Universal basic income – A revolution of choice as well as a necessity?

Universal basic income is something that has really interested me ever since seeing a TED talk on the subject. It’s such a paradigm shift that it takes a while to sink in but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Or maybe I am more of a crazed loony lefty than I thought? Here’s a blog I produced as part of my final Open University module (DD308) on universal basic income. A 3000 word essay followed.

There are some people who do what they love to do and get paid for it. Their job doesn’t feel like work, they love to do it and would still do it even if they were not paid for it, they are in their element. These people are lucky, for many, work is purely for money to pay the bills and to do just some of the things that they enjoy, if they have time! In many capitalist countries work is seen as anything that adds to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the country and the economy. This is regardless of worth to the community or the individual. Volunteering to help clean up a local area or pursuing education is not recognised as ‘work’. The idea of work as 9-5, Monday to Friday has become habit.

What is Universal Basic Income?

Universal basic income is a guaranteed payment made to all citizens. It is paid regardless of income from work or savings. From high earning city traders to the unemployed, everyone receives the same amount of money. This doesn’t mean nobody works but it’s a safety net for all, resulting in more freedom. Just imagine, you would have the time and money to pursue your studies in social sciences, regardless of how much money you have or are willing to go into debt for!

Basic income could mean:

  • Caring for loved ones by working less.
  • Freedom from abusive relationships that use financial dependence for control.
  • Enjoying better working conditions – A safety net to challenge employers.
  • Reducing bureaucracy – No need for complicated benefits and pension systems.
  • More time to pursue education and training.
  • Nobody living in extreme poverty.
  • With less and less jobs and increased populations, automation and technology advancements should benefit everyone.
  • Zero hours contract and freelance work is sustainable for workers and a positive for all.

The morality of work

David Macarov says that the search for full employment is a delusion. Despite being told that success for a country is full employment, this has never been achievable and the conditions that have developed and are developing (automation and technology) mean that full employment is even more of a pipe dream.  To Macarov, the goal of full employment results in personal degradation, societal corruption, economic disaster and global danger. Society does not need and cannot use all the human labour available and trends say that unemployment can only increase. A Universal Basic Income would deal with these realities by giving freedom to individuals to conduct their lives how they want to and not just for economic gain.

But how can we afford it?

How do we pay for this though? I hear you cry. We can’t just give away ‘free’ money! Of course, setting the amount paid needs to be identified at a rate which is sustainable and enough to give individuals money to live. Paying every US citizen $12,000 per year would cost an eye watering $3.6 trillion. If the global elite were to pay their fair share of tax, $21 -$32 trillion according to the Tax Justice Network, add to this the removal of welfare and pension administration and the continued automation of jobs meaning productivity increases. Taking all of this into account, the numbers don’t look quite so unachievable.

Examples of Universal basic income

Alaska redistributes the profits of the oil it produces with every citizen. Alaska takes the viewpoint that the resource belongs to everyone and should be redistributed. Other examples can be found in Holland, Finland and Canada.

Basic income at first glance seems a radical idea. As radical an idea as healthcare for all, working rights for all, the vote for women and equal rights regardless of race. All of these were once thought of as radical and utopian ideas. Phillipe Van Parijs calls for utopian thinking by sociologists, working alongside economists and politicians to achieve a better world. Van Parijs says that social science can provide insights and research that can help bring about real social change and not just analysis of society.

Rethinking how we think about work, the bureaucracy of welfare systems and the rightful taxation of all could provide the viability of not only basic income but education and a life out of poverty for all.

What new discoveries in the arts and sciences could Universal Basic Income give us all the time and freedom to discover?

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