CASE FOR A FAIRER SHARE
A "CITIZENS INCOME"
Efforts to find solutions to the problems posed by the new technological revolution make the citizen's income (CI) a concept whose time has come. Production has become so independent of labour that societies worldwide are effectively excluding an increasing proportion of their populations. In pre-industrial societies such "superfluous" folk lived off the land. Now, as jobs are destroyed or as land exploitation generates famine, a disturbingly large number of excluded people are deprived of traditional means of support. Waged labour no longer redistributes wealth in industrial societies. Land, the Third World's means of existence, must be restored to the people. Solutions are neither purely economic nor purely ecological but are closely related to PIRM's new direction of People-Centred Development.
Ideological pronouncements about growth, low inflation and low taxation of the wealthy ("who create jobs") must be challenged. The "trickle-down" theory must be exposed for the sham it always has been. The amount of wealth in the world has never been greater, nor in fewer hands. Growth (and misappropriation) of wealth goes hand in hand with increasing unemployment and deprivation. There must be a renewed concern for people as autonomous social beings rather than as economic units.
New Zealand's 1987 Royal Commission on Social Policy rejected alternatives to the current social system, in favour of a preference "for a return to full employment". Unemployment was then 60,000. It was predicted, by proponents of CI, that the only other way to prevent "massive and permanent" unemployment was to change the rules governing eligibility. In spite of rules governing eligibility unemployment still rises.
CI to cover "basic needs" would be a right, not conditional on undertaking paid work. CI would be tax-free and financed by tax on all other income (combined with taxes on use of non-renewable resources, energy, wealth). 1987 arithmetic supported a CI of about $150 per week (say $200 per week now) for all women and men over 16 (half CI for children). An increase in company tax to equal personal income tax (then 24%) would have financed this. Other possibilities were not calculated.
CI generates stability and security. The unemployed, now excluded from society, become participants. Dependants on inadequate welfare payments, excluded from work by prohibitive marginal taxation, are liberated. CI gives greater autonomy and independence, particularly for women and underprivileged minorities.
Various CI viability calculations can be made. One cynic said, "If World War 2 could be afforded, almost anything can". The so-called "free" market, with its "level playing field" and supporting mythology, lacks the discipline of a social conscience. The political will of a revitalised civil society could provide that discipline. A society could provide that discipline. A society that idolises a few multimillionaires while thousands are deprived of basic necessities lacks a political will to achieve social justice. If the excessively rich are not taxed they lend money. An economic factor growing faster than wealth itself is income from interest. Keynes said that if incomes from rents and interest were not phased out, inflation and unemployment were inevitable. He proposes state intervention to save capitalism from itself. Now the urgent need is to save the planet from capitalism!
The "work ethic", an anachronistic Industrial Revolution relic, is due for reassessment. What was imposed on a predominantly rural subsistence society is no longer relevant. "Access" schemes for non-existent jobs are not real retraining. Imposed despondency over the next meal, or languishing in a dole queue, are not the sort of recreation which renews the inner spirit and enriches society. Ruskin said that there is no wealth but life. We must revalue life as real wealth, re-evaluate money as a means of exchange, and prohibit its use as power over the dispossessed.
The current crisis is deepened by disillusionment with political progress. In New Zealand the degree of distrust of both major parties, due to flagrantly broken electoral "promises", has created a vulnerable society. A "fascist take-over" in New Zealand would be more costly, economically, politically and socially, than opting for a fairer share, through a citizen's income, of what civil societies should rightfully possess.
Les Gilchrist of Christchurch, New Zealan is a retired engineer.
Source: Pacific World, No. 27, May 1993.