The case for an adequate and universal Basic Income (BI) is
very strong; it is right and just, it reduces divergence between
rich and poor, it reduces bureaucracy, it has support from across
the political spectrum, it is financially possible. It is beginning
to make it onto the statute books in Brasil, Mexico City, Alaska
But we would be fooling ourselves to imagine that
general success is imminent. The Spanish Parliament voted against it overwhelmingly
after a debate, and in the US Congress, the proposer of a BI Bill was hard put
to find a seconder. The Dublin conference documents included a Green Paper commissioned
by an open minded Irish Government in which its evaluation of BI was very much
put in the balance by the question of its impact on economic activity.
for the man in the taxi, when I explained BI to a very decent taxi driver on the
way to the BIEN conference, his immediate response was the question: "Why
should anybody work under Basic Income?".
It is the perception
that BI is simply a pie in the sky recipe for a "Shirker's Charter"
that means that we still face a long uphill struggle in persuading, first the
chattering classes, then the politicians, and finally governments, that BI is
a great idea.
To make matters worse, we are just entering an
economic depression which promises to be both global and deeply challenging. Unemployment
will be high, and stagflation (diminished economic activity combined with inflation)
is likely. Furthermore, politicians and economists will (or should) be preoccupied
with making a transition from an oil-addicted economy to one securely founded
on renewable energy. In these circumstances, our call for what is perceived as
an expensive and risky experiment in social justice might find itself falling
on even deafer ears than normal.
For this reason, I propose
that we should consider the gradual introduction of BI "through the back
door" by introducing the "earnings disregard" aspect of BI (the
component that allows recipients to work while still receiving benefit, which
allows people to break out of the unemployment trap), and applying it to those
types of work that are constructive to society and environment.
works like this: first, the government sets up regional tribunals which are competent
to judge whether the product and process of any economic group (any concern, from
private enterprise to local authority) is beneficial to society and environment.
"Process" refers to matters such as the energy efficiency, health &
safety and corporate social responsibility policies of the company.
of arms and air freshener manufacturers need not apply. Here is a list of those
that might be successful:
1 energy conservation
2 renewable energy technologies
energy efficient goods manufacture
4 pollution control technology
8 water management
10 forestry and timber use
11 countryside management
- new building and refurbishment
13 improvements to visual environment
15 education and training
16 counselling, caring and healing
18 leisure and tourism
19 innovation, research and development
any business which passes a certain threshold in its environmental audit.
list of activities might be termed the Green Sector of the economy. I identified
between one and two million potential new jobs in this sector of the UK economy
in 1996, at a time when there were between one and two million people on the unemployed
register (Bills of Health, Lawson R, Radcliffe Oxford 1996, ISBN 1-85775-101-9)
On receiving approval by the tribunal, the company can go to the local unemployment
centre and take new workers into their workforce. The workers bring their benefit
into work with them, just as they would under BI. The new employer tops up their
wages to the going rate for the job. Their benefit is behaving in this sense as
a BI, and also as a wage subsidy, stimulating growth in the green sector. There
is no time limit on the subsidy. The only condition is that the employer cannot
displace the existing workers with subsidised labour. If they do, the disgruntled
discharged worker can complain against his ex-employer to the tribunal, who have
powers to revoke accreditation.
In this way, unemployed people
gain useful employment, and employers in the green sector gain a valuable boost
to their productivity. The scheme poses no extra charge to the exchequer for the
duration of the recession, since they would be paying the benefits in any case,
but the economy gains from the growing activity in the green sector, particularly
in the energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy sector, which will
help to achieve carbon dioxide reduction targets.
Wage Subsidy scheme is not a full basic income, since it is not universal, but
it creates the political conditions for implementation of the full BI, by making
people and politicians realise the economic value of having a full earnings disregard
on benefits. It would certainly be difficult for government to withdraw the scheme
after the recession is over. As the economy becomes more and more green, the scheme
would cover more of the workforce. The overall impact in public perceptions will
be similar to the way women obtained the vote in the UK at the beginning of the
20th century: they had a cast iron political case, and waged a high profile direct
action campaign, but it was after they demonstrated their ability to do "men's
jobs" during the war years that they actually succeeded. In the same way,
the Green Wage Subsidy scheme will change the debilitating emotional rejection
of BI on account of the false perception that it is giving "something for
Dr Richard Lawson email@example.com
and Green Party activist
Monday, June 23, 2008