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.