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.

South Korea: The report on Youth Basic Income in Gyeonggi Province

Gyeonggi Province, Republic of Korea, has been implementing the Youth Basic Income (YBI) programme since April 1, 2019. The English edition of the report on the project was published in July and can be accessed here.

The following is a short introduction by Ikjin Yu, Researcher at Gyeonggi Research Institute, Dept. of Economic & Social Policy.

Gyeonggi Province, Republic of Korea, has been implementing the Youth Basic Income (YBI) programme since April 1, 2019. In December 2020, Gyeonggi Research Institute (GRI), an affiliated organisation of Gyeonggi Province, published a research report (Korean version), focusing on the first year result of the YBI programme. Recently, in July 2021, GRI has published its English version.

This research report mainly consists of quantitative and qualitative analyses.

For quantitative analysis, the experimental group comprised 11,335 recipients who participated in both the ex-ante and ex-post surveys, whereas the comparison group included 800 respondents who resided in regions other than Gyeonggi Province. There were five categories for analysis such as “happiness”, “health and diet”, “perceptions and attitudes”, “economic activity” and “dream-capital”. The results of the Difference-In-Differences (DID) analysis showed that Gyeonggi YBI positively influenced on their happiness, mental health, workout frequency, diet, perception on gender and equal society, dream-capital, economic activity, time use and so forth.

For qualitative analysis, participants of individual interviews and focus group interviews (FGI) were variously grouped by detailed category. It was conducted on 24-year-olds residing in Gyeonggi Province only who received four rounds of Gyeonggi YBI. A total of 42 participated in the individual interviews and the FGIs. The analysis shows many things regarding Gyeonggi 24-year-olds’ perception of Gyeonggi YBI and basic income itself.

The research report concluded that the Gyeonggi YBI has positively influenced on the 24-year- old youths’ life in various aspects based on the recipients’ experience over the past one year.

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.

Taiwan holds first online basic income summit

Taiwan holds first online basic income summit

After over a year of avoiding significant local COVID outbreaks, Taiwan experienced a scare in May with hundreds of cases emerging. This brought the idea of universal cash payments to the forefront of Taiwan’s political debate as millions of jobs were destabilized overnight.

With this backdrop, UBI Taiwan held its first-ever online basic income summit on August 15, inviting professors, activists, and politicians from around the world to discuss the state of basic income during the COVID pandemic.

Korea’s Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung opened the summit by noting the importance of the basic income movement in Korea and Taiwan. Lee is currently a frontrunner in the early stages of Korea’s presidential race. He has been called the “Bernie Sanders of Korea” because of his economic proposals.

“When the world is implementing expansive fiscal policy, basic income is gaining attention as the most rational and remarkable way to prepare for the era of the fourth industrial revolution,” Lee said in his address to the conference.

As the former mayor of Seongnam, Lee started a youth basic income program for all 24-year-old youth in the city to receive local currency every quarter. The scheme was shown to improve small business activity in the region. He later expanded the program to the province when he became governor.

Kim Kyeong Soo is part of the Gyeonggi provincial government vision planner. He is the planner of the provincial youth basic income program.

“What we are doing at our expense is to realize the basic social rights of young people,” Kim said in an interview for the conference.

This was a useful model during the COVID crisis because the provincial government was able to quickly expand the program to include all residents of the province during the economic downturn.

Kim also discussed how they increased a myriad of programs during the COVID pandemic and the plans to push for basic income on a nationwide scale.

“We designed it so that it could only be used in stores with annual sales of 1.2 billion won or less, so that the money could be actually revitalized for the small business owners of the real alley economy,” Kim said.

Members of the Basic Income Korea Network Mok Hwakyun and Kim Jae-seop attended the summit for the question-and-answer session. They noted how basic income has become a mainstream topic in Korea.

“The biggest change is that everyone knows about basic income now,” Mok said. “I hope Korea will be the first country” to implement UBI.

Prominent US activist Scott Santens gave a pre-recorded interview for the conference where he discussed the success and failures of America’s massive COVID relief program. One of the biggest changes that has emerged is the Child Tax Credit, which Santens said he believes will get more people on board with a wider basic income safety net.  

“I feel hopeful that especially the monthly CTC is going to really change things here and help build momentum for a full UBI here in the US,” Santens said.

Taiwan’s Yangming University Professor Song-Lih Huang discussed the debate between Universal Basic Services compared to basic income. He concluded that UBS does not provide the same level of individual freedom as UBI.

UBI Taiwan Chairman Tyler Prochazka evaluated Taiwan’s COVID relief response and noted the inadequacy and complexity of receiving relief.

The situation became more severe this past May when a local outbreak caused Taiwan to go into level 3 lockdown for the first time during the pandemic. Taiwan is experiencing a bizarre contradiction, where record economic growth is fueled by its strong export sector despite the lockdown for other industries. At the same time, the lockdown has caused Taiwan’s employees to experience their worst economic situation in decades, particularly for the service industry.

As a result of the lockdown, half of Taiwanese experienced wage reductions of 10 to 50 percent, and 74 percent reported some reduction in wages. At the same time, 41 percent said they believed the government’s COVID relief program provided no help. One issue with the relief program is it relies on extensive documentation to prove an individual’s circumstance and can also reject an applicant if a household member has too much money in the bank.

For example, Taiwan’s unemployment had reached 570,000 people and the number experiencing lower than normal working hours had reached nearly one million during the lockdown. However, only 20,000 people were added to unemployment benefits during June which is less than one-fourth of the increased unemployment for that period.  

Level two lockdown has been extended until September 6 in Taiwan, which places varying levels of restrictions on how businesses operate and closes some businesses entirely, such as certain entertainment venues. Even as much of the country returns to normal, many businesses will likely experience continued restrictions on their operations as well as reduced demand for the foreseeable future.

Despite one of the worst employment situations in decades for Taiwan, the government has only allocated around 6 percent of its annual GDP on COVID relief this year. Compared to Japan and the United States, which spent between 16 to 30 percent of their GDPs on COVID relief, Taiwan has given significantly less to its citizens as a developed economy.

Taiwan’s ruling party Democratic Progressive Party is moving toward another round of stimulus coupons worth 5,000 NT ($180 USD). Due to the stringent conditions associated with COVID relief programs, the universal coupons are the most accessible program from the government’s COVID response for many families. There has been a strong push by opposition parties in Taiwan to provide cash relief now for most Taiwanese instead of coupons and use the administrative savings to give an additional cash boost to poor households.

“Taiwan’s ruling party said they want to ‘share economic growth’ with all Taiwanese,” Prochazka said. “The real way to share economic growth is with Universal Basic Income.”

A comprehensive history of Basic Income

A comprehensive history of Basic Income

A comprehensive history of Basic Income is to be published this month.

The publisher says this about the book: 

Presenting a truly comprehensive history of Basic Income, Malcolm Torry explores the evolution of the concept of a regular unconditional income for every individual, as well as examining other types of income as they relate to its history. Examining the beginnings of the modern debate at the end of the eighteenth century right up to the current global discussion, this book draws on a vast array of original historical sources and serves as both an in-depth study of, and introduction to, Basic Income and its history.

Alaska Permanent Fund Defenders campaign to save the Dividend

Alaska Mountain Fireweed

The Alaska Permanent Fund was started in 1982 to make sure Alaskans directly benefit from its resources in the wake of its oil boom in the 1970s. Part of the proceeds from investments of the principle, which is held in trust for the state and invested by an independent board, is shared yearly with all Alaskan citizens as the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). This is as close to a basic income by BIEN’s definition as has been achieved world-wide. It is paid equally to each individual regardless of age or financial status, without means tests or other conditions and regularly every year, although the amount differs depending on how the APF’s investments do over a five year period. It has inspired campaigns in many other countries, including Mongolia, South Africa and Goa, to share the profits from resource use as a basic income or dividend to all citizens. The PDF is under particular threat at the moment as a result of recent deficits in the State’s budget, which some legislators want to plug by taking the dividend payments away entirely.

BIEN News interviewed a board member from the Permanent Fund Defenders about the situation. Joe Geldhoff, a lawyer in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, said that “while it is in our constitution that Alaskan citizens should benefit from the state’s resources, the dividend itself is only in legislation.” The PFD allocation for Alaskan citizens needs to be approved by the state legislature every year. For the first thirty years it was paid equally from a fixed 25% share of the fund’s average profits over five years. In the past six years state politicians have whittled down the amount of dividend paid, “despite big promises at election time, which are often unrealistic.” There are worries that there might be no dividend paid out this year, despite the Fund making a profit of some $18.6 million, and large Federal subsidies to the state, especially since the Covid crisis. The PFD competes with state services and projects for priority, since the state government levies neither income nor sales taxes to cover its own spending, which also comes from Permanent Fund proceeds. “This should be a lesson for people advocating basic income schemes all over the world,” Mr Geldhoff said.

The Defenders want the eariler formula from Permanent Fund investments restored to the dividend, and enshrined in the State constitution to protect it from other budget demands and political maneuvering. Mr Geldhoff said that the current special session will be deciding this year’s dividend allocation, and may not pay it at all. The legislature may also consider a constitutional amendment to protect it and restore the original formula which, if approved, would then go out to be voted on by all state citizens. He expressed the worry, however, that there “aren’t enough adults” amongst state politicians, and that they could be too divided to see the latter option through.

“Young people have become very cynical about the political process,” Mr Geldhoff said, so the Defenders are working to educate all Alaskans about the role the dividend has played in “lifting people out of poverty, supporting private enterprise and combatting income inequality” and how they can get involved with saving it. He said that while those with higher salaries in the state’s large public sector have tended to save their dividend to send their children to university, the dividend has enabled people in rural areas with little cash to maintain and buy equipment for subsistence farming, hunting and fishing. Women in particular have used their dividend to get away from relationships which have gone bad, and to train for better jobs. “It’s really about whether you trust citizens to spend the money well or the politicians who tend to give contracts to their cronies,” he said. “This is our common wealth from which we all should have a direct share.”

A recording of our interview with Joe Geldhoff will be available soon. In the meantime people can support the all-volunteer Permanent Fund Defenders in getting their message out to Alaskans on their GoFundMe page. More information about their campaign and the history of the PFD can be found on their website, and the latest news can be followed on their Facebook page.