UBI gathers momentum in Europe

Written By: - Date published: 10:28 am, June 3rd, 2016 - 51 comments
Categories: benefits, employment, human rights, jobs, leadership, welfare - Tags: ,

The Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) is an idea whose time has come. Not just in theory, in practice:

State handouts for all? Europe set to pilot universal basic incomes

Switzerland is poised to hold a referendum on introducing the concept, and Finnish and Dutch pilots are set for 2017

To its acolytes, it is the revolutionary policy idea whose arrival is as urgently needed as it is inevitable. In a future in which robots decimate the jobs but not necessarily the wealth of nations, they argue, states should be able to afford to pay all their citizens a basic income unconditional of needs or requirements.

Universal basic income has a rare appeal across the political spectrum. For those on the left, it promises to eliminate poverty and liberate people stuck in dead-end workfare jobs. Small-state libertarians believe it could slash bureaucracy and create a leaner, more self-sufficient welfare system.

In an increasingly digital economy, it would also provide a necessary injection of cash so people can afford to buy the apps and gadgets produced by the new robot workforce.

Crucially, it is also an idea that seems to resonate across the wider public. A recent poll by Dalia Research found that 68% of people across all 28 EU member states said they would definitely or probably vote for a universal basic income initiative. Finland and the Netherlands have pilot projects in the pipeline.

This weekend the concept faces its first proper test of public opinion, as Switzerland votes on a proposal to introduce a national basic income. …

Read on in The Guardian for plenty more. Given the increasing automation of work – at all levels – it’s difficult to see a practical alternative to a UBI in the medium to long term.

51 comments on “UBI gathers momentum in Europe”

  1. Tory 1

    You have to be f***ing joking if you think that Switzerland is about to vote in the UBI.

    • Pasupial 1.1

      If you’d read the Guardian piece, you’d have seen that; this UBI proposal is not as likely to be implemented in Switzerland in this form, compared to; Finland and the Netherlands (where they are wisely starting with trial runs). However it is not inconceivable given the current polling (from April 24th some 5 weeks before the referendum on June 5th):

      The results suggest that 33% of the population would certainly vote ‘yes’ while 7% would probably vote ‘yes’. Meanwhile, 50% of those surveyed oppose the referendum, with another 7% ‘rather’ opposed. According to the swiss campaign, the level of support has almost doubled since the last poll, conducted in early 2016.

      In the French speaking parts of Switzerland, the level of support even reaches 50%.

      http://www.basicincome.org/news/2016/04/swiss-poll-40-percent-favour-referendum/

      Yet even if the UBI fails to be voted in at this referendum, there is no reason to think that the idea will simply go away for ever. Particularly if the GDP proportion suggested for a future UBI proposal is closer to the current welfare spend.

      a unconditional basic income would cost around a third of the country’s GDP. Switzerland currently spends 19.4% of its GDP on welfare, less than the OECD average.

      Latest polls suggest that more than 60% of Swiss voters are likely to reject the proposal, but Straub is optimistic that the initiative has already achieved some of its aims. “Five years ago, only about a hundred people in Switzerland had heard the term ‘universal basic income’. Now everyone is debating it, and acceptance levels are rising,” he says.

      • Aaron 1.1.1

        It frustrates me so much when I see the phrase “…will cost the country…”in these discussions! The country is not a household, it is an economy and when you spend money into it, it doesn’t dissapear forever, in fact, it moves around between people as they use it to make transactions.

        Every time there is a transaction, the government gets 15% in GST and after 7 transactions all the money has come back to the government, yet we continue to talk about government spending as if we are pouring money down a black hole.

        The real issue is how much money is available for transactions and how fast it’s moving but I never see this discussed.

        I’m having to refrain from using the exclamation key here but it’s very frustrating.

        • The New Student 1.1.1.1

          Yeah eh! The only time money disappears is when it ends up in the hoardings of that much maligned group: the “1%”.

        • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.2

          +1

          There’s two major points to this wrong headedness about the UBI ‘costing’ the country anything. First is that it’s government spending that actually gets the economy going. Without it the economy would crash. Secondly is the implied idea that we can’t actually afford our people. When we look at that second part perhaps we need to look at who we really can’t afford. A million dollar income could easily provide 20 people with a good living standard.

      • AmaKiwi 1.1.2

        @ Pasupial 1.1

        Thank you for correctly informing TS readers about the true lack of support by the Swiss electorate.

        It only requires 50,000 signatures to get a referendum in Switzerland so getting it on the ballot is no big deal.

        On the other hand, passing it in Switzerland requires not just a majority of the Swiss voters but it must ALSO get a majority of votes in a majority of the 26 cantons (provinces or states).

        Yes, Switzerland is giving consideration to the universal basic income. But despite a huge publicity campaign (by Swiss standards), the odds of it passing at this time are zero.

        I have no opinion about the long term fate of UBI. But at present the idea is only in its infancy and the infant mortality rate is high for major economic changes.

  2. Bill 2

    Good god! What is this nonsense about the automation of job functions? Have any of the people taking that as a read bothered to read the reports those claims are based on? Some time back, I linked to them. Think some 1920’s techno-utopia babble and you won’t be to far from the shaky foundations of the reports that those claims stand on.

    Freedom from wage slavery? Yup. About time. But we don’t need automated burger service or automated para-legal voice recognition boxes to achieve that peeps. Neither should we be waiting on an automated ‘never never’ to arrive; that shouldn’t be the motivation, the goal and the brake. Let’s just end the crap because it’s crap.

    Isn’t that a good enough reason?

    • Lanthanide 2.1

      The public at large, in NZ anyway, see UBI as radical. They’re not convinced it’s affordable, or that it won’t just end up with ‘dole bludgers’ sitting at home.

      So the response will be “why do we need to change, I’m getting by just fine”.

      if you say to the public at large “in 10 years time, the majority if you aren’t going to have your current jobs due to automation”, that can snap them out of their complacency and take a proper considered look at the situation.

      A politician who stands up and says “I know all the answers, trust me” is unlikely to achieve their aims. It’s about bringing the public along with your aims, and getting them to understand and accept your argument.

      • Bill 2.1.1

        No doubt some people think UBI is a strange and threatening idea. And no doubt, some people run around in a flap at the prospect.

        Meanwhile, we have a wage slave system of production and distribution that is producing an ever deeper and wider pool of poverty. And we have systems of welfare riding off the back of that, that are degenerating and becoming ever more exclusive in terms of access (think health).

        Claiming that automation will be king in ten years time (or twenty years time) simply tells people to sit back and wait – that everything will be fine soon enough. And in thirty years time (everything else being equal*) when masses of people are still sunk in jobs comprised of drudge, and when access to the likes of health and education is thirty years of austerity down the track – what then?

        Keep repeating that such a state of affairs is normal and natural? Tell people to be patient, that ‘deliverance’ is just around the corner…or the next corner…soon?

        I accept there are jobs which deliver a sense of well being and what not. And I suspect that many people who read thestandard are employed in such jobs. But I also know there are far more numerous jobs that are utterly soul destroying, that go nowhere, and that are of ‘no use to beast nor man’ (good for profit generation though) that a huge number of people are trapped in. Those are the people trapped in crap and experiencing crap and whose crap we all ought to be bent on ending. And yes, that might mean those enjoying a fairly empowering and rewarding job, insofar as their participation in this system of production and distribution makes them complicit in creating conditions of misery for others, have to forego the privileges this system delivers to them.

        Time for something better. Time for something where accruing ‘good shit’ for oneself doesn’t entail, either directly or indirectly, piling ‘bad shit’ on others.

        *leaving AGW out of this for the moment 😉

        • Lanthanide 2.1.1.1

          I think you may have misunderstood what I meant by the “10 years time” thing.

          I meant like this:
          – Proposal, we implement a UBI now, because [mealy-mouthed, unconvincing reason]
          – Result: Rejection, see no need for it

          – Proposal, we implement a UBI now, because within 10 years, most people will have lost their jobs
          – Result: Begin taking UBI as a concept seriously, potentially implementing within the next electoral cycle

          • Bill 2.1.1.1.1

            Yup. Misunderstood what you were saying.

            If it was all down to me, I’d be saying we’re doing it now because AGW represents a clear and present danger to the future, near term viability of our society/civilisation.

            And then I’d give scientists unfettered access to all mainstream media outlets.

            • weka 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Whenever I hear anyone say automation now I just substitute climate change in my head 😉 It works reasonably well at the general level eg Lanth’s suggestion that ‘automation’ will make people take the UBI seriously. Let them plan around their being less jobs even if they’re doing it for the wrong reason. And keep naming it as wrong headed too.

      • mauī 2.1.2

        The public at large, in NZ anyway, see UBI as radical.

        I think unemployment has to hit +10% for people to really reach out for something different like the UBI. Our culture currently says if you’re in work then you’re contributing to society, if you aren’t then you’re probably not.

        • AmaKiwi 2.1.2.1

          @ maui

          For me it is less about the idea being radical than it is about giving our elect dictators even more power.

          Do you trust politicians? I sure as hell don’t.

        • Wayne 2.1.2.2

          Fundamentally a UBI at a level that makes sense requires the govt/state to be 45 to 50% of GDP. Which is the case of some European states. However in NZ it would require a dramatic shift in expectations of the size of govt. It is currently 30% of GDP and under Labour is typically 35%.
          So really a Euro solution, rather than being relevant to NZ. Which is pretty much what Labour seems to have concluded when this issue had a run two months ago.

      • AmaKiwi 2.1.3

        In the hands of Prime Minister Judith Collins, PM Stephen Joyce, or PM Paula Bennett, the Universal Basic Income would be a social Weapon of Mass Destruction.

        Their supporters are no doubt thinking the same about a Little-Shaw-Peters government.

        Until the voters take control away from the politicians, I think UBI is dead in the water. I do not see any move to do that. Binding citizen initiated referendums are on no one’s agenda at present.

        • AmaKiwi 2.1.3.1

          Stop the Press!

          Action Station is demanding the Governor General not sign the TPPA without a binding referendum approving it.

          Get behind this folks.

          http://our.actionstation.org.nz/petitions/demand-a-binding-referendum-on-tpp-let-the-people-decide

        • mikesh 2.1.3.2

          “In the hands of Prime Minister Judith Collins, PM Stephen Joyce, or PM Paula Bennett, the Universal Basic Income would be a social Weapon of Mass Destruction.”

          I don’t really see why. After all we already have a UBI; it’s called National Superannuation and it’s universal for people over 65. A UBI would be universal for people over, say, 20. Bennett and co may try to eliminate benefits on the basis that people are already receiving an income from the state but that would, in part, be one of the objectives of UBI.

  3. Peter 3

    … I guess those who don’t want/need it, should it ever be available in NZ, can gift their entitlement to others.

    • The New Student 3.1

      Or just refuse it and leave it in the pot

    • Lanthanide 3.2

      But, they still have to pay for other’s entitlements. That’s the bit they object to.

      • Colonial Viper 3.2.1

        That money goes around the economy. If they own a business, provide a service or sell goods at retail, they will get that money back many times over.

        • Lanthanide 3.2.1.1

          Most people are just employees / workers.

          • Colonial Viper 3.2.1.1.1

            ? huh?

            Are you claiming that a more buoyant economy is not going to lift prospects and mobility for ordinary employees?

        • Craig H 3.2.1.2

          I know that and you know that, but my experience is that most people don’t understand the concepts of velocity of money or propensity to consume, so they don’t know that. The difficult part is in explaining it.

  4. Your Average Voter 4

    Great idea. Make everyone a social welfare beneficiary and dependent on the state. The nanny state at its best. Good thinking. Do away with any incentive to help yourself because the benign state will do it for you. And if you do get ahead then the state can tax the crap out of you to spread the love. The only thing they missed out in the article was the compulsory fluro vests to keep everyone safe.

    So everyone from Joe Blow sleeping in a car to Gareth Morgan gets it?

    All so we can do really meaningful jobs like study global warming and buy apps and gadgets made by the new robotic workforce and then introduce a financial transaction tax to help support it financially. Jesus wept.

    And don’t forget it will liberate people in dead end jobs and some how magically mean less bureaucracy. Yeah right. Wishful thinking at its best.

    And of course it eliminates poverty by giving people more money without recognising the drivers behind poverty. Just throw money at them and all will be well in the world.

    So who pays for all this while we are all engaged in voluntary social work, studying climate change and playing with our apps and robotically made gadgets?

    A totally doomed social experiment that will end badly if it ever gets off the ground. No wonder Europe/EU is in the shit. It’ll become an economic migrants dream come true. Maybe we should all pack our bags, climb in the boat and head to the EU never never land where we can all be equals under the same sun and do meaningful things while tending our vege gardens, organic of course.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      The fact you invoked the name of Jesus during your little self serving banker backing right wing rant shows how soulless and depraved you actually are.

      • Your Average Voter 4.1.1

        CV, don’t read to much into Jesus wept. It’s just an expression. And I have quoted from the article itself with my little rant. 😀
        Soulless and depraved. I don’t think so. I just have a BS meter like everyone else and after reading the linked article at the top it went off.

        I believe the state has its place looking after the vulnerable as do voluntary organisations but social welfare to everyone under a different name. Is that really progressive?

        Do you really want us all to become that reliant on the state?

        • weka 4.1.1.1

          We are all reliant on the state. That’s called living in a social democracy. Even living in a neoliberal hell version of a social democracy, we are still dependent on the state. Who built the roads, hospitals, schools that we all use? We did, via the state. All those things are social welfare, ie for the welfare of society.

          If by relying on the state you mean bludging, then you don’t understand what a UBI is or how it would function within an economy like ours. Hardly anyone is going to want or be able to live on a UBI. There will be plenty of room for people to contribte to society. Stop worrying about that stuff and look at how it actually is intended to work.

          • Your Average Voter 4.1.1.1.1

            Hi Weka
            I agree that we are all dependent on the state for infrastructure, etc, etc.

            The guardian article linked to the story doesn’t explain much and listening to a guy on the radio trying to explain it with Jim Mora made a complete hash of it.

            All I can gather from it is that it’s replacing one benefit with another and calling it a different name.

            Hardly anyone is going to want it or be able to live on it……..so that would mean you would have to top it up with another set of benefits for the unemployed etc.?

            What exactly is the point of that?

            One of the things that can be incredibly frustrating with this type of thing is people get so caught up in political rhetoric that the actual point they are trying to make gets completely lost ( not accusing you of that. Just an observation)

            • weka 4.1.1.1.1.1

              Ok, that’s interesting in what you are getting from the MSM.

              A UBI isn’t a benefit replacement. It’s a form of income security that does multiple things that the dole doesn’t. It’s universal which means it is there when you need it as a stop gap, you don’t have to apply or spend large amounts of time navigating the system just to get it. People with ongoing needs will still need assistance in other ways eg people who are disabled or raising young kids. The expectation is that people who are unemployed would be picking up work that isn’t necessarily full time or enough to live on. The UBI gives them security. At the moment the current WINZ system is punitive and disincentivises people from p/t work by penalising them financially when they do work.

          • AmaKiwi 4.1.1.1.2

            @ weka

            “That’s called living in a social democracy.”

            Do not defame democracy.

            Our government does not meet the minimum requirements for a democracy. It is an elected dictatorship.

        • Daveosaurus 4.1.1.2

          It may be an expression, but it’s also a direct quote from the Gospel of John, ch. 11, v. 35. I suggest you look up the Gospel of Matthew, ch. 21, v. 12-13, to see what Jesus son of Joseph thought of capitalism.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.2

      Make everyone a social welfare beneficiary and dependent on the state.

      Everyone is dependent upon the state – especially rich people as they need the state to bail them out when they lose.

      Do away with any incentive to help yourself because the benign state will do it for you.

      You RWNJs are using it as an excuse to keep poverty as without poverty people can’t be forced to make rich bludgers richer.

      And of course it eliminates poverty by giving people more money without recognising the drivers behind poverty.

      The drivers behind poverty are the rich and capitalism.

      A totally doomed social experiment that will end badly if it ever gets off the ground.

      That would be capitalism and it’s on it’s final collapse now. Capitalism has never worked and will never work.

    • Brigid 4.3

      I wish I’d read your comment 12 hours or so ago.
      Please read this report on the UBI
      http://public.econ.duke.edu/~erw/197/forget-cea%20%282%29.pdf

      • Lara 4.3.1

        Yep.

        It’s been tried. For a fairly long time. It worked.

        But trying to introduce facts and evidence to an emotionally charged argument such as any one on UBI… doesn’t usually end well as far as I’ve seen.

  5. save nz 5

    Would vote for a UBI – anything is better than neoliberalism and austerity and even the IMF are now saying it is not working.

    In the short term they need to get rid of Tax havens so the money can’t be stolen and stashed away by politicians and the .1%.

  6. Rocco Siffredi 6

    Milton Friedman was a big fan of UBI.

  7. weka 7

    Continuing along the lines of a public conversation he had with Noam Chomsky in April this year, in which Chomsky noted that most medical discoveries are only possible because of research carried out with public money, Varoufakis gives another example of public-funded corporate development and profit-making, citing the iPhone, every part of which is created by a government grant. Hence, this process of profit-making presently enriching just a few individuals should benefit society as a fair allocation of aggregate wealth whereby each citizen would have the means to aspire to a dignified existence and, in turn, make his or her contribution to society, individually or as a member of a well-founded economic community. A basic income would be a dividend and not a government grant.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/27/basic-income-gathers-steam-across-europe/

    (Not sure if that was covered in the article links)

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1

      A basic income would be a dividend and not a government grant.

      That’s one way of looking at it but I still prefer seeing a UBI as the funding that gets the economy moving.

      • weka 7.1.1

        Could be both? Both reframe in useful ways to different audiences.

        • Draco T Bastard 7.1.1.1

          No, it couldn’t. One is the result of the economy and the other is the motivation of the economy. Also the dividend idea comes with the concept of being able to afford it whereas the idea of it funding the economy has it that we can’t afford to do without it.

  8. Your Average Voter 8

    The question goes begging. Why do Apple get a government grant ( i.e.: tax payers money) for private profit?

    Under UBI what would be the dividend to the general population. X Profit divided by X population?

    dont we already aspire to a dignified existence? Is changing one system for another really going to make a difference seeing it will be the same shysters in charge of it?

    • Wonderpup 8.1

      Virtually all research is paid for directly by the government, or subsidised through tax breaks, or the final product (in the case of pharmaceuticals) subsidised by the government.

      I’d love to see an ideologically pure right wing libertarian telephone. It would be a tin can, with string going nowhere.

  9. gsays 9

    The bit that I didn’t like about this proposal is that it is to be funded by GST.
    Why o why not do a financial transaction tax.
    Everyone contributes and the banks/rich are in the net too.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      Who said it was going to funded by GST?

      In fact, much better idea to see the UBI as funding the entire economy.

      • gsays 9.1.1

        hi draco,
        to be fair that was part of the synopsis i heard on rnz this arvo.
        i get what you are saying: that a ubi is not an expense, it is potentially a driver for the economy.

        just that gst is an unfair tax and a ftt would be far more equitable and bring in current non tax payers.

  10. Sirenia 10

    Many locals have thought about how a UBI could work here eg

    http://publicaddress.net/access/the-universal-basic-income-and-its-implications/

    • Rocco Siffredi 10.1

      “So if we taxed the bottled water industry, at say, $1 a litre we could well afford a generous UBI.”

      A $1 tax on bottled water would result in a UBI of exactly $0.

  11. Peter Lewis 11

    Effectively, we already have a UBI in New Zealand., and have done so for quite a few years.

    The only difference from the european proposals is that we have set the qualifying age at 65.

    I guess that legislativly all we need to do is reduce that age to 18 and away we go.

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