Though not a panacea, the Basic Income is important – not just relevant – to several otherwise intractable problems. The mass attempted breakthrough takes migration into a new phase, and the forces leading to it are only going to get worse.
If the problem remains how to deal with migrants as they arrive, there are two unacceptable alternatives, even assuming that it is possible to seal all entry points: if the risk of death in the attempt is not to rise dramatically, some form of humanitarian aid will be necessary. Dreadful as it is, the possibility that the mere 1,500 now desperate enough to try, are but the tip of an iceberg of those put off by the dreadful existing hazards cannot be dismissed out of hand.
But in any case, the migrants have demonstrated that Tony Abbott’s Australian solution is unlikely to work here. In passing, are there any figures for the death rate among failed attempts to reach Australia? Can there be? Purely in their own self-interest, the rich nations will have to figure out a way of dealing with the forces driving migration at source.
Whatever they come up with will cost them. At first sight, unless other ideas emerge, an international Basic income will cost rich nations considerably more than just keeping illegal migrants out. But factor in the sheer disruption, and an imponderable success rate, and that becomes less certain. But cost is not the right place to start. My argument goes to the heart of the case for the Basic Income generally. I have argued that there is a huge opening for a political movement which uses the Basic Income to combine drastic redistribution – less inequality – with personal security. The rich will remain rich, though not quite as rich, but enterprise, at any level, will be facilitated. Unemployment will become a historical concept, but everyone will be better off working than not, and work will be available for all who want it, though not necessarily at high rates.
So what has this to do with migrants? Once upon a time, every human had the wherewithal for a satisfactory life as they perceived it. The following amazing entry appears in the log of a visit by Captain Cook to ‘New Holland’ (Australia):
“The natives may appear to some to be the most wretched people on Earth, but in reality they are far happier than we Europeans. . . They think themselves provided with all the necessities of life.”
I am not suggesting a return to a ‘savage’ existence, though that may happen if we lose our gamble on how far we can exploit the planet with fracking or whatever. The Aborigines merely demonstrated dramatically the significance of cultures, perceptions and expectations. Once much of the human race had adopted agriculture, every peasant normally had access to a plot of land. Guy Standing, a leading advocate of the Basic income, discusses the Precariat, those who have no reliable source of income. For him, and me, it is axiomatic that every individual, everywhere should have a guarantee of subsistence in a way which cares for the environment, and encourages – not forces – some contribution to society. If there are more intelligent ways than the Basic Income, we are still waiting to hear of them. Economic growth has failed to deliver by now, and some of us think it will be less able to do as physical limits impinge.
A Basic Income for everyone, everywhere should be the aim in its own right. It is not especially connected to areas where poverty is driving emigration. Humanity can go back neither to hunting and gathering, nor to mediaeval peasant agriculture, but we can guarantee basic needs.
But it is vital that this guarantee should be firmly tied to ecological factors. It will be given ‘unconditionally’ in the sense that there will be no work obligation or restrictions on how it should be spent, but it will be conditional on doing nothing which would reduce the sustainability of the ecosphere. This will involve populations not increasing. There are cultures which will resist this aspect. There are those even in wealthy counties who come from a socialist tradition, who think that only their enemies consider population a fit subject for debate. So for many places, although the Basic Income will be essential to enable communities to thrive in situ, it cannot easily be a part of the urgently needed first aid.
However, there will be limited instances where a Basic Income, at a fairly low rate, could be implemented fairly quickly, potentially removing the root cause of economic migration in those areas. A trial scheme already exists in India, not in an area prone to migration, but the blueprint has been shown to work, and doubts shown to be unfounded.
Once awareness of the idea is widespread, the culture shift to a sustainable , less unequal world will have begun. I use the phrase ‘less unequal’ deliberately. There is no need for equality. With a Basic Income everyone will have basic needs, and anyone with ability, whatever their starting point, will be able to rise to the top. What is happening at Calais underlines the urgency of something more than fortifications.