Universal Basic Income

About fifty years ago I had the brilliant idea that if everyone were paid a subsistence wage by the government – that is, out of taxes – without having to work for it, it would solve many of our social problems. Those who didn’t want to work wouldn’t have to, without being stigmatised by having to claim ‘welfare’. I’ve never felt judgmental towards those who haven’t wanted to work for money, especially if it left them free-er to do other things that might be equally beneficial to society: composing symphonies, for example. (Elgar would have been able to write at least another two if he hadn’t had to teach violin.) Another advantage would be that the work that had to be done would be left to those who really wanted to do it, or were attracted by the additional money they could make through working. This might require rotten jobs (refuse collection, proof-reading, being a minor royal) to be rewarded more generously than they are now, if people couldn’t be forced into them through the threat of utter poverty; but wouldn’t that be a good thing in itself? It might also require that inherited money or property revert to the State , so as to really ‘level the playing field’; but that should also swell the coffers out of which this ‘universal basic income’ would be paid. Additional sums could be given to people in case of genuine need, especially medical and child allowances; but this would be on top of a ‘wage’ that otherwise would enable them to live at a basic level. There would be no more of this ‘deserving/undeserving poor’ stuff. Everyone would deserve to live.

It’s only recently that I’ve learned that this is called ‘universal basic income’, and that I wasn’t the first to think of it. In fact the idea goes back to Thomas More’s Utopia (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income), and has been tried out in a number of places, including most recently – I believe – Finland. (Ah, those Finns!)

And here it comes up again: in a proposal arising out of the present Coronavirus crisis, and its probable effect on employment and wages (see  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/19/calls-for-uk-basic-income-payment-to-cushion-coronavirus-impact.) Another ‘plus’, perhaps, to add to those I suggested a few days ago: https://bernardjporter.com/2020/03/15/looking-on-the-bright-side-3/. – Although I can’t see the Tories looking kindly on the prospect of the proles getting something for nothing, can you? (Next day: and here we are, right on cue: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-uk-update-universal-basic-income-iain-duncan-smith-a9411251.html).

I also, incidentally, invented highlighter pens, decades before they first came on to the market, as I can prove from my early research notes. If I’d thought of patenting that idea then, I wouldn’t have had to work for money myself. But then Thomas More was probably ahead of me there, too.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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3 Responses to Universal Basic Income

  1. Phil says:

    My Geography teacher invented the overhead projector – the light-plate-and-angled-mirror projection apparatus which we all used before Powerpoint took over the world. Invented it and refused to patent it, because he didn’t want to restrict the supply – which was why he was still teaching Geography. At least, such was the story that went round at my school. It made the said teacher a bit more interesting, but not much more; it didn’t help that he was a notoriously dull and ineffectual teacher, whose classes regularly descended into chaos.

    Years later (although still in the pre-Powerpoint era) I was on a residential training course, where one evening the trainer decided to share some interesting facts about overhead projectors. “They were invented by a Geography teacher, you know. He couldn’t control his class, so he wanted something that would let him put things up on the board without having to turn his back on them.”

    Checking now, it appears that someone with the same name as my Geography teacher published a report called _The Overhead Projector_ in 1965 – about ten years before he was failing to control my class. Poor bloke.

    Liked by 1 person

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