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Sunday World - - World Of Jobs - RALPH CALLEBERT

THE IDEA of a ba­sic in­come for ev­ery per­son has been pop­ping up reg­u­larly in re­cent years.

Econ­o­mists, think tanks, ac­tivists and politi­cians from dif­fer­ent stripes have toyed with the idea of gov­ern­ments giv­ing ev­ery cit­i­zen or res­i­dent a min­i­mum in­come off which to live. This cash trans­fer could ei­ther re­place or sup­ple­ment ex­ist­ing wel­fare pay­ments.

Pi­lot projects and fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies have been run or are un­der way in the Nether­lands, In­dia, Canada, Fin­land, France and else­where. Even in the US, the idea finds sup­port. Alaska, for ex­am­ple, al­ready di­vides its oil rev­enues among its res­i­dents.

Most ar­gu­ments in favour or against ba­sic in­come have fo­cused on its sim­plic­ity, pro­mo­tion of per­sonal in­de­pen­dence or reach­ing those who fall through the cracks of the wel­fare state.

How­ever, the most im­por­tant ad­van­tage of ba­sic in­come may not be in its prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion but rather in how it could change the way we think and talk about poverty and in­equal­ity. Ben­e­fits of a ba­sic in­come Giv­ing ev­ery res­i­dent an un­con­di­tional grant, whether you are a bil­lion­aire or des­ti­tute, is a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from our ex­ist­ing wel­fare state. The lat­ter of­fers only lim­ited sup­port when work­ing is not an op­tion.

Pi­lot projects sug­gest that sim­ply giv­ing money to the poor could suc­cess­fully tackle poverty. In Namibia, poverty, crime and un­em­ploy­ment went down, as school at­ten­dance went up. In In­dia, ba­sic in­come re­cip­i­ents were more likely to start small busi­nesses.

Dis­cussing in­equal­ity, we usu­ally fo­cus on em­ploy­ment and pro­duc­tion. Yet, much of the world s pop­u­la­tion has no re­al­is­tic prospects of em­ploy­ment, and we al­ready pro­duce more than what is sus­tain­able. Ba­sic in­come, how­ever, sep­a­rates sur­vival from em­ploy­ment or pro­duc­tion.

Our cur­rent an­swers to poverty and in­equal­ity cen­tre on wage labour: get more peo­ple into jobs, pro­tect them in the work­place, pay bet­ter wages and use taxes on wages to fund a lim­ited sys­tem of so­cial se­cu­rity and wel­fare.

Politi­cians across the spec­trum agree. Is there a politi­cian who does not prom­ise more jobs?

In my own re­search on labour in Africa, how­ever, I have found that wage labour is only a small part of a larger pic­ture. In most of the Global South, whole gen­er­a­tions are grow­ing up with­out re­al­is­tic prospects for em­ploy­ment. We can­not de­velop the world solely by get­ting peo­ple into jobs, urg­ing them to start small busi­nesses or teach­ing them how to farm (as if they didn t al­ready know). The painful re­al­ity is that most peo­ple s labour is no longer needed by in­creas­ingly ef­fi­cient global chains of pro­duc­tion.

A large por­tion of the world s pop­u­la­tion have no land, no re­sources and no one to whom they can sell their labour.

To be­lieve that jobs or eco­nomic growth is go­ing to ad­dress this cri­sis of global poverty seems naive.

The ex­am­ple of South Africa is telling. In a com­par­a­tively rich coun­try where youth un­em­ploy­ment runs at more than 60%, pen­sions, childcare and dis­abil­ity grants are for many house­holds the most im­por­tant source of in­come. Yet, as a healthy adult male, you stand lit­tle chance of ei­ther re­ceiv­ing a state ben­e­fit or find­ing de­cent em­ploy­ment, as eco­nomic growth has been largely job­less. For an adult with­out chil­dren, dis­abil­ity is the only ac­cess to these cru­cial grants.

In the early 2000s, a move­ment emerged in sup­port of a very mod­est Ba­sic In­come Grant (BIG) of R100 per month. Sig­nif­i­cantly, this cam­paign re­ceived the sup­port of the gov­ern­men­tap­pointed Tay­lor Com­mit­tee. Its re­port con­cluded that a BIG would lift as many as six mil­lion peo­ple out of poverty. How­ever, the pro­posal was dis­missed by the ANC, which con­tin­ued to see em­ploy­ment as the only so­lu­tion to poverty and in­equal­ity.

Not sur­pris­ingly, ba­sic in­come cam­paigns have been prom­i­nent in coun­tries with high so­cioe­co­nomic in­equal­ity, like SA.

As the Club of Rome al­ready re­alised in 1972, the bias of our usual an­swers to in­equal­ity grow more, pro­duce more and grow the econ­omy so that peo­ple can con­sume more is ul­ti­mately un­sus­tain­able. In a world al­ready char­ac­terised by over­pro­duc­tion and over­con­sump­tion, pro­duc­ing and con­sum­ing more can­not be the an­swer. Yet, these seem to be the an­swers with which we are stuck: grow, grow, grow.

We may need to think about distri­bu­tion rather than pro­duc­tion, a point ar­gued by an­thro- pol­o­gist James Fer­gu­son. For him, giv­ing a man a fish might be more use­ful than teach­ing him to fish.

The prob­lem of global in­equal­ity is not that we do not pro­duce enough to pro­vide for the world s pop­u­la­tion. It is about the distri­bu­tion of re­sources. This is why the idea of a ba­sic in­come is so im­por­tant: it dis­cards the as­sump­tion that to get the in­come you need to sur­vive, you should be em­ployed or at least en­gaged in pro­duc­tive labour. As­sump­tions of this kind are un­ten­able when for so many there are no re­al­is­tic prospects for em­ploy­ment.

There are many po­ten­tial prob­lems to ba­sic in­come. Coun­tries whose pop­u­la­tions would need it most might be least able to af­ford it. And, small ba­sic in­come grants may ac­tu­ally fur­ther im­pov­er­ish the poor­est if it re­places other grants.

More­over, if peo­ple get money merely be­cause they are cit­i­zens or res­i­dents of a coun­try these claims be­come very sus­cep­ti­ble to na­tion­al­ist and xeno­pho­bic ex­clu­sion. In episodes of xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence in SA, many ac­cused for­eign­ers of re­ceiv­ing wel­fare grants and pub­lic hous­ing that should go to South Africans.

De­spite these prob­lems, it is im­por­tant to start ex­per­i­ment­ing with al­ter­na­tives.

Callebert is ad­junct pro­fes­sor of his­tory, Vir­ginia Tech, US. Source: http://the­con­ver­sa­tion.com/

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