Basic Security is a superior public good since its value rises if everyone has it

This title is from an interesting article in ‘Open Democracy’ on Universal Basic Income by Professor Guy Standing.

Comparing Universal Basic Income to Universal Basic Services he points out that what has been proposed is, in fact, far from Universal. And thus the proposals are beset by distributional problems. This is much the same view as some previous commentary on Progressive Pulse. Although he also takes issue with free local transport, whereas I consider that distributional problems may have to be tolerated as it is one scheme that would clearly help to cut urban pollution, even if it would offer much less benefit for rural dwellers. But I think we have to start somewhere and a low build up on free public transport would help us to see what works.

Interestingly he does not mention that getting rid of the market in some areas could of itself be a good thing – indeed public transport is a classic example of somewhere a ‘free market’ does not work.

And proper individual freedom is not comprised of the ability to ‘access the market’, but may actually be improved by reducing the area in which the market operates.

He very much considers like Professor Daniel Nettle, that universal basic income is basic security, and the concluding paragraphs of the piece articulate this so well I feel they are well worth quoting in full:

First, a basic income is a matter of social justice. It is about citizens sharing in public wealth. Our individual income and wealth are far more the result of the efforts and achievements of past generations than of anything we do ourselves. If society accepts private inheritance of wealth, then it should allow for the public inheritance of social wealth. The best way of doing that is to distribute equal ‘dividends’ to each resident citizen and legally recognised migrant.

Another way of putting the justice case is to think of ‘the commons’, our shared public resources, beginning with the land, water and air, extending to our inherited social amenities and bodies of ideas. Over the ages, elites and commercial interests have taken or been given much of our commons and should be obliged to compensate ‘the commoners’. A basic income would be an expression of that, paid from levies on commercial uses of the commons, beginning with eco taxes recycled to the commoners via national capital (or commons) funds.

A second ethical justification is that a basic income would enhance freedom. It would strengthen the ability of individuals to say ‘no’ to oppressive or exploitative relations, employers, spouses, bureaucrats and others. It would strengthen liberal freedom – the right to be moral – and republican freedom – the ability to make decisions free from people with unaccountable power. Above all, as revealed by pilot basic income schemes in India, the emancipatory value of any basic income is greater than its money value, whereas the reverse is the case for means-tested or behaviour-tested benefits and benefits in kind.

The third ethical justification is that even a modest or ‘partial’ basic income provides people with more basic security. Basic security is a human need, and is a natural public good, since one person having it does not deprive others of it. Indeed, it is a superior public good, since its value rises if everybody has it.

As a final comment I would just like to suggest that he should tweak the name – when even a previous Conservative Education Minister (Justine Greening on the Today Programme of 4 June 19) can bemoan the fact that in our capitalist society very few of its members actually have access to capital, then surely the time is overdue for us all to rename the scheme ‘Universal Basic Capital’?


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