I was going to bring some notes on this subject, Universal Basic Income, along to the pub meeting in London tomorrow (20.07.2016.)
It's a lot to read out, and being a little prone to stage fright anyway, I thought I'd post it here instead.
I'm still up for discussing some of the points in the pub though if anyone would like to.
At first, Universal Basic Income seems like a crazy idea. (Giving the public unearned money.) But behind it, is a desire to create a space of practical freedom for everyone. People are free to do many things in theory, but in actual practice, they aren't free at all, due to worldly exigencies. So Srnick and Williams advocate synthetic freedom, in their book*. I suppose what they mean by this term is artificial, manufactured freedom, as opposed to the pseudo-"natural" law of the jungle. It's to do with the belief that "a formal right without a material capacity is worthless." (p.79) So, for example, "we are formally free not to take a job, but most of us are nevertheless practically forced into accepting whatever is on offer." So, if the public were all paid a Universal Basic Income, it would mean employers wouldn't be able to effectively starve them into low paid crappy jobs, or use the dread of not being able to pay the rent, and ending up homeless. The problem of the "working poor" has been well known for the last fews years, people who work hard, but are still broke. Employers would have to raise the bar. There's nothing wrong with being in business to make a profit, but it should be worth it for workers too. The Universal Basic Income would have to be enough to not end up as just an employers' low wage subsidy, but not so much that employers couldn't tempt employees to work if they did pay reasonable money. (Paul Mason in his book** suggests £6K per year as a U.B.I., and a minimum of £20K for anyone in work- I suppose this £20K would be through a similar sort of mechanism as the national minimum wage.)
Srnick and Williams stress that a principle of the U.B.I. is that it shouldn't be means-tested at all, it should be paid to everyone. The U.B.I. has to be seen to be fair. Otherwise people will succumb to corrosive resentment if they're not getting it. As Srnick and Williams put it, they will feel "negative solidarity": " 'Negative solidarity'...more than mere indifference to worker agitations- it is the fostering of an aggressively enraged sense of injustice, committed to the idea that, because I must endure increasingly austere working conditions (wage freezes, loss of benefits, a declining pension pot), then everyone else must as well." (p.20) I remember the GLC in London in the 1980's and there was a lot of resentment towards it because there was a perception it only gave money towards it's pet causes.
Where would the money come from to pay U.B.I.? Srnick and Williams give a list of possiblities:
reducing duplicate programmes;
raising taxes on the rich;
cutting spending on the military;
cutting industry and agriculture subsidies;
and cracking down on tax evasion.
(It strikes me that it might be desirable to cut taxes on high risk investments in robotics , I.T., chip manufacturers, etc., which lessen the need for hard manual labour.)
Wouldn't presently poor people given free money just waste it? Not necessarily.
There are a couple of interesting example of experiments in Bregman's book.***
In Kenya an organisation called GiveDirectly deposited $500 in the bank account of Bernard Omondi, who was working in a stone quarry on $2 per day. He invested it in a Bajaj Boxer motorbike from India, and then made $6-$9 per day ferrying people around as a taxi driver. Massachusetts Institute of Technology studied the effects of GiveDirectly's cash grants. They found they spurred a lasting rise in incomes (up 38% ), boosted home ownership and the possession of livestock (up 58%), and reduced the number of days children went hungry (down 42%.)
An example closer to the pub we'll be in tomorrow, in May 2009 a London-based aid organisation called Broadway tried an experiment with 13 homeless men. They were all long-term street sleepers, sleeping in the Square Mile, some for 40 years. They were a big nuisance, the 13 of them were costing £400,000 per year in police expenses, court costs and social services bills. So Broadway bailed them out with £3,000 each free money, no strings attached and they could spend it as they wished. They could opt to use an advisor but they didn't have to. They spent it on things like a telephone, a dictionary, and a hearing aid. After a year the average spend was £800. One of them who'd been on smack for 20 years got clean and started gardening classes. After 1 1/2 years 7 out of the 13 rough sleepers had got somewhere to live, and 2 more were about to move into accommodation. The total cost was £50,000 per year including social workers' wages. So it worked out 1/8 the cost of the previous bill for police expenses+court costs+social services.
Benefits of the Universal Basic Income
Less hours worked, more time to for a creative life... experiments . Time for hobbies and backyard projects. Pipe dreams realised! Road trips!
It might even be the "magic bullet" which ricochets into unsatisfying sexual relationships:
"It[the U.B.I.] enables experimentation with different forms of family and community structure that are no longer bound to he model of the privatised nuclear family. And financial independence can reconfigure intimate relationships as well: one of the more unexpected findings of experiments with UBI has been that the divorce rate tended to rise. Conservative commentators jumped on this as proof of the demand's immorality, but higher divorce rates are easily explained as women getting the financial means to leave dysfunctional relationships." (Srnicek and Williams, p.122)
And for men, not having to put off things you wanted to do until retirement (or mid-life crisis) after having spent most of it in the rat race.
*Inventing the Future:Postcapitalism and a World Without Work:Demand Full Autonomation.Demand Universal Basic Income. Demand the Future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, (Verso.)
**Postcapitalism:A Guide to Our Future, Paul Mason (Penguin)
***Utopia for Realists Rutger Bregman (The Correspondent.)