Basic Income

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Though little discussed in Anglo-Saxon countries, the idea of an unconditional basic income is being advocated in many parts of Europe and even as a global concept. In this issue we consider this idea from the point of view of associative economics, meaning in essence how can humanity’s income needs be met through conscious collaboration even collective behaviour of individuals. If such a task were our joint responsibility, would we delegate it, as it were, to the state or the market? Or even such a supra-national agency as the UN? What image of human existence can external ‘authorities’ have that human beings cannot have, and act on, directly?

Is it really impossible to ask, when paying for a good or when paying a salary, whether the producer’s needs are met out of his income? The more we answer ‘no’ to this question, the more we force those who provide us with goods and services to borrow to cover their shortfall on income. If we all do this every day of the week in everything we do (for this is what happens if we act on the idea that the cheapest price is most social, because it best allocates resources), we should not be surprised to find the world is awash with debt.

Moreover, when, having underpaid ourselves, we create external agencies to make up the difference – but by taxation! – we demonstrate social schizophrenia (or at least that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing). We then unnecessarily create outside bodies which then have to judge (and in the end) decide what a need is. Worse, if we are not very careful, by extension that they will eventually decide what the human being is.

In Sign of Our Time, the arguments are set out that underpin the movement for unconditional basic income. Taken from the Global Basic Income website, they are representative of the views of many who now advocate this idea…

The idea seems innocent enough, but in Unconditional Basic Income?, Marc Desaules offers a critique that highlights its more untoward nature. His concern is that we will inadvertently create a Leviathan-like situation when what is really needed is to return to the fork in the road, as it were, and start over with paying true prices. This in the end will rebalance matters.

In Concerning Exploitation, Rudolf Steiner makes the case for true pricing, the other side of true income – an idea cited by Marc Desaules, the absence of which results in inequitable income in the first place. The notion of a true price is the centre piece of associative economics because if we take seriously the idea then use it to revise policy and practices, it will serve as a sound guide, enabling us to reconfigure economic life so that true prices are the outcome. of course, this will challenge many current practices, not least the concept of price stability, but why should we expect to solve today’s many problems without some fundamental reworking of economic thinking and behaviour?

Calculating True Prices shows that this idea is not so far-fetched. It informs, albeit perhaps inadequately, such things as fair trade, and social and environmental reporting. This example shows that the idea is far from unreal and is perhaps best brought into focus by the act of calculating the unreality or misleading nature of current pricing methods. It is perhaps worth noting that such change as proposed here entails a wide-ranging review of government subsidies and the use of the public balance sheet to hide costs, so-called externalities.

AEX Pages is not directly on topic. Amongst its items are a report on a recent international conference in The Future of Finance, which overall focused on how to high-tech the finance industry and ready it for a world in which the individual is the starting point, not the banking   system. Whether one needs banking as we know it was touched on but scarcely elaborated, although it is a moot point, in terms of this issue, whether true pricing and its corollary true income can happen in the context of today’s banking and financial system. In addition, an observation that if there is to be real change, key clues are to be found in Aristotle, in whom there seems to be a renewed interest in current discourse prompted by the global financial crisis.

The View from Rare Albion brings up the rear with an account of how income is met in that imagined land, a land in which it is believed that ‘civilised people feed one another’.

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