Basic Income Makes Headway at the World Social Forum 2016 in Montreal
12 SEPTEMBER 2016
The MFRB-RBQ organizing team: Aurélie Hampel, Carole Fabre, Christian Massault, Damien Vasse, Nicole Teke, Sylvie Denisse, Luc Gosselin, Louise Allaire, Lenny Watson and Sylvia Bissonette.
Basic Income Québec (RBQ) and the French Movement for a Basic Income (MFRB) had been preparing for the World Social Forum (WSF) event for almost a year. Their efforts paid off – the activities organized by the France-Québec team were an unmitigated success. For the first time ever, basic income achieved prominence at WSF, reflecting the growing worldwide interest in the idea.
A successful opening march with basic income robots that did not go unnoticed
The six members of the MFRB delegation teamed up with their counterparts of RBQ in order to organize several initiatives centered on basic income at the WSF in Montreal.
The event included scholarly presentations on the theme of “how a universal, sufficient and unconditional basic income could help us all — women and men — have richer choices about how to live our lives creatively and with greater equality,” followed by open discussion and strategizing about how to advance the cause of basic income in Ireland.
The keynote speaker was Barb Jacobson of Basic Income UK, who spoke about the historical roots of the idea of universal basic income — deriving from the works of Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke — and described her experience with the UK’s Wages for Housework Campaign, which was part of a global movement that emerged during the 1970s.
Responses were presented by Ursula Barry (lecturer and researcher in Women’s Studies at University College Dublin) and Shane Fitzgerald (organizer of the We’re Not Leaving campaign, representing students, interns, and the young unemployed).
Barry spoke about feminist views for and against basic income. Eileen Boyle, a Basic Income Ireland member who attended the forum, recollects:
Some feminist arguments believe that basic income could further silence women and lock them Into their household roles. In particular what emerged for me from Ursula’s considered presentation was how basic income can be regarded as one of the necessary transformational steps (when combined with many others) which would address gender differences in society.
Next, Fitzgerald related his personal journey through college and work as a young adult, explaining how a basic income could have helped him and other youth in similar situations.
Photo from Eileen Boyle
During the open discussion, more than 40 audience members formed groups in which they defined their own topics and tasks. According to Boyle’s report, topics ranged from “how to take advantage of the current political scene in Ireland” to “basic income as part of a basic ‘dignity’ movement” to “basic income and the money system in general.”
One group worked on composing “a succinct statement about basic income that people could be asked to endorse.”
Finally, as Boyle relates, the event concluded with “the chorus of two songs coined by one group to celebrate the undoubted benefits of a Basic Income…….having ‘a few bob in her pocket’.”
Would an unconditional basic income save democracy or breed laziness?
The idea of a living wage has been around since the 1700s, but Switzerland is set to put it to a vote next year
BY JOE HUMPHREYS
Enno Schmidt, of the Swiss Basic Income campaign, who had eight million coins dumped at the Swiss parliament to launch a referendum bid
Switzerland, the home of Sepp Blatter and more secret bank accounts than you can shake a slab of Emmental at, is an unlikely trailblazer for equality. But next year one of the world’s richest countries will have a chance to become Europe’s first to introduce a basic income for all its citizens.
The notion of a basic income – a living wage provided by the state to every adult, regardless of whether they’re in employment – has been knocking about since the 16th century, with little traction.
Progressive thinkers such as Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell were fans but, in every age, predictable objections kicked in: it would be too expensive; it would be open to abuse; it would make people lazy.
European campaigners are now trying to demolish these arguments one by one in the public mind. The system would cost “roughly the same as existing social-welfare benefits”, which it would replace, says Basic Income Ireland.
It also eliminates the whole concept of claimant fraud, reducing bureaucracy and freeing people to do “care work and creative work” as well as taking a salaried job.
As for turning citizens into sloths: “No, I think the current system is driving many people into laziness,” says Enno Schmidt, a visual artist-turned-activist who is visiting Ireland this week to support the campaign.
“Laziness is a healthy reaction towards things whose meaning one does not see and does not want to do. With the basic income no one has to be lazy. You also no longer have excuses why you do not do what you really want to do.”
Schmidt is one of the instigators of the Swiss Basic Income campaign. Launching the referendum bid, he organised the dumping of eight million coins – one for each citizen – outside the Swiss parliament - although the Swiss government has already stated its opposition.
It claims the introduction of a basic income would lead to low-paid jobs disappearing or being transferred abroad, as well as considerable rises in taxes.
Blind to status
Under the referendum proposal, every citizen would be guaranteed a yearly income of 30,000 Swiss francs (€29,000), regardless of other wealth or employment. The payment is blind to status, and would be made to stay-at-home carers and fat-cat bankers alike.
For Schmidt, a painter, documentary-maker and sculptor, the campaign has an unashamedly creative dimension. “Of course, artists are generally not the most qualified to design economic policy,” he says. “However, the so-called professionals are not always the best qualified . . . Some of them are blind, others are cowards and only interested in their careers.”
Ultimately, though, basic income is “not about artists or economic policy; it is about all of us . . . So much is done today only because you need an income, and not because it really corresponds to one’s own responsibilities.”
He believes basic income has an historical dimension akin to “the advent of democracy, the abolition of slavery, the introduction of human rights or the Christianisation of Europe by Irish monks”.
“In Europe and the US, democracy is being dismantled. People are deprived of their rights. There is a growing oligarchy. An unconditional basic income gives democracy a fresh breeze, refreshes human rights and empowers people. In the wage-depending [economy], a residual of the mentality of slavery lives on. I sell my lifetime for a certain time; in return, I have free time. That has nothing to do with work and the meaning of work but with disciplining and power over others.”
Although Switzerland’s public mood has tilted slightly to the left following the 2008 financial crisis, the German-born Schmidt admits it will be a struggle to get the referendum passed. “But if 30 per cent will vote for it, that is already a success and will move and change a lot in Switzerland and abroad.”
Partial basic-income schemes have been introduced in a handful of locations, including Brazil and Alaska. And Basic Income Ireland, whose membership is drawn mainly from academia and community development organisations, believes the time is right for such a scheme here.
A study by Dr Micheál Collins of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, Dublin, indicates that paying a basic income of €32.33 a week to everyone aged up to 17; €188 a week (the equivalent of the current job seekers’ allowance) to all adults; and the usual contributory State pension to those over 65 would cost €27.9 billion a year. This compares to last year’s Social Protection budget of €20.3 billion.
However, a basic income would generate administrative savings of an estimated €100 million, says Dr Collins, as well as a boost in domestic consumption, equivalent to at least 5 per cent of the annual cost of the basic income.
Whichever way the costs are worked out, Schmidt says the key thing is to break the link between work and income. This will help individuals, and society, to value things that don’t carry a price tag.
Returning to his own experience, he admits it might have been easier to stay as a non-politicised artist, but he felt “the medium of painting was no longer sufficient”.
He spent time working in commerce and studied the banking system, and “in the idea of the unconditional basic income, for me, it all comes together”.
In art and society, what is most lacking, he says, is for people to perceive themselves other than just as “paid functions”.
Enno Schmidt and Che Wagner are Swiss Basic Income campaigners. Visit basicincomeireland.com
Political philosopher John Baker makes the case for ‘equality of condition’ and a basic income
by Joe Humphres
The economic collapse has revived the fortunes of equality, a principle once scoffed at by ruling politicians.
The French economist Thomas Piketty is topping the best-sellers list with his grim analysis of modern capitalism. By delving into the data behind inequality, he has done the same sort of damage to our faith in the markets as social scientists Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett did to our faith in meritocracy through their book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.
Such research provides fresh momentum to an age-old, egalitarian cause. But what exactly is the philosophical justification for equality? And how “equal” should we strive to become?
Political philosopher John Baker, who taught in UCD for more than 35 years, helping to found both its Equality Studies Centre in 1990 and its School of Social Justice in 2005, has been writing and thinking about equality since long before it became fashionable. And today he is involved in the Basic Income Ireland campaign, which seeks to challenge the status quo in a very practical way.
In a Socratic spirit, he suggests that you should take your lead not from any ideological standpoint but from a careful examination of your own beliefs, and thus he provides today’s idea: Once you endorse any kind of equality, there is a logic that pushes you to endorse equality of condition.
What do you mean by equality? John Baker: “There are several different definitions or what philosophers call conceptions of equality. The one I prefer is the idea of ‘equality of condition’, which means that people should be relatively equally well off in terms of the social conditions of their lives.
“Those conditions include not just their incomes and other material things, but also the respect they have from others, their power in society, the love and care they experience and have the opportunity to give to others, and the quality of their working and learning experiences.”
What’s the best argument for equality? “I’m not sure that it is all a matter of argument, because most people’s belief in equality comes from their recognition of the value of other human beings, and I’m not sure that you can argue anyone into that if they don’t get it already. Once you do see others as valuable, then it’s hard to come up with any argument to show that they are any less valuable than you are or that their lives matter any less.
“And if their lives matter as much as yours, then you are very much on the road to the conclusion that the conditions in which they live their lives should be no worse than the conditions in which you live yours.”
Is egalitarianism a fixed, or universal, belief system? “Since there are several different conceptions of equality, the real question here is which of these is the best one to believe in. My view is that once you endorse any kind of equality, there is a logic that pushes you to the more radical idea of equality of condition.
“For example, suppose you think that everyone has certain very basic human rights, which is itself an egalitarian idea. Once you start thinking about how inequalities of condition contribute to the violation of those rights, you are on the path to equality of condition.”
Is it sustainable to advocate equality in a whole range of things at once? Equality in opportunity, for example, would seem to involve inequality in income. “Generally, my view is that the different elements of the egalitarian programme are consistent with each other, so there is no theoretical problem with advocating equality across a whole range of issues. There are also practical advantages in working with a range of issues. For one thing, it helps in trying to build coalitions of all the social groups that do badly from inequality. For another, it emphasises the links between, for example, inequality of resources and inequality of respect.
“On the specific issue of equal opportunity, it all depends on what you mean by equal opportunity. If all you mean is that people shouldn’t be discriminated against in certain ways in the competition to climb ladders of inequality, then that idea is premised on there being substantial inequality of condition and there’s a clear distinction between two conceptions of equality.
“But if you understand equal opportunity in a deeper way, to mean that people’s lives should not be held back by the circumstances of their birth, then it’s clear that that’s only possible in a society where the circumstances that people are born in and brought up in are relatively equal.”
Campaigners have latched on to The Spirit Level as strengthening the cause of egalitarianism, but isn’t there a risk to lending the book’s arguments such weight? What if research emerged showing unequal societies delivered better health, education or economic outputs? Does the argument for equality then fall?
“I agree with your point here. The core case for equality is not based on the overall social effects of inequality on health, education and so on, but on the idea that every one of us should have the prospect of a good life. But the social science here isn’t irrelevant to the case for equality.
“For example, for generations the opponents of equality have argued that inequality is good for society as a whole, primarily because it fosters economic growth that benefits everyone. The real power of Wilkinson and Pickett, in my view, is that it exposes that argument as baseless.”
Have people universal entitlements, and if so, on what basis? “I think it is widely agreed that people have universal entitlements to a lot of different things, like the right to vote, the right to free speech, access to clean water and sanitation, protection by the police and the courts, a decent education, and so on. It’s a natural extension of those ideas to say that everyone should have enough income to live a decent life – what’s called a basic income.”
How would such a scheme be funded? “Basic income is actually much less costly than it may appear to be. In terms of income, for most people, you can think of basic income as just a different way of classifying their income. The big difference from the present system is that basic income is nearly unconditional, based only on residence requirements. That gives people a lot more freedom to move out of, but also into, paid employment.”
Basic Income Ireland is holding a summer forum on Saturday, June 7 (1pm-5pm) at Carmelite Community Centre, Aungier Street, Dublin 2. More information at basicincomeireland.com
ASK A SAGE
Question: Where can I find today’s Socrates?
José Mourinho replies: “At this moment, football is full of philosophers . . . people with fantastic theories and philosophies. It’s amazing. But the reality is always the reality.”
TAIWAN: Basic Income is feasible and an imperative
Written by Juku Shenguang: Founder, Vice-president and Secretary-General of Global Basic Income Social Welfare Promotion Association in Taiwan.
Translated by Tyler Prochazka
The Unconditional Basic Income has been springing up around the world as a new human rights movement, protecting everyone’s fundamental right to life. In addition to basic human rights, traditional Chinese Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism shows us the fundamental nature of humanity is good, in that all beings originally are Buddhas, all are endowed with Buddha nature (1), so each human being deserves equal respect and care. The Unconditional Basic Income is a manifestation of this ideology of benevolence.
Around 2,300 years ago, China’s Mencius wrote in King Hui of Liang, due to a lack of constant property, the common people also lack unwavering perseverance. This will lead to a dissipation of propriety, causing a tide of lawlessness. Waiting until a citizen breaks the law, and utilizing punishment to handle him is essentially like using a fishing net to ensnare the populace. How can a benevolent monarch think this type of policy can be put into practice? As such, a wise monarch will formulate property for the people, giving them the ability to serve their parents and provide for their spouse and children. During a year of prosperity, a family can eat well and during years of shortages, they can still avoid starvation. Then enlightenment can be put into practice, urging the populace to perform good deeds, making it easier for them to follow the enlightenment. This is what Mencius meant when he said “Establishing property of the people, make them have sufficient food and clothing; first support (the people), then teach (the people).”
Thus, each of the basic income experiments around the world allow us to realize that after a person receives a guarantee for their livelihood, crime goes down, educational outcomes go up, economies grow, physical and spiritual health improves, families and societies become more harmonious, and parents have more time to accompany and take care of their children. Society is created by each family unity. Creating more harmonious families will make a more harmonious and safe society. In today’s turbulent world, implementing a UBI is of the utmost importance.
Inspired by the news surrounding Switzerland’s basic income referendum, this February I worked with the respected teacher Chunchi Tsao, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, to start a new organization Global Basic Income Social Welfare Promotion Association in Taiwan. On Facebook, I recruited 30 people to found the organization to apply through the government to become an official organization. I hope that we can cooperate with the global movement to push the basic income, free education, social housing, free vegetarian restaurants for environmental protection, etc. in order to implement social welfare.
The honorary president of our association, Taiwan University’s School of Law European Union Law Research Center (EULRC) Dr. Lukas Lien said, “When the country’s founder, Dr. Sun Yatsen said ‘of the people, by the people, for the people,’ the genuine meaning was a country of social welfare, instead of the Nationalist KMT party’s idea of exploiting the people. No. The real meaning is to give all of the resources to the people and then the government can attain so-called legitimacy. Otherwise what can they rely on for legitimacy to levy taxes? The purpose of taxes is for educating the people, ensuring everyone has food, clothing, housing, transportation, and then the most important element is ensuring the most basic right to life. In German it is not called UBI. It is called the most fundament, the most basic right to life. That is to say, at the very least, is that no matter the circumstances, no one will face starvation.”
The purpose of government’s existence is to take care of the people. If a government does not take care of the people’s food, clothing, shelter, education and their fundament right to life, then a government is no longer needed, and in fact no longer has legitimacy to levy taxes and legislate to regulate the people. Since ancient times, both the East and the West have followed the ideology: “The will of the people is the will of Heaven,” and “The people are God.” The Book of History puts forward “Heaven sees what the people see, Heaven hears what the people hear,” and “That which the people desire, Heaven must abide by.” In Latin it is, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei”, or “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Dr. Lien also quotes the last Pope: “because all are created in the image of god, so we must protect people, in the same way that we protect the image of God. In his Christian Socialism course, Dr. Lien quotes Matthew 25 verse 31-46, the story of the judgement day: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” That is to say, we push for the basic income in order to push for world peace.
The practical way to achieve this is through the basic income, free education, and social housing as social welfare protections in the constitution and legislation. Educate the people about the ideology and law behind these basic rights is the first obligation. Revolution has to start from the mind. Once the people have the understanding of the ideology and law, then we will be able to choose and create a government of benevolence, as well as understand how to use legislation to push for these social benefits.
Collecting the revenue for the basic income has many different methods, for example taxes and printing money, cutting and integrating general welfare spending, generating profits or raising money. As science and technology continues to progress, humanity can already gradually use automation and robots to substitute human labor. This will give people more time and energy to pursue artistic and creative endeavors, entrepreneurship, spiritual development and realize their own dreams.
Our organization already conceived of some methods to fund the basic income: develop autonomous robotic national industries in order to produce food and other necessities and allocate the profits to all people. The American economist Milton Friedman 1969 popularized the satirical idea of throwing cash from helicopters and letting people collect it. In reality, the Central Bank could print money and directly give it to the entire population. In the second year, the basic income could be matched with a consumption tax and some of the money that was issued could be absorbed back into government coffers. From this, an uninterrupted source of finances could supply the revenue for the unconditional basic income to smoothly operate over the long-term. Certainly, there are many more methods for financing the UBI, which could all be properly tuned and applied.
Universal unconditional basic income is not only feasible; it is an imperative.
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