A Note on the CUiSL class on 21 September 2017 on Universal Basic Income

  1. Framework for discussion

The class agreed that, while Universal Basic Income (UBI) could be analysed from a social welfare perspective, it could also be viewed as a reform of income tax. The approach adopted by the Economics Commission of the Communist Party in their report From Each According to Their Means[i] would then be relevant:

“The [objective is] not to look for a set of tax policies that would reform capitalism in Britain. Capitalism is a system of exploitation that creates crisis, inequality, corruption, environmental degradation and war. It cannot be reformed, only replaced. Nor [is] it to consider how government expenditure under socialism should be paid for. This can only be carried out democratically when the time comes. [The objective] is to take a detailed look at the present British tax system as a whole and to recommend how to change it – recommendations around which progressive forces, including trade unions, could unite.”

This report looked at the UK tax system as a whole and examined the interaction of various taxes and potential taxes, including Land Value Tax, Wealth Tax and a Financial Transaction (Tobin) Tax. It did not consider UBI, but subsequent expressions of  interest and support on the Left now made this timely.

  1. What is UBI?

The class accepted the definition of UBI as the replacement of all or most existing state benefits with a single payment made unconditionally to all citizens (or perhaps residents). According to John Kay[ii] its purpose is

  • Entitlement of everyone to a ‘minimum’ income, however defined.
  • a solution to the problem of accelerating automation and the growth of casualization
  • simplification of the welfare system

Scepticism was however expressed in the class about the support for UBI from the Right. Their purpose was to reduce the cost both of administering welfare support and programme cost itself. The class also rejected the possibility of replacing all or most existing benefits with a single payment. Specific needs could not be met with a universal benefit. To each according to the needs remained the goal, albeit one that could only be achieved under communism.

On the question of entitlement, the class favoured the Marxist approach of historical materialism to one based on inherent human rights. The ownership of capital does not, for example, and contrary to EU law, confer any moral entitlement.

The class considered Carol Wilcox’s argument [iii] that the prospect of decreasing demand for labour though automation (‘robotisation’) was over-done (‘hysterical’). It was agreed that the new wave of replacing white collar jobs (and blue collar drivers) with computers may not sound the death knell of capitalism, but the strategy of increased commodification (e.g. education, health) and the opening up of new profitable activities (biotechnology?), could not indefinitely postpone this was collapse.

  1. Is UBI something around which the labour movement could unite?

The iniquity of Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) was discussed. The class agreed that it had to be replaced and that UBI could have a role in this replacement, but only if it were subject to or was part of a progressive income tax and no benefit accrued to high income earners. It would then be part of a progressive income tax with negative rates for those on low incomes. This would not, however, remove the need for monetary support for social needs, but it could be something around which the labour movement and progressive forces could unite.

References

[i] From Each According to Their Means, Communist Party of Britain, 2014

[ii] The Basics of Basic Income, Intereconomics, John Kay 2017

[iii] Carol Wilcox, Morning Star article 16 March 2017

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2 comments

  1. Adrian Chan-Wyles (PhD) · · Reply

    Excellent and well-structured discussion full of proletarian insight, observations and suggestions. When the Labour Party initiated the modern Welfare State in 1948, the fore-runner of the contemporary DWP (DHSS) administered the re-distribution of wealth through welfare payments, but did so with an antagonistic attitude toward welfare claimants. Certain myths were retained that welfare payments were getting ‘something for nothing’ (when in fact such payments had been paid for through taxation by the recipients), and that those having to live on welfare payments were ‘lazy’ – as if welfare gave these victims of capitalism a ‘privileged’ life-style. In those days, people with disabilities were so disempowered and excluded from the workforce and mainstream society, that the British State thought it appropriate to provide welfare without ever considering legislation to prevent this systemic discrimination. Although the Tories (and LibDems) were found ‘Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity’ in 2016 by the UN – (for the deaths of around 10,000 disabled people between 2010-2015 due to sudden welfare cuts) – the Tories continue to persecute disabled people with welfare, social service and NHS cuts – whilst taking no legal action to facilitate the integration of disabled people into the workforce and mainstream society (through positive discrimination). As a consequence, discrimination remains rife. Of course, this does not even scratch the surface of the suffering experienced by the British working class as a whole since 2010 through the initiation of ‘Austerity’. Finally, the DWP behaves very much like the Christian Church it replaced as the administrator of welfare. All recipients of welfare are considered morally deficient, and are treated with an ecclesiastical contempt and mistrust. The DWP, operating as it does through its oppressive procedures, gives the impression that it is distributing Christian charity provided by the ‘blessed’ and ‘faithful’ middle class – rather than its true function of re-distributing tax back to the people who originally paid it.

  2. J.L.Tooze · · Reply

    Come come Peeps, be carefull what you wish for – the “Minimum Wage” spawned by beurocrats is more or less what is being advocated & being reinforced as we speak. jlt

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