Solution 2: Citizen’s Income

The first task of Neosufficency is to create a safe, stable income platform upon which a new type of  economy can be built – and we dealt with this at length in Enough is Enough (EiE). (The second task is, of course, to control externalities – see Damage Taxes).

The current system not only elevates some far above their true worth to society, but also dashes people who could be making a useful contribution to the bottom of the cliff.

Max Frish

And literally speaking, many earn a completely unacceptable amount.

Tepper

Cartoon by Polyp – who did the cartoons for Enough is Enough

Natalie Bennett’s suggestion in EiE of setting a percentage differential between the minimum and maximum incomes paid out by any one endeavour makes perfect sense to me. It leaves plenty of room for chimp-style motivation and self-advancement (see above), while preventing the system from becoming an externalised mess.

Max+Min

And it makes equal sense to reduce the working week to a social norm of around 21 hours.

Rats

Of course you can never legislate against people working overtime or having more than one job, but you can make it the legal maximum before overtime. It would have to be phased in as Dan suggests in EiE, but this would change the status quo very quickly. (The New Economics Foundation have some excellent thinking on this).

The book of Enough is Enough sets out many more credible suggestions for the advancement of Neosufficiency than we had time for in the film – but there’s one idea that I don’t feel was given as much attention in the book at it deserves, so I’d like to correct that here.

Green leafline

Citizen’s or Basic or Universal Income

The current UK tax, pensions and benefits system – balanced, as it now is, on the casino banking pyramid – is clearly unsustainable.

The belief that all affluent baby-boomers should be able, as of right, to retire early and spend the next 20 years jetting round the world consuming without contribution has been as big a driver in the overheating of our debt-based economy as advertising or externalised purchasing. (And non-mutual mortgages, secured for profit rather than for shelter, only rub salt into the wound).

Meanwhile we have a benefits system which simultaneously traps people into poverty and removes both dignity and any desire for self improvement.

I believe that the Citizen’s Income (CI) may well be the solution. 

Clive Lord (who lives here in Leeds) was one of the very early (or even original) pioneers of this idea, and his reissued  book  on the topic is highly recommended – as is his blog.

Citizen's Income cartoon leaflet, website image

CI is “an unconditional, nonwithdrawable income, for every individual – as a right of citizenship”

Here’s a good article about it: Technological Inheritance and the Case for a Basic Income or try this.

At first glance it seems hopelessly utopian and unsupportable financially, but there are plenty who disagree.

Recently the news has been full of stories about states or cities who are experimenting with, or considering, varieties of CI, for example this in The Conversation“Experiments are either getting underway or have taken place in parts of Canada, Finland, India and the Netherlands. Now Scotland could become the first part of the UK to trial such a system. Fife and Glasgow councils have both held discussions recently, while a new body, Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland, has launched. Scotland is at a useful crossroads for such an experiment because it will soon have a new social security system after a number of benefits are devolved from London over the next couple of years. The citizens’ basic income has long been a policy of the Scottish Greens, but political support has been widening this year after the SNP voted in favour of a motion supporting it at their spring conference.”

Let me deal with the advantages as I see them first.

Advantage 1 CI would be much cheaper and easier to administer than the current system.

The removal of the means testing associated with benefits will reduce costs and free up labour, permitting both to be invested more productively elsewhere.

Advantage 2 CI will lead to the creation of many more businesses and jobs – which should please both the left and the right.

At the moment there is a dead band between benefits-only income, and means-tested earnings of sufficient worth to make work a logical choice. It’s simply not reasonable to expect people on benefits to seek work unless it will be sufficiently well paid to replace and substantially improve on their state-funded income. And of course most entry-level employment these days is in the gig economy which at the bottom of the scale means zero hours contracts and borderline hourly rates, to the extent that huge numbers have to go on claiming means-tested benefits even when working. And Universal Benefits are still means tested.

A central tenet of CI is that it MUST be free of means testing to work. It is the absence of a means test that allows people to take jobs that are suitable to them as individuals, at an appropriate time in their lives, without worrying about loss of benefits. You can do as little or as much as your skills and circumstances permit, while still having the safety net of basic food and shelter. This creates a natural and available continuum of commitment; from purely volunteering at one end, through minimal hours in paid work, towards more conventional employment patterns  with overtime if you want and can get it, or – if you are an entrepreneur perhaps – working flat out to make a success or your endeavour.

When I was a freelance TV director with Yorkshire Television in the 90s they kept allocating crews to me who were about to be made redundant – as most were then. Understandably, these guys (they were mainly male) who’d enjoyed very generous terms thanks to the huge power of the broadcasting unions and so had expensive commitments, were very worried indeed about entering the freelance world. However, as someone who’d been pretty much self-employed my whole adult life (still am, really – I think of my university work as an important hobby!) I was able to explain that when you work for yourself you pay yourself in time as much as money. Yes, you do have to get your outgoings under control, and that can be traumatic if you have a huge mortgage (as many TV people did), but it wouldn’t kill you. Once you’d got your life on a sensible footing you could work flat out when the work was there, and then afford to do other things when it wasn’t. Most of the best things in my life have been achieved unpaid or for much less money than most would require. (Ok, I was born very lucky, but time IS as valuable as money, trust me).

So, if we do manage to move to a Neosufficient world, it will become the norm to measure one’s self worth by your contribution to society (and the personal benefits that flow from that), rather than by your income (Bonobo thinking). With a CI safety net in place, there’s no longer any need for a minimum or living wage, because the state is guaranteeing both – effectively helping to finance small business start-ups without any need for loans or supervision. This is a very Tory concept, and it works. Many of the new small businesses will stay small, but if they have good enough ideas and work hard they can and will grow – employing more people, and paying better wages as they do.

Advantage 3 CI will secure workers rights (there’s one for the Left), while introducing a genuinely merit-based and free employment market (for the Right).

Under CI, work ceases to be a survival strategy, so anyone who does not enjoy their job can just walk out. Therefore the proper value of the job must now be agreed by negotiation between employer and employee. This could be set at any level from pro bono(bo?) / volunteering or some form of barter, to very high stakes – according to the skills of the employee, the unpleasantness of the job, and the importance and/or success of the venture. So workers will now have a proper stake in the business rather than mere wage-bondage. If a business requires people to undertake unpleasant jobs then they will have to incentivise people to do them by paying well – or develop machines to do it instead (thus, again, encouraging more start-ups). Jobs such as sewage work suddenly need to be highly paid, whereas nice, intrinsically rewarding jobs like, err – university lecturer, will become lower paid. Of course skills and education will still be important, especially at the upper end of the job market, but in the band between the current benefits system (which includes jobs supported by the state), and the current low-waged sector, a new entrepreneurial freedom emerges.

Populaton
source

OK, now the objections.

Objection 1 Opponents usually ask; with a guaranteed living wage for everyone, who would ever bother to work?

Well, the answer is almost everyone. The key is to set CI low – a little way below the current level of the State Pension, probably. CI needs to function as a permanent dole, high enough to live on without luxuries, but low enough to encourage people to go out and find work. Once they’re in work they can then apply themselves and gain skills to earn more money – as people usually do want to do. Don’t forget, there are many other benefits to employment than just a wage: Job satisfaction, social interaction, contribution to society, status and – of course – the opportunity for both personal and financial self-improvement. (Again, very Tory).

Objection 2 But could we afford it?

Well, bear in mind that we currently do – rather randomly and very inefficiently – provide a lot of state support to the population, though benefits, pensions and, of course, tax relief. Most of these would be dismantled as no longer necessary with CI, and I’m advised that this alone would come very close to paying for a universal CI. But we are not getting rid of Income Tax. You would start paying income tax as soon as you started to earn a penny. But it would begin with a fractional amount – certainly not enough to discourage people from going out to work. And people should not mind paying this small tax so much, because they themselves would be beneficiaries of it – and that would include the highest paid mogul in the land. Remember that in a Neosufficent society, much of the tax revenue comes from damage not income taxes, so we can all now choose how to spend our money much more responsibly. And good, healthy, local food would be virtually tax free. QED.

Objection 3 But what about people who can’t work because of age or disability?

Of course, it would not be fair to force these to subsist on CI alone, so top-ups would be necessary for sickness benefit, state pension, and – probably – differences in regional economies – and yes, means testing would be needed here. But alongside CI this would be a much smaller and simpler system than the status quo. The amounts paid, being only top-ups to the CI, would be relatively small, so much easier to set and monitor. And people could still have private pensions or health care if they choose to – but these would be subject to the same damage taxes as everything else, so – with the externalities of the current system removed – only good and fair options would be available. 

Objection 4 And how do you stop people just having huge families and so becoming professional parents?

Yes – that’s a fair challenge, and the solution is not likely to go down well (we’re back to hardcore Chimp thinking here, or even Lion).  Clive Lord suggests, and I reluctantly agree, that large families will have to be discouraged, not just for the above reason but because we also need urgently to reign in population growth as fast as possible without adopting draconian measures like the Chinese one child policy. So CI will have to tail off with each successive baby. The first would receive a fair percentage of an adult CI, and that percentage then dwindles with each successive birth, until having more kids actually becomes a financial burden. (Adopted children could perhaps receive a higher CI to promote the rehousing of climate migrant children – of whom we can expect many).

Recently the Tories suggested that child tax credits should be limited to two children, and this produced a howl of anger from people furious at the suggestion that any child should be deemed more valuable than any other. But that only applies if your paradigm insists on associating the money with the individual. In the wild, all creatures have two basic reproductive strategies: Have as many young as possible and accept that many or even most will perish (this has even been the human strategy in times gone by), or assess the limits of your ecological niche, and limit your reproduction accordingly. The latter is, for the time being anyway, our only option. So we will need to learn to see our social income as such; set according to the needs of the family, not the individual. (Children in social care would probably receive a special top-up). There would be nothing to stop people having bigger families, just as there’s nothing to stop people buying expensive things, but they would have to be sure that they could earn enough on top of their combined CI to afford them, and behave accordingly. I think that’s fair enough.

There would be implications around divorce, and the death of a carer which might need some additional measures, but I believe that this system would tend to strengthen family bonds and encourage more responsible parenting – again, very Tory.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and discussing with colleagues. It’s whacky, but the more I’ve thought, the more convinced I’ve become that Citizen’s Income not only could work – it has to.

Green leafline

Thought for Food (and other damage taxes)

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