Richard Lawson and I are involved in a discussion on the merits of the Green Wage Subsidy (GWS), which he has brought to the Green Party conference unsuccessfully, and he intends to try again. Richard claims that the GWS (see Richard’s blog) will be a stepping stone towards the introduction of the Great British Public to the Citizens’ Basic Income (CI). Briefly, the GWS would give the CI only to workers in specified ‘Green’ jobs. Richard is a supporter of the CI, and I agree that the GWS could work. Our differences are over practicalities: Richard believes that the public will not accept the CI ‘cold’ because they will think it is a Scroungers’ Charter. I think on the contrary, paying the CI only to those employed in specified approved jobs will be more problematic than the straightforward presentation of the Case for the CI. The GWS could only be transitional; once the CI proper is up and running, it will do for all jobs what the GWS is intended to do for ‘Green ‘ jobs. Incentives and disincentives will be necessary, but they should be done separately from employment. But Richard may be right: rather than the potential for anomalies and abuse inherent in a partial introduction causing irritation and hence unpopularity, it may instead lead to an earlier realization that the full CI makes more sense.
As it happens, my version is about to be put to the test. Readers may already be aware that in Switzerland, the necessary 100,000 signatures have been collected for a referendum on the introduction of a Basic Income of SF2,800 per month This would be £450 per week in Britain, where JobSeekers Allowance is £72 p.w, and my minimum ‘ball park’ figure for a CI which includes housing costs is £160 p.w. Of course the Swiss cost of living is higher than the UK’s. It would be intriguing to see how many out of 60 million Britons would sign such a petition, but this 120,000 is from a population of 8 million. Switzerland holds Referenda routinely. One of the eight so far in 2013, on the limitation of Executive pay was passed overwhelmingly: 1,616,184 for, 761,975 against, with no cantons returning a majority against. Emboldened by this result, on November 24th, the country will vote on a referendum that would limit executive pay per month to the same amount paid to a company’s lowest paid staff member per annum. The so-called 1:12 initiative has received support from the Swiss government’s Social Democrat bloc.
So the Basic Income referendum, though unexpected, is not entirely out of the blue. The motivation for this referendum is explicitly for reducing income differentials, in effect taking the ‘Executive pay’ momentum a stage further. But what are its prospects? Who will find evidence in favour of our respective strategies, Richard or me? A look at Swiss politics suggests a stable system, with different ideologies used to having to work in coalitions. There is a near balance between right of centre and left of centre parties. Interesting for me, there are two Green Parties. one ‘left of centre’ (8.4% at the 2011 elections), and a smaller ‘centrist’ Green Party. Unsurprisingly the Basic Income is opposed by the highest earners, and there have been predictable threats to take wealth elsewhere. But who will win may well depend on who can shout the loudest.
There is of course no mention of the environment in all this, and as I have warned, the CI per se is ecologically neutral. It could just as easily fuel a spending spree by the currently impoverished instead of encouraging Green behaviour, unless accompanied by the wider Green measures it facilitates. But Alaska offers some intriguing evidence. The Alaska PDF is merely an oil dividend distribution to ‘Alaska plc’. One would not expect the birthplace of the Tea Party to nurse social justice ambitions. Yet the GINI index reveals Alaska to be the second most egalitarian state in the USA! This is a curious fact if not influenced by the PDF. It would be equally difficult to prove cause and effect when in the 2000 Presidential election, the Alaska Green Party polled 10%. They were prevented by court action backed by legislation from participating in subsequent elections, so worried were the Republicans. Watch this Swiss space