For me the most important thing about a universal basic income is that it begins to de-commodify our lives – it breaks the link between income and wage-labour. Experiencing life as a commodity to have the maximum possible profit squeezed out of us in competition with our fellow humans – like a Nokia or an iPod – is economically and psychologically abhorrent.
Economically, it drives growth at any cost in a system that values GDP above the things we actually need as a society. This creates a warped system where rather than technological advances making us more free – as John Maynard Keynes predicted nearly 100 years ago when he stated that his grandchildren would work 15 hours per week – it increases labour market competition, pushing some into unemployment and making others work longer and harder to get by. The planet literally cannot survive the logic of commodification – while the appetite for growth may be infinite, natural resources are not.
Fife Council are looking at introducing a basic income pilot scheme, and together with Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland are hosting a free event in Kelty on the 28th January to explore the idea further, open to anybody interested in learning more about the possibilities and realities of a basic income scheme.
Basic Income is no magic bullet. If it is not combined with other measures to de-commodify our lives – such as more control over our workplaces, shorter working week’s, bringing community spaces into ‘the commons’, de-financialisation to deal with excess personal debt, and universal public provision of key services – it’s impact on the economic and psychological problems of a commodified world are likely to be limited.
But it would be a vital step towards seeing the value of human life in it’s own right, with no strings attached. Free of the judgement of others in a more advantaged position, which in the benefits system so readily lends itself towards stigma. Anyone who has spent any time on unemployment benefit (as I have) will know what I mean.
This ambitious social purpose and vision is required to put a spoke in the wheels of a system that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
- Ben Wray, Head of Policy and Research at Common Weal, @Ben_Wray1989