One of the (many) criticisms levelled at the concept of basic income is that no one deserves something for nothing. And yet an unconditional basic income is precisely that – something for everyone without anything in return.
Why would we want to do that? Wouldn’t it mean that people didn’t bother working? Why do people who give nothing to society deserve anything anyway?
All of this assumes that we are only of value as producers and consumers. That if we aren’t moving money around the system, there isn’t much point to us. And it also is based on the understanding that our economic system requires constant growth.
And yet it’s obvious (or it should be) that we can’t have constant growth that depends on stuff. Because the stuff is limited – by resources, by space, by how much anyone can consume in one life time. So the economic model that depends on production will have to change at some point. And as technology improves, it reduces the need for much of the labour that we’ve needed in the past – robots in factories replacing people, industrialised processes taking physical effort out of the equation. The holy grail of total employment is steadily receding, and instead we need to look for other ways to build a society.
Our current situation doesn’t recognise the input of volunteers and carers either. It’s somehow more valid to set up as a childminder and look after other people’s children for pay than it is to look after your own for no money. Which doesn’t make a great deal of sense when you think about it logically.
All of this of course, tends to only apply to people at the bottom end of the financial spectrum. There’s any number of people getting something for nothing at the other end. How else would you describe inheritance? It all looks well and good in today’s world, what we don’t tend to recognise is how the families with the most got to that situation. It was rarely by hard work, more often that not it was down to being bigger and meaner than other people. Have a think about land ownership. There used to be common rights all over this country for people to graze their animals and make their own living from the land. These rights were gradually removed in a process that displaced people from the land, and made them easy labour for the industrial revolution. Look up enclosure, if you never have before, it’s illuminating. Once you own land, there are all sorts of ways to make money out of it. And not owning, or having access to land, makes it very difficult to be self sufficient. One of the reasons that I find Land Value Tax an interesting idea for funding basic income.
The current system (in the UK) actually relies on the imbalance of power across society. People work in awful conditions often, to get hardly enough money to get by on. The previous governmental answer of supplementing low wages with tax credits increases control over the workforce as people feel guilty for needing government assistance. It never seems to be the people setting pay rates that feel guilty about it :/ And as mentioned above, there is less and less requirement for labour any way, opening people up to other types of exploitation, like zero hours contracts and so on.
I think it’s time to consider an alternative.
What effect would it have on society if everyone were entitled to the same basic income? There would be no mileage in the scroungers v strivers rhetoric that we here so much of at the moment. People would be freed up from the anxiety of chasing low paying jobs, though entirely at liberty to take on work to top up their income. (It’s called basic, it’s not designed to be luxurious.) Previous trials imply that people do still work even when the basics are covered, there’s a very low decrease in hours, and I suspect that that slack might well be taken up by people currently in a welfare trap. The labour force as it is would be far more flexible.
But what of people’s work ethic? I’ve heard a lot of people worried about this. I’ve got to say, I don’t think there’s much ethical about forcing people to take work that doesn’t pay enough to survive on. But maybe that’s just me?