GiveDirectly, a nonprofit organization currently most known for unconditional cash transfers in East Africa, has decided to distribute cash among Hurricane Harvey victims, starting with those afflicted in Rose City, Texas with a population of about 500 people considered for the project. However, depending on occupancy of the affected areas, the estimation is to cover at least 3000 people with the cash aid.
As with their other initiatives in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, GiveDirectly is proposing to transfer money to hurricane victims in Texas as an unconditional payment. Unlike the projects in East Africa however, where the transfers were via payments to phones through methods like mobile banking, the transfer for Harvey victims is being delivered via prepaid debit cards containing US$1,500. This initiative also differs from the African experiments in the sense that it is not designed as a basic income pilot: beneficiaries are targeted by applying “a range of criteria to select locations: degree of damage sustained, income levels, access to other aid resources, and size”, as transmitted by Piali Mukhopadhyay from GiveDirectly. Moreover, Hurricane Harvey cash transfer will not be monitored via a control group, so there is no comparison between treated and non-treated groups. Clarifying the “unconditional” reference above, it applies only to the way beneficiaries spend the money, which is completely free from control / conditions.
Disaster victim assistance is changing, from an in-kind-based approach to cash-based programming. Cash transfers were used after the Pakistan floods in 2010, and useful lessons were learnt about cash distribution systems, and in 2016 the method was discussed in a United Nations report. GiveDirectly’s project is therefore part of a trend. Experience so far suggests that providing cash rather than services is an efficient way to provide disaster relief because it supports the local economy at the same time as providing the goods and services that disaster victims know that they need.
Whilst these experiments are not Basic Income pilot projects, the results are useful indicators of how different methods for distributing cash might work, and therefore of what the best methods for distributing Basic Incomes might be in different contexts; and the results might also inform a longer-term debate about how Basic Incomes might be preferable to longer term development aid.
Jordan Peterson, cultural critic, psychologist, and member of the Self Authoring online service, gave his remarks on Universal Basic Income. His concerns seem to be largely drawn from a similar issue critics have with the idea, primarily in the face of leisure time: will people become lazy and unmotivated? Can people handle a life with none of the traditional burdens we normally face with work as it is? Where will people map out meaning in their lives?
All of these are fair questions, and Peterson seems to be open to the idea. A concern Peterson addresses is the rise of relative poverty in developed nations, which has been given terms such as “the precariat,” a term coined by Guy Standing. In addition to this, the rise of technology has made it so that many people who are not tech-savvy are poised to be left behind in this changing climate. This is coupled with the conservative myth that there is an infinite supply of jobs for everyone, and the liberal myth of retraining as a solution, both of which Peterson challenges directly. People might be phased out of the labor force, which is one of the general concerns automation forces us to examine.
In regard to UBI being proposed as a solution, Peterson seems to make some strong assertions. While he admits that a UBI is possible as something we can do, he remains unsure of “what would it do” to help people. In addition, Peterson makes a very strong claim that people in North America do not have issues with starvation due to a lack of income. Children go to bed hungry rather often, so Peterson’s remark doesn’t seem to be substantiated by any current facts or statistics. The most striking remark Peterson makes is perhaps a core view of his entire life’s work: he believes people are at their best when they are “burdened” by something. While one can sincerely entertain the possibility of struggles helping people become better versions of themselves, must it really be because one might not be able to add economic value due to factors beyond oneself, as Jeremy Howard argues? Is this an acceptable burden, given the scope of the problem?
The California Research Bureau hosted a panel on March 23, 2017 regarding current issues facing the state of California, and one of the topics that arose was Universal Basic Income.
The panel, hosted by Anne Neville and featuring three experts — Nicholas Davis; Rachel Hatch; Irena Asmundson — focused on various topics of inequality facing Americans in the state of California. From housing, to health care, to inequality itself, many of the themes focused on how to reshape and adjust society for the wellbeing of its citizens. At one point during the panel, the topic of Universal Basic Income arose, and all three experts took time to explain their views on it during a roundtable discussion.
Nicholas Davis, who was the most connected to the concept of a basic income, spoke in favor of it. Davis argues there are three reasons why a discussion on UBI is essential: the first is about creating security for people in current social climates of instability and insecurity; the second reason focuses on empowering personal freedom, to escape the issues of governmental paternalism; and the final point addresses social justice, which focuses on inclusiveness so that the gains of technology are shared with all instead of a few.
Irena Asmundson then took the response to Davis’ remarks, talking about the economic cost to introducing a UBI. The representatives main point regarding affordability for a UBI in California in terms of taxation would be that the state would need to obtain four times the amount of money it currently does from citizens. However, the largest form of aversion Asmundson expressed was on America’s failings to introduce affordable housing and health care to its citizens, and that these issues need to be solved before a UBI can be considered feasible. In her view, she believed the failure at addressing baseline needs like housing and health care to be far more crucial than assuring a minimum floor, which in comparison UBI may seem more nuanced and not direct at addressing those issues.
Matt Orfalea, a social activist and an advocate for basic income, has released a trailer for his upcoming documentary series.
Titled “The BIG Idea,”the series intends to raise awareness of the concept of basic income by describing its history, as well as entertaining possibilities of its implementation. The series will explore such aspects as dealing with poverty, getting ahead of the potential problem of technological unemployment and helping to alleviate the precarious living that is already affecting nations like the United States.
The first part of the series is intended to be released sometime in April.
Watch the trailer of “The BIG Idea” below
Reviewed by Kate McFarland
A Basic Income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement. Read more
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BIEN Congresses in 2021 and 2022
BIEN’s Executive Committee and the Scottish and Australian congress Local Organising Committees have agreed the following statement: ‘The Scottish and Australian Congress Local Organisation Committees have agreed that the current plan is to hold the 2021 BIEN congress in Scotland and the 2022 BIEN congress in Australia.’
A series of conversations from around the world that explore the relationship between the Covid-19 pandemic and Basic Income. Read more