Saturday, 24 January 2015

Basic Income: Why The Arguments Don't Add Up

I issued a challenge on Twitter:

If the only answer is that I'm arguing from a moral standpoint then I must point out that the core of their argument is that this is a moral issue. Whose morals win out?

Paying couch potatoes

Young person lazing on the couch
I might as well start with this, though it's not my beef in chief. The idea of paying a sum to self-entitled scroungers to fritter away on booze and fags while I drag my arthritis-ridden carcass to work every day annoys me like you wouldn't believe. Per Rick Falkvinge in this video, they comprise about 10% of the population, though this also includes those who are actually unable to work through illness or age, etc. Okay, assume that 10% of that 10% is perfectly healthy but too lazy and selfish to go out and get a job. Whether or not it's "only" 1% is not the point. If feeding, clothing, and providing healthcare for the toerags is a moral issue, so is getting them up off their backsides and making them contribute in some way. I'd suggest volunteering to the value of the money received.

One universal payment only complicates things

Now this is the problem I have with Basic Income. We already have the much-maligned universal credit in place and one of the reasons it's an unmitigated disaster is that it utterly fails to meet people's needs if they are complex, i.e. the person is long-term ill. Basic Income is predicated on a best case scenario and the false belief that there is such a thing as the free market, and therefore living costs will drop if incomes do. While pound shops will indeed proliferate and the cost and quality of goods will be lower, necessities such as lodgings, food, and transport generally tend to rise. Since I've already outlined a viable alternative, I won't repeat myself. What we actually need is a sustainable welfare state that takes people's actual needs into consideration, then meets those needs. If Basic Income only works as a single income source if you're able to work and live with your parents, it's not a solution. Any solution should be predicated on a worst case scenario, and work from there.

We can't afford it and it wouldn't work

I'll leave it to the Citizens Income Trust to make my argument for me:

The article that Patrick Wintour wrote in the Guardian on the 27th January was partly based on an Institute for Social and Economic Research research paper, 'A Feasible Way to Implement a Citizen's Income', that we put on our website last October and that we have recently republished in the Citizen's Income Newsletter. This shows that the Citizen's Income scheme outlined in our 2013 introductory booklet would generate losses for some households with low disposable incomes (- most of these losses would be small). Given the markedly reduced marginal deduction rates that these households would then experience, recouping small losses through additional earnings would be much easier than it would be under the current means-tested benefits system. - A Citizen's Income: The poor will not necessarily be worse off

And the Guardian:

The Green Party has not yet published details of its Citizen's Income scheme. Our research shows that if a Citizen's Income of £72 per week for working age adults (more for older people, less for younger people and children) were to be implemented then it would be perfectly possible to do so without imposing losses on low-income households. - The Guardian: Green surge: on the ground with party activists hoping for a second MP

Read those paragraphs again. Go on, read them. Citizens Income REQUIRES that you have a second income since you can't live on £72 a week. And that, my friends, is the problem with it.

The moral arguments for and against

We can't just let people starve.
Yes, but people will work if they're hungry enough; witness the number of illegal immigrants sneaking in to work at £2 an hour or less. 
Yes, but why pay people to laze around on their couches all day, occasionally sipping cheap, high-alcohol drinks and watching Jeremy Kyle?

If those are the only arguments being made about this, you're doing it wrong. The fact is, there will always be people out of paid work even if they want to work. Discrimination, low pay, poor prospects, and unsuitable positions have kept me out of paid work from time to time. They're not the only factors, but the point is that there aren't enough jobs that pay enough for us to live on and that is the actual problem. Coupled with the rise in living costs, it's driving many of us to food banks. The left/right dichotomy driving the Basic Income argument is sending us around in circles with each side pushing its own odious brand of morality. Enough! There is a solution, and it ain't Basic Income.

The ACTUAL solution

I've already proposed a viable solution in my Open Letter To The Pirate Party, which stresses Middle-out economics as the way forward. I've got my own take on that, which you might as well call Demand-side economics. Short version: we need jobs that pay well in a thriving economic ecosystem, not free money. Any program that we have needs to be sustainable and tax-funded ones can be if we pull in enough revenue. The only way to do this is to raise the minimum wage enough that people don't need to claim benefits to cover their living costs. That way, the tax burden is more fairly spread. Costs may rise a little but competition will keep them down. Oh, and we need more social housing, stat. All of my other proposals are in the Open Letter.

So, can we drop the idea that Basic Income promotes innovation and entrepreneurship, a way to get a competitive advantage, but not by making sure people don't have to work? None of those things are true. Grants and loans to start new businesses exist, there's no competitive advantage in receiving free money and not having to work would keep my fat bum right here on my chair blogging, believe me.

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