Thursday, 14 April 2016

The universal basic income

One way to deal with unemployment is to work less:
Futures Forum: In Praise of Idleness: working less could actually be better for everyone.
BBC Radio 4 - The Joy of 9 to 5

Another is the UBI, or basic income:
Futures Forum: The unconditional basic income

The idea is gaining currency.

In Finland, the centre-right government is seeing it as a way to reduce spending:
Finland to consider introducing universal basic income in 2017 | Europe | News | The Independent

Finland considers universal basic income under social reform plans


30 March 2016

HELSINKI, March 30 (Reuters) - Finland may replace part of its social security net with a universal basic wage as it looks to rein in state spending, if a pilot project recommended by government advisors succeeds.

A government-commissioned working group on Wednesday proposed a tax-free monthly wage of 550 euros for the two-year pilot, to start next year and involve up to 10,000 adults of working age. That sum, roughly equal to the unemployment and welfare assistance that covers food, personal hygiene, clothing and other daily expenses, would be supplemented, when necessary, with earnings-related benefits like housing allowance. Wage-earning participants in the project would pay the money back via increased income tax.

With Finland recovering slowly from a three-year recession that ended in 2015, Prime Minister Juha Sipila's centre-right government is pushing through spending cuts of 4 billion euros ($4.53 billion) and a major labour reform pact to cut labour costs. The government will decide in May whether the universal wage scheme will be part of that process.

"It would be secure income ...It would encourage people who are afraid of losing their unemployment or other benefits (though working part-time) to take short-term jobs", working group leader Professor Olli Kangas told Reuters.

Switzerland will hold a referendum in June on whether to introduce basic income for all adults, and the Netherlands and France are considering similar moves.

Finland's economy is still smaller than it was in 2008, having been hit by the decline of growth drivers including former mobile phone market leader Nokia and a thriving paper industry, together with falling demand from major trader partner Russia.

Hanna Mantyla, Minister of Social Affairs and Health, told Reuters she is confident the wage project will start in 2017. "We need experiments like this. The Finnish social security system faces big challenges in the future, if we are not able to simplify it," Mantyla said.

($1 = 0.8838 euros) (Reporting by Tuomas Forsell; editing by John Stonestreet)

Finland considers universal basic income under social reform plans | Daily Mail Online

Many of the ideas around work seem to be coming together:

Universal Basic Income will encourage unemployment in Britain – but that’s not a bad thing

New Zealand has joined a long list of countries considering a guaranteed citizen's income, so why don’t we Brits adopt it and just stop working?

Kirsty Major Wednesday 16 March 2016

New Zealand is the latest country to toy with the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) – the idea that an unconditional fixed amount of money should be paid to all citizens as a supplement to additional state welfare.

Andrew Little, New Zealand's Leader of the Opposition confirmed his Labour party is considering the proposal. He said: "We are keen to have that debate about whether the time has arrived for us to have a system that is seamless, easy to pass through, [with a] guaranteed basic income and [where] you can move in and out of work on a regular basis."

The Kiwis are following in the tracks of the Finnish, Dutch, Swiss and Canadian in giving serious consideration to the idea. In the UK, Green MP Caroline Lucas has become a flagwaver for the campaign, and now even Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is considering UBI as part of his new economic policy.

However, in a country where ‘hard working families’ are wheeled out at every PMQs as exemplars of British values, it seems difficult to envision selling a policy that encourages unemployment to the electorate.

Critics say it will usher in a new era of fecklessness. Declan Gaffney wrote in The Guardian: “Unless we are completely relaxed about long-term worklessness – and all the evidence tells us we should not be – some form of conditionality seems to be essential.”

Work and respectability, remain closely knitted in the British psyche as a result of the legacy of a Protestant work ethic. It was not long ago that toil and suffering indubitably led to salvation in the afterlife. Similarly, hardship and denial of free time led inexplicably to and improvement of circumstances in this life. Working class people could learn a trade, work their way up the ladder and obtain the Holy Grail of middle class respectability.

With such values, why would we encourage offensive idleness with UBI?

If we are to adopt a guaranteed wage for all citizens in the UK, we need to get over the blind veneration of work for work’s sake in this country. Only 13 per cent of people find their job engaging. Apoll conducted in the UK revealed that one in four Brits wants to quit their current job. Half admitted they dread Mondays.

We work increasingly long hours for less pay with no job security in return. In a turbulent economy financial insecurity has been transferred from employers onto their workers. Rising automation means that there will be fewer jobs in the future, and those jobs that will remain will be radically different.

UBI is an initiative that will demonstrably ease the course of the future changes all of us will have to face.

By providing a basic income people can choose to stay in work or leave. Precarious work - where workers shoulder the emotional and financial burden of not knowing when the next pay check is coming in - becomes ‘voluntary flexibility’ where people work because they want to. This means employers will have to provide incentives for them to stay in work and automate the jobs they really don’t want to do. This will create a positive feedback loop, spurring further automation.

With growing automation there won’t be enough jobs, meaning job shares and shorter working weeks will become commonplace. People will have to rediscover value in leisure, volunteering and unpaid work. UBI would also reward the unpaid work that many already do, but - just don’t get paid for - care work, for instance.

In the long term, UBI would also allow people to retrain and explore new options for their careers. UBI wouldn’t mean the end of work altogether, it would means allowing people from all backgrounds the freedom to decide what it is they want to do.

It is time the UK banished its protestant work ethic hangover and celebrated the value of the activities achieved outside of work. Work isn’t going to save us anymore, but UBI might just

Universal Basic Income will encourage unemployment in Britain – but that’s not a bad thing | Voices | The Independent

Should we scrap benefits and pay everyone £100 a week?

The idea of a universal basic income is about to leap from the margins to the mainstream, bringing promises of a happier and healthier population

John Harris Wednesday 13 April 2016 

Imagine a Britain where the government pays every adult the basic cost of living. Whether rich or poor – or, crucially, whether you’re in paid employment or not – everyone gets the same weekly amount, with no strings attached. The harsh, punitive model of modern “welfare” is a distant memory; passing in and out of employment in the so-called gig economy is now something everyone can afford. The positive consequences extend into the distance: women are newly financially independent and able to exit abusive relationships, public health is noticeably improved, and people are able to devote the time to caring that an ever-ageing society increasingly demands. All the political parties are signed up: just as the welfare state underpinned the 20th century, so this new idea defines the 21st.

Welcome to the world of a unconditional basic income, or UBI, otherwise known as citizens’ income or social wage. It might look like the stuff of insane utopianism, but the idea is now spreading at speed, from the fringes of the left into mainstream politics – and being tried out around the world. The UK Green party has supported the notion for decades: staunch backing for a version of UBI was one of its key themes at the last election. At its spring conference last month, the Scottish National party passed a motion supporting the idea that “a basic or universal income can potentially provide a foundation to eradicate poverty, make work pay and ensure all our citizens can live in dignity”. A handful of Labour MPs have started to come round to the idea – and serious work is being done among thinktanks and pressure groups, looking at how it might work in the here and now.

Meanwhile, there have been UBI-type policies and experiments in India and Brazil. These have suggested that, contrary to modern stereotypes about “welfare” sapping people’s initiative, a basic income might actually increase people’s appetite for work, by adding to their sense of stability, and making things such as childcare and transport more accessible. A pilot of a UBI-ish policy whereby people on benefits are paid unconditionally is happening in Utrecht, in the Netherlands; other Dutch towns and cities look set to follow its example, and there are plans to pilot a more ambitious kind of basic income in Finland. On 5 June, the Swiss will vote in a referendum on a plan that would see all adults receive about £1,700 a month, with an extra £400 for each child.

And then there is the rising noise from Silicon Valley. The California-based startup incubator Y Combinator has announced that it wants to fund research into UBI’s viability. Its president, Sam Altman, says: “It is impossible to truly have equality of opportunity without some version of guaranteed income.” In New York, the influential venture capitalist Albert Wenger has been sounding off about a basic income for at least three years, claiming it offers an answer to a very modern question. If, as he says, “we are at the beginning of the time where machines will do a lot of the things humans have traditionally done”, how do you avoid “a massive bifurcation of society into those who have wealth and those who don’t”? ...

As well as books such as Guy Standing’s The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class(2011) and Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism (2015), one recent text is talked about more than most among people interested in UBI. Inventing the Future was published last year and has already created significant buzz in leftwing circles; its two authors, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, will be appearing at this year’s Glastonbury, and their work is the key inspiration behind what Radical Assembly have planned for this Saturday. The No Jobs bloc, in fact, echoes the slogans printed in bold type on the book’s cover: “Demand full automation, demand universal basic income, demand the future.”

Srnicek, 33, is from Canada: he came to the UK in 2009, and works as a freelance academic in London. He says he’s both thrilled and surprised by the idea of people marching in favour of what he and Williams advocate. “I’ve heard about the No Jobs bloc, and it sounds great,” he says.

As he explains, the concept of a basic income has been doing the rounds for centuries, and has been voiced by such people as the 18th-century radical Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, and the free-market guru Milton Friedman. In the US, the Nixon administration of the 1970s had plans for a rightwing version that nearly made it into law. Meanwhile, between 1968 and 1978, the US government did a series of experiments with a basic income in such places as New Jersey, Seattle and Denver, Colorado. It was also tried in the small Canadian town of Dauphin, Manitoba. Although it took years for the research findings to be published, they suggested that among the results had been a drop in hospital admissions, and a rise in the number of teenagers staying on in school.

This tangled history contains a few warnings about different political conceptions of the UBI idea. “The right tends to see it as a replacement for the welfare state,” says Snircek. “Basically, in their conception, UBI is a way to do away with benefits and marketise everything. And, obviously, that has to be warded off completely.”

He says he also has concerns about interpretations of the idea from some parts of the political left. “UBI has to be universal: it has to apply to everybody,” he says. “It’s problematic for some people that it includes the rich as well, but universal benefits have a political power that means-tested benefits don’t. It has to be unconditional. It can’t be means-tested. Everybody gets it, no matter what.

“The other aspect is, it should be as a high as possible. It can’t just be some middling level, like the Green party was proposing at the last election.” Their idea, he explains, was to pay everyone around £72 a week, roughly the same level as Jobseekers’ Allowance. “That would help people, but they would still have to go out and find a 40-hour job to survive, so it doesn’t do any of the political things that are so important.”

As Inventing the Future explains, these include boosting people’s bargaining power with employers, and UBI’s distinct feminist aspect: “One of my favourite stories from the experiments with UBI in Canada and the US is that they found that divorces went up. Women had suddenly got financial independence to leave bad and abusive relationships.”

The big theme that sits under Srnicek and Williams’s ideas is that of automation, and its effects on the place of work in our lives. A third of jobs in UK retail are forecast to go by 2025. The Financial Times recently reported on research predicting that 114,000 jobs in British legal sector would be automated over the next 20 years. As and when automation reaches transport, all this could turn nuclear. Recent estimates have put the number of jobs in the US related to traditional trucking at 8.7m – which, when people are talking about automated haulage (in last month’s budget, for example, George Osbornepromised trials for driverless lorries), gives a sobering sense of how huge the future changes to paid work could be.

“The technology we’re talking about today is really touching on areas that we thought were always going to be the preserve of humans: non-routine tasks, things like driving a car – but then also the automation of basic social interaction, like call-centre work, customer service work and all that kind of stuff,” says Srnicek. “A lot of jobs are going to be taken, possibly at a very rapid pace. That means that, even if it doesn’t lead to mass unemployment, automation leads to a massive shift in the labour market, and people having to find new jobs and new skills.”

How long does he think it will be before UBI becomes a credible part of mainstream politics?

“Well, I do think this is a longterm project; it’s not going to happen overnight,” he says. “You need to build it up over time. And you also need to find new revenues for it. So you need to be talking about the Panama Papers and tax havens, and how you’re going to claw back tax revenues to pay for it.” The basic point is that something as ambitious as a basic income that allows people meaningful choices is going to cost, and the only way of bringing in the funds chimes with our rising concerns about tax avoidance and evasion – and, for that matter, global inequality and the fragile job markets that increasingly sit under it.

The key point, he says, is context: putting UBI alongside other plans and proposals, so as to flesh out the idea of a world beyond work, and what it would mean. “One big thing would be reducing the working week,” he says. “My preference is to implement a three-day weekend. We already have that in certain cases, because of bank holidays. We’re already used to it. And everybody always really enjoys it. That could plausibly be done in the next five years.”

Friday or Monday?

“I think we’ve got such a hate for Monday, that might be something we need to hold on to. So, maybe Friday.” ...

Should we scrap benefits and pay everyone £100 a week? | Politics | The Guardian

But not everyone's keen:

Don’t fall for universal basic income – it’s a utopian fiction that wastes public money on the rich

The welfare system we have is far from perfect. It’s inherently improvable – and there are attempts to improve it going on already

Emran Mian Tuesday 22 March 2016

When a sensible proponent of the universal basic income starts to get into detailed issues of design, their deceptively simple concept collapses into the usual messiness of government policy

When Silicon Valley billionaires start dabbling in public policy it’s time to go on red alert. Marc Andreessen, investor in Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, says the universal basic income is “a very interesting idea”. Y Combinator, a start-up fund, is running the numbers on it. Its President, Sam Altman, has already pronounced: the basic income is “inevitable”.

I love inevitability. It’s great for democratic politics. But, while tech entrepreneurs have form on eliding the complexity of the real world (the same Marc Andreesen recently said that anti-colonialism was responsible for an “economic catastrophe” in India), it’s more surprising that some on the left are taking up the idea of a universal basic income too. John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, recently said that the Labour party are looking at it.

Though, wait, this isn’t surprising at all. Supporters of the universal basic income on the left have the same tendency to pretend that the world is simpler than it is, that utopia is right there, agonisingly within reach if only we have the courage to seek it out.

The trouble with the universal basic income is that the utopia it promises is a deceit. Replacing our complex system of welfare benefits with a single equal payment for everyone means one of two things: either the universal basic income is too low to replace the additional benefits people with particular needs receive, for example, those with disabilities or children; or, if it’s high enough not to leave those people out of pocket, then it costs much more than the present system we have.

If it’s the former, then the universal basic income removes money from many of the most vulnerable people in our society If it’s the latter, then it gives extra money to people who don’t need it.

Hang on, advocates of the universal basic income will say: our system can deal with all of that. We’ll taper away the universal basic income for those who don’t need it. We’ll top up for those who have special needs. Okay, brilliant. Welcome to the welfare system we already have.

In other words, when a sensible proponent of the universal basic income starts to get into detailed issues of design, their deceptively simple concept collapses into the usual messiness of government policy. The true utopians though don’t allow themselves to get dragged in this direction. After all, why be distracted by the world as it is.

None of this is to pretend that the welfare system we have is perfect. It’s inherently improvable. People are trying to improve it all the time. Those efforts typically come up against a lack of insight about what life is like for people who rely on benefits; a lack of public money, or perceived lack of public money; and, most prosaically of all, the challenges of implementing complex changes to systems and processes.

From time to time we manage to overcome these issues – sometimes even all three of them at the same time. Proponents of a universal basic income though don’t even seriously think about them, regardless of the fact that their idea is vulnerable to objections on all three grounds. It claims to be universal – so they need to show it works for everyone who relies on benefits at any point in their lives. It’s expensive, in an age when public support for welfare spending is declining. And it requires root and branch change to how we deliver benefits. In case they haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of such a change in the UK right now: universal credit. Six years on, it’s only starting to work; in some parts of the country; for the very simplest cases, single people with no kids.

But never mind. Proponents of a universal basic income have a utopian idea which they believe is inherently correct. The rest is detail. What a shame that the detail is the messy, shifting, complicated lives of people like us.

Don’t fall for universal basic income – it’s a utopian fiction that wastes public money on the rich | Voices | The Independent

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