It was with some trepidation that I sought out an African woman in traditional dress to ask my purely theoretical Question. I had envisaged Mali as a possible pilot scheme. She and her male colleague (in a suit and tie, so it was not obvious where he was from) were not sure if there was anyone at the Congress from Mali. They were from Uganda. I explained my idea to them anyway.
Had they heard of the newly formed World Basic income movement? No. So the first bit was easy: the principle that everyone, everywhere had basic needs appropriate to the society in which they lived. However, and this was the scary bit for me, what I saw as necessary in conjunction with this was infrastructure – medical and family planning – which would enable a woman in an underdeveloped country to have the same confidence as a European woman that her first two children would become adults.
To my relief they approved, and will take the idea back to Uganda and discuss it. Yes there will be cultural obstacles and objections, but they thought it made sense from a Green perspective. Who will pay for it? To the rich nations which are under pressure to reduce immigration, the cost will be minimal, certainly for a one nation pilot.
I was nervous about raising this idea with real Africans partly because of a faction within the British Green Party. At a Population Matters fringe a few years ago the speaker was asked “Why do you blame Mali for over-exploitation when it is the USA which is responsible?” American over-consumption does indeed need reining in. I have written already about the need for a culture change away from growth. But this has no bearing on the fact that many developing countries have high birth rates because they know they will not all survive. Consequently these countries have high emigration rates, and willy nilly immigrants to a developed country have the same ecological footprint as all other residents.
Another possibly useful bit of networking was with an American delegate (whose contact details I have managed to mislay). Bu the key fact is he knows Jill Stein personally, and is impressed by the idea of the basic income. I have seen an analysis which claims that Jill Stein did not hand the presidency to Trump as Nader did to George Bush in 2000. I still think the basic income offers rust belt Ohio a more realistic salvation than Trump’s promise to revive the coal industry, quite apart from the ecological implications. Stein cold have given both the basic income and the Green Party a boost on this basis. Bu that is spilt milk. She needs to start explaining it now.
Jonathan Bartley is an able Green Party representative on Question Time (BBC1, 6th April), as we knew he would be. but he could have inserted one additional point in answer to the ‘benefits cap’ question. The whole cap and sanctions approach is nasty and misconceived. It fails to deal with means testing. Jonathan could have pointed out that the Universal Credit, which was supposed to ‘make work pay’ by reducing the effect of means testing has only reached a tiny fraction of the 7 million who were promised it in 2012. He could have said that the UC has failed, so to explore the Basic Income would be more effective.