There are rare moments when a combination of threatening circumstances leads to a wonderful transformation that only a short time before would have been unimaginable. This year may be such a moment. The Republic of Korea could set an example to the world that would bring happiness to millions of Koreans, and to many more around the world.
The risks if politicians are too cautious are enormous. Before COVID-19, the global economy was already heading towards a crisis. For over three decades, more and more of the income and wealth were going to the owners of property, financial, physical, and “intellectual”. The commons, belonging to everybody, were being converted into the source of profits and rents. A new class, the precariat, was growing everywhere, suffering from multiple forms of insecurity, drifting deeper into debt. It was incredibly high debt – private, corporate, and public – that made the global economy uniquely fragile.
Meanwhile, the public across the world were realizing the threat posed by global warming and destruction of the environment. Nothing was being done. If that continues, life for our children and grandchildren will be impaired. And it is clear that mistreatment of nature has helped make this an era of pandemics. The COVID-19 outbreak is the sixth pandemic this century.
In these circumstances, policies that merely try to go back to the old normal will not work. We need a bold transformative vision, one of courage, one designed to give people basic economic and social security, one designed to make the economy work for society and every citizen, not just for the bankers and plutocracy, and one designed to revive the commons and our natural environment.
Jae-Myung Lee is campaigning for the Presidency in the March 2022 presidential election with an exciting and feasible strategy, based on a promise of a basic income for every Korean man and woman, paid equally, as a right, without conditions. It is affordable. What is important at this stage is not to set some ideal amount, but to be on the road towards living in a society in which everybody has enough on which to survive, even if they experience personal setbacks.
What makes the proposal for a basic income so profound is that Jae-Myung Lee has come from a humble background, knowing poverty and insecurity from his childhood. He understands two fundamentals. First, the income of every Korean is due to the efforts of all those Koreans who lived beforehand, and it is based on the commons, nature and resources that make up the country, which belong to all Koreans. Those who have gained from taking the commons, most of all, the land, owe it to all Koreans to share some of the gains. A modest Land Value Tax, or levy, is justifiable and fair, and should help fund the basic income.
He also understands that pollution and global warming must be combated by a carbon tax or eco-taxes. The rich cause more pollution than the poor, the poor experience the bad effects more than the rich, including bad health from exposure to poisonous air. So, the solution must include carbon taxes to discourage global warming and polluting activities. But by themselves such taxes would hit the poor harder, because the tax would amount to more of their income.
The only sensible solution is to guarantee that the revenue from eco-taxes will be recycled through a Commons Capital Fund to help pay for the basic income, as Carbon Dividends. The poor will gain, while society will be on the road to fighting global warming and ecological decay. A basic income will also encourage more care work and ecological work, rather than resource-depleting labor. It will stimulate the desirable form of economic growth.
The second fundamental Jae-Myung Lee and his advisers have understood is that basic security is essential for rational decision-making and mental health. There cannot be individual or societal resilience against pandemics or economic crises unless there is basic security, so that people can behave rationally rather than in desperation. Experiments have shown that a basic income improves mental health and the ability to make better decisions, for oneself, one’s family, and one’s community.
In the Korean edition of my book Plunder of the Commons, I paid respect to the ancient Korean ethos of hongik ingan, which helped found Korea in 2,333 BC. It expresses a historically-grounded wisdom that Koreans should be re-teaching the world in an era of self-centered individualism and consumption-driven “success”. It conveys the sense of not just sharing in benefits of production but sharing in the preservation and reproduction of a sense of community, our sense of participation and our relationships in and with nature. A basic income would pay respect to that ethos. Jae-Myung Lee should be commended for having pioneered it in Gyeonggi Province, and would set the country on a new progressive road if elected President on March 9.
A Korean translation of this article was published by Pressian – a political news website headquartered in Seoul, South Korea.
Mark Drakeford, First Minister of the Government of Wales (center), Beth Winter, Labor MP for Cynon Valley, and Guy Standing, co-president of BIEN, at the Labor Party Conference
There will be a basic income experiment in Wales in 2022. The First Minister in the devolved Welsh government, Mark Drakeford, has announced his full commitment to rolling it out in the Spring. Following an opinion poll showing that 69% of Welsh people wanted their government to conduct a basic income pilot, the Future Generations Commission arranged for a background report to be prepared, and at an event at the Labor Party Conference in the seaside town of Brighton, Mark Drakeford said he intended to devote the remainder of his time in office to advancing basic income in Wales. He was sharing the platform with Guy Standing, co-president of BIEN, who is advising the Government and Commission on the design of the proposed experiment. Coordinating the plans is the Taskforce for Tackling Poverty in the Welsh Government, headed by Sarah King.
At present, the main proposal is to give basic incomes to “care leavers”, that is, young people emerging into adulthood from care homes. If restricted to those, it would not be a proper basic income pilot, which requires everybody within a geographic community to be covered. In effect, it would be a test of an individual, unconditional modest cash transfer. Given the UK government’s rigid adherence to strict conditional means-tested benefits, which is causing widespread deprivation and a regime of sanctions, the proposed pilot could still prove valuable. However, discussions on the design, sampling and duration are still ongoing. Everything depends on resource constraints.
The ancient Greeks had three Gods of Time, and on the auspicious occasion of the 80th birthday of one of our most loyal and outstanding BIEN members, it is a delight to be able to congratulate Eduardo Suplicy, and to say that he defies one of those Gods, Chronos, while being a poster child for the other two, Aion, who represents time as eternity, and Kairos, personified in the ability to take advantage of moments of opportunity.
Following his long, dignified and impeccably moral period as Senator for Sao Paulo, in which millions of people voted for him with smiles on their faces, knowing that he was a good man, many still refer to him as ‘Senador’. But we in BIEN love him for his eternal commitment to basic income, and his constant willingness to seek out any and every moment to promote the values that motivate most of us to want basic income as part of the future.
There is a story of Eduardo flying from Mexico via Miami to New York. A lady sitting next to him asked him about his politics, after which he spoke to her on and off (probably rather more on than off) all the way to New York. When they prepared to leave the plane, she said to him, no doubt with a slightly jet-lagged smile, ‘I don’t know what the questions are, but I do know now that the answer is basic income.’
Eduardo is a living example for all of us, having passion for a cause tempered by a sense of patience, of being on a hard journey. Few great changes come easily. But Eduardo knows we are much closer to where we want to be than when he joined BIEN in the late 1980s. Although this writer is a stripling by comparison, I still recall those early discussions late into the evenings. There is not a single sinew of cynicism in Eduardo. He constantly reminds us that moments when the God Kairos stirs can come anytime and anywhere. The day will surely come when the song he so loves to sing will have a mighty resonance in reality.
Eduardo, on behalf of every BIEN member, we wish you well for the journey ahead.
Advocates for basic income have long argued that it is much more than just a poverty relief measure. It is a matter of common justice that would enhance freedom and provide basic security for all. A new survey across six major European countries shows that people understand its potential to improve their lives. Not only do large majorities in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain favour basic income pilots and basic income as a permanent policy. The survey also reveals the advantages people believe a basic income would bring for themselves.
The poll, conducted independently by YouGov, found that two-thirds or more of respondents in the six countries were in favour of pilots and a national basic income system. Excluding the few ‘don’t knows’, support ranged from 65% in France to 87% in Portugal. Women were generally more supportive, particularly in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Even before the pandemic, European citizens were suffering from insecurity, stress and precarity, linked to rising inequalities. The pandemic has made things worse. In an era of shocks, policies to strengthen individual and societal resilience are vital. Instead, governments have resorted to measures aimed chiefly at propping up businesses, including furlough schemes, that have worsened inequalities and eroded resilience.
Resilience means being able to handle and recover from shocks. It is about feeling in control, able to handle setbacks because we can envisage a better future. But it cannot be provided by today’s labour market, increasingly characterised by flexible labour relations, insecure jobs and fluctuating wages, or by existing welfare systems, or by better public services alone, even though those are needed.
The survey provides cogent support for arguments in favour of basic income. High proportions of respondents said a basic income would reduce anxiety – over half in Poland and Portugal, and more than 40% overall, especially among women and youth. It is now well established that chronic anxiety increases the risk of mental and physical illness. A basic income offers the prospect of reducing ill-health and demands on health services. It might almost pay for itself.
Respondents also believed a basic income would open up opportunities for a better way of living and working. A high proportion of youths and women said it would give them more financial independence – 50% of young Italians and 41% of young Germans, for instance. This would reduce their sense of precarity, the feeling of being a supplicant reliant on others for discretionary help.
One horror of the pandemic has been the surge in domestic violence. Experiments have shown that, once women have basic income security, domestic tensions decline and women are more likely to walk away from abusive relationships.
Many youths said a basic income would enable them to pursue further education or training, including 49% in Portugal, 53% in Spain and 27% in Germany. This reflects the current inability of the precariat to develop their capabilities in the way they choose, because they must take whatever job they can get and put in as many hours of labour as possible. Basic security is conducive to the development of skills and a more educated society.
A basic income would also improve the quality of living. Young people, in particular, said it would enable them to take part in leisure activities that they cannot afford to do now – about a third in Portugal and Spain, for example.
And a basic income would foster work beyond ‘jobs’. Men as well as women, among all age groups, said a basic income would enable them to devote more time to their family. This was the case for one in five in Germany and more than a quarter of both men and women in Poland. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the extent to which society suffers from a ‘care deficit’. And pilots have shown that a basic income encourages men to do more care work, helping to weaken the gender dualism that feminists rightly condemn.
Basic income would also foster a more entrepreneurial attitude. A significant proportion of respondents said it would encourage them to launch a small-scale business – 8% in Italy, 10% in France, 13% in Germany and 19% in Portugal. Entrepreneurial enthusiasm was even greater among youths – 14% in Italy, for instance. Many youths also said a basic income would enable them to devote more time to volunteering or social activism, including over a quarter of youths in Germany and 13% in France. Society surely wants more socially engaged and active youth.
One lesson surely learned during the pandemic is that most of us are vulnerable, not just to illness but also to shocks to our finances, relationships and lifestyles. In what was a cross-section of people in six relatively rich countries, only small minorities said a basic income would make little difference to their lives – 11% in Italy and 6% in Portugal, for example. Long-term basic security is still something most of us value.
We should implore European policymakers to launch basic income pilots in communities around Europe. Ideally, some courageous governments would move in the direction of a national system. But failing that, surely it is time for pilots to explore the transformative potential of basic income. According to this survey, over 70% of Europeans want them.
Guy Standing is Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London, and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network.