Gideon Haigh, “Basic income for all: a 500-year-old idea whose time has come?”
Gideon Haigh is a journalist who writes mainly about sports and business. In this article, Haigh explores a welfare system of a future in which, as he claims many argue, work will be increasingly flexible, casual, various and scarce. Haigh discusses three possibilities for Australia; universal basic income (UBI), negative income tax and targeted cash transfers, with most of the article devoted to UBI.
Throughout the article, Haigh quotes various writers, economists and politicians on the future of work. One of these is Tim Dunlop, author of ‘The Future is Workless’, who states that “you might be able to string together a lifetime of [short-term contracts]. But, for a lot of people, even if there is plenty of that sort of work, there are going to be periods where you’ve got nothing. And if you have a society based on that insecurity, that’s a bad society.” A UBI is there to fill in these gaps. Furthermore, Haigh notes, UBI has the advantage of a wide variety of advocates across the political spectrum.
Haigh also discusses the perceived downsides of a UBI, such as the expectation that a UBI would be a work disincentive. However, he notes, most forms of income support that are now uncontroversial were first condemned. Another downside, he claims, is that a true UBI would reach many who neither need nor want it. A related disadvantage could be the cost of the scheme, one that is aggravated by the fact that Australia does not rely as much on the tax and transfer system as, for instance, Scandinavian countries do.
An interesting comment is made, again, by Dunlop who mentions that he does not think UBI is an idea whose time has come, given that social and cultural norms are so entrenched. A crisis is required to force this change upon us.
The article closes out with a quote of urgency by economist Ross Garnaut: “We’re testing how democracy works when wages are stagnant or falling. Well, I think we already know how it works, which is badly. In fact, unless we get used to the idea of doing something systematic and non-stigmatising to support the incomes of ordinary people, it may not be viable as a political system.”
Gideon Haigh, “Basic income for all: a 500-year-old idea whose time has come?” The Guardian, November 10, 2016.
Reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan
Photo: CC BY 2.0 Nicki Mannix