International: Rutger Bregman: He is saying out loud what the majority of people is thinking

International: Rutger Bregman: He is saying out loud what the majority of people is thinking

Rutger Bregman at Davos (2019). Picture credit to: World Economic Forum

Rutger Bregman has been hitting the numbers the past few weeks. After a controversial participation at Davos, at the end of January, he went on for a controversial interview on Fox News that never got aired – but got “aired” on Twitter, and watched by more than eleven thousand people, and retwitted over sixty thousand times – and is, most probably, getting the spotlight out of a simple fact: he’s saying out loud what most people are thinking.

At Davos, on a shared panel, Bregman decided to touch the open wound, a particularly sensitive issue for all the millionaires and billionaires that fly over to this global elite event once every year: taxes. According to him, no private philanthropy can solve the real issue of tax avoidance, and that high taxes on the wealthy are an urgency in these troubled days (as well as terminating with tax havens). And he is not alone on this quest: most Americans support this general trend in tax policy – higher marginal tax rates, wealth taxes, inherence taxes and so on – and, if that’s the situation in the USA, then most possibly in the rest of the world that tendency is also real.

As an example, also cited by Bregman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been pushing for taxes on the wealthy as high as 70%. He adds that this is no coincidence, but a part of what he sees as an uprising on a “new generation waking up”. He believes this generation, in which he includes himself (a young 30 years-old Dutch historian), simply doesn’t believe anymore that inequality is some kind of fatality, and that (ordinary) people just have to deal with it. Bregman also voiced at Davos’s shared panel what he called “a moral equivalent of a war”, particularly when in reference to inequality (and also on environmental protection). Although imbued of a strong potency, it remains to be seen if warfare – real or a moral equivalent of it – has actually brought anything else to the world than heartbreak, death and destruction.

On Fox News, Bregman was interviewed by Tucker Carlson, a prominent Fox News anchor who, somehow, felt the need to affront him with harsh words. Apparently, the reason for that was Bregman’s boldness in saying that (about Carlson) “You are a millionaire, funded by billionaires, that’s what you are (…) and that’s why you’re not talking about certain things”. One of those things being, in particular, tax avoidance. Naturally, this word exchange didn’t come to any meaningful conclusion, but it may just be that Bregman went over to Fox News to speak for millions of people, who already suspect the collusion between big money and big media.

An edited eight-minute segment of the famous never aired interview can be watched over the link below (from Now This).

More information at:

Patrick King, “He took down the elite at Davos. Then he came for Fox News”, The New York Times, March 1st 2019

André Coelho, “United States: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: uncompromising, intelligent and courageously, she is driving progressive values in the US like we haven’t seen in a long time”, Basic Income News, January 23rd 2019

A Partial Basic Income as a Response to our Society Widening Inequality

A Partial Basic Income as a Response to our Society Widening Inequality

Picture credit: David Pacey

 

In an article on Left Foot Forward, Karen Buck MP and Declan Gaffney argue for a partial Basic Income as a more practical option than Universal Basic Income (UBI).

With all the different expectations pinned to UBI, arising from its promise to address a wide range of problems going from technological drive unemployment to the income instability typical of precarious jobs, UBI risks to become a divisive topic. Sceptics argue that it ignores the problems of rising tax rates to unprecedented rates and ask if those most in need are the actual beneficiaries.

The idea of an unconditional, universal flat-rate payment could have wide appeal, the authors say: child benefit was not far from it before being taken away from high earners, and also the income personal allowance and the threshold for national insurance can be thought of as universal flat rate payments for those earning enough to benefit from them in full –“So we have UBI-like elements in the tax and benefit system already”.

The problem in the feasibility of UBI, the authors argue, arises when it is pitched at a too high level, has the ambition to replace existing social security and to provide enough to live on. But a less ambitious partial basic income could have a role in the reformation of the tax and benefit system.

The authors suggest as an option to replace income tax allowance with a flat-rate payment (of the same value) of a bit less than £50 per week going to everybody regardless of the income level, this way also those with no earnings would benefit from it.

This kind of partial basic income would not have the same scope of more generous UBI proposals, but it could nonetheless help getting more people off means-testing benefits, addressing the gender imbalance in the benefit system and in dampening income fluctuations.

“… as there continues to be disagreement on ultimate aims and objectives, we need to move the debate on to practicalities. A partial basic income, working with rather than replacing the social security system, is a good place to start”.

 

More information at:

Declan Gaffney and Karen Buck, The practical response to our society’s widening inequality? A partial basic income”, Left Foot Forward, September 3rd 2018

VIDEO: Phillipe Van Parijs in Seoul

VIDEO: Phillipe Van Parijs in Seoul

Phillipe Van Parijs was in Seoul, on the 19th of June 2018, presenting a keynote lecture, where Nobel prize economists Joseph Stiglitz and Augus Deaton where present, as well as Peter Hartz, whose name became attached to the Hartz IV reform in Germany. The lecture was entitled “Why Universal Basic Income”, and the event named “The KYUNGHYANG FORUM 2018” with this year’s theme “BEYOND $30000, Striving for a better tomorrow – Beyond inequality”.

There was also a panel discussion between these experts, under the title “A proposal and strategy for sustainable development”. Among the interventions, Augus Deaton made the pertinent point in which basic income experiments are establishing that basic income “doesn’t discourage people from working”, while one of the main arguments defended by Van Parijs (for basic income) is precisely to supply the real freedom of choice (and not work, if that’s the case). One might argue, however, that it is precisely that freedom which allows people to work, expectedly in something meaningful to them.

Van Parijs presentation and panel discussion can be watched through the following links.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv3v0MgoeWs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiVUzn9V5Qo&t=11s

Jordan Peterson’s remarks on UBI

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?

 

Watch the video below

Cure health inequality by reducing income inequality

Cure health inequality by reducing income inequality

The relationship between health and social context includes a range of factors influencing overall well-being. Social status, class, lifestyle, education, and environment primarily shape these factors. Age, gender, race, and ethnicity are structural variables of equal importance to health outcomes. Health is being facilitated or inhibited by the socioeconomic, cultural, and political backgrounds, in which one is born and raised. The people that view these data points and makes correlations between socioeconomic status and backgrounds to health issues have an interesting career because they constantly have to adapt to the understanding of new societal groups and focus on why a certain group would make a certain decision, for example.

In the last few decades, we have seen growing income inequality between the poor and rich. Since the 1980’s, the United States of America has seen a shift in wealth from the middle class towards the wealthiest people and transnational companies. The top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as the bottom 90 percent. Firebaugh and Beck argued economic growth would automatically benefit the masses, which in hindsight seems questionable.

As health outcomes and life expectation closely liaise to within-country income inequality, policy should aim at finding appropriate actions to address this phenomenon. The global financial crisis and the political reflex in countering this event with austerity measures has led to a widening income gap, of which the results are prone to curtail overall health.

Wilkinson and Pickett found health issues to be strongly correlated to income inequality within a country. To support this finding, they used two different measurement tools. The first index, applied to Western countries, was a ratio of the 20 percent top incomes in relation to the 20 percent of the bottom earners. For different states within the USA they used a second index, the Gini-index, which adopts a different methodology. Where ‘Gini = 0’ represents perfect equality (same income for everyone) and ‘Gini = 1’ is total inequality (if all income goes to one person). The outcome of these results showed that the widening income gap led to an increase of different health issues related to mental disorders, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity and teenage births. Societal problems that correlated to income inequality included: lower levels of trust, less educational performance, more homicides, higher imprisonment rates and a lack of social mobility. Some authors found Wilkinson and Pickett’s dismissal of poverty in relation to health outcomes incorrect as they did not measure it. On the other hand, research by Beckfield and Bambra confirmed the correlation between life expectancy and health stating that the lagging welfare state in the USA led to an average loss of 3.77 quality life years in comparison to other OECD countries. The USA has an income gap of 8:1 (the average biggest earners have 8 times the wage of those at the other end of the spectrum) leading to a life expectancy of 78.7 years, which is in contrast with Japan reaching an average of 83.0 years with an income gap of 4:1. The same age dependent relation has been found in Scandinavian countries having similar income gaps as Japan.

Goda and Torres Garcia looked at the rise of global inequality and confirmed previous results by stating that within-country inequality is responsible for 70 percent of the global inequality, suggesting 30% is due to in-between country inequality.

Taking national and local figures into account for the UK, the Office for National Statistics observed a life expectancy for new-born baby boys to be 83.3 years in the Kensington and Chelsea area. Meanwhile, the life expectancy for the same cohort in Blackpool is merely 74.7 years. Nationwide, the female life expectancy is 86.6 years in Purbeck and the lowest in Glasgow City with an expectancy of 78.5 years. The authors conclude that inequality has increased over the last two decades despite improvements in these local areas.

We may assume a strong relation between income inequality and health outcomes on a global scale as Dorling in recent research concludes there are overarching arguments. Dorling (2007) confirmed a strong relation between income inequality and negative health outcomes on a global scale after an observational study performed in 126 countries.

The academic world has provided alternatives to deal with the widening gap between poor and rich. Reformed minimum wages, living wages, basic income or a global ‘fair tax’ and redistribution are only a few austerity counter-proposals to ensure overall well-being by reaching or transcending the poverty line. Minimum wages have proven insufficient and a basic income is still globally debated. An international fair tax may even prove more challenging as this requires global political support.

Minimum wages and living wages have the same aim; raising income for the least fortunate to reduce the impact of a growing income gap. A minimum wage is defined as a minimum market valued income, imposed by law and paid by employers. A living wage is a locally liaised and negotiated pay rate that a fulltime employee needs for a household of four to reach the poverty line. For the latter, societal context is important, as living in a metropolitan area is more expensive than living in the countryside. The Basic Income Earth Network defines basic income as “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means, test or work requirement”.

A locally implemented living wage project in the UK, facilitated by the General and Municipal Boilermakers Union in 400 councils, has proven to be successful in reducing (health) inequalities as well as being beneficial for government tax income. Awareness within the community influenced policy in a way that living wages became accepted as a benchmark for society. In this regard, a living wage clearly will contribute to individual well-being and social cohesion – both factors improve health within communities.

Proposals for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) are slowly reaching the minds of global policymakers, but this process will take more time in achieving broader support. In developing a short-term response tackling inequality, a living wage appears to be a possible solution for developed countries yet remains a huge challenge for developing countries.

Emerging new technologies will demand economical strategies that are able to cope with less job certainty and keeping up with growing demands in healthcare.

A redistribution of capital, as proposed by Thomas Piketty in his book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, in combination with a UBI may prove to be the best strategy in the long-run to counter income-related health inequalities on a global scale. We must urge politicians to finally face transnational companies and the top one percent in order to obtain a globally acceptable taxation rate.

 

About the author:

Sam Brokken hails from Belgium and lives near the city of Leuven. He studied physiotherapy, sports physical therapy and manual therapy practicing these areas for years in private practices within local communities. He lectures in musculoskeletal disorders in relation to manual handling and ergonomics for healthcare service providers.
He is currently engaged in postgraduate work at the Robert Gordon University (Aberdeen – Scotland) within the MSc Public Health and Health Promotion course.

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