“Innovation. Disruption. No BS – because we love our country.” That is the “Purple Cow” party power tag. The party is officially called “Capitalist Party of South Africa”, and is defending the basic income policy, particularly in the Negative Income Tax (NIT) form.
The party is proposing an income top-up for all those earning less than the tax threshold in South Africa, which is adjusted for inflation and age. Below this level, working citizens do not pay (income) tax. If, for a given citizen, the tax paying threshold is 78000 Rands/year (5536 US$/year), the party is proposing to tax the difference between the person’s income and the threshold at a 50% rate, offering the rest as a top-up (NIT). In a numerical example, a person earning the minimum wage of 3500 Rand/month (248 US$/month), or 42000 Rand/year (2981 US$/year), would get an extra amount of 1500 Rands/month (106 US$/month) (the difference between 78000 Rands/year and 42000 Rand/year, divided by two, monthly). That amounts to a 43% increase in monthly income. The policy extends to all people below the threshold, including unemployed, in or out of social benefits. That means, in practice, that no one ever gets less than 3250 Rands/month (231 US$/month), which is close to the South African official minimum wage. To contextualize, social retirement grants from the South African government, presently goes only as far as 1700 Rand/month (121 US$/month) (around half the minimum wage).
In a short explicative video, the Capitalist Party refers that, due to the tax system rules, fewer and fewer people are paying taxes, since unemployment is growing faster than employment. This, of course, places great pressure on social security, in order to disburse social grants to around 17 million people (out of a 55 million country population). So, the way in which the NIT is financed gets to be crucially important.
To that end, and over the 78000 Rands/year income threshold, however, taxes would have to increase significantly. In the “Purple Cow” proposal, individuals earning 125000 Rand/month (8872 US$/month) or more would be taxed around 47%, or a 31% increase from what they are paying at the moment. Although this final tax value is not unprecedent, not even uncommon among, for example, north European countries, it may be hard to go for such an increase in one single step, within the South African context. To moderate the expected tax hike for the better off, the party’s coordinator Kanthan Pillay speaks of applying the NIT scheme to only those in paid employment. That, however, is contrary to the spirit of universality (professed in the proposition itself), and overlooks the fact that unemployment and near-unemployment rates as high as 40% in the country.
Pillay also explains that the party’s proposal aims at improving the labour force competitiveness with other countries, such as China. The question remaining might be to know if the “Purple Cow” party is proposing to give financial safety to all South Africans, or to help degrading the labour force’s human rights (both might not be possible).
Admittedly, as professed by Kanthan Pillay, the NIT proposal “is our riposte to the constant clamour for the Basic Income Grant”. However, and according to him, it should be a policy to “conquer unemployment”, given the path of jobs destruction created by automation, and to abolish the minimum wage, welfare, social security and government assisted programs. The “Capitalist Party of South Africa”, therefore, seems to adhere closely to the original principles set forth by Milton Friedman, when he first introduced the NIT concept in the United States.
More information at:
Reg Rumney, “The Purple Cow’s basic income plan is either genius or a bovine patty”, Business Maverick, 25th March 2019
The “Purple Cow” website
Billionaire businessman Johann Rupert, chairman of Swiss luxury goods company Richemont and South African investment holding company Remgro Limited, has recently been speaking in favor of basic income.
In March, Rupert spoke to the Swiss economic newspaper Finanz und Wirtschaft about the state of the Swiss watch industry. While the interview mainly focused on this specific industry and Rupert’s company Richemont, it eventually turned to some more general questions.
Asked about his biggest worries for the future of the economy, Rupert mentioned growing inequality and threat of job losses due to automation; in his view, such social and economic changes would intensify political extremism and hatred in society.
When then questioned about potential solutions, Rupert brought up basic income, stating, “In order to mitigate the job losses through automation, we will have to talk about forms of unconditional basic income [German: Formen eines bedingungslosen Grundeinkommens].”
In May, Financial Times reported that Rupert had told journalists, “I’m a proponent of universal basic income. We have to give time to people to re-skill themselves for a new economy.”
According to Forbes, Rupert is Africa’s fourth richest person.
Mark Dittli and Pascal Meisser, “Die Lage in China hat sich normalisiert,” Finanz und Wirtschaft, March 24, 2017. (In German)
Ralph Atkins, “Richemont founder backs universal basic income,” Financial Times, May 12, 2017.
Reviewed by Asha Pond
Photo: Montblanc Watches (a subsidiary of Richemont), CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 antefixus21
Sdumo Dlamini, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), has called on the government of South Africa to implement a basic income guarantee. He voiced this demand before the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), which held its congress in Johannesburg on Thursday, November 17.
President of South Africa Jacob Zuma with Sdumo Dlamini, CC BY-ND 2.0 GovernmentZA
In his speech, Dlamini contended that “the state’s approach to social protection has been fragmented and narrow,” leaving many members of the population uncovered by social assistance despite lacking an adequate income through their own earnings.
Dlamini also called for other reforms, including a new unemployment insurance fund, a single national pension scheme, and national health insurance.
COSATU is South Africa’s largest trade union federation, representing 1.8 million members (as reported on its website). It has held long-standing support for an inflation-linked basic income grant.
FEDUSA is the nation’s second largest trade union federation, with 20 affiliated trade unions and approximately 515,000 members (according to the latest updates on its website).
Zintle Mahlati (November 18, 2016) “Cosatu spurs on basic income calls” Business News.
Article reviewed by Genevieve Shanahan
Cover photo: Sdumo Dlamini at Presidential Labour Working Group (June 2016) CC BY-ND 2.0 GovernmentZA
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a region rich in minerals and energy resources. At the same time, though, it is plagued by high rates of poverty and extreme income inequality; indeed, its member states include the three nations of highest income inequality in the world (Namibia, South Africa, and Botswana).
It is also becoming a setting of basic income experimentation and activism. Namibia was the setting of a successful basic income pilot study in 2008-09, and other countries in the region have also experimented with cash transfer programs, to positive results.
Nkateko Chauke of the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, an independent think tank based in South Africa, is the campaign coordinator for SADC BIG — which promotes a “SADC-wide universal cash transfer to be funded by a tax on extractive industries.”
In honor of Africa Day (May 25th), Chauke wrote an op-ed for the Daily Maverick arguing that “a universal cash transfer, predominantly funded through extractive industries, will be a remarkable stride towards poverty eradication, reduced inequalities among Africans, equal economic participation and overall African unity.”
Through the realisation of a common vision and a consolidation of national interests – with more robust social protection programmes that will ensure the redistribution of of the proceeds of extractive industries to break the crippling levels of poverty and inequality – a unified culture of people will support a long-term agenda for transformation in Africa for the achievement of sustainable development and integration.
Read the article here:
Nkateko Chauke, “An African identity we all aspire to,” Daily Maverick, May 25, 2016.
Image: Copper mine in Zambia; BlueSalo via Wikimedia Commons
Informal settlement in Soweto. Credit to: The Conversation
The hypothesis: basic income has not been deployed in South Africa in part because the powers that be do not let go of their interest and ability to explore people.
The following article attempts to demonstrate the validity of this hypothesis.
Let’s begin with some background. Basic Income (BI) is not a new idea in South Africa. In fact a thorough economic analysis for BI implementation has existed since 2004. The analysis was drawn from the work of recognized economists, specialists in the field, and the findings were summarized in what became known as the Taylor Committee. The Basic Income Coalition (composed of Black Sash, COSATU and SAAC), used these results to prove that BI is feasible, or at least should be tested, in South Africa.
More than 10 years have passed, and yet nothing resembling BI has been implemented or even tested in South Africa. Why not?
It is not due to lack of need: 54%1 of South Africans – over 29 million people – live under the country’s poverty line, and over 40% of the labor force is unemployed2. Moreover, according to the BIG Financing Reference Group report, it is also not due to a lack of funds:
“The Basic Income Grant is an affordable option for South Africa. Although the four economists [Economic Policy Research Institute (EPRI), Prof. Pieter le Roux, Prof. Charles Meth and Dr. Ingrid Woolard] posit slightly different net costs for the BIG, representing transfers to the poor of different amounts, there was consensus that the grant is affordable without necessitating increased deficit spending be government.”
In spite of this, the same report also states that government officials believe that BI cannot combat poverty. They have refused to consider a BI, despite knowing that current social assistance plans fail to reach over 50% of those living under the poverty line, or nearly 15 million people. These officials have continued to say that BI would not be effective despite demonstration by the Taylor Committee that basic income is the best way to diminish or even eradicate poverty in the shortest amount of time. They also ignore fiscal collection and social security savings when speaking of BI, which more than doubles its actual net cost of about 24 million ZAR/year (1.35 billion €/year), according to the calculations of the Taylor Committee. In short, most government officials completely ignore these very consistent and thought-out analyses from the Taylor Committee. Why is that?
Well, the answer may lie in the kind of structure of South African economy. The private sector accounts for around 80% of the country’s economy3. The median income is 3036 ZAR/month (171 €/month)4, which is low compared to European standards. Taking the United Kingdom as reference, the following table can be set up (Table 1).
Table 1 – Income relationships, South Africa / UK
The relationship between the median income and the average living income is considerably higher in the UK than it is in South Africa. Moreover, the ratio of median income to statutory minimum income is also much higher in the UK. Indeed, while the median income in the UK is above the minimum income (as it should be), this is not the case in South Africa: more than half of South Africans have wages below the statutory minimum income. Finally, as we can see on the graph below, the spread of incomes in South Africa is clearly skewed to the lower end on the income axis, while incomes in the UK are much more evenly distributed around the center (Figure 1 and Figure 2).
Figure 1 – Income spread in South Africa4
Figure 2 – Income spread in the UK5
These data show that the South African economy is impoverished compared to a country like the UK, and that most economic activity depends on a low-wage, low-skilled work force6. This situation is best maintained when a large number of poor, dependent people are craving for jobs in the economy. Given their subservient position, these millions of people will naturally accept low wages and substandard working conditions that they might not otherwise accept. They are also kept away from most schooling and higher education, which could provide them with extra skills and allow them to apply to other jobs or start their own businesses. This is convenient for large corporations, and these corporations lobby and finance politicians and governments to protect their interests by providing them with access to cheap labor and lax environmental laws. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deals, for example, are just a formally imposed recognition of the attitudes of domination that large corporations foist upon governments and the people at large.
There is a link between corporate interests and government policy. Furthermore, the implementation of a basic income would basically be contrary to corporate interests: BI would lift millions of people out of poverty, empower them to refuse conditions of exploitation and start their own business, invest in education and bettering their lives – depriving the corporations of their pool of cheap labor. Government policymakers may also respond out of ideology or prejudice, but corporate political sponsoring response must not be ruled out, given the entrenchment and longevity of their denial (relative to progressive policies like basic income).
More information at:
A. BIG Financing Reference Group, 2004. ““Breaking the poverty trap”: Financing a basic income grant in South Africa.” Basic Income Grant (BIG) Financing Reference Group conference, Johannesburg, 24 November 2003. March, 2004.
1 – World Development Indicators – Poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines (% of population), 2010
2 – A more accurate, expanded definition of unemployment, including the so-called ‘discouraged jobseekers’, according to reference A.
3 – World Development Indicators – General government final consumption expenditure (% of GDP) = 20.3. Hence Non-government (private) final consumption expenditure (% of GDP) = 79.7
4 – From the spread of households within the income distribution in South Africa, 2008.
5 – From Measuring National Well-being – Personal Finance, 2012 (UK)
6 – Higher skilled professionals are usually paid on or above the median income, so a low income distribution as shown in Figure 1 must be related with a high proportion of low skilled workers.