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