A guaranteed universal income is needed today

Contributed by Joe Montero

Making ends meet is getting harder for a lot of people. The wages share on national income continues to fall. One third of the workforce is in precarious work and often not earning enough to maintain their standard of living as it was. Unemployment benefits and pensions lag further and further behind.

This has been building for decades and there is no end to it in sight.

Over the years, political leaders have promised that smaller government and tightening the belt would create business opportunities that would lead to growth in the economy, more jobs and fewer out of work. But the more we went down this road, the worse it got.

Anyone with a heart would see that something must be done to turn this around.  

If the policies of the past have been a failure, a different approach is needed. One that will replace the distribution system that has been in place since the end of the Second World War.

A part of this can be the provision of a guaranteed basic income. Applied together with a more progressive taxation system, a guaranteed jobs program and other complimentary measures, a guaranteed basic income would mean that no-one goes without, and it could play an important role in protecting the wages and conditions of the workforce.

There is even more to it. A guaranteed basic income involves a fundamental shift in the way we look at income. Instead of just being a reward for some, having enough to live an acceptable quality of life is transformed into a basic human right. If it is a basic human right, it must apply to every human being.

This change will translate into a better understanding of the importance of a fairer society.

The cost of implementing a guaranteed basic income is far less that is often assumed. It would do away with must of the cost of administering the existing payments though Centrelink. It would be replaced by a leaner administration that would not involve the cost of policing, creating loopholes to weed out applicants and handing huge sums of money to private contractors.

Of course it would not be free. This is no problem. Restoring a progressive taxation system would more than cover for it.

The benefit to the economy is that more will be spent on the things we make and the services we provide. And this means an engine for growth. Growth is not only about quantity. It is also about creating a culturally richer society, and providing people with the means is important.

A guaranteed basic income means that society recognises that applying this basic human right means that every citizen must have a given minimum of income, whether in or out of work or who they are. The difference is made up through government provision.

There are no unemployment benefits and no pensions. Certain people are not separated out as different from everybody else, to be stigmatised or bullied into inadequate work. It could eliminate the existence of a cheap labour force, so long as measures are in place to prevent big businesses from using the guaranteed basic income to subsidise their labour costs.

Reality is, there is a systemic weakness in an economic system, where the forces of the market are unable to sort out imbalances and bottlenecks, where the real economy comes into conflict with the world of finance, where individual business interests comes into conflict with collective business interest, not to mention the collective interest of society to meet its needs, while existing in harmony with the natural environment.

A basic guaranteed income won’t fix all of this. But it can help begin to change attitudes, so that we realise more fully the importance of our collective interest and the connection between this and individual interest.

Armed with this, we can go about solving the other problems.

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