Citizen’s Basic Income (CBI) is an unconditional payment made to every individual in the county regardless of their circumstances, background or earning capacity. CBI would not be means tested. The payment would be distributed automatically and would be the same amount for everyone. It would cover the basic needs of an individual and with no requirement to work in order to receive the payment and would be allocated per adult rather than per family.
When I first came across the concept of CBI about seven years ago in Charles Eisenstein’s book, Sacred Economics, I thought it was a very idealistic and impractical solution to a problem which I wasn’t really convinced existed. With hindsight, I can see that I was just at the beginning of a new openness and understanding about how people, by necessity, can only function within the framework of the system in which they exist. Over the following few years, through a mixture of being a parent of young children and a leader in a professional context I noticed things which made me change my outlook.
Since I started out as young civil engineer in the construction industry 25 years ago, I have seen a change from the success of projects being driven by site teams, supported by a strong community and mentoring culture to instead being dictated from a distance, through spreadsheets, systems and linear processes. There is no doubt that this change has been positive in many respects, but a key tenet has been overlooked. People aren’t linear. They are creative, intuitive, intrinsically motivated beings with a fundamental need for human connection.
In the construction industry, the rigidity of the systems and processes have served to disempower workers, reduce daily opportunities for reasoned decision making, largely take away autonomy and have forced people into bubbles and silos. This, combined with the transitory nature of the industry and the constant possibility that work will take you away from your family base or dry up altogether means that the community spirit has been diminished. The same phenomenon has played out across other industries as the rate of mechanisation and automation has accelerated.
Technological advances, efficiency measures and quality assurance are all necessary, but it is important to acknowledge and address their hidden negative impacts. I believe that CBI has the capacity to offset some of the negative effects and restore a community mindset, not just in the workplace, but across society as a whole. In the workplace and the current welfare system, people are managed, controlled, coerced and directed. It is a high- maintenance strategy whether you are an employer, a parent or the state. But people learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by having them made for them.
CBI can rebuild connectedness within and across communities by removing the short-termism associated with the need for basic financial survival. We could start to see an increase in the number of local businesses, stronger local economies, a reduction in the number of people tied in to long commutes or jobs that make them unhappy, parents being able to choose how much time they spend working and how much time they spend with their children, not to mention a reverse in the shocking mental health statistics. A no-questions-asked payment would give people the breathing space, security, flexibility and dignity to make life decisions based on what will allow them to prosper in the long run, not what will keep the wolf from the door in the next few weeks or months. It is not a standalone panacea though; CBI is one necessary element of a range of factors which would lead to a more connected, less materialistic society.
When our eldest child was a toddler and our youngest was a baby, my wife and I consciously decided to adopt a style of ‘unconditional parenting’. This involved unconditional love and warmth combined with a complete absence of any rewards, punishment, bribes, deals or transactions. This was quite a change of mindset for us as conventional wisdom dictates that if we don’t impose our own ‘tried and trusted’ values onto our children, then they will grow up with no moral compass. Many people assume the only way our children will know ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ is if we explicitly teach them and should we neglect this duty, that they would default to being selfish, lazy and unkind. What we actually discovered was that they are inherently kind, motivated and creative.
I believe the same principle applies to people in general. The current system assumes that if we give people complete freedom, it will bring out the worst in them and society will collapse. But this is a limiting assumption which is eroding people’s self-efficacy and holding society back not just financially and economically but in terms of happiness and quality of life. If we take away these assumptions and negative expectations, then we find that when people have freedom and independence, they grow and develop to fill the space available to them. They begin to connect with others, tune into their own and other people’s needs and their inherent compassion and empathy can be exercised because the immediate focus on basic survival is removed.
People who are interested in learning more about CBI, getting involved with research and awareness raining can join the Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland.