Haigh, Gideon: Basic income for all: a 500-year-old idea whose time has come?

Haigh, Gideon

Basic income for all: a 500-year-old idea whose time has come?Guardian Australia, 11 November 2016

Long article under the heading ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, with links to other relevant material. Haigh looks at ‘the potential of ideas such as a universal basic income or a negative income tax’ as ways of guaranteeing living standards and keeping the economy afloat.

Despite its regular depiction as a peeler of lotuses for layabouts, Australians have reasons to be proud of their social safety net. Australia’s taxes are steeply progressive, moderating inequalities of income, and its welfare system comparatively cheap, certifiably efficient in delivering to those in greatest need … But being fit for purpose is no help if purpose should change.

Haigh talks to ‘experts’ about how well placed our social security and related systems are to deal with changes in the world of work. One option is ‘[u]niversal basic income, a form of social security involving the state paying its citizens a regular unconditional lump sum regardless of whether they work’. Other possibilities include negative income tax. The article has a detailed discussion of options and concludes with this remark from economist Ross Garnaut:

“We’re testing how democracy works when wages are stagnant or falling,” [Garnaut] says. “Well, I think we already know how it works, which is badly. In fact, unless we get used to the idea of doing something systematic and non-stigmatising to support the incomes of ordinary people, it [democracy, that is] may not be viable as a political system.”

Gideon Haigh is one of Honest History’s distinguished supporters. We have reviewed his books on a Melbourne murder and a famous cricketing photograph.


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