Basic Income and the commonwealth

The Charter of the Forest granted rights that enabled people to sustain themselves from the commonwealth. How can this right to sustenance now be applied during our time, when access to the basic needs such as food and housing are increasingly under threat? Solutions such as Basic Income offer a contemporary way of sharing the wealth of the commons with all.

The Charter of the Forest granted rights that enabled people to sustain themselves from the commonwealth. How can this right to sustenance now be applied during our time, when access to the basic needs such as  food and housing are increasingly under threat? Solutions such as Basic Income offer a contemporary way of sharing the wealth of the commons with all.

Below is an introduction to Basic Income by Guy Standing,  taken from a longer report linked to at the end.

What is basic income? At its core, it would be a modest regular payment to each individual to help them feel more secure and able to purchase necessities for living. There is nothing in the concept itself to say how much it should be and nothing to say it should be paid instead of any other policy or that it should be financed by a steep rise in income tax, although obviously the funds would have to come from somewhere.

Of course, at some stage an advocate has to say how much should be paid, why it is desirable and even necessary, what are the answers to commonly-stated objections, and how it could be afforded. Answering these points is one objective of this report and the background research that preceded it.There are many reasons for wanting a basic income system, some uniquely modern, some that stem from way back in our history, first enunciated in The Charter of the Forest of 1217,one of the two foundational documents of the British Constitution, the other being the Magna Carta, sealed on the same day. The Charter asserted that everybody had a right of subsistence, realisable in and through the commons. This is a human or citizenship right, not something dependent on specific behaviour or some indicator of merit-worthiness.The primary justifications for a basic income are ethical or moral, not instrumental. It is first and foremost a matter of social justice. The wealth and income of all of us are far more due to the efforts and achievements of the many generations who came before us than to what we do ourselves, and if we accept the practice of private inheritance, as all governments have done, giving a lot of ‘something for nothing’ to a minority, then we should honour the principle of social inheritance.

If one is religious, one can say that God gives the wealth of the planet to all of us and also gives us unequal talents, so that a basic income would be a compensatory adjustment. If one accepts the existence of the commons –the common resources bequeathed to us as society, natural or social in origin –then one should accept that over the centuries–and savagely during the austerity era–there has been organised plunder of the commons by privileged private interests at the cost of all of us as commoners.Seen in this way, those who have gained from being given,or who have taken,the commons should compensate the commoners in general for the loss.As we are all commoners, the compensation should be paid to all equally and without behavioural conditions.Since the ultimate commons is the land, and as Thomas Paine was the author who most captured this justification, we might call this the Painian Principle.

A second ethical justification is that, however modest the amount, a basic income would enhance personal and community freedom. It would strengthen the ability of people to say ‘no’ to exploitative or oppressive employers and to continuation of abusive personal relationships, and it would strengthen what is often called republican freedom, the ability to make decisions without having to ask permission from persons in positions of power. It would not do all that wholly, but would be a move in that direction. One way of putting it is that the emancipatory value of a basic income would be greater than its money value, which is the opposite of most social policies.

The third ethical justification is that it would provide every recipient, and their families and communities, with basic security. Security is a natural public good –you having it does not deprive me of it, and we all gain if others have it too. Whereas too much security can induce ‘carelessness’ and indolence, unless someone has basic security, the ability to make rational decisions diminishes and health is threatened. We will come back to that. A basic income would also strengthen social solidarity, because it would be an expression that we are all part of a national community sharing the benefits of the national public wealth created over our collective history. It is essential to revive that, since in recent decades, there has been an erosion of social solidarity linked to excessive individualism and competition.Although a basic income would be paid individually, it is not individualistic, because it is universal and equal, in stark contrast to means-tested social assistance or tax credits.

This report, requested as a contribution to policy development by the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, begins by defining a basic income, then considers the unique combination of pressures that make it almost imperative for any progressive or ecologically principled government to wish to implement it. The report recognises that a system with a basic income at its base would represent a principled reversal of the trend towards means-testing, behaviour-testing and sanctions that has evolved into Universal Credit. Accordingly, it includes a critique of that alternative, along with a critique of similar directions taken with regard to disability benefits.It continues by briefly considering the main objections that have been made to basic income, and then turns to the main objective of the report, namely the proposal for the next government to implement a series of pilots, or experiments, to determine if a basic income would have the anticipated beneficial effects, if it would have any negative effects, what would make a basic income function optimally, and what indirect effects could be anticipated if implemented nationally.

Undertaking pilots would not necessarily commit the government to rolling out a basic income system, but would inform public debate on its potential, the feedback effects and the likely economic and social implications. To be clear from the outset, this report advocates a strategy with the following features:

1.It would reduce poverty and inequality substantially and sustainably.
2.It would make nobody in the bottom half of the income distribution system worse off.
3.It would enhance economic security across the country.
4.It would not involve any dramatic increase in income taxation.
5.It would not involve any dismantling of public social services, and would be compatible with a strategy to achieve public service regeneration, desperately needed in the wake of the savage austerity era.
6.It would reduce the number of people dependent on, and subject to, means-testing and behaviour-testing.
7.It would contribute positively to the urgent fight against ecological decay.

Guy Standing is co-founder and now honorary co-president of BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network), and Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London

More here:

Basic Income as Common Dividends: Piloting a Transformative Policy






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