Opinion

Rural basic income ‘maximizes impact’ for society

By JOHN MCCONE

Basic income has many advantages over means-tested benefits: no processing times (with funding gaps where people can be left homeless); no restrictions on freedom; less disincentive to work; and a higher credit value to raise loans at lower interest compared to means-tested benefits. Overall the reliability, unconditionality and lack of bureaucracy makes basic income the dream benefit to receive.

But while basic income may be the dream benefit for recipients, it is a budgetary nightmare for those funding it. Whichever way you run the numbers, a given tax revenue distributed evenly throughout society will provide the most needy with less than if they were the sole recipients. This typically causes enthusiasm for basic income to wane as policy makers consider the practicalities of budgeting for it.

Is there any way for society to reap the benefits of a universal basic income while reducing its cost? What if basic income was restricted to those who live in the countryside (who don’t regularly commute to the city)? Most developed countries today are highly urbanised with 70% or more of their populations living in cities (82.6% in the U.K. in 2015). A rural basic income would cost the taxpayer 3 to 5 times less than a universal basic income and leave room in the budget for means-tested benefits to the needy.

While a basic income limited to rural inhabitants would not be universally distributed, it would be universally available. Anyone could move to the countryside and automatically receive it. This would close any gaps in the benefit system and ensure that those who were truly desperate but did not qualify – or understand how to apply – for means-tested benefits could always move to the countryside and immediately receive rural basic income.

In addition to reducing the budget, distributing a basic income to rural locations, where land rents are minimized, maximizes its impact. All a person really needs is food, shelter and water. Low rents make shelter less expensive as well as providing land where people can cheaply grow food. We often overlook the amount of extra time that otherwise unemployed people have compared to salaried workers which, given the right tools and resources, they can apply to provide for themselves. Thus, a basic income does not necessarily have to be large enough to enable people to purchase their material needs from retailers (e.g. groceries, restaurants); it must only be sufficient to give people access to the capital they need (e.g. fertilizer, greenhouses, farm tools) to apply their own labour to produce what they need for themselves. So low land rents have a huge impact on the cost of self-provision.

Given two choices people usually choose the more preferable option. If the goods that can be procured with a given amount of effort from a lifestyle in the countryside are greater than the goods that an identical effort in the city can procure, then people will tend to move to the countryside. It is perfectly possible that the quality of life that working in nature, with low rent payments and a solid basic income of £5,000 (front-loaded with a low interest loan to buy, say, a log cabin) in the countryside might be better than a precarious salary of £20,000 and a 2 hour daily commute in a high rent area of the city. If this is the case, all those with lower salaries than £20,000 will leave for the countryside creating labour scarcity and increasing the salary of unskilled labour to £20,000. Thus, a relatively modest basic income in an area where money is scarce and the cost of living low could exert a highly leveraged effect on salaries in areas where the cost of living is high and money is plentiful.

Beyond raising wages, giving everyone the option to provide for themselves in nature, as opposed to working for somebody else, will strengthen the negotiating position of employees across the board. Managers will have to struggle to retain their workers, this struggle will produce more satisfying jobs and a more fulfilling work environment. A scarcity of labour will also mean that jobs in the city will be easily available to anyone who wants to take them. Furthermore, even a small number of people heading for the countryside will leave a surplus of un-rented accommodation. This in turn will make rents more affordable.

From this we can see that, not only is a rural basic income an affordable way to conveniently pay benefits to those who choose to move to the countryside, but it will also indirectly increase wages, employment and job satisfaction in the city along with lowering rents. A rural basic income could thus affordably improve the lives of everyone.

 

Author of The Countryside Living Allowance (Link: http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/8487802-the-countryside-living-allowance)

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The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

3 comments

  • Although I see the attraction of this kind of idea ‘provide for yourself in nature’ politically, I don’t think that it addresses in the fullness the things one needs because it assumes “Food, Shelter, and Water’ are all a person needs. That is the mere fundamental basis of physiological need.

    How about Safety? These rural-on-a-stipend people are depending on themselves to create a reasonable income – land, growing, etc. This depends on the weather, on the quality of the land, the lack of disasters and the quality of choice land – which will be taken first of course. How about of their safety of health? Living rural puts you at a distance from shared resources like clinics and hospitals. If your stipend does not permit the ownership of significant power vehicles, how will you even obtain these services on a short-time basis when needed?

    How about friendship, family, sexual intimacy? The more rural you are the less options you have – one of the fun things about population density is the formation of ad-hoc subcommunities based on interest and personality in a web across the population, enabled by proximity and density. Low density doesn’t enable nearly the fulfillment urban does. An environment that doesn’t seem to be delivering these is likely to be abandoned by many who will pursue their needs in the city even at the expense of society-cost-inducing poverty.

    So perhaps you don’t care. – or consider it not the job of government to take care of anything more than the most base of physiological needs. I think this is inadequate and doesn’t cover *at least* the matters of security – particularly that of food and energy and health care. Any particular individual may not be able to cover those needs on the stipend alone – and the ability of the environment to provide the rest of these needs varies unpredictably but statistically inevitably.

  • This would be a dream solution for gentrifiers: pay poor people to leave cities. The racial implications in the US are interesting: the white and Hispanic poor are currently more rural than the black poor.

  • christoph meier

    Although reasonable, unless regulatory measures are taken will urbanize the country side with commuters having their jobs in the city, raising land values, building more highways……

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