Extinction Rebellion's Ideas Exchange invited WBI's directors and International Advisory Board members to a panel discussion on basic income. You can watch an edited version here. Here's some of the many highlights.
"Basic income empowers people who hitherto remained disempowered, and may not have been heard forever. Give that money to the people and you will hear them speak." Caroline Teti, GiveDirectly, Kenya
"Is it possible to deliver cash to everyone? Migrants workers make up 20% of my city, but before we didn't see them. We did a pilot here, we said here are 100 names and their mobile numbers and we went to the Postmaster General and said 'Can you deliver this cash through your money order system?' And the next day postmen went to those hundred people and handed over money." Sarath Davala, India Network for Basic Income.
Oxfam calls for $1 trillion of global money creation in order to provide cash transfers for everyone who needs them
Oxfam International is calling for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to create $1 trillion worth of 'Special Drawing Rights' (SDRs) - the IMF's global currency - to provide cash transfers to every person in the world who needs them. The aim is to stave off a massive increase in global poverty, which Oxfam's new report predicts could return to the shocking levels of thirty years ago.
The report states, "In countries like Kenya and Cambodia, tens of thousands of factory and farm workers are being told to go home. Women workers will be among the hardest hit, as they are more likely to be engaged in informal and precarious work... Today only one in five of all unemployed workers has access to unemployment benefits."
World Basic Income's Laura Bannister and Paul Harnett contribute to FEASTA's 'Bridging the Gaps' podcast, to discuss why a worldwide basic income - a regular cash payment for every adult and child in the world - is vital as part of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.
To listen, choose Podcast 3 here. Laura and Paul's contribution begins at 17:16min.
The amount that can be paid out each month as world basic income will depends on how much can be raised through global taxation and other charges. When we began this campaign we proposed a world basic income of $10 per person per month. However, our calculations have since shown that, with just a few small taxes and charges applied to over-use of the global commons, we could raise enough for a significantly higher basic income. In early 2020 we therefore began discussions about increasing the proposed starting amount.
Children in the town of Naivasha, Kenya might catch coronavirus, but like most kids their symptoms should be mild. A bigger problem for them right now is that their parents just lost their jobs. They worked in Kenya’s cut flower industry, which is currently destroying fifty tonnes of roses and other flowers every day because their customers in Europe have almost completely stopped buying. The workforce has already been cut by half, and is likely to drop further. Some families may get support from the Kenyan government’s cash transfer scheme but it’s a struggle for most African countries to support unemployed workers and many will go without.
Sadio Mane is a genius, and not just on the pitch. He is providing an $85 monthly basic income to people in a poor region in Senegal, direct from his own salary.
In Senegal, as in most of West Africa, people are getting by on very little. The average wage is $150 a month, and many people don't have even that as unemployment is stuck at nearly 15%. Many people work in agriculture, which - despite providing one of life's most vital necessities - unfortunately (and unfairly) just doesn't pay.
Sadio Mane, now an international football star playing for Liverpool FC, had a normal Senegalese childhood. He explains, "I was hungry, and I had to work in the field; I survived hard times, played football barefoot, I did not have an education." Now he has a footballer's salary, and he is not about to waste it.
As well as paying to build a school, a hospital and a stadium, he has created something unique: a one-man basic income scheme in a region of Senegal.
According to news reports, he pays 50,000 CFA ($85 dollars) a month, unconditionally, to every family in the region. That represents more than a 50% boost to someone earning the average wage. For the half of people earning below the average, this money will be particularly transformative, bringing opportunities and a quality of life that would otherwise be completely out of reach.
Of course, people in Senegal should not have to rely on the genius of people like Sadio Mane. Basic income should, and could, be provided everywhere as a matter of right. World Basic Income is campaigning to make that happen.
In the meantime, we give thanks to Sadio Mane, for just getting on with what clearly ought to be done. Let the world take notice.
Genuine climate justice means thinking big when it comes to economic inequality. A 'carbon fee and dividend' would reduce emissions and poverty.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) is demanding that the UK reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025. This is reasonable, but if we're going to get there so quickly we need to be talking right now about how we can achieve this. XR is perhaps wise to avoid making detailed proposals – any specifics risk splitting the movement over the fine detail. Better to leave it to their third demand - a Citizen’s Assembly.
Drastic reductions in fossil fuel use are, to many, a frightening prospect. Jacob Rees-Mogg suggests that XR want to take us back to living in caves; others indicate that taxing carbon is dangerous – it was the catalyst for the Gilets Jaunes protests in France.
Fee and dividend
There is no doubt that carbon neutrality will entail significant adjustments to our ways of living, but there could be a major silver lining. One key mechanism on the table - Carbon Fee and Dividend - could drastically cut emissions while creating positive social impacts. It is being seriously considered in Ireland and Canada, and is supported by the Citizen’s Climate Lobby in the USA. A statement published in the Wall Street Journal in January 2019 calling for a carbon tax and dividend (another name for the same idea) has been signed by 3,000 American economists.
The basics of Fee and Dividend are simple. Carbon extraction becomes chargeable, and the money raised is returned to the population as a cash grant or regular basic income. Some schemes propose using a carbon cap alongside the fee, so that total emissions can be directly controlled without relying on price rises to curtail demand.
There remains, however, a major fly in the ointment if this process happens only at the national level. Applying carbon fees on a country by country basis would require border checks on all fossil fuels, to assess the level of carbon fee that has been paid in the fuel's country of origin and to charge an appropriate 'Border Carbon Adjustment' to ensure the fee is brought to the same level as that paid in the importing country.
This becomes even more complex when applied to goods like steel and fertilisers that require heavy fossil fuel use in their production, and it could stray into the absurd if attempting to account for the embodied carbon content of all imports. A whole new professional field of carbon accountancy would be required, as we attempt to calculate the footprint of every imported good, from petrol and cement, to Colombian roses and Kenyan green beans. Carbon fee avoidance schemes and 'carbon havens' may even arise, in a sad 21st century mirroring of today's tax havens.
Finally, and disastrously, the carbon dividend money would end up in the countries that extract and import the most fossil fuels. These high-polluting nations and citizens are the ones that least need or deserve these revenues. Such a scheme would create perverse incentives for people to continue polluting, as doing so would boost basic income payments.
Climate change is a global problem and it requires a global response. A far simpler and more globally just solution would be to apply the Carbon Fee and Dividend system at the global level, so carbon can be both capped and taxed at source, and the dividends distributed fairly to people worldwide.
This has the unusual merit of being relatively easy to enforce. Just 100 companies produce 71 percent of all carbon extracted. A scheme could be introduced immediately, whereby these companies are required to buy a licence for every tonne of carbon they produce. For this to be achieved it would need the leadership of just two countries, the USA and the UK, as this is where the majority of fossil fuel firms are registered. Convincing the Russians and others to get on board may be tricky at first, but international pressure and trade sanctions could be ramped up to make any exceptions difficult to sustain.
The enormous sums of money that would be raised by a carbon fee should be given back to the all the world's people as a dividend. Rather than benefiting people in polluting countries, those with a low carbon footprint - the poor - would benefit the most.
To make the scheme successful, we must charge the right price for carbon. The IMF recently concluded that to keep global temperature rises to 2°C we would need to implement a carbon price of at least $70 per tonne. This compares to the average $2 per tonne carbon price that is charged in current emissions-trading schemes according to the IMF.
A 2°C temperature rise is still much too high if we are to contain the worst extremes of climate change, so a strict cap and probably a higher carbon price will be necessary. Nevertheless, for now we will base our calculations on the IMF recommendation. If we assume the carbon cap starts at this level then decreases by 15 percent (of today's output) every year for five years, this would bring us to 25 percent of today's carbon emissions by 2025.
Let's assume we raise the carbon price by 15 percent of the original each year, starting at the IMF recommendation of $70. This scheme would raise $2.5 trillion in the first year which is enough for $28 a month in basic income for every woman, man and child on the planet. Over five years the reduction in carbon extraction mandated by the cap gradually reduces the dividend to $12.25.
Transfers at this level seem small to people in richer countries. Those lucky enough to find this amount underwhelming could either not apply to receive it, or could see it as a small compensation for the changes in lifestyle they will have to undergo as part of the transition to a low carbon economy. This might include retraining or driving less, though living in a cave will, happily, not be required. The dividend could help to neutralise the sense of grievance that generated the Gilets Jaunes protests.
Most people in the Global South would find a dividend at this level transformative. Considering that it would be received by every member of a family including children, this would be a significant income boost that would end the worst extremes of poverty and open up new life opportunities. Most importantly, it would give us all a fair share in the revenues from our global commons.
Although the fee would rise as the cap reduces, the scheme inevitably raises far less money for a carbon dividend once the cap begins to bite. It could even reduce to zero if we end all carbon extraction. What happens then to the monthly dividends we have all been enjoying? At this point, we have a choice. We can allow them to fade out, and remember them as a brief but helpful boost for global equality. Alternatively we could expand the scheme to incorporate new revenue streams deriving from the global commons, and turn it into a true world basic income.
There are plenty of global common spaces as well as our atmosphere - such as the oceans, international airspace, and the satellite zone. Other spaces, such as the land and mineral beds, were once commons and we could choose to treat them as such for taxation purposes.
Profitable use of these common spaces and resources could be made chargeable, thereby generating rents for the people that could be distributed as world basic income. These spaces would benefit from the protection that use-taxes would bring, just as the atmosphere would be improved through the Carbon Fee.
Through this scheme, private land ownership, aviation, shipping and deep sea mining could all be taxed. Radio frequencies (used for GPS, TV and many other uses beyond radio programming) and satellite space could be rented out on behalf of the world's people rather than given to corporations for free. The data we all generate that has enriched Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple could be taxed, with money added to the collective pot.
Financial transactions (which are profitable thanks only to our common monetary system) and intellectual property (which is generated through use of historic common knowledge) could also provide a rich source of revenues. Significant historical wealth could be returned to the people in common rather than retained through inheritance.
In these ways, and even without the carbon dividend, we could easily set up revenue streams that would generate $50 a month for every person worldwide. In time, as more commons resources are covered, this could rise to several hundred dollars a month.
These proposals are radical, but we live in incredible times.
The risk of catastrophic climate change forces us to think big. If we are to achieve climate justice, rather than just climate action, we need responses that consider and respond to economic inequalities.
The Carbon Fee and Dividend is one such response, that has the astonishing potential to drive us briskly towards net zero while temporarily ending extreme poverty. By establishing the principle that the earth is a global commons, the Carbon Fee and Dividend would also lay the groundwork for a wider transformation in our thinking. As its economic benefits dry up, we could use its infrastructure and the shift in thinking to kickstart a worldwide basic income that would give us all a fair share of common wealth in perpetuity.
In this way, Carbon Fee and Dividend represents a practical solution to our most pressing human problems. It could transform our current crisis into an opportunity to embrace our common heritage and march forward towards real global justice.
World Basic Income's Laura Bannister interviewed Sarath Davala, head of the India Network for Basic Income, at the Nordic Basic Income Conference in Oslo, April 2019.
India's journey towards basic income
I'm a sociologist. Twenty years ago I was teaching at a business school, but I wanted to work in rural areas, so I got to know SEWA [the Self Employed Women's Association, a major trade union and grassroots organiser in India] and I started working for them part-time. My PhD was on trade unions, and a business school is the last place for that! SEWA had been working on many kinds of social security projects, and they asked me would I like to head the [Madhya Pradesh basic income pilot] project with Guy Standing as principle investigator.
We got into the study, and spent a lot of time in the villages and we collected around a hundred stories, finding out what is going on within families. I was myself sceptical in the beginning about giving unconditional money, but as it turned out it produced dramatic results. Before that, I always used to come back from my work in the villages feeling very empty, thinking 'all this is not working'. NGO interventions can be ineffective, and NGOs get busy after a time with trying to sustain themselves. But the basic income – it worked!
Many people from the project started volunteering their time to drive forward basic income. We formed a network and began making presentations to the government. But 2014 was a real setback. We had been working with the Congress Party for years at every level, but then they got swept out, and Modhi came in. There was no chance there. The new government was busy with something else. But India is a big country so we were talking and writing everywhere still.
People like to learn not from their own country but always from others. Despite the major pilot in Madhya Pradesh, it was the Swiss referendum that got Indian politicians interested. Every year, the parliament present an economic survey giving an account of the past year and projections for the future. In 2017, The Chief Economic Adviser wrote a whole chapter on basic income, saying this could possibly be a way forward. For him I think it was a question of governance rather than social justice. In India we have documentary evidence, the government has said that for one rupee of welfare given they are spending another three on delivery. So you are spending four rupees and getting only one rupee to people that need it. So their interest is in stopping the in-kind transfers, and doing it instead as basic income. That efficiency is the driving force of this idea at the moment – wider ideas about social justice and the commons will likely follow later. Some amount of discussion happened and we organised a national conference around that in 2017.
In Telangana, the state where I live, the government introduced a very interesting scheme for farmers in April 2018. Of course, the struggles of farmers is a national issue. Farmers were on the street, having demonstrations. So the state government introduced a scheme titled 'Friend of Farmer' which involved an unconditional cash transfer of roughly $100 a year for two years. It went to all farmers, rich or poor. And everyone started realising 'wow, there's really something in this'.
Then in view of the 2019 elections more discussion happened and we talked to more people. Interest in basic income was really starting to build up.
A basic income in Sikkim state
The ruling party in Sikkim state announced proposals for a state-wide universal basic income. We went to see them the next day. They have not announced an amount, they want to do studies, create the background infrastructure. The detail is now being filled in.
They will fund it with money from hydro power, but also possibly by applying a small tax on tourism, as many European countries do, like charging residents in hotels a small amount, or on arrival at airports. Even charging 1000 Rupees, it's like 12 Euros, it's not a big amount for a tourist. These funding sources are not talked about in terms of 'the commons'. They just see hydro and tourism as a sustainable source of money.
There is a question about using hydro, the related carbon emissions and the sustainability of the planet. And eventually we should ask those questions, but not now. If you ask those questions now, you could be stopping something quite incredible. I think those questions have to be tackled in the medium term. And Sikkim state would be doing hydro power anyway, whether or not it's used to fund basic income.
A basic income across India - the Congress Party's proposal
The Congress Party, the lead opposition party at the national level, then announced their own plans for basic income. They said universal basic income would not be possible, we have to target – they have chosen to target the 20 per cent of people who are below the poverty line.
How we are going to target, how we are going to select is the big issue. Scholars are sitting down and working out how we are going to do this. Maybe we should use exclusion criteria rather than inclusion criteria. There's also recent national survey data. Any targetting is basically arbitrary. There's discussions happening around this to find a workable plan.
Now that they have announced basic income, it's really appealing to everybody. Twenty per cent is a big amount of people! And they all vote. The idea has penetrated into the local media, they are explaining what it is, local television channels are talking about it, it really is a big big issue.
There is still disbelief. Basic income is something that people cannot comprehend, because it's never happened yet. But because the farmers' programme has happened, people are thinking 'that was unconditional, maybe this can happen too'.
We didn't expect any of this. We just kept going, kept going, kept going. There's been a tipping point, and now everyone is talking about it.
The results of the 2019 general election in India, and the election of the state government in Sikkim, are expected on 23rd May.
For more information on basic income in India, see https://indiabasicincome.in/
This year has already brought two huge developments in India's drive towards basic income. First the ruling party of Sikkim state, the Sikkim Democratic Front, are including basic income in its manifesto for the 2019 elections, with a plan to implement by 2022. And then the main national opposition party, the Congress party, has promised a 'nationwide minimum income for the poor', starting as soon as May 2019 if they are elected.
India has been leading the way on basic income in recent years. A major pilot experiment in 2011-2013 in Madhya Pradesh demonstrated the potential of basic income to support real quality of life for Indian people. The India Network for Basic Income has built both grassroots and high-level support for basic income, through persistent campaign work. In 2017 a major government report, the Economic Survey, noted that basic income could be 'an alternative to a plethora of state subsidies for poverty alleviation' and calculated that it would cost between 4-5% of GDP. Debates have followed at various levels of government, and public support has been growing.
The latest developments are dependent on electoral success, but with both parties showing strong support at the polls, there is every chance that either Sikkim or the whole of India will be enjoying some form of basic income within the next few years.
The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has endorsed Universal Basic Income in a speech at the General Assembly.
This follows an in-depth report by the UN Human Rights Council that explored the potential for universal basic income to address extreme poverty and guarantee essential human rights, and discussed the growing movement for worldwide basic income.
Involvement from the UN will likely be needed to facilitate a worldwide basic income, so growing support at this level is extremely exciting. It also popularises the idea of basic income among world leaders and the global population, helping to build the groundswell of demand that will be needed to get world basic income introduced.
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Title photograph by Koustav2007 (Own work), CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons