16 January 2015

Perspective on ‘A Basic Income for Everyone is Not Affordable’ – Part 1

In my previous post I shared an article by Belgian economist Paul De Grauwe who came to the conclusion that a basic income would only work if it were limited by giving it to those who need it, rather than providing it to everyone unconditionally.

The article raised some eyebrows, but more importantly, generated cool discussion. The universal basic income concept is only one of the many basic income ideas that are suggested, discussed and promoted around the world. Ideas and concepts differ in name, in scope, in amount, in funding method, etc. – but all have the same goal in sight: to eradicate poverty, to stimulate economic growth and to secure human rights.

The Living Income Guaranteed proposal is one of these particular concepts or ideas. One of the points that sets it apart from other proposals is that it doesn’t suggest to provide a basic/living income to everyone unconditionally. Herein, I’d like to place the article by Paul De Grauwe into more perspective – or rather, the publishing of the article – I will not presume to speak in his name.

But firstly, keep in mind that the Living Income Guaranteed Proposal is not ‘against’ providing everyone with a basic income.  The consideration here is the affordability within doing so – and where affordability is theoretically possible, is it also practically feasible? The basis for the argument of universality is often found within the idea that everyone has a basic right to life, therefore everyone should receive enough money to live off. Sure, sounds good, but then we also have to consider that within the current economic model, many are able to satisfy this right for themselves adequately without the need for a supplementary income. Two other, perhaps more significant arguments, play a role within advocating unconditionality. The first consideration being the reduction of the labor force and the strengthening of the unemployment trap. If one receives a basic/living income without having to lift a finger – what is then the motivation to invest in education, develop skills and take up employment? The effects of providing a basic/living income to only those who need it then takes on an unintended punitive dimension to those who do work. Unfortunately – we have defined ‘receiving something’ as a ‘reward’ and ‘not receiving something when another does’ as a ‘punishment’. Providing a basic/living income to everyone is one way to prevent these adverse effects. The second consideration is the cost of administration. With everyone receiving a living/basic income – a check is written out to every adult citizen in the country, and that’s that – there is no bureaucratic lump-slump that is cost and time inefficient.

The Living Income Guaranteed proposal has a different suggestion to mitigate the adverse effects on employment. Rather than providing everyone with a living/basic income, the suggestions is to set the minimum wage at double the living income. Setting these conditions within the labor market makes employment attractive, because even in the lowest-paying job, one will be far better off than when living on a basic/living income.
Administration would still be simplistic as the proposal suggests, especially at on-set, to stick to providing a living income to those who are unemployed or retired. In other words – those who would usually receive ‘unemployment benefits’ or ‘pensions’ would instead receive a living income. Herein there are no strings attached from the perspective that there is no expectation that a living income recipient should find employment soon. Working/not working becomes a personal choice, but a choice that entails the consideration that when one is not economically productive, it is reflected in one’s income.

So – before looking at the affordability of a universal basic income, it is worthwhile to remember that: even if it is not affordable (in practical terms), that’s okay too – the same goals can be achieved in different ways.

In my next post I’ll lay out some concerns in relation to funding a universal basic income through tax revenue.


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