18:40 GMT +322 September 2018
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    Brave New World

    Arguments for Universal Basic Income

    Brave New World
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    John Harrison
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    Universal Basic Income seems finally to be being taken serious by governments and various pilot schemes have and are being held around the world, with the Scottish government being the latest to show interest. One of the UK’s most influential experts on UBI, Dr Guy Standing, reiterates the basic idea of what a basic income is.

    Dr Guy Standing is a Professorial Research Associate at (SOAS) in the University of London, and a founder member and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN).

    Dr Standing starts the program by explaining what BIEN is. “We established BIEN in 1986, there was a small group of very young philosophers and economists who were realizing that the neo-liberal economic experiment that was taking place under Thatcher and Reagan were going to cause growing insecurity around the world, growing under-employment, and the growth of what I have described as the ‘precariat’. For a long time we were doing research and experiments and things like that, but in the last couple of years, suddenly, we have become mainstream. The reason for this, is what I call a ‘perfect storm.’ In the sense that we know that insecurity has become pervasive, we know that inequality has become chronically disgraceful around the world, in every country, and it is not going to be reduced by old-styled methods. We also know that the precariat has been growing, that a growing number of people face a life of unstable labour, lack of occupational identity, lack of income security, facing chronic debts where one accident or illness could push them over the edge, and in addition, I think this is the really important added factor, we have suddenly got to the point where so many people are angry and bitter, that they have been listening to the voices of the sirens of neo-fascist popularism. …If you allow chronic economic insecurity to affect millions and millions of people then sooner or later the system is going to give, and I think that’s where we are today.”

    There is a danger that UBI is labelled part of the left-wing political agenda, however that is not necessarily what it is supposed to be. Dr Standing explains: ‘I think you can fit UBI into different political programs – the libertarians on the far right, they want to introduce a basic income instead of a welfare state, instead of public services. They want a small government, and because they can’t get it without giving something in return, some of those people are attracted to some kind of modest basic income as a gesture. But those on the progressive side of the debate, see a basic income as merely a part of a new income distribution system. Early last year, John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor of The Exchequer in the British Labour Party), who I have known for some years, invited me to become one of his economic advisors. I have not held any political position, I have not been enamored by many of Tony Blair’s policies for example, and I have stayed out of the scene, but because he asked me and because I wanted to promote a basic income I accepted with pleasure, and I’ve been working with John ever since. He’s asked me now to produce a report by early next year where we will propose one or more pilots of a basic income across Great Britain. I am already working in Scotland with a cross-party group considering holding a pilot on Fife, and another one in Glasgow. There are various parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland which are also interested in doing a local pilot. So I think that the response from the progressive side, and that includes Carolyn Lucas who endorsed my new book on basic income, and the Greens, is that people realize that you can’t go back to the old Laborism of the 20th century, we have to be innovated and look at the new situation. I’m delighted that labour has made a public statement that there will be a pilot in the UK if Labour is elected to government in the next general election. I think this is a time for cautious optimism, that finally we are going to have something that is moving in the direction of giving everybody, every man, woman and child, the basic means of survival as a right of being a citizen, as a legal resident.”

    Dr Standing stresses in the program that UBI is not a welfare program. “A basic income, and I don’t use the word ‘universal’, can be interpreted as a social inheritance. If you allow for private inheritance of private wealth, which is giving a lot of rich people a lot of something for nothing, you should also think that the income and wealth of all of us, you and me included, and all of those listening to this program, is far more to do with the efforts and achievements of generations before us… This is a matter of social justice. This fits in with religious interpretations. If you are a Christian, you believe that God gives people unequal talents and in a sense a basic income would be compensating all of those people who have less talents than those that can make a lot of money. I think that religious interpretation goes with the idea of social justice…” 

    Discussion turns towards capitalism having to change. “I think that the model of capitalism that relies on fear and insecurity to get people to perform labor has to change. I think that a basic income would give people a bit more confidence, a bit more capacity to say ‘no’ to really exploitative labor relations, personal relations, and so on. I think a basic income in that way is a dignifying tool, a recognition that we should change the nature of the market system. We don’t have to rely on old-style fear based capitalism. And we have moved into an era, and I have discussed this in a recent book called: ‘The Corruption of Capitalism,’ where what’s happening is that more and more of the income that’s being generated is going in forms of rent to those who have properties: financial property, physical property or intellectual property. This is a fundamentally unfair system… we need to change capitalism before it implodes, because of the fundamental unfairness of the whole system.”

    The Swiss UBI referendum is discussed, as are pilots around the world with which Dr Standing has been associated with. “I think we are accumulating a body of evidence which supports the ethical side of the argument, and that’s what gives me optimism in 2018.”

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    Tags:
    UBI, capitalism, program, referendum, UBI, John McDonnell, Great Britain
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