Global Basic Income, what is it?

Reprinted from here. DO read the comments on this article by serendipity because that’s where the action is :))

Basic: a basic income is a guaranteed minimum income. On top of this ‘basic’ minimum people can earn an income by working, just as they do now. A basic income constitutes the basis of a social security system and is supplemented by social insurances and other benefits for sickness, unemployment, and so on.

A full basic income guarantees everyone the means to fulfil basic needs. These include, first of all, the fundamental survival needs: clean water, food, clothing, shelter and primary health care. Most people will agree that education is also a basic necessity. What other needs are basic depends, among other things, on climatic conditions and cultural values.

A Global Basic Income (GBI) will have to be introduced gradually, starting, for example, with an amount of $10 a month. This means that a family of five would get $50 a month. As an intermediate goal we propose a GBI of $1 dollar a day in 2015, in addition to the Millennium Development Goals of the UN. This would end the extreme poverty of the 1 billion people in the world that are now living on less than $1 a day.

Unconditional: a basic income is given to people without an obligation to work. It is also given regardless of wealth and income. There are no preconditions. Every human being is entitled to a basic income by right of birth.

To each person: a basic income is given to each person individually and the level does not depend on living conditions.

Children: everyone is entitled to a basic income from birth or from a certain age onwards. We advocate a basic income from birth, because millions of children in this world are most in need of adequate means for their basic needs.

Global: a GBI is a basic income for all people in all countries. A GBI can be introduced after all countries have come to an agreement within the framework of the United Nations. For the actual distribution of a GBI a new international institute can be created under the umbrella of the United Nations. Another possibility would be that all countries take upon themselves the responsibility to give each of their citizens a basic income in accordance with the internationally agreed upon standards and guidelines.

These definitions of a basic income will probably raise a lot of questions. Why are people entitled to a basic income without an obligation to work? (How) can a GBI be financed? What about the fact that a GBI might lead to population growth, if it is also given to children? These and other questions will be addressed below and on the FAQ page.

The above corresponds with the definition of basic income by BIEN, the global network on basic income: “A basic income is an income unconditionally granted to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement.” This notion of a basic income was first formulated by Joseph Charlier in 1848. In the past decades, basic income has predominantly been discussed as a reform proposal for the social security systems of the rich, industrial countries. Read more on the website of BIEN: History of basic income.

When discussing a GBI, the question is whether such an individual, unconditional basic income is the best solution in all countries and circumstances. Maybe a GBI should be introduced differently in some countries because of economic circumstances and/or cultural values and habits.

Why a Global Basic Income?

I. Compassion shouldn’t stop at borders

More than a billion people in our world suffer from extreme poverty and more than 800 million are chronically undernourished. [See: Facts & figures] Neither the societies we live in nor the world community as a whole guarantee everyone the means to fulfil basic needs. We believe they should. First and foremost out of compassion, a compassion without which all morality is empty. Such basic feeling of human solidarity shouldn’t stop at country borders.

We live in a rich world with a lot of natural resources and economic wealth. We pride ourselves about our scientific knowledge and our technological abilities. At the same time we are not able to guarantee every child enough to eat. Each day thousands of children die from malnutrition. There is no excuse for this. We must make it our priority to guarantee every man, woman and child enough means for basic necessities.

II. To regulate the global market

Secondly, we need a global system of social security to regulate the global market. We believe in a society based on freedom and this includes a free market economy, where people are free to produce, trade and consume goods and services. However, the freedom of some should not harm others. If the global market is governed only by its own principles of competition, profit and growth, it will be destructive to people and nature. We need an international framework of rules, arrangements and institutions that ensures that the outcomes of global competition serve the interests of all people and that protects nature and environment.

III. To raise global awareness

A third reason for advocating a GBI is that a strong increase in global awareness is necessary to solve the problems that humanity is facing. We will not be able to reach international agreement on effective policies to make this world a safe place and to protect nature and environment, as long as we are strongly divided by country borders and the gap between rich and poor. The introduction of a GBI would be an important declaration of human solidarity and then, once it is introduced, it would itself constantly advance the awareness that we are one humanity, living on one planet.

Why a basic income?

Other global rules or systems of social security than a basic income are possible. However, no other system guarantees basic economic security to all people in such an unconditional and straightforward way.

Apart from the specific reasons for a Global Basic Income that are mentioned above, the arguments that support pleas for a basic income on a national level also apply to a GBI; with the exception, of course, of those that have to do with the economic competitiveness of a country. A GBI will not have competitive advantages, or disadvantages, for one country, it will level the playing field of the global market for all countries.

The general arguments for a basic income, national or global, can be grouped into two interdependent categories:

a. The values that a basic income stands for: A basic income is a recognition of the dignity of every human being. It increases individual freedom. It supports the personal and voluntary activities of people and the values that those represent against the pressures of the market. A basic income also leads to a fairer sharing of resources and wealth, and contributes to the protection of nature and environment.

b. Economic and social advantages: A basic income leads to a better distribution of paid labour and income and a decrease of unemployment. It supports a transition from the present economic system and policy, which aims at maximum economic growth and full employment, to an economy that ensures all people a meaningful participation – through paid work or otherwise – within the limits of nature and environment. A basic income will also have other positive consequences, such as a reduction of work stress, sickness, disablement and the need for medical care.

In the following all arguments for a basic income are listed and explained in greater detail:

1. The right to life and dignity of all people

Every human being has an unconditional right to life. In conditional social security systems, there will always be people who don’t meet the requirements. A basic income is unconditional and as such recognises the right to life of all people. It also supports the dignity of every human being by freeing people from degrading poverty and enslaving working conditions.

2. Freedom and democracy; work motivation

A basic income frees people from the formal obligation to work. It enables people to choose freely what work they want to do. The formal work obligation and the total dependency on work for income is an incursion on democratic values and human dignity. As a result, many people are now unhappy with the work they are doing: because of bad working conditions and underpayment, or because the work that they have to do is not corresponding with their capacities, aspirations, ideas and values. A basic income will give people the freedom to choose the work they really want to do. It will increase the motivation of people to work and the satisfaction and joy that people get from working.

The work motivation will be further increased because of the positive effects of a basic income on working conditions (see 3 and 4).

3. A free labour market; better working conditions; a fairer income distribution; decrease of sickness and disablement.

The formal obligation to work and the dependency on work for income gives employees a weak bargaining position vis-&-vis employers. This obstructs the free operation of the labour market. A basic income will give employees a more equal negotiating position. It will lead to better working conditions and fairer wages. This, and the improved work motivation (see 2), will lead to a decrease in sickness, disablement and the need for medical care.

4. Better distribution of paid labour and income; reduction of unemployment

In most systems of social security working allowances are stopped or reduced as soon as someone starts to do paid work again. This discourages people to start working again, especially people at the low end of the income scale. The financial benefits of working can be minimal or even negative, because working often involves extra costs (transport, child care). This is commonly referred to as the poverty trap.

In a basic income system every extra hour of paid work leads to an increase in income, because the basic income benefit will not be reduced. This makes it much more profitable and easy for people to work part-time. As opposed to the current situation, where there are many people who have to make long working days while others cannot find a job, a basic income leads to a better distribution of paid labour and a reduction of unemployment.

A basic income also makes it easier for people to start their own business, because they don’t have to worry about their basic livelihood anymore. This will further improve the overall employment opportunities.

5. Revaluation of unpaid work

A lot of important work that people do is not paid, such as raising children, household work or voluntary work for social organisations and people in need. A basic income is a recognition of the fact that most people who don’t have an official, paid job are nevertheless doing important work. Furthermore, a basic income safeguards people’s personal lives as well as voluntary work against the pressures of the market. People now often cannot spend enough time with their family or they have to stop with valuable voluntary work, because they are forced by law and the need of an income to do paid work.

The present social security systems also stigmatise people who receive benefits. Only paid work is regarded as ‘real’ work and those who receive social security benefits are seen as profiting from those who work and pay taxes. A basic income will remove this stigmatisation and will enable people who cannot do or find paid work to participate and contribute to society in other meaningful and respected ways.

6. Adaptation of the economy: productivity, environmental limits and social harmony

Through mechanisation, automation and computerisation productivity has been enormously increased in the last century. This means that we can produce much more with less labour. Because of this the goal of full employment is increasingly difficult to achieve. In principle, it is possible to maintain full employment despite the constant increase in productivity by also increasing production and consumption all the time. However, the limited resources and carrying capacity of the earth prevent this option. Continued insistence on maximum economic growth and full employment will lead humanity down a self-destructive path.

Besides the negative impact on nature and environment, the present economic policy also leads to a growing division of society. There are those who profit from the scientific and technical progress and from global competition, while at the other end of the social scale there is a growing number of people who have to do low paid service jobs for the rich to make ends meet. This is degrading to many people and leads to despair, dissatisfaction and increasingly tense relationships between the different groups in society.

We have to accept that we can produce more with less labour. Instead of continuing to aim at full employment, we should count our blessings and begin to pick the fruits of the increased productivity through scientific and technical progress. Labour and income should partially be disconnected, because not only those who have paid work are entitled to the benefits of scientific progress, and the remaining labour should be better distributed. This will be achieved by introducing an unconditional basic income for everyone. A basic income seems to be the only reform proposal that we currently have, which solves the contradictions in our present economic system and policy, and which will enable a gradual transition to a sustainable and social economy.

A basic income will ensure everybody a livable income. It will enable people who cannot find a paid job to participate in society in other respected and meaningful ways. People will no longer be forced to participate in the increasingly unsound pursuit of more and more production and consumption. A basic income will give everybody the opportunity to achieve a better balance between work, income and consumption on the one hand and personal, family life, social activities and voluntary work on the other. A basic income will give people the power to refuse work that is harmful to people, animals, nature or our living environment.

Finally, pleas for the introduction of a basic income are often coupled with tax reform proposals, such as a shift of taxes on income and profit to taxes on non-renewable and scarce resources. Such a combination of basic income and ecotaxes provides an encompassing solution to solve social and ecological problems simultaneously. The next argument provides an even stronger foundation for such a coupling of social and ecological perspectives.

7. Fair sharing: equal birthright of all people to natural resources

In previous times, people could take care of themselves by using natural resources. In modern society nature has been privatised and natural resources are exploited by companies. Modern society has an obligation to replace the loss of free access to natural resources, and the loss of freedom resulting from it. What better way to compensate both than a basic income, financed by taxes on non-renewable and scarce natural resources?

The idea of a basic income has always been closely linked to the notion that the earth belongs to all people. The first advocate of a unconditional basic income was Joseph Charlier in 1848. He saw the equal right of all people to land as the principle argument for a basic income, which he named ‘land dividend’ (dividende territorial). In the article about an Earth Dividend on this website the shared history of basic income and the equal right of all people to natural resources is examined more closely.

8. Fair sharing of value created by society

Economic production and value are now seen as something which is created through individual efforts of entrepreneurs, managers and employees. However, they are also created through efforts of and on behalf of the local, state, national and world community that we live in.

Above (see 6) we already pointed to the important contribution of science and technology to economic production. It would not be fair if only the people who have paid jobs would profit from the enormous increase in productivity through science and technology. We are all children of mankind. If our ancestors would have a say in this matter, wouldn’t they want all their offspring to profit from their efforts?

Government policy is also invaluable for economic production. Without a government policy that provides good conditions (legislation, infrastructure) a productive, efficient economy wouldn’t be possible. Now only companies profit from this contribution of governments to economic production, but all people should.

Finally, as already has been indicated in argument 5, most people who don’t have a paid job nevertheless do work that is important for society and for the economy: raising children, taking care of sick people and voluntary work.

9. Simplicity
A basic income is the most simple system of social security. Because it is unconditional no bureaucracy is needed to determine whether someone is entitled to receive a basic income or to how much someone is entitled. Only a reliable and updated register is needed to make sure that people don’t receive more than one basic income, and a good banking system.

Especially for a global security system, simplicity and transparency are important.

Human nature
A GBI is undeniably a high ideal. From the perspective of the world as it is today most people will probably think it is unrealistic. However, we believe that it can become a reality. This belief is based first and foremost on our belief in people. People are egoistic; they want what is good for themselves. We don’t want to deny that, but we believe that people also want what is good for others. We don’t want other people to suffer; we all would prefer to live in a world where everybody can lead a worthy, fulfilling, happy live. That is the basic conviction that underlies our goals. The challenge, therefore, is to organise our societies and the world community in such ways, that the fulfilment of our own personal needs does not harm others. A basic income that guarantees every man, woman and child freedom from starvation and degrading poverty would be an important step to achieve this goal.

A few centuries ago almost no one would have believed that universal suffrage or social security systems like the ones we have today would be possible. Yet, here we are. There are no insurmountable obstacles to the introduction of a GBI. All depends on our ideas, will and the choices we as individuals and nations make.

For more detailed answers to questions about the ethical foundations, the financing and economic consequences of a GBI and other questions, go to the FAQ page.

* FAQ Page
* Wikipedia page
* Philippe van Parijs
* Defined
* Why trade unions oppose basic income
* Basic Income, Inequality, and Unemployment: Rethinking the Linkage between Work and Welfare
* Inequality
* Promethea
* I hate the poor
* The poor aren’t poor enough
* The real agenda – is control