Bristol Festival of Ideas: 6 October conference on Basic Income

On Wednesday 6 October 2021, the Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath, and Bristol Ideas are running their second virtual conference, ‘Is it time for UBI?’. The conference is free to attend.

Leading thinkers, politicians and policymakers will come together to debate and explore new approaches to macro-economic policymaking, the prospects for Universal Basic Income, and the political economy of social and economic change.

Speakers include: Kate Bell (TUC), Young Jun Choi (Yonsei University), Anna Coote (New Economics Foundation), Diane Coyle (University of Cambridge), Geoff Crocker (author of Basic Income and Sovereign Money), Sarath Davala (Indian Network for Basic Income), Anna Dent (policy and research consultant), S Mahendra Dev (Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research), Martin Ford (author of Rule of the Robots), Cleo Goodman (Basic Income Conversation), Paul Mason, Jane Millar (University of Bath), Bernhard Neumärker (University of Freiburg), Thomas Palley, Nick Pearce (Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath), James Plunkett (author of End State), Sumbul Siddiqui (Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts), Kate Soper (London Metropolitan University / University of Brighton) and Paola Subacchi (Queen Mary University of London).

The programme, biographies of speakers and registration can be found on this web page.

The long march to Basic Income begins with a single step – The unusual story of Kowiti-A


Villagers gathered to celebrate their basic income in the local church building

By: Billy Juma Munda, Evans Ododa, Lena Stark

Kowiti-A is a small village in Kisumu County in Kenya. It is twenty-three kilometres away from Kisumu town and has a population of 782 people of which 415 are adults and 367 are children below 18 years. Most of the people are engaged in farm-related livelihood activities. The village population is distributed among six clans. The nearest town Ahero is about 3 kilometres from the village.

About a year ago, two teachers from this village made a chance acquaintance, through social media, with members of an organisation called Mission Possible 2030 (MP2030). The context was basic income. They had heard about the idea of basic income from a local politician and began exploring it on the internet, only to realise that a global movement for it exists. MP2030 believes that without waiting for nation states to implement a basic income policy, we should start implementing a basic income by mobilising both individual donors and communities. This conversation led to MP2030 launching a project in Kowiti called Equalize in a humble way. From September 2020, the project gave a basic income of about 1100 Kenyan Shillings(KES) (10 US Dollars) per month to 10 people randomly selected through a raffle.

To facilitate money transfers, the teachers formed a local community-based organisation called Rural Action CBO (RACBO) so that it is a community initiative and money transfers happen in a transparent way. MP2030 transferred money to RACBO which in turn transferred to individuals via M-PESA, which is the popular mobile money transfer platform in Kenya.

These ten people received money for about eleven months, when another chance acquaintance gave a big boost to the project. This time the acquaintance took place between MP2030 and impact Market. impactMarket is a decentralized poverty alleviation protocol built by impactLabs, a company based in Portugal. It uses blockchain technology to enable any vulnerable community to implement poverty alleviation mechanisms, such as for instance, an Unconditional Basic Income. The protocol uses Celo Dollars, or cUSD, a stable-coin whose value is pegged to the US Dollar.

Ordinarily, you need an app for it and therefore a smartphone. As most of the villagers have no smartphone in Kowiti-A, collaboration with Fintech partners Refugee Integration Organisation and Kotanipay were needed to make sure the villagers would receive a currency they can actually use for buying goods and services: Kenyan Shillings – KES.

M-pesa outlet in Kowiti-A

Money transfers in Kenya are relatively easy, because of the widespread use of m-pesa, a mobile payment system. After the so-called USSD integration (where the CELO dollars are exchanged for KES in the background), someone with a sim card can receive KES, and withdraw cash at an m-pesa shop in the village. One phone can have two sim cards, so two people can receive per phone line. it is not entirely without intermediaries yet, but less than 6% is lost in the transfer from CELO dollar to cash-KES.

Because of the collaboration with Impact Market and its Fintech partners, the process accelerated very quickly and by mid-August about 240 adults began getting a basic income of 7 USD a week. By end September 2021, all the 415 adults will get the basic income for a period of one year. The total amount allocated to Kowiti project is 166,000 US Dollars, i.e., KES 18.28 million. Each individual will get a total amount of KES 44,000 (USD 400). If this sounds unbelievable, the results that will flow from this initiative will be more so, several times over.

What kind of basic income is it?

It is very interesting and also surprising that this humble project almost fulfils all the five main characteristics of the BIEN’s definition of basic income.

Universal: Basic income is given to the entire adult population. Children are not included more for technical reasons – in the smart contract adopted by ImpactMarket only those who have a mobile phone line can be provided money.

Cash: The recipient encashes the transfer into the national currency at any m-pesa store in the village

Individual: Money is transferred to individuals and not households.

Periodic: Money is transferred once a week.

Unconditional: There are no conditions whatsoever that the recipients need to fulfil after having received the money.

What does this money mean for these villages?

Based on a 2015 household budget survey, Kenya defines its overall poverty line in rural areas as an individual per capita monthly consumption expenditure of less than 3252 KES (USD 30), and extreme poverty as per capita consumption expenditure less than 1954 KES (USD 18).

In this project, the recipients receive a monthly top up of 3000 KES (USD 28) which is a substantial boost to their income levels. In this first month of receiving the money, it was observed that many people who never used to eat a breakfast, have begun to eat breakfast. Food seems to be where the money is visibly going. In the coming months, this project is certainly going to have a big impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people of Kowiti-A. These narratives will be published on the website of Mission Possible 2030 in the coming months.

Billi Juma Munda and Evans Ododa are teachers living in Kowiti-A. Lena Stark is the Chair of Mission Possible 2030. For more information about the project, write to Lena at lena@missionpossible2030.com

International Basic Income Week capped with live & online Basic Income Marches

Saturday 25 September sees the penultimate day of the 14th International Basic Income Week ‘Basic Income: Forward to a Better World’ with Basic Income Marches in many cities. Although concentrated in the US and Europe, events will also be held in Jakarta, Indonesia and Brisbane, Australia.

The day will also be commemorated with an epic non-stop 24-hour Online Basic Income March broadcast which will feature 65 speakers and news in several languages from around the world. This event, organised by World-Wide UBI Advocates, will start at 12:01am GMT 25 September and end 11.59pm GMT. You can participate during the day on Zoom, using the password BIAtMove. The programme, subject to minor last-minute changes, can be found on the IBIW website.

Why UBI should go global

Why UBI should go global

 

New research from World Basic Income finds that more than half of the world’s people live in countries where UBI could reach only $5 to $18 per person per month on average, as a result of global inequality and national income constraints. To support UBI activism in lower income countries and ensure that people everywhere can receive a sufficient UBI, the group proposes topping up this amount with a worldwide basic income of $30. 

The briefing uses World Bank data to uncover how much money flows through each country every year, and how much of it could be taxed and redistributed as UBI. 

The analysis shows that UBI could reach a maximum of $12 per person per month in India, $3 in Afghanistan and just over $1 in Burundi, if governments tax and redistribute cash at the average rates for each continent. Even if these countries managed to spend as much as France (the highest-spending country) on cash benefits, UBI could reach only $36, $10 and $5 respectively. 

Laura Bannister, World Basic Income’s campaign director, explained, “Global inequality is deeply unjust and much more severe than many people think. Gross national income is just $811 per person per year in an average low income country, and in Burundi it is $270. Governments of these countries should still be pushed to implement UBI, but there just isn’t enough money flowing through these economies to enable payments at the level people need and deserve.”

Frank Kamanga, Director of Universal Basic Income Malawi and a member of World Basic Income’s International Advisory Board said, “I was motivated to join the universal basic income global movement because of the inequality that I observed in the world, especially between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Currently with our resources it isn’t possible to have a universal basic income in Malawi, but with support from development partners we could manage to have such a policy.”

The briefing proposes a new mechanism for such support – a worldwide basic income of $30 per person per month, which would underpin national UBI efforts. It would be funded at the global level through taxes and charges on transnational corporations, and would be paid directly to every person worldwide that registered with the scheme. 

“An extra $30 a month for every adult and child would be hugely significant for at least half of the world’s people,” said Laura Bannister. “These people deserve better from the world economy. Today’s extreme inequality between North and South is the result of a shameful history that the UBI movement should be aiming to help redress. UBI has incredible potential to reduce inequality and it’s time to apply that between countries as well as within them.”

Frank Kamanga concluded, “Poverty by its nature is inhumane, it steals away dignity and it denies people opportunities. A radical approach to do away with poverty at the global scale is implementing universal basic income.”

World Basic Income is co-ordinating a growing movement to take UBI to the global level. You can read their paper ‘A UBI for Half the World’, join their webinar on 21st September ‘Should UBI be provided by the UN?’ or donate here to support their crowdfunding campaign.

Oxford Union votes against introducing UBI

Oxford Union votes against introducing UBI

On 29th April 2021 the prestigious Oxford Union Society hosted a panel of students, activists, politicians and scholars to debate the motion ‘This House Would Introduce a Universal Basic Income’.

The debate began with the majority (68%) voting in favour of introducing a Universal Basic Income (UBI) and the remaining 32% voting against it. After hearing a total of 8 panelists’ arguments for and against the motion, the majority shifted in the closing poll to a marginal victory for the opposition, with 54% voting against introducing a UBI and 46% voting for it.

The full debate can be watched on the Oxford Union’s YouTube channel here, with a programme of the speakers and summary of their key arguments provided below.

00:33 – Opening up the case for the proposition, Classical Archaeological and Ancient History student Ambika Sehgal drew on anecdotal evidence from victims of flaws in the DWP’s (Department for Work and Pensions) systems, experiences from the Covid-19 pandemic, and accounts of early forms of UBI in Ancient Greek societies to make three arguments for the motion:

  1. To lift people out of poverty and provide a basic standard of living to everybody “without fear or favour”.
  2. To increase the wealth of the entire population by giving everybody the freedom to upskill, reeducate, take on more prosperous jobs, or start their own business.
  3. To prevent the inevitable economic catastrophe that we are approaching as a result of the automation of skilled industries.

10:52 – Rebutting with the opening case for the opposition, Eliza Dean, first year Classics and French student and Member of the Union’s Secretaries Committee, denounced UBI as the solution to our current economic and political struggles, arguing instead for better funding of existing state welfare systems and a return to greater recognition of the value of labour in society.

20:58 – Professor Guy Standing, Professorial Research Associate at SOAS University of London and founding member of BIEN, outlined the fundamental ethical – as opposed to instrumental – rationale for introducing a UBI, arguing that we have an ethical justification to introduce UBI to resolve the unequal distribution of wealth created by rentier capitalism.

Rounding off his argument for the proposition, Professor Standing drew on his extensive experience working on over 50 pilots to outline some of the key findings of research on UBI:

  • It improves individual mental and physical health.
  • It reduces people’s stress.
  • It leads to better school attendance.
  • It increases work and its productivity, leading people to be more innovative and altruistic in their work because people feel more able to act in such a way.
  • It helps to reduce debt.
  • It leads to a greater sense of social solidarity.

36:34 Marco Annunziata, former Chief Economist and Head of Business Innovation Strategy at General Electric, invoked suggestions for the necessary rise in taxes, the case to offer the same amount to the rich and poor, and the disincentives to work as evidence that a UBI is both unaffordable, unjust and riddled with unintended consequences.

48:53 Drawing on simulations run by the RSA (Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) Anthony Painter, Chief Research & Impact Officer, made the economic case for UBI, citing its ability to make up for inadequacies in existing social support systems by offering a hardwired economic platform for all in society.

59:50 Regarding UBI a ‘recurring revenant’ throughout his career, Professor Hilmar Schneider, Director of the Institute of Labour Economics in Bonn, cited the experience of the German pension system and his own research conducting funding and behavioral responses simulation models to argue against the motion. Pointing to the fact that most UBI pilots rely on external funding sources, Professor Schneider argued that the strongest argument against a UBI lies in its unaffordability, as it would ultimately result in more people losing money than gaining money.

01:10:34 William Greve, first year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student and Sponsorship Officer at the Oxford Union,consolidated the arguments made by the panelists to round off the underlying economic and liberal arguments for a UBI:

  • That is the most effective way to counter the wealth inequality and unjust returns to capital observed in the modern economy that leave labour so unjustly rewarded.
  • That it is reasonable to demand that all individuals in a society be entitled to a share of the total wealth of society a basic level of economic security.
  • That it would fundamentally change our relationship with employment for the better.

Drawing on Professor Schneider’s earlier remarks on the case against higher income taxes (owing to the fact that the majority of wealth that exists in the modern economy is not received as an income in the traditional sense), William also argued that a wealth tax, not an income tax, is the most just and feasible way to fund UBI.

01:21:30 Rt Hon Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham and Former Coordinator for the Labour Party, rounded off the case for the opposition by arguing that those advocating for UBI should remain cautious when their political opponents also support the scheme for radically different outcomes. Noting the many cross-spectrum and cross-ideological arguments for and against the motion, he also pointed to the more ‘mundane and practical’ issues with introducing UBI, such as financial feasibility, its efficacy compared to its alternatives, and what accompanying policies are required to ensure desired outcomes.

Concluding the case against UBI, Rt Hon Cruddas hammered home his argument for the dignity of labour and questioned the role that UBI would play in creating decent work. All but entirely dismissing concerns around automation and the future availability of work, he argued that we should instead be organizing for collective rights, strong unions, income guarantees and above all, dignified labour. He argued that there is a strong case against UBI if you consider that the nature of work thesis is flawed, and that the debate around the future of work is an inherently political one. UBI, he suggested, could transform citizens into ‘passengers of capitalism’, robbing them of meaning and dignity, and leaving them more isolated, vulnerable, angry and humiliated, and society itself less fraternal and solidaristic.

Four Chinese students have been working with BIEN for three months

From the 24th May to the 24th August 2021 four Chinese students undertook internships with BIEN. They attended a five day introductory course about Basic Income and the global Basic Income debate, translated pages and posts on the BIEN website into Chinese, summarised in English relevant documents in Chinese, constructed individual Basic Income schemes for China and worked together to create a joint Basic Income scheme, completed individual projects that connected what they had learnt about Basic Income with the subjects of their degrees, and attended the BIEN congress. it was a pleasure to be able to work with such intelligent and motivated students.

The translations of pages and posts on the BIEN website into Chinese can be found here;

summaries in English of relevant documents in Chinese here;

and the Basic Income scheme for China that the students created together is here.

The students’ final individual projects are listed here:

Our thanks to Amanda, Sherry, Qihao and Joey for working with BIEN; to Dr. Furui Cheng, Tyler Prochazka, Li-Hsin Leen, Dr. Leah Hamilton, and other members of the Executive Committee, for assistance with the introductory course and other aspects of the internship programme; and to the Global Cultural Adventurers organisation for finding such intelligent and committed students for us to work with.