Basic Income changed my life

By Anne van Dalen, first woman to receive a BI in the Netherlands @vanDalenAnne

How did my BI come about

It all started in 2014 after donating €5 to a crowdfunding initiative called OnsBasisinkomen.nl (transl. our basic income) which aims to raise funds to provide someone a basic income in order to gain insight in what it means to actually live on a BI. It turned out to be feasable and the first ever experimental guinea pig, Frans Kerver, kicked off in July 2015. The moment the call for a second BI sounded I again donated €5 and in addition I put my name down as a possible recipient not thinking I’d ever be so lucky.

Before and after

I was all but surviving in a dried-up relationship in a menial part-time job in a rented flat in a social housing estate plagued by noisy anti-social neighbours. Life at 53 was stiflingly average, depressingly boring and at the same time indisputably stressfull. When on Monday the 25th of April 2016 I opened a message in my mailbox reading “Hello Anne, you are the lucky recipient of the 2nd BI. Should you choose to accept you shall receive an unconditional €1000 a month for 12 months”.

I jumped at the chance! I immediately ditched the part-time job, the partner and the flat. I am now working as an autonomous artist, occupying a classroom in a former primary school (EDM) which serves both as my art studio and living quarters. I couldn’t be happier.

Having basic needs taken care of makes all the difference in the world. Living on €1000 a month covers the rent, fixed costs, food, art supplies and not much else. It suits me just fine. As for my work as an artist BI allows me to focus on the actual producing of art. Not having to consider saleability, not having to waste creative energy has freed me up no end. BI allows me to create without limitations. Not having to occupy myself with money-matters is a huge relief. Having (enough) money does not by itself create happiness but the opposite, not having enough money, does result in anxiety and feelings of depression. I have now regained a great deal of independence. It’s huge!

Resistance is futile

The majority of response has been positive. On discussing BI’s merit or detriment some people focus on economic issues like government expenditure, taxation, costs vs profit. Others ask themselves who’s going to want to do the dirty jobs, won’t the world grind to a halt? Some resort to personal attacks telling me “You’re nothing but a scrounger. I’m not paying taxes for you to sit on your arse all day. Get a fucking job”. Such comments signal fear of change and lack of factual information. Misgivings prevent people from considering the idea of UBI let alone embracing it. Whenever I am given the chance to sit people down, talk to them face to face and explain BI’s tenets these objections tend to vanish.

Confronting silliness

Basic income confronts us with the ridiculousness of the current system of job-slavery, any system that ties existence and self-worth to having a job is nothing but silly. Everybody knows it but admitting it equals calling yourself an idiot. This is one of many reasons why this BI experiment by OnsBasisinkomen.nl is valuable. It needs real people to experience day-to-day living on a basic income to grasp the extent in which the current system has taken hold. To those who have convinced themselves being a wage slave is the only way of life, I say: you’ve no idea. Honestly, you’ve no idea. In experiencing the difference lies the change. That is why I would like every single person on the planet to be given the opportunity to live it. To coin a shitty phrase: “because we’re worth it”.

Conclusion

Basic income has greatly improved my life. It empowers me as a woman, as an artist and as a human being. Therefore I say “Go for it!”

Link to website: MIESlab.nl non-profit for development of socio-economic experiments such as OnsBasisinkomen.nl

Taxing Questions

Let’s look at how the UK can pay for UBI in the future. Any stats quoted are from UK government sources, or quoted as such by various publications/reports. Some figures are obviously guesstimates – even official figures. The UK migration figures are a very good example of this, as they are collated via an International Passenger Survey, applied at major UK air, rail and seaports, so they do not accurately portray actual migration. There are similar problems with unemployment, long-term sickness figures, or average wages/rents/costs of living by UK region etc.

Those who wish to pull apart this post based on rubbishing the statistics should bear this in mind: You need a stronger argument against UBI than simply maths, because nobody knows the exact sums involved. That said, we have to do some cost/benefit analysis, so let’s get on with it.

UK Tax Take vs Harsh Future Reality

In the previous two posts we looked at the ever-increasing impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation on the global jobs market, plus the need to incorporate UBI as a building block in a type of Roosevelt style New Deal. In a world where work isn’t necessary to your survival, we all have to re-think how we value ourselves and others.

What we do, is no longer who we are. That is our collective future.

Now, we already have a UK Benefits budget of around £270billion, or about 35% of all UK government spending. By far the biggest chunk of welfare spending goes on pensions and schemes like Pension Credit. This will inevitably rise in future, as we keep on living longer. Here’s another stat worth noting from the Office of Budget Responsibility; at £182bn Income Tax raises 25% of all government spending. This is set to shrink, as AI and robots begin to cull jobs, so there will be a shortfall in that source of revenue.

There’s another crucial nugget of data; £126bn is raised by NI contributions. That’s about 20% of the government’s total tax take. So it means that the relatively low paid, are bearing a much bigger burden than those high earners on 50K and more, as the NI slice of the typical salary slip is far lower than Income Tax, taken as an overall percentage of deductions from wages. So, as AI decimates jobs, the Income Tax and NI take – from both employees and employers, will fall, rapidly. That is a huge drop in revenue.

These harsh financial facts of modern life link back to the point made in blog post two, regarding the Victorian idea of `deserving vs undeserving poor’ having any relevance to the debate on Universal Basic Income (UBI). The system is already skewed towards taxing the `working poor’ at a higher rate in overall percentage terms, than any contribution demanded from wealthy individuals, or global companies, busily playing Catch-Me-If-You-Can on the carousel of tax avoidance.

In short, if you cannot radically alter the existing methods of primarily raising tax from those who work, then you have no hope of funding UBI. Once the jobs are gone, so too is a huge chunk of revenue.

The Rich Cannot Hide From This

Over the last 30 years or so, all governments of developed economies have agreed tax avoidance schemes so that high net worth (HNW) individuals and large companies, can dodge tax. The rich are not paying their fair share towards roads, schools, hospitals, pensions and everything else modern societies need to function. It’s hard to believe now that George Harrison wrote a protest song about paying 98% income tax.

Yes, that level of income tax actually happened in 1960s Britain – you couldn’t dodge it – and yet John Lennon still bought a mansion in Berkshire and a Bentley on his 2%. So the idea that the wealthy cannot afford to pay more tax is stupid and patronising – they did so in the past, and if they want to survive on their private islands, they will in future.

The reason the rich must contribute is that UBI must also be funded by general taxation on goods and services, to replace the lost tax take from NI and Income Tax. The poor cannot be expected to foot the UBI bill on their own, or the result will be civil unrest, riots, looting and so on.

A UBI Funding Strategy

In blog post one we established that the jobs shrinkage has begun, certain sectors of our working lives will be hit harder than others and that AI and automation will become more commonplace, with the deployment of AI in particular offering the greatest challenge to humanity since the Industrial Revolution. Losing our `job title’ identity will be a defining moment in history.

So, assuming there should be a strategy for deploying UBI across the UK, what is the timetable likely to look like, and how will we pay for it?

Here are some core ideas and target areas:

AI Levy replaces Employers National Insurance

Companies stand to gain hugely from firing humans and replacing them with machines and software. Those who do so, should pay the same amount in AI Levy, as they would in Employers NI. This should be applied very soon, as the jobs cull has already begun.
Phased-in Job Sharing Across Public Sector

As the number of full-time jobs overall decreases, it is unfair and unreasonable to allow public sector workers to maintain a higher paid income, than those thrown on the scrapheap by large companies. Where AI software replaces admin staff job sharing should become the de facto norm, from around 2022 onwards, backed up by legislation. Also, we need a `blind’ recruitment, no CVs policy too. This is essential to prevent a `chumocracy’ factor, where existing senior managers effectively ring-fence the remaining highly paid public sector jobs in a cosy cartel.

Protection of Jobs That Require a Human Touch

Many healthcare, teaching, counselling, criminal justice etc. roles obviously benefit from the human touch. Even if AI, or robots can replace humans, we should think about `reserved’ occupations, which should be protected by law from automation. There is a greater imperative than simply saving money via AI, and this needs to be recognised. Reserved jobs will still be subject to job sharing however and this, to an extent, will offer part-time employment to those left redundant from sectors like manufacturing, distribution, insurance, finance, admin etc.

Increasing Tax Take on Consumption

There’s no point in fighting to dismantle capitalism, it won’t go away. But everyone should accept that extra taxes on goods and services are necessary to pay for UBI, which should be deployed in `rolling phases’ over no more than five years. As UBI is increased to around the £750pm level, taxation also rises.

Food, heat and shelter – the basics necessary to survive – must NOT be taxed. The whole point of UBI is to give everyone that chance to live, just above the poverty line, in a two-income household. Or receive the cash and work part-time, if they choose to live alone.
Products that should be taxed higher include; alcohol, tobacco, vehicles, electronic gadgets, land & property, long distance travel and luxury brands.

Estimated Revenue and Savings

In 2016 just 2% of all total tax receipts came from alcohol. This was 4% back in 1980 and although people – especially men – probably drink less than they did in the 80s, the revenue percentage target should be 4% again. Supermarket booze in particular needs to be aligned to the retail costs seen in pubs, clubs and High Street gin shops.

Estimated extra alcohol tax raised: £10.7 billion

Tobacco tax has also halved from 4% to 2% over the last 35 years or so and again, it needs to rise to help pay for UBI. Nobody needs tobacco to live. E-cigs/liquids need to be taxed too, but at a lower level.

Estimated extra tobacco tax raised: £10 billion

We abolish VED vehicle tax and add on another 10p per litre in fuel tax. Ending VED and replacing it with a simple, online, automated vehicle ownership document, which costs say £20-£50 per year would reduce the overall VED tax take slightly, but shift the burden of tax onto those who drive the most miles, in cars with the biggest engines. As UBI means LESS commuting, more job-sharing and more people simply not working, few will object to a 10p fuel duty rise, with an 0.5% VAT rise on that extra fuel tax, as we do not have to drive to work every day.

Estimated extra fuel/vehicle tax raised: £5 billion

Air Passenger Duty to double, to around £140 per long haul flight, via an Escalator Scheme. This would begin in 2020 and the higher rate would apply from 2025.

Estimated extra revenue raised: £2 billion

Cancel Trident nuclear submarine programme. Who are we planning a nuclear war against? Some of the Trident savings would be better invested in a small fleet of fast, coastal patrol boats, but a large annual overall saving can be made by shutting down this 1960s willy-waving exercise.

Estimated tax revenue raised: £1 billion

New empty property/undeveloped land tax, levied per square metre. This would free up housing space, plus tax overseas investors who are simply sitting on land and investments, waiting to cash in when the local demand is high.

Estimated tax raised: £2 billion

A new gambling transaction tax of 15% across the board; levied at source, via betting shops, race courses, online – everything. The time is right for radical reform of the piecemeal gambling tax system. Large companies are dodging the tax by laundering profits offshore, so a simple 15% tax at the point of play, collected automatically by AI software would be a much easier system to administrate and tax revenues would soar. Those companies who choose to HQ offshore pay a 10% tax levy, based on estimated turnover, not profits. This would a clear incentive to HQ in UK and pay Corporation Tax on profits instead, thus creating UK jobs.

Estimated extra gambling tax revenue raised: £1 billion

Luxury Goods and Online Transaction Tax

Global brands have successfully transferred the burden of paying tax onto consumers during the last 20-30 years. Large companies such as ebay, Amazon, Apple, Google and many more have also raised billions in the UK, without paying more than a token 1%-3% of those profits back, in the form of Corporation Tax.

To fund UBI, schools, roads, hospitals and more, a simple 5% online Transaction Tax will help to level the playing field and force big companies to make a contribution. Again, as with the Gambling sector, those companies who HQ for tax purposes within the UK will be EXEMPT from paying the Transaction Tax.

Additionally, a special Luxury Goods Tax, (LGT) is a useful way of generating UBI income from the wealthy, as they spend their cash on cars/boats/second homes etc. Cars costing over 50K will have a 15% LGT applied, likewise boats, caravans, wristwatches, second/holiday homes, fine art, jewellery, clothing etc. costing above 50K would attract the same LGT levy.

Estimated Luxury Tax raised: £1.2 billion

A Final But Crucial Note On Public Spending Savings

One thing to note about AI’s application – and the introduction of UBI – is that it will inevitably cut public sector spending, by a huge amount, as the headcount reduces. Plus the equipment, office space, heating, electricity, insurance costs, pensions contributions etc. will also be cut from public sector departments.

The savings are potentially immense. Sectors like the NHS, education admin, courts, tax gathering and many other departments will all be able to introduce job sharing, and a rolling programme of many thousands of job losses would be inevitable. Just streamlining our ridiculously complex and judgemental benefits system, will result in thousands of jobs being cut, plus the massive savings in desk space, rents, utilities, maintenance, paperclips – every damn thing.

It won’t be an easy sell. People dislike losing the security of a public sector job. But it must happen, and this is because those in the private sector will feel the chill wind of AI much sooner.

It’s difficult to estimate actual savings, as governments and other agencies are notoriously good as spending any savings on grandiose/political pet projects as soon as they have the cash. But let’s assume a jobs cull of around 10,000-12,000 positions per year from about 2025 onwards, across the UK.

Total savings per year from AI deployment in public sector: £10billion-£12 billion

Conclusion

OK then, we have a potential £45 billion to invest in UBI from around 2025 onwards. It sounds a great deal, but it isn’t. If you assume a unilateral payment to every working age adult, (aged 17-65) it equates to just £500 per month or so, for everyone. You can’t live on that, but it would allow you to get by, with part-time work, in the same way that women with children get by under the existing Tax Credits system. Once UBI is introduced it will be easier to get public support for more revenue-raising schemes to boost the citizen income to around £750pm.

The great thing about UBI is that it will not be means tested, so all those dads pretending to live at their mums/brothers/nans place, can actually front up and say they’re living with their partners and their children. Better still, one – or both – of those adults can find part-time work, so everyone can afford a holiday, run a car, or start a micro business from home perhaps? The point is that a small subsidy per month offers a great boost in percentage terms at the lowest end of the economic scale. Because the poor don’t have savings, property or other assets, they won’t save the money, it will be spent and re-circulate within the economy.

UBI for the majority of people offers hope, a chance of betterment and the freedom to choose how to spend the majority of your waking hours. It is a financially viable, and moral alternative to the kind of slavery that globalist corporations would sentence us too, once the machines have taken away everything human from the workplace.

A New Social Contract

In the previous blog post, I highlighted how rapidly our world of work is being automated and radically changed by the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI). From China’s iPhone factories, to the giant retail warehouses of the UK, jobs are being lost – and they’re never coming back. In the same way that the Luddites of the 19th century failed to stop the rise of cotton mills, those who try to oppose the changes wrought by AI via local tariffs or protectionist measures, are doomed to fail. Capitalism is like a shark, it must go forward to feed and survive. And it will.

So in this second post, I’m sketching out a case to insist that Universal Basic Income (UBI) is exactly that – universal and applied without restrictions or the sort of judgemental criteria that underpins the existing UK benefits system. It is, in essence, the foundation stone of a new social contract between individual and State.

Politicians: Stop Shaming The Jobless – You Will Soon Be Joining Us

The first thing to note is that the rise of AI and automation means the Victorian notion of `Deserving vs Undeserving Poor’ must be consigned to the history books. The Calvinist idea that work, in itself, has an almost religious value, and therefore a citizen has a moral obligation to work, is going to become utterly outdated – very soon. How can politicians, pundits or irate callers to local radio phone-ins, continue to `shame’ those `lazy-arses’ who cannot find a job, when machines and AI have taken away millions of jobs? This will be the position from about 2025 onwards, as AI and automation really begin to eradicate millions of jobs.

This is the greatest sea change in human history; for the very first time it will NOT be necessary to go out and work to provide for yourself, or your dependents. Basic Income will do exactly what it says on the tin; take care of basic needs. It simply must be applied equally, without bitter slanging matches over `scroungers,’ or the `fat cats at the top.’ There is no point in debating such nonsense because, as I already noted in my earlier post, heart surgeons, barristers and most public sector managers/admin staff are also going to face redundancy, as machines and AI can do their jobs better, and far cheaper. No single sector of society is immune, or exempt from these changes, and the idea that some gilded elite can hold onto their cushy jobs at the top, whilst the rest of us beg for part-time scraps from the table, will only lead to unrest, sectarianism and violent disorder.

That’s not to say that the wealthy elite will not fight to defend their fabulous tax-free lifestyle of course, for that is human nature. But everyone must accept that UBI is a cohesive glue, sticking together a wider society. The Lily Allens and Vladimir Putins of this world will not find a private island 100% safe from the mob, once it is unleashed, and so rich and poor alike must reach a kind of truce, an acceptance of the new, essentially workless, reality.

The Dangers of an Unequal Basic Income

Some politicians may throw fuel on the fire of xenophobia or religious and political sectarianism, by urging governments choose to apply UBI in specific areas, ethnic groups, or zones of high unemployment and perceived `social exclusion.’ Within these laudable aims by politicians to salve the wounds of grievance – often rightly held – there are always the base motives of touting for votes, exploiting social divisions so that one party may win power.

Because one community will see another prosper and effectively become wealthier via the subsidy of UBI, we risk the same divisions as we saw in 1960s Ulster, where a Catholic community were deliberately denied access to decent housing and jobs, enshrined in a local political strategy. The same tribalism can already be seen within the UK, as London continues to pull itself apart from the rest of the country and becomes ever more resentful of `supporting’ the lower wage, `backward’ hinterlands. It would be a social disaster if different bands of UBI were applied in the UK, effectively imprisoning the regional population forever in areas of low growth, infrastructure investment and opportunities. The case for true equality via UBI, irrespective of faith, skin colour, age or geographical location must be made repeatedly, for so much depends upon it.

Debate Now, Apply UBI When The Time Is Right

When we ride on a driverless bus to the town centre, or a robot doctor diagnoses our health problems online, then a machine adeptly performs an operation, the ONLY option will be UBI. But it will be too late to apply it then, when millions are forced into unemployment, lose their homes and feel embittered that the system has utterly failed them. The time to deploy UBI is before the machines take away millions of jobs, not after, when riots have broken out. Without Basic Income, society will fail to glue itself together, as those who are the most cunning, or physically strong, ring-fence the last `human’ jobs for themselves, their chums and family. We cannot let that happen. Every citizen, from aged 18 to 88, should have the same amount.

Young people will be able to start an independent life together. Two persons sharing a joint income of around £1200 per month, is just enough to rent a small flat or house (outside London of course). Those able to work will be able to do so part-time, and use the extra cash to pay for cars, holidays, XBOX, smartphones and everything else that keeps the global economy ticking over. Some job-sharing by law is going to have to be applied, to act as a transition phase and this is especially true in the public sector.

Basic Income will replace most existing means-tested benefits schemes. The State pension, which simply cannot be funded by an ever-shrinking full-time workforce, must be phased out, as UBI is applied. The most socially enhancing feature of UBI is that it frees up people to volunteer, because for the first time ever in history, most people will have the freedom to CHOOSE what kind of work they want to do, as robots and AI take away so many dull, repetitive jobs. Previously, only the rich had the luxury of free time, but in a decade or so, most of us will have that precious time.
These are all parts of the same new contract, a New Deal if you will, that will re-define our way of life.

We have the opportunity to build a much fairer, more equitable and rewarding society. We must face reality and start preparing right now. Politicians are – in the main – still reluctant to discuss how our new AI and automated world will work, but we must hold them to account and demand detailed plans and workable ideas.

The AI Curve and Why Universal Basic Income is The Only Solution

You’ve probably heard of a `tick’ or hockey stick curve. It’s a device statistics experts often use to show how a trend starts slowly, and then rapidly accelerates upwards, as people buy a product, change jobs, search online for something etc.

Right now, we are in the little dip in that hockey stick curve when it comes to the impact that AI (Artificial Intelligence) and automation are having on the global jobs market. Certain sectors, like package distribution, driverless vehicles or product assembly are already seeing a huge variety of changes due to automation and use of robots. But the real structural shift in ALL our lives is the deeper impact of AI. When algorithms can replace a day’s work in a few seconds, then millions of us will no longer be required.

From barristers to journalists, architects to heart surgeons, IT coders to University lecturers, every single well paid profession in developed/Western economies is going to be profoundly affected within the next decade.

The Jobs Cull Has Begun

Here are some stats for you to ponder upon, which highlight where we are right now in terms of automation affecting the jobs market.

The new Aston Martin 4X4 car factory in Wales will create just 750 assembly line jobs. Robots will do most of the work. Compare that to the 3600 jobs currently located at Bentley’s factory in Crewe, where an older, 1990s plant exists, or the 6700 workers still busy at Nissan in Sunderland.

Once robots are deployed on mainstream car production, in the same way that Aston Martin is obviously planning to do in Wales, how many workers do you think it will take to assemble a Qashqai? Yep, about the same, say 750-1000 max. Now extrapolate that job loss across the entire UK car manufacturing industry.

Here’s another case study; Hachette Filipacchi are closing their UK book distribution centre with the loss of 230 jobs. Penguin are doing the same, with 255 jobs vanishing. We can only guesstimate how many humans will be required in the new automated plants but let’s assume it’s roughly the same reduction as the car industry, say 70-80%.

Maybe those warehouse pickers and packers could get jobs in call centres? Nope, think again. RBS Scotland announced in 2016 that 230 jobs would go, as AI software replaced humans at its call centre in Edinburgh. LV Insurance has a new `Robo-adviser’ program that offers retirement advice for just £199 – guaranteed no human bullshit involved!

This rush to automate jobs isn’t just an EU/USA thing, where wages are still relatively high compared to say India, China, Africa or South America. Foxconn in China – who assemble iPhones for Apple laid off 60,000 staff last year.

Other electronics giants plan to do the same. They must, or their wage bills will bankrupt their companies.

Ask yourself why Amazon paid $775 million to acquire the Kiva robotics company, for Robot Wars type fun? No, they plan to replace a huge swathe of their workforce one day with machines. Then they will hire out their Kiva robots to their warehousing and distribution rivals. A perfect storm of jobs decimation is coming and its impact will irreversible – unlike Brexit or an Indy Ref. The jobs are NEVER coming back.

It Must Be Universal Basic Income; All Or Nothing

I’m a proponent of Universal Income for the UK, probably of around £750-£850 per individual, per month, and I’m going to explain why a phased-in, or gradual UBI scheme, which is being trialled in Finland, cannot work.

First, as described above, the jobs impact is across the board. It isn’t just going to be working class men losing van driving or taxi jobs, or young people kissing goodbye to the modern day headset-slave camp, also known as the call centre. Politicians who think that AI will only affect low-skilled workers are living in a dream world, because AI IS a learning program. That intelligence is fluid, adaptable and obviously can’t be contained, bargained or reasoned with. Like the Terminator, it will never stop dreaming up new ways to cut costs for governments in their public sector budgets, or save private companies money. This is especially true of global corporations, who stand to save the most cash by binning off workers en masse, and thereby gaining a marketplace advantage over smaller rivals who lack the financial resources to develop their own AI solutions.

Large companies will need fewer supply chain staff as AI monitors sales, market regulations, consumer feedback and localised demand 24/7. No supermarket buyer can match that level of detailed data mining and instant adaptability. Big corporations will be able use AI to design a product, making it compliant for its sector before it’s even tested. Machines will assemble it, pack it, ship worldwide and assess the success, or failure, in real time. If something isn’t quite working right, AI will detect it and build in upgrades on the production line within weeks of a launch.

So we should accept that the pace of change will accelerate, as AI gets ever-more clever at reading our human desires and preferences. The tipping point, where full-time employment collapses as AI and automation dominate the supply of goods and services, may be closer than we think. Sadly, it is human nature not to recognise such historic turning points and we can see examples such as the Luddites in the past, where those who cannot deal with the destruction of their livelihood seek violent revenge against the machines, or the people who enable them. This danger of civil unrest is another good reason why Basic Income must be universal, not piecemeal.

This isn’t just a recession, a dip, or an annoying blip. The application of AI globally will destroy about 47% of ALL USA jobs, and possibly 77% in China, according to a study by Oxford University, so its impact is enormous. This is the greatest change in human society since the Industrial Revolution in fact. It makes Brexit look like a Teddy Bears picnic.

Where do you think those jobless people in India, China, South America or Africa will be heading when the iPhone, shoe, clothing, or car parts factories are staffed by robots, or the call centres are all run by software, not people? That’s right, millions will head for Europe and the USA, where there are social welfare systems that are far more generous than anything on offer locally. It is human nature to seek security, freedom from hunger and destitution, and find a place where your children have a better chance in life. The great migration from poor countries to richer ones is just beginning and only fools would ignore that reality.

So politicians need to start planning NOW, running UBI trials as soon as possible. Again, these need to be universally applied – no selective trial groups – such as the one in Finland where 2000 long term unemployed people have been chosen. That will not help us learn anything about how UBI changes people’s lives. Most of us are going to be long term unemployed, or at least under-employed soon, so there’s no point in assessing the impact of UBI on a sample group who – for various reasons – are already OUT of the jobs marketplace.

UBI offers freedom from drudgery, a chance to be creative, start a small business, or be a carer, retrain as a nurse, a counsellor, a watchmaker – all kinds of things. But we will need a new social contract, a new way of taxing goods and services to pay for our collective enforced leisure time.

Most of all, we will have to redefine our value as humans, putting aside the old snobbery of job titles, of defining our social status through our work. Just think about that revolution.

Individualism has had its day

A Citizen’s Basic Income (BI) is an idea I’ve believed in for many years, without necessarily ever knowing of any particular name for it – but believing in the principle of having a minimum quality of life made possible through the application of a basic income; until during the Scottish Indyref when I learned about it as a well defined concept through The Common Weal and Scottish Greens.

As the world changes on a seemingly daily basis so the conversation around BI shifts its focus, today much of the debate concerns automation: the suggestion being that the automation of jobs has a negative impact on the jobs market, particularly as it pertains to low wage / low skill jobs, thus leading to mass unemployment in the near future; a BI it is argued would go someway to minimising that impact given that the low wage / low employment economy driven by increasing automation is exacerbated by neoliberal government policy that doesn’t look like addressing its vast shortcomings anytime soon.

BI was briefly discussed in an interview with Elon Musk (CEO SpaceX & Tesla) in November of last year, Musk is a CEO who embraces automation but who, by all accounts takes it as an opportunity to move workers into “more interesting” roles as an alternative to making them unemployed; this however is not a typical experience of the average worker, the actions or intentions of typical CEOs, nor is it even a possibility in many companies; therefore we have to take responsibility as a society where none is accepted (generally speaking) in the corporate world.

However, to get to my point and while I acknowledge large scale automation as an inevitable product of technological advancement – I do not see it as a negative but as an opportunity; automation itself isn’t the threat, it’s the fight against it, the unwillingness to embrace a changing world and the lack of ability and adaptability with regards to our current economic and political systems to deal with it that’s the problem. There’s a serious lack of ideas and in many cases any acknowledgment at all of the need for radical new ideas at a government level required to enact the changes which would enable us to allow automation to work to its full potential, whilst freeing ourselves up to do more worthwhile, interesting things: obtain better paid, high skilled, fulfilling employment for instance and to generally enjoy our lives without the worries inherent in our monetary based neoliberal, capitalist system.

A world of full employment is no longer a realistic prospect and anyway why should we cling onto a world where we work unfulfilling, low wage, precarious jobs? Who are we trying to please and who is benefiting from having us believe that inherent inequality is an unfortunate circumstance / necessity of existence, that value placed on us depending on our job is an essential and / or inevitable aspect of having the aim of being a respected participant in society and not merely an indicator of the inadequacies of this version of society? Moreover, why should we continue to create inferior products and limit the true potential of technology to enhance all our lives in order to perpetuate the use of a system that has us competing for jobs that don’t so much define us but distract us from being able to fully realise who we truly are?

It is argued that a BI will encourage people to be / become idle, in fact quite the opposite is true; people are intrinsically motivated to work, particularly if that work (paid / voluntary) is meaningful – we are extrinsically motivated to make more and more money which at a certain point no longer benefits us but in fact adversely affects others, such is evidenced by the ever growing inequality we see in this country as well as across the world.

The same argument is made against a Resource Based Economy, that people will simply not work without payment (in the form of money) – but what actually gets stuff done? Is it money or is it human need, want and endeavour? Regardless of its original intention, a financial transaction is a mechanism not used for the simple purpose of making possible the transfer of goods and services but manipulated to create division and therefore power / lack of power; fairness is an impossibility in a system which bases value on nothing more than perceived worth determined evermore by a privileged few. However, a BI would breed confidence in a social security support system which unlike our current benefits system will genuinely and instantaneously support when the worst happens, increase quality of life by giving all recipients (everyone) peace of mind that they’ll never be without, the ability to eat well / better, access better accommodation or indeed upgrade current accommodation, access leisure / entertainment facilities, participate in the arts etc thus increasing both physical and mental health. This would allow people to better engage with the wider world in

which they understand themselves to have importance; they may choose to do so by seeking employment that best suits their life, where they can work with others to achieve a shared goal that they are intrinsically motivated to achieve. For me, the idea of fully embracing technological advances, a BI and the eventual adoption of a resource based economy style model go hand in hand and in that order.

Short-term, I support a BI as it’s the only mechanism that can be incorporated into the current system by which we can bridge the gap between the low wage / zero hour contract jobs, growing scarcity of jobs / inevitability of large scale unemployment through a continuously expanding swathe of jobs and lack of determination to seek new ways of creating opportunities – and a move towards something like a resource based economy. In that regard, BI must come with or at the very least initiate a move towards a package of social reform; it must work hand in hand with a system of progressive taxation and investment in our future: the BI itself may also enable a minimum overall income for those in employment by having a break even point where taxes paid are reimbursed through BI, further establishing a principle of parity and a move away from the divisive nature of a profit driven society.

Therefore, to create a world free from the desire to hoard money, which holds equality as a fundamental principle you must first establish a universal equilibrium norm such as a BI would help achieve; a generally agreeable and easily implementable idea that everyone is entitled to a minimum quality of life and is therefore equal as an individual to everyone else in every respect. This idea of a minimum quality of life does currently exist of course, however, I would argue that there are no true examples of it in action here (UK) – in fact the government measures the success of our economy based on GDP growth and not quality of life; there’s certainly no universally agreed standard in action. The UK for example is a country where homelessness and use of food banks is increasing (overall levels of homelessness have fallen in Scotland, however there has been a rise in the number of children in temporary accommodation); if there is such a lower limit in action here it is so low as to be imperceptible and is without doubt one of the supreme embarrassments of our civilisation.

I believe that eventually profit over all else will become an idea we look back on with bemusement, if not disgust.

Individualism has had its day, it’s unsustainability is all too clear to see; Capitalism has outlived its usefulness (and you must concede it has been useful) – it’s about time we embraced Universalism. A Citizen’s Basic Income is a fundamental in the pursuit for ever greater equality, interconnectedness and ability of human-kind to work together for common good; it is a true projection of a desire to live in a world of shared responsibility for everyone and everything we live alongside; for me, it is upon this principle that I believe an Independent Scotland can be successfully built.

  • Mark Anthony Burgoyne, @maburgoyne

Flashback to Kelty: Maddy’s opening address at our Pilot event

The following is the opening address from Maddy Halliday at our event in Kelty about the Fife basic income pilot on January 28th 2017:

I am delighted to be here and to see so much interest in Citizen’s Basic Income. Thank you for joining us and Fife Council in this milestone event, to launch CBINS and provide an opportunity to discuss piloting CBI in principle and in Fife.

I am one of four co-founders of CBINS and one of 7 trustees – and 6 of us are here today.

You have already met Willie. Willie is a co-founder of CBINS, CBINS Board Chair and organiser of this event today with colleagues in Fife Council.

Other CBINS trustees here today are:

  • Annie Miller, another co-founder of CBINS, who has been promoting CBI for over 35 years.
  • Mike Danson, who is professor of economics.

Both Annie and Mike will be speaking later.

Two other CBINS trustees here today are:

  • Ben Simmons, who is our digital communications supremo
  • Mike McCarron, who organised our other, very successful regional launch in Govan in November 2016.

Our other trustee, Jill Wood, can’t be here today as she has just had a baby boy!

CBINS defines CBI, which is also known as UBI:

“as an unconditional, non-withdrawable income payable to every individual as a right of citizenship.”

The idea of CBI is not new, with key historical advocates including Thomas Paine, who wrote the Rights of Man and advocated a minimum basic income in 1797.  More recent high profile advocates include the late Martin Luther King.  Current internationally respected advocates include Professor Karl Widerquist, who we are delighted is speaking at our launch today – and Professor Guy Standing, who spoke at our launch in November 2016 in Govan, Glasgow.

We founded CBINS because of our belief that CBI provides an ethical and practical means of establishing greater financial security for all, supporting social justice and inclusion by reducing poverty and inequality and improving quality of life and well being.

CBI would assist in the realisation of the right for every human to have an adequate standard of living as set in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the linked International Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which affirms the right for every human to have essential human needs fulfilled such as the right to adequate food and shelter.

A Citizen’s Basic Income (CBI) scheme in Scotland would provide every citizen with a universal, non-means tested and unconditional basic income, replacing most of our current Social Security benefits and most of the loopholes in our personal income tax system.  This is not such a radical idea as it may seem – we currently accept that:

  • every person in work has a personal tax free income, as of 2017 this is up to £11,500
  • people over a certain age are entitled to a state pension

We also accept the idea of child benefit for every child, although more recently elements of conditionality have been included.

However, our current welfare benefits system for people of working age who are unable to work does not provide adequate financial security, has unfair and harsh conditionality and sanctions, does not provide an adequate standard of living, damages well being, is inefficient and not cost-effective.

CBINS believes that CBI, which would be funded through progressive taxation, would:

  • help create a fairer, more just and inclusive society, reducing poverty and inequality
  • support individual empowerment and choice around living arrangements, paid work, learning and caring responsibilities
  • support and protect children, disabled and older people
  • be administratively efficient with significantly reduced costs

Although the concept of CBI is simple, implementation is fairly complex and technical – although certainly possible.  There have been successful schemes in Canada and India and schemes are underway in Finland and Netherlands.

 

So what will CBINS do?

The objectives of the Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland are:

‘to advance research and public education about the economic and social effects and influences of Citizen’s Basic Income systems.

We will do this through publications, events and communications to support learning, debate and advocacy to increase understanding and build support for implementation.

Our current and future activities include:

  • continuing promotion through our website, blogs and social media and through newspapers, TV and radio
  • events to promote awareness and engagement by key decision makers including fringe meetings at Party Political conferences and at the Scottish Parliament
  • strengthening collaboration with other organisations in Scotland which support CBI, including local authorities such as Fife and Glasgow, RSA and Buchanan Institute
  • delivering a rolling programme of CBI training events in community venues across Scotland to develop a network of informed CBI advocates  who will promote CBI through their own community, political, trade union and other networks
  • publication of a CBI Handbook in May 2017, written by Annie Miller, that will provide background information on CBI and practical guidance and options on implementation in Scotland.

CBINS is actively fundraising to support delivery of all this work. We will be seeking funding from the public and supporters as well as charitable Trusts.   If you would like to make a donation, you can do so through our website.

More importantly, if you want to be kept informed about CBINS work and find out how you might become more involved, please sign up through our website.

I am sure you will find the rest of today informative and stimulating.

Thank you for listening and enjoy the day!

 

A progressive way forward

With the current social security budget being deemed to be unacceptably high by most political parties it is clear that we need a radical change to how we approach employment and how we maintain a real safety net for those out of work.

Worse is still ahead as the oncoming technological revolution will ensure that a large number of jobs through a variety of sectors will be lost with the Bank of England estimating that by 2030 50% of employment in America and the UK will be gone. What then for a safety net for half the population? The threat of automation is very real and an very present danger to our society. What will become of those who lose their jobs? How can we as a society engineered by the media and politicians to abhor benefit scroungers accept that half the population will not be in work simply because there are no jobs for them to fill?

A citizens basic income unquestionably offers a solution to not only the current situation of low paying jobs and zero hours contracts but also to a future so clouded with uncertainty in an ever growing technological jobs market.

As a society we must begin to prepare now for the future that means adopting a basic income programme to ensure an eradication of poverty. To maintain a decent standard of living for all as prices continue to rise and wages stagnate. We must also begin to change our attitudes and remove the stigma towards people who do not work. They will play a role within a modern economy as consumers. After all who will buy the cars, and televisions that robotics will make?

Those on the left must be at the forefront of this to ensure that when a basic income is introduced that it will not be as a replacement for our social security and our welfare state. Rather a further development in creating a fairer and more equal society.

I warmly welcome the introduction of our first Scottish citizens basic income pilots in Fife and look forward to working with the Citizens Basic Income Network Scotland in achieving what will be a progressive solution to eradicating poverty and countering the threat posed of automation and robotics.

There are no ‘magic bullets’

‘Magic bullets’ don’t come around very often. Frankly, they don’t really exist. So why do so many people talk about a Citizens’ Basic Income as if it’s a one-stop shop for answers to all our problems?

Firstly, they shouldn’t. In fact it is perfectly possible to create a dystopian version of a Basic Income in which all public services are replaced with a low, flat-rate payment to citizens who then have to buy all their services from the private sector. And even in a less extreme form, a low Basic Income tagged onto a failing social policy could end up being little better than a low, fragmented benefits system.

So does that mean that Basic Income advocates are just deluded? No – because the best advocates do not see it as a ‘magic bullet’. They see it as part of a package of measures which, together and in a coordinated way, can tackle inequality. They see it as a potential response to automation and artificial intelligence. It can be a great economic tool if it is linked to a different kind of economic strategy. It can replace the misery and humiliation of a punitive benefits system, so long as it itself isn’t punitive.

Like so many ideas, Basic Income sometimes gets elevated from a really solid piece of good thinking into some kind of perfect solution to all problems. And like so many ideas to which that happens, it actually devalues the quality of the idea in the first place.

Basic Income isn’t a replacement for a strong, balanced programme for government for the future – it is an important part of that programme. If we can talk about it not as a messiah-policy but as one of the tools we can use to transform society, we’ll get somewhere much better in this debate.

  • Robin McAlpine, Director of Common Weal, @Common_Weal

The flaws in the inflation argument against a basic income

The Value Of MoneyOne of the most common objections to a basic income is that it would increase inflation. Many people remember from history lessons at school the photos of children playing with huge piles of bank notes in East Germany, but it is essential that we confront the idea that introducing an equitable and fair welfare state would lead to economic disaster if we are to win people over.

There was a recent debate on the matter between economists of differing views, as reported on BIEN. In it, Karl Widerquist (who will be speaking at our forthcoming event in Fife on the 28th January looking at a Fife pilot scheme) makes the point that spending on basic income would not make any greater impact on inflation than any other government spending.

What frustrates me is that those who expound the inflation argument around the dangers of enriching communities always seem to do so reactively, and never proactively. Where were those voices when the Living Wage campaign raised the minimum wage? Where were those voices when pensions were protected by the ‘triple lock’? When organisations like Unite come out against the closure of Trident (even though they claim to want a nuclear free future) simply because of the money it brings into communities, where are those voices advocating for mass unemployment to keep the price of milk and bread down? In my eyes all this does is show that inflation is an argument thrown up by those with just enough knowledge to be dangerous, who oppose helping the poorest in society on an ideological basis. This is not a dig at the Conservatives either. Dave Dempsey for example, (Conservative Fife Councillor for Inverkeithing, Dalgety Bay, and Aberdour) is in favour of bringing in a basic income on the basis that it increases personal liberty, and will be speaking at the Fife pilot event.

There are different proposals about how a basic income scheme could be financed, and quantitative easing is one such proposal. When I am asked at events how a basic income scheme would be financed and how much it would be I always give the answer that it is more important to agree as a society on the benefits of a basic income and that it is desirable before we splinter into opposing teams and start to tear each other down over technicalities. I stand by that position, however, I would like to make some arguments here against inflation fears based upon my private view that basic income should be a mechanism to redistribute money rather than simply print more.

First of all, to say that a basic income providing people with a higher income would mean higher prices, and that this must be prevented, logically implies that the speaker believes either that the current welfare levels are perfect or that they are too high. If you care so much about inflation then I urge you to make your views heard and lobby your MPs to reduce social support to the poorest in society, since you believe there is a net benefit to the nation. That is a brave line to take at a dinner party.

Secondly, in our most deprived communities high unemployment creates a feedback loop whereby job creation is thwarted by a lack of money in the community to buy goods and services from local businesses to drive growth and the need for more workers. If you think restricting the money into these communities in the name of preventing inflation is the right thing to do then again, make your voice heard. It is easy to object to ideas when you won’t advocate alternatives.

uk_income_percentiles_after_taxThirdly, redistributing wealth from the richest to the poorest would not mean shifting money from one savings account to another, since most people can barely afford to save anything at all. For example, 24% of households in Scotland report having no savings at all, with an additional 16% having less than £1000. This means that money into the general population would flow into the businesses providing goods and services people currently need and cannot afford, whereas tax breaks to the rich simply sit in bank accounts accruing interest as their cost of living is already amply covered by their income. Recent scandals like the Panama papers simply reinforce that when the rich get richer money flows out of the nation to go and work for someone else. Simply look at that graph of income percentiles to understand that moving that line closer to a straight line would benefit the vast majority of the population. In my view, myths and fear mongering about inflation are the major impediment to mass support for a measure that would benefit almost all of us, and the poor most of all.

Fourthly, I would turn to a basic economic principle to argue against inflationary fears. The same market forces that should create higher prices are surely also subject to that credo of supply and demand. As demand for goods and services increases, prices may well increase, but as price increases supply increases, and as supply increases businesses compete with each other for market share, which drives down prices.

Finally, as Karl Widerquist pointed out and we argue here on healthcrime, and bureaucracy there would be cost savings elsewhere in public spending based upon reducing the need to means test the population, and reducing the enormous costs to public services that are driven primarily by poverty. Even though basic income would increase spending in one part of the government budget, it would allow lower spend in others.

On 28 January there is a free event in Kelty about a proposed basic income pilot in Fife. Pilot schemes like this will be essential for an evidence-based approach to introducing a wider basic income, and I believe will demonstrate that concerns about inflation are unfounded.

  • Ben Simmons, Trustee Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland, @bensimm86

Individual Freedom and Basic Income

A basic tenet of Conservatism is that the individual ought to be able to get on through his or her individual efforts but that there should be a safety net in place. In part, that’s universally accepted. The debate is round the height of the net and how easy it is to climb out of it.

Universal Credit is intended to make the transition between in and out of work less dramatic, with the idea that benefits would look more like wages. Regardless of one’s view of the implementation, that seems like a good idea. However, the bureaucracy and inertia of the system has the potential to leave someone vulnerable as they cross over the join. The benefits system, which was unwieldy and opaque before, is likely to remain so to some degree or other.

On Saturday 28th January in Kelty, Fife, there is an event discussing how there could be a simpler way to structure the benefits system and reduce the vulnerability of individuals receiving support.

For me, from a maths and engineering background, UBI is appealing because it’s elegant, at least by comparison with the status quo. In its purest form, everyone gets the Basic Income, the complexities of the benefits system disappear and the incentive to move into employment, even briefly, is clear.

However, the purest form of anything rarely sits well in the real world. For example, is it appropriate to do away with all other benefits? The likely answer is “no”. Disability is an obvious area. Housing too has been mentioned. So part of the case against UBI is the concern that it’ll become overlain with a top up benefits system as ad hoc and irrational as the one we have now.

What is the right level of BI to allow everyone to at least subsist on it? What is “subsist” and is that the right measure? The lower we set it, the greater the need to bolt on extras; the higher we set it, the less the incentive to go out and do something. We read recently of predictions that machines will render most of us redundant fairly soon. I’m old enough to remember similar predictions over many decades. How many people were in Internet-related jobs in 1977? Work will continue as the norm for quite some time to come.

How do we test UBI? It’s to be tested in a locality in Fife, though no detail has yet been worked up. It’s easy to see the £ signs flashing in local councillors’ eyes, as they see their patches getting extra dosh. Yet a meaningful test of UBI can’t simply mean paying everyone in a town or village in addition to whatever they get at the moment by way of payments from the state. That would be grossly unfair on the village next door. It’s instructive to look at the much mentioned Finnish experiment, which isn’t universal at any geographical level but is instead a control experiment using a random selection of the unemployed.

And last but by no means least, how will it all be paid for? It’s assumed that UBI will be tax free. It’s hardly sensible for the state to give out money and immediately take it back. Will it be set at the level of the personal allowance for income tax? If so, the first £ from employment will be taxed, though that probably happens anyway in lots of cases through clawback of benefits. However it’s done, the broad result will be that folk up to a certain level of income will gain and those above will lose. In effect, the tax curve will steepen.

As a card-carrying Conservative, I’m instinctively twitchy about that. Our starting point is that folk should get to keep what they earn and that the state should seek to minimise what it takes. I’ve seen estimates of the increases in income tax needed to fund UBI and, in themselves, they’re scary. Any scheme will need a lot of thought and a lot of salesmanship.

So, in summary, the case for UBI lies in its elegance, simplicity and the advantages it offers for those moving often across the in work/out of work boundary. The case against lies in the current lack of detail around any national scheme or how it might be trialled locally. The devil is in that detail, as always, and the devil could have a field day here.

The Conservative Group on Fife Council is supportive of the Council’s plan to organise a trial somewhere in Fife. We look forward to scrutinising the detailed proposal when that comes forward.

  • Dave Dempsey, Conservative Fife Councillor for Inverkeithing, Dalgety Bay, and Aberdour

Find Dave on Facebook and Twitter @cllrdavedempsey