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 reasons. No one has yet thought of anything which would enable manufacturers to see manufacturing less rather than more as a viable business strategy, in tandem with maximum re-sale and repair, with recycling as a final option. 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 willencourage 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 wii occur if we dont, but this must be in conjunction with somethin which enables everyone to feel secure.
The Citizens’ Basic Income, an unconditional regular payment to everyone, can be a part of the solution to two apparently unconnected problems. I discuss a third in an update, below. 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. Find centreforsocialjustice.org.uk and click ‘Publications’. The graph shows that the withdrawal of benefits has the effect of a form of taxation on all incomes, but 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. It introduces the (mis-named) Universal Credit, which at the time of this update, August 2015, has only reached an estimated 60,000 of the more than 2 million who should qualify, and even the few who do qualify are still largely 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 period with a steady state economy. 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. Research for my book over the 18 months up to publication finally persuaded me that although the practicalities of introducing a Citizens’ Income could be achieved quite quickly, the ‘Thought Experiment’ period may take longer. It may not. It could, like not smoking in public places, or the reunification of Germany, catch on quite suddenly. Developments in Switzerland in 2013-14 may make the emergence of the Citizens’ Basic Income more imminent than previously seemed likely, and a petition for a Europe-wide Basic Income received 285,000 signatures.
For me, ecological sustainability should be the major political issue. Due to the recession, many people think the economy is 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, I recommend a look at the ‘Tragedy of the Commons, and my book resume next. This article, which appeared in the Financial Times after the climate conference in Warsaw, November 2013 reinforces my line of reasoning:
But I now realize that no political party, even the Green Party, dare advocate some ideas until they have first gone through the thought experiment phase.
Update September 2015
This is being written 5 months after the conservative election victory, and Jeremy Corbyn, the most indisciplined MP in the Parliamentary Labour Party, has just been elected, with 59% of the vote on the first ballot, as Labour Party leader. Although taking everyone by surprise, wisdom after the event shows that he is patently genuine, and he is at the heart of an anti-austerity movement which held a massive demonstration in June in London. Although posts in this blog demonstrate that I fully sympathise with the reasons for, and the aims of that movement, I believe that without the Basic Income at its core, or something which has the same effect, it will fail. It fails to recognize the central importance of means testing. The majority not hurt by the erosion of the welfare state thoroughly approve of measures to reduce benefits.
This brings to the fore the need for what I had regarded as a long term effect of the Basic Income, the unifying of former tribal enemies. It 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, as I explain in blog posts. There have always been ‘right wing’ proponents, but as long as the Basic Income, or indeed the political landscape generally, is approached from a tribal perspective, each side will suspect that it may do more for the ‘enemy’. There are those who say, for example “Milton Friedman was in favour of it, so there must be something wrong with it.” I have hinted, and from now on must strenuously argue, that the Green Party should be recruiting supporters and voters from both sides of the outdated political spectrum. ‘Market forces’ ceases to be an enemy idea. It means that anyone with ability can achieve their ambitions, whatever their start in life, without anyone oppressing anyone else.
This offers a new opportunity for a political party with the necessary vision. The Basic Income has been Green Party policy since that Party’s inception in 1973, but due to the Party’s ‘left wing’ complexion, many members have never fully understood it. It was Liberal Democrat policy from 1990 until 1994, in different economic conditions. Corbyn appears not to understand it any better, though Richard Murphy is an interesting choice as his economic adviser. An even longer shot would be a Conservative revolt led by Zac Goldsmith, but do not hold your breath.