Friday, October 10, 2008

An opportunity for a Citizen's Basic Income?

This is one of those (very hasty) posts that should be prefaced with .. "I'm not an economist, but..."

You know the concept of a Citizen's Basic Income? Personally, I instinctively like the idea. It is attractive on a lot of levels, but I think that it has a number of implementation problems - common objections, specifically:
  1. You would need a much more secure way of proving that you are a unique indivisible person who is a citizen. It would need a damn good ID scheme
  2. It would make populations less open to the idea of immigration - something that is good for the economy, not to say a decent thing to be relaxed about. Imagine the Daily Express headlines...
  3. That it would be a hard sell to voters - the idea that Our Taxes Are Being Dished Out To The Feckless.
  4. Partly as a function of 1-3 above, but also because of bureaucratic resistance (bean counters have mortgages as well, y'know!) and the logistical problems of getting from here to there, the whole idea will forever be a non-starter, so why bother advocating it in the first place?
I don't know what to do about problem number two, above, but I suspect that - if the will were there - an acceptable answer could be found to number one. But, it seems to me that we have a window of opportunity that allows us to deal with objection number three. right away.

No-one but an utter charlatan or a fundamentalist (and, therefore, anti-democratic) libertarian can now deny that much more generous handouts to much less deserving people are necessary to stabilise society. Surely it would be easier to make the moral case now than ever before?

One of the more attractive bits is that CBIs can be sneaked in by providing everyone a share in profitable national assets. North Sea Oil could have helped here, but that ship has sailed, it seems. But what about the dividends from all of these bits of the banks that we've apparently bought (we have bought banks, haven't we? I've got that right, haven't I?) in order to pay everyone a dividend towards the CBI.

Oh, yes, one other thing: You know those flashing screens on QI when panelists offer common misunderstandings as answers?

I'm trying to work out how to code this blog so that it screams and flashes whenever anyone (apart from Pete who makes jokes about them) puts the word 'voucher' in the comments box.

That, and (for this post only) any jokes playing on the word 'feckless'.


Nic said...

CBI? The acronym could be confusing. One plus is that it could potentially solve the benefits traps because there's no claw back - one minus is that Inland Revenue will never get the hang of it, look at the mess they've made with tax credits

The Plump said...

Actually, there are quite a few libertarians who advocate a citzen's income. It does cross a few political boundaries. I think that even Milton Friedman was a supporter.

Might post on it in response to this.

Matt M said...

Friedman proposed a "negative income tax":

Paulie said...

Pete, you may have concluded that I have some sort of problem with all things libertarian. I don't.

I just detest these closet tories who've decided that the L-word gives them some sort of fig leaf to dress their feudalism up in - that's all.

Have you noticed just how many right-wing tossers have decided that they've *always* been opposed to capitalism and that *really it's a free-market shorn of capitalism that they've been advocating all along?

mikeovswinton said...

Paulie; Just out of interest, as it connects, I think, to your point about dividends - have you ever come across John Roemer's "Coupon Socialism" as advocated in the 1990s in books like "A future for socialism"? He argued for a dual currency system, in which shares would only be bought and sold in Coupons -everything else in £ and p - and that everyone would get an equal number of Coupons when they attained majority, whatever it was decided that that would be. I could explain more- the really interesting thing in his book was his calculations of how much the dividends would have been worth over time and the effects on social ineqaulity.

Matthew said...

There's all manner of problems with a CBI I'd say. In addition to the ones you list, simply that different people really do have different needs so it's need to be supplemented (unless it was really large).

The bank idea is interesting, but I'm not sure the numbers would really work. In 2006, a record year, the Big five made £32bn in profits, but £12bn was HSBC, which I don't think is thought likely to take any government money. So say £20bn. This is £400 or so per adult a year, which is not negligible.

But...the government won't own all of that (even if it might end up with quite and bit) and furthermore will profits ever be this high again? Or more fundamentally given the mess the banks are in, were they ever really that high? Particularly if the government wants to lower risk to avoid losses.

Matthew said...

Btw I say 2006 was a record year, which it was, but I couldn't find 2007 figures.

John Meredith said...

"Paulie; Just out of interest, as it connects, I think, to your point about dividends - have you ever come across John Roemer's "Coupon Socialism" as advocated in the 1990s in books like "A future for socialism"?"

Coupons? That's a sort of voucher, isn't it?

mikeovswinton, 2 free with every voucher said...

Nope, in this context it isn't. You could call them "Bobbins", "Magpies" or even "Forests". I'm not saying that Roemer would necessarily be against vouchers though. I clip lots of them out of magazines and save pounds myself.