Friday, January 04, 2019

Free Money or Free Access

The first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr (573-634 CE),  introduced a guaranteed minimum standard of income, granting each man, woman, and child ten dirhams annually; this was later increased to twenty dirhams. Thomas Paine advocated a citizen's dividend to all US citizens as compensation for "loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property" (Agrarian Justice, 1795). Napoleon Bonaparte echoed Paine's sentiments and commented that 'man is entitled by birthright to a share of the Earth's produce sufficient to fill the needs of his existence'. Nevertheless, no country has actually implemented such a system nationally.

When both left and right wingers agree on an economic policy, workers should begin to worry and wonder why their exists a consensus. At present, the State already gives the poor 'free money' but conditional, means -testing on being sufficiently unfit for work or seemingly actively seeking work. Many who frequent the "progressive" websites will have encountered advocates of the Universal Basic Income. There are as many types of universal income as there are people promoting them. They differ mainly by their degree of unconditionality, their amounts, their degree of substitution for social security and their method of financing.  Such systems, even if watered down, entails the risk of lower wages. One can certainly devise unconditional income formulas that, by departing from the principle of hard unconditionality advocated by its promoters, can be conceived without affecting social protections too much. But when the Left subscribes to this perspective, it loses its compass and deserts the battlefield of the conflict between capital and labour. 

 The rise in automation and of robotics at work could lead to a large increase in unemployment, some countries and cities are experimenting with universal basic income. This replacement for in-work and unemployment benefits grants all citizens a minimum income. Why are governments and political parties considering UBI more seriously? We are entering a period when capitalism and the governments that represent its interests are increasing the rate of exploitation and reducing the level of social provision.Fearing social unrest due to unemployment and inequality there are leading businessmen who share an enthusiasm for basic income policy yet the Universal Basic Income will be no panacea and the fight decent living standards will continue out of necessity.

Those who advocate the UBI make the assumption that if the government gives everybody, working or not, a regular income this is not going to have an effect on wage levels? They seem to be assuming that this would be in addition to income from work whereas what is likely to happen is that it would exert a huge downward pressure on wages and that over time real wages would on average fall by the amount of the "basic" income. The very idea of a basic level of income is about establishing a floor and many proponents are determined to locate that floor in the basement. A low and inadequate social minimum seems to them a great way to drive people into deeper poverty. While even the best basic income policy only sets a floor below which poverty cannot fall, union militancy strengthens labour’s hand to demand ever-greater wages and better conditions. A basic income scheme will be used to undermine social and public services, and to provide a subsidy to employers that will drive down wages and workers bargaining power.

If the UBI is introduced it will be in the form that is acceptable to the ruling class and for the purpose of mitigating the cost of the up-keep of the increasing and unavoidable numbers of casualties of the class war, automation being one field of battle. The capitalists and their State need us to be impoverished, indebted and enslaved.  Would a basic income remove this or just create a new form of dependency? Any UBI will always be framed within the tight parameters that capitalism will permit a reform which will only be passed if it fits in with the agenda of the employing class, will have sufficient built-in constraints  that it will fail to satisfy the expectations and hopes of our fellow workers and as the reform was made in the name of "socialism" and promoted by those calling themselves "socialists" then the subsequent disillusionment and disappointment will not be with capitalism and the owning class but with the actual idea of socialism and those recognised to be "socialists".

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