Would Gandhi give the go-ahead to the UBI

India is nearly done building the plumbing to enable such a system by connecting the Aadhaar-based biometric ID system to individual bank accounts. It’s already replaced LPG gas canister subsidies with cash, a program that has 150 million beneficiaries and is the now the world’s largest cash transfer program. So could India take this example to its logical conclusion and replace all welfare benefits with UBI? (GiveDirectly is asking a similar question in a bold 10-year $30 million experiment in Kenya.)

The Survey’s assessment begins with quotes from Mahatma Gandhi suggesting both support and objection to the principles of UBI. The chapter then methodically addresses the conceptual pros (e.g., justice, equity, agency, efficiency) and potential cons (e.g., labor disincentives, moral hazard, political objections). It attempts various modeling, including a rough estimate that cutting national poverty in half via UBI would cost just 1.5 percent of GDP, less than the subsidy bill in the 2016-17 budget. For the data nerds, there are seven (!) appendices explaining all the estimates and calculations. Continue reading

British Medical Journal calls for a study of universal basic income

Recently, there have been increasing calls for dialogue on a universal basic income (UBI) from political parties, think tanks (including the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA)), civic activists, trade unions, and leading entrepreneurs such as Tesla chief executive Elon Musk. These calls are a response to growing income insecurity, some sense that welfare systems may be failing, and as a preparation for the potential effects of automation and artificial intelligence on employment prospects in industries that might be better served by machines.3 UBI-style pilots are planned in Finland, the Netherlands, and Canada as a potential answer to these questions and concerns.4

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How to make a Universal Basic Income a reality

In the UK, growing interest is being driven by two deep-seated structural trends: the growing fragility of the jobs market and the inadequacies of the existing, increasingly punitive, intrusive, and patchy benefits system. With its built-in income guarantee, a universal basic income (UBI) would help relieve both problems. It would bring a more robust safety net in today’s much more precarious working environment while boosting the universal element of income support and reducing dependency on means-testing. A UBI also offers a way of providing income protection as the robotic revolution gathers pace, and could be used to help ensure that the possible productivity gains from accelerated automation are evenly shared rather than being colonised by a small technological elite. Continue reading

Basic Income trial at Ontario

A Canadian province is to run a pilot project aimed at providing every citizen a minimum basic income of $1,320 (£773) a month.

The provincial government of Ontario confirmed it is holding public consultations on the $25m (£15m) project over the next two months, which could replace social assistance payments administered by the province for people aged 18 to 65.

People with disabilities will receive $500 (£292) more under the scheme, and individuals who earn less than $22,000 (£13,000) a year after tax will have their incomes topped up to reach that threshold.
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Basic Income and the Welfare State

The argument goes that because we currently target money to those in need, by spreading out existing revenue to everyone instead, those currently targeted would necessarily receive less money, and thus would be worse off. Consequently, the end result of basic income could be theoretically regressive in nature by reducing the benefits of the poor and transferring that revenue instead to the middle classes and the rich. Obviously a bad idea, right? …

Basically, this particular argument would only make sense if we in no way altered our tax system to achieve UBI, and if our programs worked as we assume they work because that’s how they should work. The problem is they don’t work that way.
In the United States today, on average, just about one in four families living underneath the federal poverty line receives what most call welfare, which is actually known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. It gets worse. Because states are actually just written checks to give out as they please in the form of “block grants,” there are states where far fewer than one in four impoverished families receive cash assistance. Continue reading

Chinese Cooperative and Basic Income

Finally, all Huaidi citizens have had a basic income of 1500 yuan [US $221] per year since 1995, which is directly transferred to their bank accounts in shares of 125 yuan [US $18.5] per month. For children under 18, this money is kept in parents’ accounts. This amount money was significant in 1995 (Chinese cities’ nominal per capita annual income was about 5000 yuan [US $738] in 1995), but not as much now, due to the rapid rise of GDP in the last 20 years (in 2015, the nominal per capita annual income in Chinese cities was about 50,000 yuan [US $7,379]).
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Basic Income for India

First, any universal programme is expensive.

For example, if we were to give every adult exactly the amount of income that defines the poverty line, which would ensure that everyone would be brought above the poverty line, calculations suggest the bill would amount to 11% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). This is just a hypothetical example. One can, of course, offer a lower amount per person that would be more affordable.

However, in this context, a sense of perspective is needed in discussing expenditures on programmes aimed at the poor, who by official estimates, constitute 30% of the population. Calculations suggest that if we take just twice the amounts that define the poverty line, almost 80% of the population lives below that.
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