Universal basic income in Southeast Asia

My research focuses specifically on women from the region who live below the poverty line, which, for East Asia and the Pacific, the World Bank defines as living on less than US$3.20 a day.

In Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam – among the poorest Southeast Asian nations – between 13% and 47% of the population is living in poverty. The number is significantly lower in better-off Brunei and Singapore.

On the whole, women in these countries fare well enough compared to their peers in other developing regions in terms of literacy, employment, political participation and the right to organise. But this has not translated into greater gender equality. …

In poor families in Southeast Asia, up to 80% of household income is spent on food, yet undernutrition remains a huge problem in Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, in Vietnam.

If women were provided with sufficient income to feed their families, it would translate into better nutrition, health and general well-being for children and others entrusted in their care, and by extension, their communities. Continue reading

UBI for India

The Finance Ministry’s economic survey estimated that a modest sum of $4 per person per month could reduce India’s poverty level from 22 percent at present to seven percent. The cost would be a mere two percent of GDP, or $42 billion, which is approximately the same amount the government spends in total on food, fuel, and fertilizer subsidies.
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UBI for 1%

In 2015, according to PSZ, the richest 1% of people in America received 20.2% of all the income in the nation. Ten points of that 20.2% came from equity income, net interest, housing rents, and the capital component of mixed income. Which is to say, 10% of all national income is paid out to the 1% as capital income. Let me reiterate: 1 in 10 dollars of income produced in this country is paid out to the richest 1% without them having to work for it.
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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 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

An Economic Bill of Rights for 21st Century: the Universal Basic Income

An Economic Bill of Rights for 21st Century

In the summer of 1967, King announced what was to be the most expansively radical adventure of his life – a national movement called the Poor People’s Campaign, mobilizing Black, White, Hispanic, Native American. It was to demand an annual $30bn federal investment to deliver full employment, guaranteed annual income, 300,000 units of low cost housing per year.

Tragically, Dr. King was assassinated on 4th April 1968, and the April 16 edition of USA Look magazine carried a posthumous article from King titled “Showdown for Nonviolence” — his last statement on the Poor People’s Campaign. The article warns of imminent social collapse and suggests that the Campaign presents government with what may be its last opportunity to achieve peaceful change — through an Economic Bill of Rights. Three weeks after Dr King’s death, the Committee of 100 — set up to lobby on behalf of the campaign – called for just this – an economic bill of rights with five planks to deliver economic justice.

  1. A meaningful job at a living wage
  2. A secure and adequate income for all those unable to find or do a job
  3. Access to land for economic uses:
  4. Access to capital for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses:
  5. Ability for ordinary people to play a truly significant role in the government

Despite the intervening decades since the Poor People’s Campaign, it is true to say that Dr King would recognise the same issues today as he faced then – inequality, corporate power, racism and militarism. Now, we have other factors that also need to be incorporated – climate change, the total capture and consolidation of political power by the financial and business class; the globalisation of the neo-liberal agenda (north and south alike). So, it is imperative for our renewed Economic Bill of Rights to reflect this.

Among the big ideas, the one that will be integral for us to solve the first 2 demands of the 1968 Economic Bill of Rights in the 21st century is the universal basic income. Continue reading

UBI isn’t really about welfare spending: It’s about tax policy. And it is affordable.

This would be a sound argument if it didn’t miss the point. UBI isn’t really about welfare spending: It’s about tax policy.

UBI is an unconditional cash transfer, which means that you get money from the government to spend however you want. That’s an unusual government spending program. In the US, besides Social Security, the government usually either spends money on a service (like health care or education) or gives conditional cash in the form of things like food stamps.

But the government also spends a lot of money each year on cash transfers through “tax expenditures,” which is the money the government doesn’t collect in taxes because of exclusions in the tax code. Except for the Earned Income Tax Credit, those expenditures almost always help the rich more than the poor. By replacing them with UBI, we would create a more progressive system. That, not the elimination of all government programs, should be the starting place for debates about UBI. Continue reading

Modest but sensible UBI schemes do not make the state any bigger than it already is in most rich countries

The people of Switzerland rejected a proposal for a universal basic income in a referendum last weekend. As Leonid Bershidsky writes, the right conclusion to draw is that the proposal — of paying every citizen a regular amount of money without a work (or any other) requirement — was pitched too high, too soon, and in a place least likely to need it. As he also writes, the wrong conclusion is to bury the idea. …

Claims about the supposed economic unfeasibility of UBI, however, have an unfortunate tendency to intellectual fogginess. …

The relevant reference to the right level of UBI is surely households’ disposable income — the amount they have left on average after taxes and transfers to cover their material standard of living. To be guaranteed 50 per cent of this surely qualifies as reasonable, perhaps too reasonable. But in the UK, for example, “disposable income” (what households have to spend) is less than two-thirds of national income (what the nation has to spend if it does not borrow from other countries). So paying 50 per cent of current disposable income to every citizen would, on its own, cost about 33 per cent of national income. Continue reading

The case for Universal Basic Income

But, after a Conservative government ended the project, in 1979, Mincome was buried. Decades later, Evelyn Forget, an economist at the University of Manitoba, dug up the numbers. And what she found was that life in Dauphin improved markedly. Hospitalization rates fell. More teen-agers stayed in school. And researchers who looked at Mincome’s impact on work rates discovered that they had barely dropped at all. The program had worked about as well as anyone could have hoped.

Mincome was a prototype of an idea that came to the fore in the sixties, and that is now popular again among economists and policy folks: a basic income guarantee. There are many versions of the idea, but the most interesting is what’s called a universal basic income: every year, every adult citizen in the U.S. would receive a stipend—ten thousand dollars is a number often mentioned. (Children would receive a smaller allowance.)

One striking thing about guaranteeing a basic income is that it’s always had support both on the left and on the right—albeit for different reasons. Martin Luther King embraced the idea, but so did the right-wing economist Milton Friedman, while the Nixon Administration even tried to get a basic-income guarantee through Congress. These days, among younger thinkers on the left, the U.B.I. is seen as a means to ending poverty, combatting rising inequality, and liberating workers from the burden of crappy jobs. For thinkers on the right, the U.B.I. seems like a simpler, and more libertarian, alternative to the thicket of anti-poverty and social-welfare programs. Continue reading

How to tackle idleness: progressive taxation and basic income

Our recommendations here are radical: we are committed to strong, progressive taxation. That means we believe that as income rises the proportion of the total income that a person pays in tax should rise as well. It is a principle of tax justice, usually described as vertical equity, that few would wish to dispute. However, the UK tax system does not deliver vertical equity in a great many cases. It is our opinion that this is best addressed by a complete redesign of the Income Tax, National Insurance and benefits systems: nothing less will do if we are to tackle institutional impediments to idleness.
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Universal basic income to eliminate poverty

Eduardo Porter has a column up with the provocative headline “Why a Universal Basic Income Will Not Solve Poverty,” which intrigued me because my understanding from reading coverage by Vox’s own Dylan Matthews and others was that a UBI most certainly would solve poverty.

Having read Porter, I remain unconvinced. His argument turns out to be something more like “a universal basic income would be expensive” or “a universal basic income is an example of a poorly targeted public policy.” The former is clearly true, and the latter is at least something clearly worth talking about. But Porter’s own numbers make it very clear that a UBI would eliminate poverty in the United States and would do so at a price that, though high, is within the realm of possibility. Continue reading

Basic Income, Bullshit Jobs, Poverty and Military Spending

To begin with, basic income would give us all genuine freedom. Nowadays, numerous people are forced to spend their entire working lives doing jobs they consider to be pointless. Jobs like telemarketer, HR manager, social media strategist, PR advisor, and a whole host of administrative positions at hospitals, universities, and government offices. “Bullshit jobs,” the anthropologist David Graeber calls them. They’re the jobs that even the people doing them admit are, in essence, superfluous.

And we’re not talking about just a handful of people here. In a survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission. Another recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a bullshit job. Continue reading

Basic Incone is a necessity

He argues for a new view of minimum basic income, not as a safety net to save people who may fall, but a foundation on which people can stand to rise up as productive citizens. His presentation includes the new technological context that for the first time in history, smart machines will eliminate far more jobs than they create. This then, according to Varoufakis, necessitates a basic income for all citizens.

What is really significant about this presentation is the creation of an alternative view of wealth creation which he brings about through reframing the concept of how most people think about wealth.
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The 5% and the Universal Basic Income

The idea of universal basic income is rapidly gaining traction among people who are worried about (or looking forward to, depending on your view) an ever-more automated future (where workers are replaced by robots and computers) and rising inequality in our society gets ever more acute. However, the idea of a basic income goes back centuries – from Thomas More, Johannes Ludovicus Vives, Marquis de Condorcet, to Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill, they have all argued a basic income, in its various forms, as a way to solve some social ills and improve social welfare, resulting in a more civilised and equal society.[i]

The danger that we would be underwriting the failures is trivial compared with the benefits the guaranteed annual income would provide us. It would provide dignity for every citizen and choice for every citizen.

Margaret Mead

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A basic income approach to development

As it turns out, that assumption was wrong. Across many contexts and continents, experimental tests show that the poor don’t stop trying when they are given money, and they don’t get drunk. Instead, they make productive use of the funds,feeding their families, sending their children to school, and investing in businessesand their own futures. Even a short-term infusion of capital has been shown tosignificantly improve long-term living standards, improve psychological well-being, and even add one year of life. Continue reading

We can afford a universal basic income

The Tax Justice Network estimates the global elite are sitting on $21–32tn of untaxed assets. Clearly, only a portion of that is owed to the US or any other nation in taxes – the highest tax bracket in the US is 39.6% of income. But consider that a small universal income of $2,000 a year to every adult in the US – enough to keep some people from missing a mortgage payment or skimping on food or medicine – would cost only around $563bn each year.

A larger income, to ensure that no American fell into absolute abject poverty – say, $12,000 a year – would cost around $3.6tn. That is a big number, but one that once again seems far more reasonable when considered through the lens of the Panama Papers and the scandal of global tax evasion. Because the truth is that we have all been robbed, systematically, by the world’s wealthiest people, for decades. They have used those stolen dollars to build yet more wealth for themselves, and all the while we have been arguing with ourselves over what to do with the leftover pennies.

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South Korea: Basic Income

Lots of political and social issues have risen as the general election in April is coming, among which the most important one is how to give all people the economic stability. Junghoon Park, president of Alba Union said “today unemployment is normal and employment is exception for part time workers, so they should be given stable income, basic income guarantee to protect their rights as workers.” And Namhoon Kang insisted “basic income guarantee is a sole way which we, human beings could live and survive as humans under the economic system Al would change.” Under these circumstances, Green Party and Labor Party, small and extra-parliament parties in Korea, promise basic income scheme their major policies, and some politicians in office interest in it.

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UBI: Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands

Switzerland has turned its back on a basic income scheme, in which the federal government would have given every resident a monthly payment – expected to be around 2500 Swiss Francs ($2,500) – “regardless of their income and assets”.

Although voters rejected the move in a referendum at the weekend, Switzerland isn’t the only country weighing up a basic-income experiment. Around 10,000 people in Finland could soon be paid €550 each month if the government goes ahead with a universal basic income pilot project.
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