Gergely Karácsony. Picture credit to: Magyar Hang
It’s Budapest, October 2019, and there’s a new mayor in town. Gergely Karácsony is his name, and has physically taken office on October 17th, arriving at Budapest City Hall on a simple city bike, instead of a couched high-end car used by other famous politicians. More relevant still, Karácsony is known for his progressive, left-wing ideas, contrasting with the Hungarian government far-right policies at the moment, under the iron grip of Viktor Orbán, the country’s Prime Minister.
Karácsony has been elected to lead the Hungarian capital, having run against István Tarlós, the incumbent supported by the ruling coalition Fidesz–KDNP. The former’s coalition comprises several liberal and left-wing parties, including his own Dialogue for Hungary. This united opposition has also gained momentum in other Hungarian urban centers, while Orbán’s Fidesz party still controls rural areas (and part of the urban areas, as far as local elections are concerned). This opposition, however, still looks more like a resolute stand against the Prime Minister autocratic regime, rather than a consistent left-wing progressive movement across the country.
Under his time in office, Karácsony will try to fulfill his campaign promises, namely easing the housing crisis, stop evictions and provide care for the most vulnerable. He also intends to “build a free and green twenty-first-century European city”, which means slashing carbon emissions, investing in public transportation, cycling infrastructure and closing the circle on corruption. On income policy, he has favored the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI) in Hungary, which is the exact opposite of where Viktor Orbán stands, on that issue. The latter has referred to UBI, in fact, as “an utterly unthinkable approach”.
The term “iliberal democracy” has been coined by Orbán himself, as a compact description of his own regime. Over this background, Karácsony’s policies and the left-wing progressive movement he represents couldn’t be more in opposition to the politics that have swept the country for almost a decade now. It remains to be seen if this movement can stand a chance of taking hold of Hungary in the next few years, along with the promise of a more just and humane social system, probably involving something like a UBI. In any case, Gergely Karácsony is a man to be followed closely at the moment.
More information at:
Imre Szijarto, “Hungarians can’t be bought with potatoes”, Jacobin, 27th October 2019
André Coelho, “HUNGARY: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks harshly against basic income”, Basic Income News, March 21st 2017
For the past 3 years, my primary goal has been to get the Liberal Party of Canada to include Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) on its electoral platform. (Support for this policy is already in the official Party program.) The election was held on Monday, October 21st and UBI was never mentioned. My ultimate goal is to see UBI implemented in my lifetime.
I ended up fighting on two fronts and losing on both.
The first front consisted of my lobbying efforts within the Liberal Party. I was hoping I could convince them to include a promise to implement UBI as a commitment to the electorate should they win re-election. When I got cold feet and neglected to contact the guy who was writing the platform, my project was probably doomed. Plus, several weeks into the 6-week election campaign I changed strategies. On September 19th an independent report by UBIWorks was published. It presented the case that the Canada Child Benefit was a UBI. I stopped presenting Basic Income as an experimental policy to be tested and, instead, argued that it was a fait accompli in Canada, hiding in plain sight. My efforts to get the press to ask questions and to stimulate debate among the Liberal candidates came to nothing.
Despite high-level contacts within the Party, I had the impression that my message was not getting through to the right people. In hindsight, it is equally possible that my suggestion was being heard loud and clear in the right quarters and that appealing to their electoral self-interest rather than their consciences was spot on the best approach. After all, while I was emphasizing the economic impact of the Child Benefit for GDP growth, job creation, corporate profits, and tax revenue, the platform kept droning on about poverty reduction, a subject that people would rather not think about because they find it depressing and it makes them feel guilty. Perhaps Liberal strategists, who were staking their reputations on their message, simply rejected my proposal as not being something that would, at this point in the campaign, help them win reelection. Was this a mistake that partially explains why the Liberals lost their majority in the House of Commons? It would be pretentious of me to suggest this.
However, today’s flop may yet bear fruit in the next electoral cycle in 4 years. This is what cooler heads than mine thought from the outset.
While all this was going on, a second front was opened with my allies in the Basic Income community. To bolster my position that UBI already existed in Canada under another name, I tried to convince famous people in the movement to lend their credibility to this argument. I was flabbergasted by the strong and nearly universal resistance I encountered: no, the Canada Child Benefit could not be called a Basic Income, full stop.
While two or three people got on board immediately, most of the cognoscenti insisted that what I was advancing was inconsistent with the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) definition of UBI for a variety of reasons. Theoreticians and experimentalists alike, as well as activists, flatly refused to go along with my plan to leverage this unique opportunity to change the narrative about UBI. I thought: “I’m caught in a paradigm shift, as it happens!”
Some argued that the Child Benefit was not universal because it was only earmarked for kids. Yang’s Freedom Dividend which excludes minors still qualifies as a UBI, though. Others claimed it violated individuality because it was given to families, as though it makes any sense to hand $500 to a toddler. However, most objected on the grounds that the Child Benefit is means-tested. This was the breaking point where everything I was trying to do simply collapsed. I never saw it coming.
The Canada Child Benefit is not means-tested, it is income-tested. People outside Canada are colour-blind to the distinction. Income-testing is just not part of their paradigm. Means-testing is an evil policy tool that allows bureaucrats to arbitrarily deprive vulnerable people of funds and services that they need and have a right to receive. It grinds them into the ground and makes an example of them to terrorize everybody else. Income-testing is a horse of another colour.
In Canada, we have a progressive tax system just like the one Adam Smith himself proposed: “It is not unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue but something more than in that proportion.” That is why no one questions the practice of taxing back from the rich funds equivalent to the Child Benefit from which they derive no important advantage and thereby recover some of the cost of a program, which is immensely useful for everybody else. Conscientious objectors to means-testing will insist that even when this claw-back is done specifically for the purpose of recouping UBI, it does not infringe on the principle of universality because it is done in separate operations, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. In Canada, we tend to view this as an elaborate and unnecessary fiction. Covering up the mechanism does little to hide the process which serves no other purpose than to claw back UBI from the rich.
In the FAQ on the BIEN definition of Basic Income, we read under the caption Is Basic Income paid irrespective of income?
“Taxable “means” may need to be taxed at a higher average rate in order to fund the basic income. But the tax-and-benefit system no longer rests on a dichotomy between two notions of “means”: a broad one for the poor, by reference to which benefits are cut, and a narrow one for the better off, by reference to which income tax is levied.”
The second notion is used universally to assess the Canada Child Benefit, which is why we use the term income-tested and not means-tested. My argument failed to convince. How it is possible, on the one hand, to clearly distinguish the two notions and, on the other hand, still insist on using the same term to describe them?
I think we are confronted with two incommensurable competing paradigms in both the political sphere and the academic domain. The old paradigms have accumulated a thick crust of unresolved problems such that business-as-usual can no longer operate smoothly. In politics, poverty reduction continues to dominate social policy discussions even though it no longer provides useful solutions. In the UBI academic community, a rigid definition stifles progress towards implementation by ensuring that the ideal program remains unattainable. I will be fleshing out this argument at a later date.
I have not lost hope that the politicians will eventually learn to frame UBI as a powerful economic stimulant and an entitlement for all Canadians, especially the middle class. The academics too, will at some point loosen their church-like grip on orthodoxy and accept a leading role in promoting social justice, down in the trenches.
However, I would hate to end up like Moses, who never did reach the promised land, and spent 40 years not getting there. I do not have that kind of time. I will be quickly making new friends in the party that holds the balance of power and leveraging these connections to achieve my goal of seeing Unconditional Basic Income implemented for all, in my lifetime.
WhatsApp/Cell: +1 514 238-0044
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC, is a fighter. Ever since she was elected to the United States (US) House of Representatives, she has been doing much “ass kicking”. She made clear that energy transition in America was imminently necessary, and made a few headlines with her Green New Deal. A first draft of the Green New Deal also included the outline of some bold social policies, including a few measures to curb the racial inequalities that still plague the United States as well as a universal basic income (UBI).
This was not the first time AOC had mentioned UBI publicly. On one particular occasion at a Netroots event, she mentioned that a UBI was not a new idea in American politics, citing initiatives from Democrats in the past.
This is ground-breaking in contemporary U.S. politics, where things are often dominated by corporate interests. AOC’s fearlessness can feel refreshing to the general public, which also infuriates some special interest groups. Even as a Democrat, AOC is often critical of her Democratic Party colleagues for their “moderation” and submission to corporate donors. She says that American society has deviated far from where we collectively think we should be. Therefore, speaking up for what we believe is right can be considered “radical.”
However, there is a difference between speaking at a general-public event before being elected to the House of Representatives and speaking in that same House after being burdened with a formal political responsibility.
The Green New Deal draft bill presented to the House included the idea that the US government would take care of anyone who may be “unwilling to work.” That did not go well among AOC’s colleagues, Republican or Democrat.
This backlash has been documented, and it showed very clearly that for most politicians and political pundits, “unwilling to work” is simply translated as “lazy,” which was fatal for the program.
From that point of view, helping those “unwilling to work” simply does not make sense. That materialized into open ridicule from Republicans targeted at AOC and her Green New Deal, as well as silence from fellow Democrats. AOC was trying to demonstrate that people may wish to refuse degrading working conditions, starvation wages and other abuses from the marketplace. In that case, the government could ease their transition into something better by implementing a social policy similar to UBI.
AOC was deserted. And that must be hard to take in.
AOC and her colleagues tried to amend the Green New Deal. In the process, they erased any mention of basic income in the Green New Deal’s final proposed bill, while declining to reference this aspect of the program at public events. One example is AOC’s speech at this SXSW 2019 event.
First, she now defends a “jobs guarantee,” a policy more in line with the Democrats’ mainstream political thought, explicitly backed by Dem “heavy-weights” such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Second, she does not mention basic income anymore, not even when questioned about social solutions to things like automation and human rights issues such as racism, sexism, and inequality. In other circumstances, it would be obvious to reference basic income as someone who had already defended the principle on previous occasions.
We are left to watch her avoid the basic income issue. This can be exasperating knowing how enthusiastically she had already spoken about it. To me, this is the product of fear. She is afraid of being ostracized, particularly by her Democratic peers.
The result is hypocrisy. That is because her belief has remained unchanged. It would make no sense to assume that in a couple of weeks she had completely abandoned UBI in favour of its political competitor, the Federal Jobs Guarantee. A jobs guarantee has not brought significant results in other places. She only orbited back to a more front-and-centre endorsement of a Federal Jobs Guarantee because that is the “official” position of the Democrats.
Her professed courageous rebellion and uncompromising talk have gone down the drain, at least in part. In her defence, this behaviour is understandable. Deep down, no one likes to be abandoned. On the other hand, it is also disappointing for those who saw in her the possibility of radical change in American politics and the rise of “anti-establishment” discourse in America’s political landscape.
Courage includes managing the isolation and the criticism from other politicians and pundits while continuing to defend what she believes in. It may be a strategic pull-back, but the message that comes through is one of cowardness and submission to the “moderation” she so often criticizes in her fellow Democrats.
This does not imply I lost interest in AOC or that she is now politically dead to me. It means that no one is exempt from weakness and that there are moments when the pressure is just too much to bear. I am sure AOC will return to her formal vocal support for basic income. She is young, intelligent and restless, so I am sure that basic income will still play an important role in her political career. Perhaps she will follow in the footsteps of Andrew Yang, a not-much-older Democratic colleague of hers and rising-star presidential candidate.
More information at:
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
André Coelho, “United States: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mentions basic income at a Netroots Nation event”, Basic Income News, December 29th 2018
André Coelho, “United States: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets to the point of what it means to be “unwilling to work””, Basic Income News, February 22nd 2019
André Coelho, “UNITED STATES: Joe Biden believes that jobs are the future, rather than basic income”, Basic Income News, September 27th 2017
Karl Widerquist, “Obama speaks favourably about UBI but stops short of endorsing it (for the second time)”, Basic Income News, July 18th 2018
André Coelho, “Germany: The HartzPlus experiment is starting, and the basic income discussion is there to stay”, Basic Income News, March 3rd 2019
Unconditional Basic Income Europe (UBIE) is organizing the first ever Summer Conference on The Politics of Basic Income. With the elections to the European Community Parliament in May 2019, UBIE has decided to focus on how to make basic income a hot topic during the campaign. For this, the Conference has been prepared so as to include a broad range of speakers, roundtables and workshops with the objective of designing a strategy that will put basic income in the debate to elect our future representatives.
The Conference will take place on the 13th to 16th of September in Barcelona and it will focus on political leadership, identifying key allies and spotting the challenges and opportunities of basic income in the political arena.
The program includes a welcome dinner, a day with round tables and speakers, and finally, a day full of participative workshops to allow participants to exchange ideas and design a strategy for making basic income a key hot topic in the European Union elections. There will also be a screening of a new documentary about basic income produced by Humanistas por la Renta Básica. A preliminary program draft is already available.
The first roundtable will revolve around basic income related pilot projects and local politics, which will count with the participation of Lluís Torrens, Ina Dhimgjini, Silvia Camean and Zeljka Topalovik (to be confirmed).
This will be followed by a roundtable on political parties and parliaments, with the presence of political representatives such as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julie Ward
, Member of the British parliament Ronnie Cowan
, and Member of the Basque parliament, Julen Bollain
, and professor José Noguera.
Known basic income activists will also contribute with their expertise in the third roundtable, on Basic income proposals at the European Union level. Here there will be Elena Ambruhl, Eda Tahiraj, Bru Laín (to be confirmed), Stanislas Jourdan and Guillermo Collado Wilkins.
Lastly, the fourth rountable will be examining the need for a social base claiming the right to a basic income. Mayte Quintanilla, Hector Pojomovsky and the Marea Basica will explain how to go about this
On Saturday, participative workshops on theory of change will follow.
The updated Conference program can be accessed here
On December 15th 2016, the ‘committee for citizens’ initiatives’ decided not to allow a discussion in Dutch Parliament about the proposal, organized by Basisinkomen2018, to implement a universal basic income (UBI) in 2018.
Although enough citizens signed the citizens’ initiative (more than the threshold of 40.000), UBI will not be discussed in Parliament because it already has been discussed in reaction to the ‘note of initiative’ (“initiatiefnota”) of the member of parliament Norbert Klein in September last year.
The rule is that a topic cannot be forced onto the agenda by means of a citizens’ initiative if it has been discussed in the past two years.
Klein’s proposal was submitted after the start of the citizens’ initiative, it was only discussed (and not decided about) in a meeting of the committee of social affairs and did not concern an implementation of a UBI (it asked for more research). Nevertheless, the ‘committee for citizens’ initiatives’ (one of its members being Norbert Klein) decided the proposal did not meet the criteria to be admitted for discussion in Parliament.
In reaction to this decision, Norbert Klein spoke in the House of Representatives, “To the 65,000 people that signed this citizens’ initiative, the procedural side is of course subordinate to the content. That’s why I consider the great support for the basic income as especially valuable and as a support for me to continue to push for a basic income. The basic income is on the agenda and will remain on the agenda in 2017.”
Johan Luijendijk, Pieter Parmentier and Michael Amendeone from Basisinkomen2018 are disappointed but remain positive:
“We will invite the political parties ourselves. We organized a symposium: Basic Income, Full Power Ahead (“Het Basisinkomen, Volle Kracht Vooruit“) that will be held on January 23rd. We are honored that a union leader (Reinier Castelein), a scientist (Jan Rotmans), a theater man (George van Houts) and an entrepreneur (Tom Stuij) want to contribute to the discussion as convinced ambassadors of a UBI.”
No more seats are available for this symposium, which emphasizes the popularity of the concept of a UBI in The Netherlands.
Info and links
NETHERLANDS: 58,800 people sign petition calling for a parliamentary debate on basic income [Florie Barnhoorn]
Special thanks to Josh Martin and Danny Pearlberg for reviewing this article
Photo: The plenary hall of the Tweede Kamer (“Second Chamber”), the Dutch Parliament by JVL, CC-BY-SA 2.0