Basic income initiative mooted
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