In a sane world, basic needs will be guaranteed on condition you do nothing to damage the ecosphere, the thin shell round a little ball where life is possible. If the sane are also intelligent, this will happen. I explore the dynamics of why this doesn’t seem to be happening. The IPCC reports should make it the top political issue, but there are powerful forces preventing this, for understandable, but still inexcusable temporary reasons. No one has yet thought of anything which would enable manufacturers to see manufacturing less rather than more as a viable business strategy. This will have to be in tandem with maximum re-sale and repair, with recycling as a final option, but that is bad news for manufacturers. Some blame capitalists, or ‘the 1%’. True, but they are trapped in a competitive system, and they are not 100% to blame. Millions of ordinary people are collectively making unsustainable decisions. I suggest an approach which I believe has a better chance of helping the capitalists to slow their now dangerous activities than a direct attempt to defeat them. This will encourage a new culture based on sustainability to emerge.
The central problem is that limiting economic activity to what the ecosphere can bear will feel like loss, and we humans are loss averse. So this is only possible by warning people that worse loss will occur if we don’t limit economic activity, but this must be in conjunction with something which enables everyone to feel secure.
The unconditional Citizens’ Basic Income (UBI), an unconditional regular payment to everyone, can be a part of the solution to two apparently unconnected problems, social justice and inequality on the one hand, and limiting economic activity to sustainable levels on the other. I am becoming increasingly alarmed that those pressing for a UBI and those trying to preserve a viable planet remain entirely separate.
Although most see the UBI in practical terms, I see it primarily as a means to allow whole populations to see preserving the ecosphere as a priority, uniting former tribal enemies.
The UBI is dismissed as ‘unaffordable’, but this is merely code by opponents for ‘drastically redistributive’. However, because persuasion can replace duress in many personal decisions, it allows market forces to be given free rein. Anyone with ability can achieve their ambitions, whatever their start in life, without anyone oppressing anyone else. The Green Party should be recruiting supporters and voters from both sides of the outdated political spectrum.
I was always uneasy about the notion of indefinite economic growth, and the 1972 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study Limits to Growth confirmed my concern, hence my involvement with the Green Party from its inception in 1973, in response to ”Limits“. Meanwhile, although I have never personally experienced poverty or the means tested benefits trap, my work as a Probation Officer (now retired) brought me forcibly into contact with these realities, and the sheer injustice of accusations that those so trapped were scroungers or benefit cheats. The graph at the top of this page is finally an official demonstration of this. It is to be found in Dynamic Benefits: towards Welfare that works published by the Centre for Social Justice on 16th September 2009. The graph shows that the withdrawal of benefits has the effect of a form of taxation on all incomes. That effect is huge on small incomes, but insignificant on large incomes. Don’t be put off by the surprising source. The Centre for Social Justice was set up by Iain Duncan Smith whilst still in opposition, and Dynamic Benefits is the foundation for his welfare reform policies, with the (mis-named) Universal Credit as its centre piece. In 2018 only a minority of the intended beneficiaries are receiving the UC, and even those who do are often dependent on food banks due to late payments. If effective, it could have been described as an emaciated version of the Basic Income. Iain Duncan Smith’s own literature can be used as a devastating expose of the effect of means testing, in direct opposition to failed government policy, in support of a Citizens’ Basic Income.
But although the Citizens’ Basic Income principle is gaining ground in Europe it is doing so purely as a social justice measure. Whilst a more equitable income distribution is important, for me an even more important function of a CBI is
To allow whole populations, as individuals, to contemplate a recession with equanimity.
This would apply whether the recession was accidental, as it always has been up to now, or a planned slowdown as proposed by Kate Raworth.. The Citizens’ Basic Income will not bring about a recession, in fact it will reduce its severity for the poor, but it will make the unthinkable thinkable, preferably before the forces driving indiscriminate growth cause an economic collapse anyway.
This blog, usually on Sunday morning will explain how the Citizens’ Basic Income could help both climate change and poverty. I shall comment on current news items to which it is relevant.
For me, ecological sustainability should be the major political issue. Recession made many people think of the economy as more important than the environment, but the global environment depends on a healthy ecosphere. To understand why intelligent humans are currently not heeding scientific warnings that we are reaching the limits of its ability to cope with the effects of increasing population times per capita consumption, Please also look at my ‘Page’ on The Tragedy of the Commons and my book résumé.
The unconditional Basic Income could offer a new opportunity for a political party with the necessary vision. I personally hope that the Green Party grasps that opportunity.
Revised April 2018