I have just watched Chris Packham’s film, and taken the online Asperger’s test. I now understand why I have such inordinate difficulty explaining the importance of the Universal Basic Citizens’ Income (UBI).
On the test, I scored 36, where 26 to 32 are borderline, and higher scores put you within Asperger’s syndrome. I am nowhere nearly as deeply affected as Chris Packham, but there were several resonances with his experience. The only time I experienced the depth of grief I observe in other people was when a cat died – straight out of the ’Packham’ textbook. I missed both parents, my sister and my wife of 42 years, but it was not grief, which I understand ‘intellectually’. Apart from a partner I have never had close friends, just colleagues I can work closely with. I am much better at dates than most.
I could go on, but the way it has affected me most is in seeing the big picture, but not focussing on practical details – keenly aware of woods but banging my head on trees I did not notice, where for most people ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’ is the norm.
Perhaps another symptom of Asperger’s is that graphs speak to me, hence the one at the top of this page, whereas they seem to put most people off. Up to this, fairly new insight, I have been reluctant to question the wisdom of others whose qualifications were superior to mine, who, although convinced of the case for the UBI, see formidable difficulties obstructing its implementation – Housing Benefit, some on low incomes will be worse off, the tax needed to fund it renders it politically unacceptable . . . I am ignoring the more ill-informed criticisms, such as that no one will bother working, or why give it to the rich?
Come to think of it, my particular form of Asperger’s could be relevant. Having been the second boy in the top stream at a Grammar School (girls mature faster), I faltered when more attention to detail was expected, and I failed to gain entry to a University.
It may be that the pragmatists are right. Perhaps Housing Benefit will have to be left out of UBI implementation until people understand the principle better. But a more dramatic example of my banging my head against a tree I could not see is in the introduction of a World Basic Income.
To me it is obvious not only is this necessary, and that imminent ecological breakdown (not just the climate) makes it urgent, but that it must be combined with help for underdeveloped communities not to increase their populations.
If we do not do all of this, the result promises to be dire, especially but not only for poorer communities with high birth rates, and high infant mortality and emigration rates. But I am suggesting a massive increase in overseas aid, so that every woman, everywhere has the same confidence as a European woman that her first two children will become adults. I envisage the medical infrastructure to guarantee that birth control is offered, as well as prevention of ailments which are life-threatening in most of Africa, but not in Europe. This largesse must be offered against a backdrop of calls to divert foreign aid to the poor here at home. How big does a practical problem have to be before somebody needs to warn me about it?
Well, all right, urgent or not, perhaps the World Basic Income will also have to wait. But my Asperger’s still prevents me from understanding why a simple Thought Experiment cannot be tried, at least at first in developed nations which have a welfare benefits system involving means testing.
What is the problem – as a thought experiment – with a sum of money, sufficient to allow everybody to do nothing (to damage the ecosphere), but which allows them to add to that where means tested benefits do not (in other words, to ‘make work pay’)?
In order to fund this sum, the government will tax every penny everybody receives from all other sources. There are of course possible variations on this theme, such as Land Value Tax, but if it cannot add up in its starkest form of personal income tax, then the well-kept secret that we are already nationally bankrupt needs to be exposed. Sure, the tax rates will shock anyone not old enough to remember the income tax rates at the end of WWII, but they will not need to be quite so drastic – unless we really are bankrupt.
My suggested figure for a UBI – £175per week per individual – may not be the best guide, as it assumes a ‘big bang’ full implementation. Excluding housing costs would bring this down to £100 pw. Alison Marshall suggests £130 pw, of which a token £50 would be towards housing costs. Richard Murphy & Howard Reed’s figures are that an income tax rate of 50% on most of the population would finance an adequate UBI. (See p31 if you use the link).
To make an unanswerable case for a UBI, at least nationally, all we have to do then, is compare these schemes with the above graph. Although published in 2009, it still closely enough shows the tax equivalent rates of benefit withdrawal now, as the Universal Credit is not working, even for the 8% of intended recipients eventually receiving it. The Universal Credit as originally intended would still leave benefit withdrawal rates in excess of 70%.
But graphs don’t speak to everybody, as they do to me.