Or – how to pay for Basic Income
A while back, Guy Standing gave a talk in Hastings which, among other things, contrasted one of our major problems, Universal Credit (how to put individuals, in fact whole communities, into grinding poverty) with a potential cure (Basic Income – a reliable, non-means-tested safety-net for all).
He was back this week (12th September) talking about his latest book, Plunder of the Commons – A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth. Doubly interesting because the most common response when people discuss Guy’s Basic Income talk is, ‘how would we pay for it?’ It turns out, the answer is simple.
A Cycle of Ideas
Guy’s books pass between them a series of questions and ideas about how our society works, and looked at as a cycle, they go like this:
This book studies how an ever increasing proportion of our people have been forced into ways of working and living that are unsustainable – jobs are temporary, income insecure, homes are short-tenancy private lets, and rents – or mortgages if you can afford one – are too high – or wages too low – to make life comfortably workable.
Everyone lives in a constantly, increasingly precarious battle to hold their lives together.
The Corruption of Capitalism
Or Rentier Capitalism – explains how the developing system of neoliberalism, as it spreads across the globe, creates a situation where ever fewer people own ever more of everything, and far from their wealth “trickling down” to anyone who needs it, more and more opportunities for earning fall back into the hands of those owners – the rentiers – whilst less and less goes to fund or reward makers and carers.
The more this small club of billionaires hold all the property – the land, the houses – everything – the more obvious and necessary it becomes for some of those holdings to be redistributed for the benefit of our increasingly precarious communities. And now…
Plunder of the Commons
Guy’s new book tells the story of the years, how ever since our common rights were formalised by the Charter of the Forest in 1217, the ability of the average person to use and thrive on our land has been progressively degraded and stolen. The earliest well-known example is the Enclosure Acts, the most recent is POPS – Privately Owned Public Spaces – councils, deprived of government grants, are often forced to sell – or give away – public space or public facilities, so that our very parks and walkways, our rivers and our trees, our schools, libraries and hospitals, become someone else’s earning opportunity.
Closing the Circle
And so, explains Guy, the wealth of those few big owners is now so unimaginably huge that, were we to apply a mere 1% Wealth Tax to those once-public assets – the land, waterways, public buildings, services and facilities, all now in corporate hands – their combined worth is so extensive that just a 1% tax on those assets, a loss the corporate “owners” would barely feel, would be enough to provide a regular Basic Income to all. It would help individuals (by making it easier to pay the rent, to stay secure) and councils (nourishing local shops and services by increasing local day-to-day spending). It wouldn’t solve everything but it would fill a large majority of the hungry gaps that we, the many – the precariat – suffer in our modern world, and would re-enliven our starved local communities.
Guy Standing has discussed his analyses with John McDonnell’s policy team and has presented a report to the Labour Party on The Plunder of the Commons. McDonnell, our People’s Chancellor, now has plans in hand to try out Basic Income, as soon as we get ourselves a Labour government.
Bring it on, John!