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Free money? Mad liberal policy or a real way forward?

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There are growing economic problems around the world, the poorest are finding it hard to survive and the wealthy are only getting wealthier, but are we doomed to this forever or is there another way? Have a look at the concept of Universal Basic Income and ask if it could make a real change.

It’s been often said that there are no easy answers to the west’s growing economic problems: A growing unemployment rate, an over-reliance on food banks and an ever-widening gap between the richest and poorest in our society. It’s been shown that the top 0.1% of US citizens own more wealth than the bottom 90%, meanwhile in the UK the top fifth own more capital than the bottom three-fifths combined.

Experts have said that this disparity will continue to grow increasingly so, and this is evident from the poorest members of society becoming ever-more reliant on the various welfare schemes around the developed world just to survive, while the richest individuals in society, especially those noted on Forbes’ Billionaires List continue to accumulate more and more wealth.

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The issue with wealth disparity is that it creates a divide between the richest and the poorest, and this divide by necessity creates greater competition for work and in turn, drives wages down. In real terms, wages have fallen in most developed nations, especially so in the larger capitals.

And this creates not only greater stress on the welfare system, but also on the country’s health services, and perhaps more shockingly, on the country’s police forces and judicial systems. There is a very clear line between poverty, health issues, desperation and crime.

And that’s not all, studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between poverty and bad decision making. Human brain activity is like internet bandwidth: it is finite, and when you’re worrying about where your next meal is going to come from, if you can afford to keep the water running, the electricity flowing and the heating turned on, you’re not going to have the brain space to make calculated decisions.

With less people in the country making informed, critical decisions, we have a more rabid and less democratic election system where populism and demagoguery are able to rule the classes that can not see through the lies and fear that they are being fed. And it isn’t their fault that they give into this rhetoric, they’ve been dealt a bad hand from the start of the game and it really is the responsibility of the world’s governments to set this straight.

Many people never saw the World Wars. They never saw the blitz ravaging the great cities of the world, many do not even know their ancestors that fought, lost their lives, and sometimes, lost some things far worse. But our predecessors fought for equality among the people, they fought so that their families, their friends and their children’s children could live a good quality of life.

But who’s children lived good lives following the war? Was it those of the soldiers that were filled full of bullets, the pilots that were burned alive in fallen aircraft or those of the air control operatives that listened time and time again to their friends be tortured as they died horrifically and, in the process, lost their sanity? The people that profited from the war were the arms merchants above all. Why should they who sought to prolong the war have their descendants live happy lives, while the children of the soldiers suffer in poverty? Is this not unjust?

“So why should I care?” You may ask. “I have a job.” Ah, but if you’re in what is considered a low-skill job, you’re still at risk of being forced out of that role through automation.

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Automation is when a field becomes automated by robots or computer AI, or a mix of the two. It first truly began to take form in the late 1960’s when Barclays Bank introduced the ATM in Enfield, England. It was quicker than the bank tellers by a large margin, which garnered public use very rapidly. After further developments, mass layoffs of bank tellers began as they were replaced by ATMs.

Over the course of the late 20th Century the world also saw increased use of robots in factories, particularly automobiles, and more layoffs occurred. Today, we see public services, and cab/taxi services threatened with automation. In the future, well, the same technology, if refined, could be used in logistics, so your average truck driver could rapidly be replaced. Even the shop workers are not safe, Amazon and Barclays recently announced their own lines of checkout-free stores in which no checkout clerk is necessary. So what can be done to support those who will inevitably lose their jobs?

Just give them the money. Because after all, it’s not all doom and gloom.

The Basic Income Earth Network was founded over thirty years ago by academics and economists that were growing concerned with the unstable and unsustainable economic practices that would surely lead to some sort of social Darwinism, that is, where the rich live and the weak die. The group at the time was ridiculed for their concept, but in the last decade the idea has been recognized, not as a panacea, but as a critical tool for redistributing wealth, and in redefining worth in society.

The idea works like this: All citizens of a country receive a weekly or monthly payment directly into their bank account. The money is just enough to cover the individual’s living costs, that is: food, water, gas/electricity and rent. Personally I’d like to see a basic internet service cost thrown in there, (Because information is power!) but that’s my own addition rather than what’s really at the core of the concept.

And who gets it? Everyone. Every single person. There is no means testing whatsoever. If you’re earning nothing, you get it. If you’re a multi-billionaire, you get it. If you’re in a full-time 48 hour job, you get it. If you’re unemployed, you get it. It’s as simple as that.

There are a lot of arguments to this, the most frequent one is simply: But won’t people just stop working? It’s completely counter-intuitive, but funnily enough, people work more, not less. Pilot schemes around the world in both undeveloped and developed countries have shown that once someone is able to afford their basic living standards, they are able to make much better decisions and begin to plan long-term, which causes them to become more dedicated to their career, more entrepreneurial or more dedicated to their children and grandchildren.

One pilot scheme in particular in Madhya Pradesh, India, showed a lot of promise. The pilot started in 2010 when twenty villages were selected as part of the test. All similar in economic state, unemployment levels and healthcare access, eight of the twenty were selected for their citizens to receive basic income, while the other twelve served as control groups for comparison to see what difference the money would make.

The results were astounding; villages spent more money on food and healthcare, business start-ups doubled, personal savings nearly tripled, sanitation and housing improved, as did nutrition and the inclusion of the disabled increased. In fact, not only did frivolous spending drop, but all groups worked more, except one: children. Children’s school performance increased by 68% and the time they spent in school nearly tripled as well. In short, not only did the village contribute to the country’s economy more, but the livelihoods of all the villagers dramatically increased. As a result, the government of India has begun planning more pilot schemes on a much grander scale than before.

These pilot schemes have been tested in the US, UK, Canada, Italy and Brazil, among other nations. Finland recently begun a pilot at the start of 2017 and Scotland is planning pilot schemes to take place later this year in Glasgow and Fife. More promising still, over two-thirds of Britons are in favour of the proposal of a basic income and, should pilots in the Scottish cities be successful, a greater amount of pilots may see their way into the UK’s major cities in the coming few years.

As far as the future goes, we have a very important decision to make. Either we keep on our current unsustainable course, the one that has been tried and tested, and push the poorest and most vulnerable in our societies to their deaths. Or we change our direction, and instead, try a different approach.

 

Jei .

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