Universal basic income would offer a deadweight subsidy to low-paying employers. The route to security for all lies in the concept of ‘social commons’.
By Francine Mestrum – The coronavirus crisis has put ‘basic income’ once more on the agenda. It is understandable, since the crisis has hit all vulnerable people in our societies particularly hard. Many in precarious working conditions have lost their job and joined the ranks of the poor. These people deserve help. Ergo, give them some money, without conditions.
Sure, but let us be clear what we are talking about.
Once again—even more than in the recent past when the debate previously erupted—there is an enormous semantic confusion. Sometimes authors speak of the universal basic income as proposed by Phillippe Van Parijs or Guy Standing. But, in most cases, what is meant is some kind of minimum income, only paid to those who need it. This is the case, for instance, with the ‘basic income’ now introduced in Spain.
The first option, the ‘real UBI’, has to be rejected, as earlier explained. First, if one wants to solve poverty, there is no need to give money to the rich, who most often do not even pay taxes. Secondly, if one wants to improve mental wellbeing—as mentioned in the Finnish report on the brief experience with ‘basic income’ there—there are many ways to achieve this. Income security can indeed be a very important factor for wellbeing but the former is not synonymous with a universal basic income.
Thirdly, it seems rather contradictory to seek a fair tax system with contributions from big corporations, if at the same time the state allows companies to lower wages and offers to complement these wages with a basic-income subsidy—a kind of negative income tax. That would, at best, be a zero-sum game, for the state as well as for the corporations.
A UBI can only be acceptable if it can guarantee a decent standard of living, complementary to social protection. But then it becomes a very serious financial problem—far too expensive, as Van Parijs and Rutger Bregman admit. more>