Ben Mangan is the executive director of the Center for Social Leadership (CSSL) at UC Berkeley-Haas business school, as well as a lecturer there. He is also a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute.
In a January 2017 article for TED, Mangan notes that universal basic income (UBI) has been seen by many as a solution to a wide range of issues such as financial insecurity of workers, a widening wealth gap in developed nations and the impact of technology on work. Even though he observes there would be huge upsides to a UBI (e.g. elimination of poverty), Mangan thinks the barriers to implementation are considerable. He therefore proposes three alternatives that could provide a more sustainable solution to the underlying issues.
- Match savings of lower-income workers when they invest in assets.
- Increase bargaining power of workers.
- Build a new post-secondary education and training system.
Read more: Ben Mangan, “Will universal basic income end inequality? Maybe.” ideas.ted.com, January 13, 2017.
Reviewed by Kate McFarland
Photo: CC BY 2.0 TaxRebate.org.uk
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
Maitreesh Ghatak is a professor of economics at the London School of Economics, and regularly writes about economic and political issues with a specific focus on India. He begins his search for an answer to the question posed in the title of this piece by noting the multitude of poverty alleviation programs already active in India and their various successes and drawbacks. One possible solution arising from a broad societal debate on these issues is a Universal Basic Income (UBI). A UBI, thanks to its unconditional nature, would address two of the biggest problems with conventional programs – exclusion error (people not receiving a benefit who should) and inclusion error (people receiving a benefit who should not).
Ghatak continues by discussing some possible catches to the UBI approach. A universal program, such as UBI, would most likely be expensive and require spending cuts or increased taxes so as not to add to the fiscal burden. Ghatak notes, however, that increasing the tax base in India is a necessary fiscal reform for development, regardless of whether UBI is adopted. Furthermore, he notes, recent experience with implementing cash transfers in several states has been sobering, but these are logistical issues, in Ghatak’s view, rather than fundamental problems with cash transfers. Finally, Ghatak mentions the common worry that the poor might not spend such money wisely, and directs the reader to evidence that such concern is unfounded. Ultimately, he sees none of these potential issues as insurmountable, offering various counterarguments.
The article concludes by mentioning a number of standard argumentative pitfalls in discussing UBI, and offers the following advice to those evaluating its desirability:
- All policies have their pros and cons, so it is important to focus on their relative costs and benefits.
- One size does not fit all. We should be open to the possibility that different policies could work well in different contexts.
- There is no magic pill that will cure all problems. As Ghatak aptly puts it: “To give an analogy, giving certain nutritional supplements may help a person who is ill to gain some strength, but it will not cure any disease, nor will it make the person an athlete.“
Maitreesh Ghatak, “Is India Ready For A Universal Basic Income Scheme?” www.ndtv.com, August 26, 2016.