The Universal Basic Income

Entitlement or Benefit?
Workhouses, so feared by the Victorians and their successors, were an honest attempt to replace the overwhelmed Parish Relief System with a modern alternative.

Before Industrialisation, anyone who fell on hard times in the village was supported by their fellow villagers. As people moved to the towns, the system broke down. And there was a new problem: how do you distinguish between the genuine needy and the idle? In the village, it was fairly obvious but in the anonymity of the towns it became impossible to tell. The famed unpleasantness of the workhouses was the Victorians’ solution because no-one entered unless in genuine need.

In our time, the workhouses were replaced by the Public Welfare and the Benefits System, but we still grapple with exactly the same problem. We resent the idea of people who live on benefits as a lifestyle choice and we even have television programmes about them with titles such as “Benefits Cheats”.

But what if there is another way?
Here’s one suggestion: just pay everyone. It sounds completely mad but it has been tested and it works. It’s not even a new idea, but its time may have come.

After all, cars are being built and white goods produced; mines are producing raw materials and profits are being made. The difference is that, in the absense of workers, fewer people are earning wages or salaries any more. 

So where's the money going? Current evidence suggests that it’s increasingly pooling into a smaller and smaller percentage of the population, who between them own a disproportionate share of total wealth. Is it possible that, in the future, we shall distribute profits more equitably? 

Here are two videos which suggest that we shall. The speaker in the first video says that it sounds like a Utopian Ideal that will never come true. But he goes on to say:

“The end of slavery, equal rights for men and women, and democracy were all once regarded as impossible ideals. But in history, there is something called progress”.

All I can say is watch these films and then decide for yourself:-

1. Why we should give everyone a basic income
  - Rutger Bregman, speaking at the TEDx Event in Maastricht, October 2014

2. Basic income and other ways to fix capitalism
  - Federico Pistono, speaking at the TEDx Event in Haarlem, September 2015

It may all seem impossible at the moment but so did ending slavery, and votes for women. but there’s something else I’d like you to consider too: 

Where does wealth actually come from? Perhaps this idea holds a clue as to how the future may not be driven by money and the marketplace in quite the same way as we have known it since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Next: What Creates Wealth?

© Brian Smith 2015