children as young adults that would be virtually impossible to study outside of full-on implementing universal basic income.
Support from Canada's Greens . . .
. . . the Greens would use “a single universal, unconditional cash benefit delivered through the tax system” to replace the current complex system of federal and provincial support.
In a recent article, Huffington Post Canada sat down with party leader Elizabeth May to discuss why providing a basic income to all Canadians would pay off for Canada. The interview provides valuable information about the reasons why she and other Greens believe that the “Guaranteed Livable Income” is the perfect anti-poverty measure.
Basic income increases civic goodness, publicly beneficial activity . . .
But from the perspective of the city, the key benefit is the time and energy that UBI might unleash. Some people might choose to use their annual payment to watch more television – but if even a few percent of the population engage in Occupy-style activism, then that might represent a renaissance of civic life.
The Italian city of Bologna is starting to create something approaching a mass movement for the commons, bringing citizens into the management of public assets and spaces. Imagine that movement turbo-charged by the free time and enthusiasm unleashed by a basic income.
Finland's doing it, the Swiss and Dutch are looking at it . . .
Erik Kirschbaum, "If you were handed $1,100 a month, would you amount to anything?"
In Finland, a new conservative-led government announced plans this month to hand out a universal basic income of nearly $900 per month starting in 2017. The basic income payments would replace all other benefits, cutting administration and means-testing costs, and will be paid to everyone regardless of whether they have other sources of income. Opinion polls show 70% of Finns favor the idea, which will cost more than $50 billion a year. A referendum on the same question is due in Switzerland in February. There is growing support for a basic income in the Netherlands.
Also, let's note the brand new book, Free Money for All, by Mark Walker, philosophy professor at New Mexico State University.