Ba­sic in­come ini­tia­tive mooted

Hamilton Press - - CONVERSATIONS - TONY STEVENS

Imag­ine a so­ci­ety where all citizens are paid a ba­sic in­come re­gard­less of creed, class or em­ploy­ment sta­tus.

That is the ba­sic prin­ci­ple be­hind a uni­ver­sal ba­sic in­come (UBI).It’s a hot topic right now with the Labour Party rais­ing the idea at their re­cent Fu­ture of Work Con­fer­ence, so it’s con­ceiv­able that UBI be­comes an elec­tion is­sue in 2017 – es­pe­cially in light of the stag­ger­ing Panama Pa­pers rev­e­la­tions.

There­fore it be­hoves all Ki­wis to un­der­stand the con­cept of a ‘‘ci­ti­zen’s wage’’ be­cause like many left-wing ideas ex­posed to the cap­i­tal­ist rhetoric, the idea can be eas­ily mis­un­der­stood by the pub­lic – or ma­nip­u­lated by crafty de­trac­tors.

The goal of a UBI is ul­ti­mately to progress a more egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety and take a step to­wards ad­dress­ing in­come inequal­ity. If im­ple­mented it would likely re­place the ma­jor­ity of the wel­fare state, and as a re­sult re­duce the re­liance on bu­reau­cratic sys­tems.

Pro­po­nents ar­gue that a ba­sic in­come would ad­dress the ar­bi­trary way in which we de­fine what work is waged and what is not. For ex­am­ple, does the un­paid work of a stay-at-home par­ent con­trib­ute less to so­ci­ety than some­one work­ing in a call cen­tre?

There are many valu­able prac­tices that go un­paid in so­ci­ety be­cause they don’t meet the prof­it­cen­tric goals of cap­i­tal­ism.

Leisure also be­comes a more achiev­able pur­suit with a UBI, and more free time might make it eas­ier to live eco­log­i­cally-friendly life­styles – by slow­ing down the un­re­lent­ing march of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion and fill­ing the gap with leisure.

It is pos­si­bly the leisure ar­gu­ment though, that crit­ics ar­gue a UBI is a dis­in­cen­tive to seek­ing paid em­ploy­ment, not to men­tion the pur­suit of leisure as a pri­mary goal is com­pletely at odds with cap­i­tal­ism’s cen­tral tenet of profit mon­ger­ing.

Some ad­vo­cates counter by ar­gu­ing that a ba­sic in­come could be set at a level that does not dis­cour­age paid work, but this throws up one of the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges when dis­cussing a UBI – how much should we pay?

Do we im­ple­ment a non­live­able ba­sic in­come, one that in it­self doesn’t pro­vide enough money to func­tion in so­ci­ety, or a live­able in­come?

And how do we pay for it? There are some tough ques­tions to an­swer for any party or move­ment want­ing to push for a UBI but don’t be fooled by the tired old ‘‘we can’t af­ford it’’ rhetoric.

The cap­tains of in­dus­try and right-wing politi­cians trot this ex­cuse out ev­ery time we talk about im­ple­ment­ing so­cial change and it is con­vinc­ing be­cause peo­ple are eas­ily hood­winked by any­one who can ma­nip­u­late num­bers.

I would ar­gue that a ba­sic in­come could be eas­ily funded by in­creas­ing taxes on the wealthy, heck we could af­ford it with­out in­creas­ing taxes if only the wealthy would stop evad­ing their cur­rent tax obli­ga­tions.

The Panama Pa­pers prove that if the rich stop hid­ing their money in tax havens then we will have more than enough to en­sure all citizens can have a de­cent life.

We’d also need to make sure that wages aren’t re­duced in re­sponse to work­ers hav­ing a state in­come. I imag­ine this could be achieved by strength­en­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and the reach of unions, although we are now talk­ing about a very dif­fer­ent so­ci­ety in­deed – one that would no longer re­sem­ble the ne­olib­eral play­ground we call cap­i­tal­ism. HAVE YOUR SAY Send news and views to steve.ed­wards@fairfax me­dia.co.nz

Tony Stevens

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