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“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness”. (UBI Series)

Written By: - Date published: 6:04 am, March 14th, 2021 - 49 comments
Categories: benefits, Economy, employment, labour, minimum wage, poverty, socialism, welfare - Tags: , , ,

One of the aspirational founding principles of the USA, was the right to “life, liberty and the Pursuit of happiness”.

It doesn’t say, “unless you are black, poor or otherwise undeserving”.

Similarly, the New Zealand Labour Party has their own Version.

“All people  should have equal access to all social, economic, cultural, political and legal spheres, regardless of wealth or social position, and continuing participation in the democratic process”.

The first Labour Government, stated that everyone should have “enough income to be able to participate in society”.

It doesn’t say, “Unless you are an unemployed brown youngster, in Northland”.


The Standard authors have many different viewpoints. I think it is safe to say however, that most of us support everyone’s right to life. To have enough food, housing and health care, and access to recreation, information and society, to have, a “life”!

How we allocate these things in our society is with money. Without money you cannot access them. You cannot have a life, liberty, or pursue, “happiness”.

Some think this is fine. They believe that if you don’t  directly “contribute to societies monetary wealth”, because of illness, disability, having children, or demoralisation after being refused your hundredth job application, you don’t deserve these things. You deserve! A life of impoverished misery.

We can see this every day with the attitude towards ,”beneficiaries,”. Very often from people whose occupation, though paid highly, is really of little contribution, or even stealing, from our society.


I believe, as our first Labour Government did, that everyone has the right “to a life” regardless of their perceived ,”value”.

In our country, with its excess of resources and capability, we have no excuse for poverty.

For leaving people behind.



49 comments on ““Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness”. (UBI Series) ”

  1. Andre 1

    One of the aspirational founding principles of the USA, was the right to “life, liberty and the Pursuit of happiness”.

    It doesn’t say, “unless you are black, poor or otherwise undeserving”.

    Nobody at the time thought it needed to be said, it was just kinda axiomatic. Just consider how many rights and privileges were restricted to land-owning white males.

    • KJT 1.1

      Maybe should have put a sarc tag on that.

      It seems that view hasn't changed,for some in New Zealand, also.

    • RedLogix 1.2

      Just consider how many rights and privileges were restricted to land-owning white males.

      That was a very long time ago. And in that era there were no such thing as passports, or citizenship as we know it now. There were no electoral roles as we know them. Nor were there any particular travel restrictions, people routinely moved around the world with little to no bureaucratic involvement. Governments had virtually no idea who was present in any given territory at any given time. But it was a much simpler matter to determine who owned land – after all it was the government who managed the system of land titles. Thus land ownership became the most practical proxy for 'citizenship' available to governments of the day.

      (Interestingly in NZ because Maori land was owned communally all Maori males gained suffrage in 1867 to vote in the four Maori electorates. This a decade before white males. Technically there would have been even some rare instances of Maori who individually owned land who were entitled to vote twice.)

      And then of course a few decades later NZ went on to become one of the first nations to achieve universal suffrage. Surely we can celebrate this landmark progress without at the same time having to demonise all who came before them. Judging our forebears by our modern mores is both futile and dishonest – the truth is that if any of us had been alive in their time we would have almost certainly believed and behaved just as they did.

  2. weka 2

    Love this as a starting point, where values are placed in the centre, values about people. This opens the UBI conversation in a completely different way. Most start with economics and then how to afford a UBI, albeit with some hand wave to the importance of people and how a UBI might help them. But when we start with the social, with why we are all here, being alive, we will get a much better UBI design (and debate).

    The other thing that happens with UBI debates is the left tends to focus on getting rid of WINZ. While understandable, it misses some important aspects of welfare because it doesn't have people as the starting point (eg those that can't work for whatever reason).

    I'm curious now how we could develop a leftwing framing that doesn't just write a nice sentence or two about people but that fully develops understanding of the importance of valuing people first, how much we have lost that since the neoliberal revolution, and how we can actively work from that premise rather than just tucking it away on a website somewhere.

    Having the right and ability to "have a life" is core.

    • KJT 2.1

      Do We Really Care about the Marginalised? — Pundit

      “It raises the ‘minimax’ principle which says that policy should focus on maximising the situation of those at the bottom, that a society should be judged by how well it treats the most marginalised. (There are many dimensions of marginalisation; for instance how easy is access for the disabled.)”

    • Craig H 2.2

      In theory, Gareth Morgan started from a principles-based approach when he conceived of the Big Kahuna – it just went small and didn't really deal with anything outside the box well.

      I costed out a UBI at $10,000 p.a. in the last thread on this, but on reflection, that's a bit small given the current jobseeker support (fka the dole) is ~$250/wk.

      What's a decent weekly or annual base figure that we can get behind for a UBI for adults and under 18s (if different), and what add-ons would we keep?

      My thoughts were Accommodation Supplement (and increase social housing and home ownership schemes over time to wind that back), NZ Super (although a higher base UBI might render it mostly unnecessary), and a decent amount for the disabled and other people unable to work long term for various reasons. Youth benefits could become criteria to increase the UBI to the adult rate for under 18s.

      For reference, at the last election TOP proposed $250/wk ($40 for kids) with benefits, super and WFF being paid if they would be higher, and the Greens proposed $325/wk (as a GMI, but that was their adequacy suggestion).

      • weka 2.2.1

        At this stage, while I understand the attraction of a single rate UBI, I just can't see how it would work. This is why I like the GP's GMI, a stepping stone to a fuller UBI.

        Accommodation Supplement is considered hugely problematic because landlords just increase rents. The solutions here are government intervention eg rent caps, enabling new models of home ownership, tenancy rights like lifetime leases, and shifting the culture away from housing as investment. Build Moar Houses is a flawed approach that will undercut all other attempts at reducing or eradicating poverty. Labour will be hated for this as much as the 80s unless they make some radical changes to their approach.

        • Craig H

          After what happened in Wellington following the student allowance increases, rent controls would be essential while a UBI or equivalent was introduced.

          Accommodation supplement could be phased out over time as housing is sorted out, but it turns out all government income support is a landlord subsidy, not just that one, so there's no real point singling it out. It provides a useful way to tailor support for regional housing cost variations in the meantime.

          • weka

            good point. I haven't seen a good explanation for how AS could be removed without causing much worse poverty for some people.

      • weka 2.2.2

        re the rate, I think the starting conversation is what do people need to live good lives, financially but other resources too. When we figure out that and the values inherent, undesrtanding how to set the rates will be much easier.

        • Craig H

          That work has been done before and is where the GMI of $325 came from.

          • weka

            am curious what that number is based on. Will have another read of the GP policy.

            The starting conversation needs to happen society wide. Might be possible now thanks to covid.

      • weka 2.2.3

        what were Morgan's starting principles?

        • RedLogix

          The book outlined the principles really well – essentially Morgan started with the idea that a well designed tax system should exhibit both horizontal and vertical equity.

          Horizontal equity means that similar categories of things should be treated the same. For instance if you are going to tax assets or income, then regardless of the type of asset (shares, property, etc) or the source of income – they should all receive equal tax treatment. Morgan saw this as important to reduce taxation induced distortions in the economy.

          Vertical equity means that all cases inside the same category should be treated the same regardless of how small or large they are from a marginal taxation perspective. While this allows for a tax structure that is progressive overall, it's also very desirable to keep the tax on each new dollar of income as flat as possible. Again Morgan saw this as important to minimise the 'poverty traps' and disincentives that are currently built into our existing targeted welfare system – and at the other extreme to eliminate the very low marginal taxes paid by the very wealthy when much of their income comes from capital gain.

          Morgan's overall view is that the tax system we have inherited is a piecemeal agglomerate of policies, and was never designed with any overarching principles at all. Crucially we've failed to understand that the tax system (which is universal in nature) and the welfare system (with is an innately targeted system) were really just the same thing, and that to reform one we really have to consider both.

          The Big Kahuna takes as its base assumption that we don't, as a society, accept that huge differences in income are acceptable and that we therefore choose to redistribute wealth. While they are generally regarded as separate, the tax and welfare systems are fundamentally both methods of doing just that – redistributing income from those who have plenty to those who don't.

          • KJT

            I think Morgan's heart was in the right place.

            Like many who are highly educated in one subject. However, I consider he was looking through a lens limited by his speciality.

          • Craig H

            The principle behind the UBI itself was that NZ could afford everyone to have a minimum standard of living based on dignity as a human being. The tax system was how it would be funded.

            • RedLogix

              Yes – that's definitely the short version. The original Big Kahuna book was published back in 2011 and the figures would need updating, but there is a quick intro here:


              I did read the whole book back at the time – far from being a load of specialist technical policy – it's a readable and absorbing exploration of why our current system, built ad-hoc over many generations, falls short of what we really need it to do now.

              And yes you’re on point with your comment – all the technical policy stuff is good to know and debate – but the underlying universal principle of dignity for all is the truly important message.

  3. AB 3

    Yep – and imagine how many multitudes of other problems would more or less evaporate into thin air if all people were freed from economic stress and uncertainty as a start point. Whole fleets of ambulances at the bottom of cliffs could be sent to the scrapyard.

    • weka 3.1

      Right, but does economic freedom have to come from income primarily? If housing costs were in line with say the 90s, then the UBI rate would be lower than it needs to be now.

      • KJT 3.1.1

        Minimum incomes/UBI do not have to be in monetary form.

        State rental houses were a form of income subsidy in "kind".

        Something we should still have.

        We have to be careful not to feed into the meme that the poor are so "feckless/undeserving" that they have to be forced to spend their money on whatever we think they should. The motivation behind the demeaning food cards, WINZ give out.

  4. Dean Reynolds 4

    Smug, right wing boomers on NZ Super forget that NZ superannuatants outnumber all other WINZ category of beneficiaries, combined. NZ Super is a form of UBI, paid regardless of income or assets. For those on NZ Super to scream their tits off at other beneficiaries, is laughable.

    Poverty is not caused by mental degeneracy – it's caused by a lack of money. This government needs to raise benefits & to reinstate the social wage across the board, asap.

    • Tiger Mountain 4.1

      It would be difficult to state this situation more succinctly than you have Dean.

      I would just add–“lack of money” due to macro economic decisions made decades ago, and therefore pretty much way beyond working class peoples immediate control.

    • RosieLee 4.2

      New Zealand SUPER is a social contract between NZ workers and the government of the day. The deal has always been that you work and pay your taxes for 50 years and you are entitled to a pension. If you still have more income than about 27 thou, that pension is abated. Not everyone has been able to buy a house over their working lives, especially if you are a woman and especially if you had to get through the days OF20% interest on a mortgage.

      • KJT 4.2.1

        I agree. As well as an example of a functioning UBI.

        However we also had a "social contract" in the past, that we look after everyone, regardless of their "monetary value".

      • alwyn 4.2.2

        That is not a description of New Zealand Super.

        Just to spell out the basic differences. You don't have to work. You don't have to pay any taxes. You don't have to be here for 50 years. The pension is not abated, although it is taxed.

        What you describe is nothing like the New Zealand Super that exists.

    • RedLogix 4.3

      For those on NZ Super to scream their tits off at other beneficiaries, is laughable.

      One of the key ideas of a UBI is that because it is by definition universal, there is no longer a category called 'beneficiary'.

  5. Pat 5

    Lack of equitable distribution is the issue…..we had a solution to that before that was discarded….progressive taxation.

    BUT…alongside the progressive taxation we also had a national economy ( not an open global economy) and capital controls….are the majority willing to accept those constraints?…..voting patterns the past 30 years would suggest overwhelmingly not.

    • KJT 5.1

      As we have only had a choice of two parties that were going in the same direction on this, voting patterns are certainly not, an indication.

      • Pat 5.1.1

        Thats possibly true, but I would submit that there have been options that existed that were never supported sufficiently …New labour, The alliance, even the Greens to an extent.

        Id suggest if a party started tomorrow with a clear manifesto outlining the reality of addressing our core problems it would struggle to meet the 5% threshold.

        • KJT

          The passing relationship our Governing arrangements have to democracy, is a whole thread in itself.

          However noting that the 2017 Government was composed of parties that all promised changes to the status quo. Labour was to be "Transformational".

          Of course in 2020 a big swing to Labour from "Conservatives". Not surprising as Conservatives like to feel safe. National's Yo-yo ing about borders made them feel anything but.

  6. Stuart Munro 6

    The relationship between money and happiness is a bit chimerical I understand: Can money buy happiness? Success boosts life satisfaction, study says (cnbc.com) The relationship between poverty and unhappiness is on firmer ground.

    Although as a society we might get a lot more bang for the declining bucks by pursuing a few ascetic virtues, current influencers seem to be more interested in dubious circuses with hitech hydrofoils.

    Things are going to get ugly, as the Rogergnomes always knew when they shafted NZ working people. The FIRE economy will only go so far. Our culture is a bit too fractured now, to expect the poor to endure lives of quiet desperation indefinitely.

  7. roger douglas, richard prebble mike moore. jenney shipley, ruth richardson (especially) brought the current misery and suffering about. Did jonkey blinglish do anything about it? Nah!

    Keep the money rolling in from flush "business" sector and stuff the deprived and desperate.

    OOPS! A pandemic has occurred. Perhaps the smug well off need a rethink: that is if they are capable of any thinking/caring. outside of their personal wealth.

    I am certain that hosking, farrar, plunket, soper (and99% of the herald "reporters") have all the answers.

    Shudder. maybe "business" needs taxpayer help.

    Where is audrey young when the country needs her wisdom?

  8. Castro 8

    "we"? perhaps the use of this term needs further analysis, investigation and explanation, including a simple definition?

  9. Gosman 9

    NZ does not know real poverty. We do have relative poverty. This is a factor of the relationship between incomes at the middle versus the bottom which may or may not be an issue. What we do have an issue with that is causing much of the problems with people struggling to make ends meet is a problem with housing. We are not making it easy enough to produce housing at affordable costs for everyone in society. This is largely a factor of over regulation.

    • KJT 9.1

      Agree on housing as a cause of poverty. It is way too expensive compared with incomes.

      However it is not a supply problem. It is a demand/cost problem.

      Decreasing regulation bought us leaky homes, increased inspection, insurance and compliance costs and productive crop land overrun with housing.

      One of lifes mysteries when people advocate "leave it to the market" to solve an obvious "market failure". After 30 years of examples, of the failure of privatisation and deregulation.

      If you think we don’t have “real poverty” you have been going around New Zealand with your eyes shut.

      “Relative poverty” matters, because the cost of food, housing, health, and other services people need, reflects the mean income in a country.

      In some countries you can feed and house yourself for $100 a month. Not in New Zealand.

      • Gosman 9.1.1

        Housing affordability is a simple case of mathematics. The supply of housing has not kept pace with the demand for it for decades now. If there was demand that was pushing up the price that was not warranted (e.g. investors opurchasing properties for rentals or to simply make capital gains from them) we would see this reflected in either rentals being flat or falling or a huge increase in the number of empty homes. Neither of those is the case.

        • KJT

          20 seconds on Google.

          Rise of the ghost homes – More than 33,000 Auckland dwellings officially classified empty – NZ Herald

          "More than 33,000 Auckland dwellings are officially classified empty as the city grapples with a crisis of affordable housing and homelessness.

          Auckland's 6.6 per cent vacancy rate is higher than either Sydney (5.2 per cent) or Melbourne (4.8 per cent), where there has been an uproar over "ghost houses" deliberately left empty by speculators trading on a soaring market".

        • Brigid

          "huge increase in the number of empty homes"

          Can you point to any statistics on this? And would these numbers include empty and boarded up Housing Corp houses?

        • woodart

          housing affordability is a simple case of mathematics? perhaps you need to get out of your bubble. if it was a simple case of mathematics, surely a simple mathematician would have solved it. we have 500 mathematicians in treasury, and many more sideline experts(you for example), and nobody has solved this simple equation yet. where I live(beachtown) there IS a huge increase of empty homes. try renting one, no thanks, we use it for six weeks a year.

        • Nic the NZer

          Mathematics bought rigor to economics. Unfortunately it also bought mortis. -Kenneith Boulding

  10. woodart 10

    a one size fits all ubi is like a one size fits all answer to the housing problem. a dream for those who want everything reduced to soundbites. it will never work for all and as soon as you start having exemptions, allowances etc, you may as will stay with what we have. these things only work if everybody lives in the same location, has the same housing and living ,health ,etc costs, and the same size family.not going to happen.

    • KJT 10.1

      Watch this space.

      If I get time.

      You may like to look at past posts on minimum income and UBI on the Standard, also.

  11. Castro 11

    ..and don't forget, there's an imminent rout in the housing market coming… Pat said so…

    I’m not sure what this adds to the discussion? KJT

    • Incognito 11.1

      This is the second time that you make this comment. As such, it looks like you’re fishing for a response AKA wishing to start a flame war. Please don’t go there, thanks.

    • Castro 11.2

      It's a barrow that Pat was pushing even after presented with sound points to the contrary (the instigator of the flame war was not I, though it was in another post, so point taken); given how intertwined housing and inequality now are, it seems that any discussion of inequality and leaving people behind that doesn't include housing is, well… not especially relevant or likely to bear progressive fruit in the NZ context? How about a Renters' Party?

      • Incognito 11.2.1

        This sounds like:

        He started it.

        If a discussion cannot be settled then agree to disagree. Don’t needle the other, who’s clearly not biting. Please don’t take your ‘luggage’ from one post to another and spoil it for others.

  12. Chris 12

    The first Labour Government, stated that everyone should have “enough income to be able to participate in society”.

    This also formed the basis of the Department of Social Welfare's mission statement until Jenny Shipley removed it in 1992. They knew what they were doing.

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