There are some great political ideas that seem to circle endlessly as nothing more than ideas. Campaigns crop up and fade away, the ideas are rediscovered and a new movement starts. Sometimes they can tick along for decades waiting for the stars to align for them. The financial transaction tax is one such idea, finally getting its moment as European countries press ahead with their plans.
The land value tax is another revolutionary idea waiting to be picked up, a fundamentally sound idea that has got within a whisker of implementation in the past, but has been defeated by land-owning interests. The Georgists will get their moment eventually, and I was interested to see that George Monbiot has recently championed the land value tax.
He’s also been writing about the basic income, which may be about to move back into the limelight. This year a new campaign started to encourage the EU to look at a universal basic income, or citizen’s income. It’s something I’ve written about in the past, so I won’t into all the detail. In a nutshell, the basic income is an unconditional minimum income paid to every adult. It replaces benefits, ending poverty and guaranteeing everyone an economic safety net. Unpaid work such as child care is currently invisible in our economy, despite being absolutely vital, and a basic income would reward that.
The most common objection is that it would encourage people not to work, but it wouldn’t. A citizen’s income would only be the barest minimum. You’d be able to get by on it if you lost your job, but you’d have to make a lot of sacrifices to survive on it long term and it wouldn’t be an attractive option. It would actually eliminate the whole stupid strivers/skivers dichotomy that our politicians are so keen to encourage at the moment. Everyone gets a share in our communal wealth, unconditionally. Nobody is able to game the system and freeride on everyone else’s work, so those that work don’t need resent paying into the system.
How do you pay for such a thing? Well, for starters you’ve eliminated the majority of benefits and their administrative costs. That’s not enough on its own, but it gives you a good start. New money can be raised through carbon and other Pigovian taxes, and the aforementioned financial transaction tax. I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense without a land tax to be honest, which once redistributed, really would be a share in our communal wealth. (A land value tax ideally replaces income tax – which is a fundamentally bad idea)
If you’re interested in seeing the idea of a basic income developed further, hop over and support the European Citizen’s Intiaitive for a Universal Basic Income. It needs a million signatures by January 2014 to move forward, and you’ll be in the first 25,ooo. Here’s their video. (Don’t ask me why it’s narrated with an American accent)