The Basic Income Earth Network announced yesterday (8th August) that Jeremy Corbyn has enlisted Richard Murphy to draft his economic policy. In April 2013 Murphy co-authored a pamphlet with Howard Reed Financing the social State: towards a full employment economy, in which they advocate a Basic, or Citizens’ Income as part of a comprehensive reform of the tax and benefit system.
This is the most significant news I have heard for a long time. What I have been shouting for 42 years, apparently vainly, has suddenly become a realistic possibility: the adoption of the Citizens’ Basic income by a leading politician. Even if Jeremy Corbyn does not become Labour Leader, at least the idea should at long last get the mainstream airing it should have been given by the Green Party in the general election campaign. Provided Natalie Bennett is properly briefed, recognizing the Basic Income as important, she can now say what she should have said then.
But the reality is sobering. Even though I have been screaming that the anti-authority case is impotent without the Basic income, I realize that its sudden appearance on the scene now presents Corbyn with a very difficult tactical choice. Most of the people who have taken the trouble to put themselves in a position to vote for the Labour leader will also have taken the trouble to hear that interview with Andrew Neil, at which the Basic Income idea seemed not to have been properly thought out, and they will have read in the Guardian that it might make some families worse off (technically true, but maliciously misleading). Richard Murphy and Howard Reed do explain the case for the Basic Income coherently, and argue, convincingly to a layman at least, that austerity policies were predicated on wrong assumptions. But voting closes less than 5 weeks from this announcement, and Ed Balls has yet to comment on behalf of the still dominant Labour view. Desperate as I am to get the Basic Income publicized, it may lose Corbyn the leadership.
But if the anti-austerity tide is sufficient to carry Corbyn to victory without the Basic Income having featured in his campaign at all, he will then have the problem of how to spring it on a Labour Party which will be traumatized anyway.
Jeremy Corbyn would not be my ideal standard bearer for the Basic Income. As I said in response to his emergence as a front-runner, although the Basic income is very socialist in its redistributive effects, I think he will have problems accepting that it opens up some distinctly unsocialist ideas as starting to make sense, for example zero hours contracts.
The clue to Richard Murphy’s approach is evident from the title of his pamphlet: Financing the Social State: towards a full employment economy. He sees the provision of jobs as essential both for personal self-esteem and the macro-economic effect of wages being spent. Fine, until one considers the novel, ecological context, and the destruction of jobs by automation. To be honest, his approach is probably better than mine as a first attempt to explain it to the public, precisely because he is still thinking within the conventional box. Consumer spending must be maintained, there is no mention of ecological, sustainability aspects, and the pamphlet appears to assume not only that jobs can always be made available for all through government infrastructure projects, with no mention of low rates per hour, but that people should be compelled to accept them. I infer from the pamphlet that Murphy is unlikely to welcome ‘free market’ aspects. I see these in tandem with redistribution as the key to the political future.
Some of the details I envisage differ from Murphy & Reed’s pamphlet. It does not share my ‘Persuasion is better than force’ philosophy that a requirement to work is not only unnecessary, but wrong in principle. But I am impressed by the specific amounts they propose, with unapologetic tax rates to match. I do hope it figures in the Corbyn campaign, and that the Green Party is ready this time.