Euvie: Hi Guy, thanks so much for joining us. You’ve been researching the concept of universal basic income for a number of years. Could you give your own definition of what that is?
Guy: Yes, certainly. I’m a co-founder of BIEN, the basic income earth network, [00:02:30] which we set up in 1986. We’ve been growing and expanding around the world, fantastic people have been joining it. I’ve been advocating basic income for all those years. I’ve seen the arguments for and against evolve in that period. For me, let’s start with the definition, which I think a lot of people still have some confusion about.
A basic income would be [00:03:00] an amount paid to each individual as a regular amount, non-withdrawable, in other words it would be a right for that person. It would be paid, in principle, to legal residents of a community, a country, or wherever, and it would be unconditional in behavioural terms. In other words, the person who’s receiving it [00:03:30] would not have to do anything in particular to justify receiving it other than obeying the law and being a good, responsible citizen – that’s determined separately.
Now, the idea is that it could be a modest amount – and there’s a lot of debate on the level that would be appropriate. Some people criticize it because they say it’s so high it’s unaffordable, it would make everyone lazy. We’ll come back to those issues. [00:04:00] I think it’s important that it’s individual rather than paid to a family or a household, which most social benefits are these days, because you can’t make a judgement on what is an appropriate family or household unit, everyone has their opinions. It’s much fairer to give it to the individual.
If the individual wants to have a relationship and share it, that’s their right [00:04:30] as a human being. But it’s paid individually and that is a crucial part of the definition. It should be paid in cash or the equivalent, not in the form of subsidized food or goods that some bureaucrats think is what people need and want. It should allow for people to make the decisions on how they spend the money according to their own [00:05:00] perceived needs and aspirations. So, that’s basically the definition.
Mike: We hear a lot of the same criticisms about basic income. So, from your perspective, what do you define as the criticisms and what are your answers to them?
Guy: I think it’s important to start with what are the justifications for a basic income, because many of the objections that have been made, well, I’m going to talk about the 17 standard objections which I discuss in my book. [00:05:30] Many of those objections don’t relate to the justifications for a basic income. Those justifications are fundamentally ethic, they’re moral, they’re philosophical. They are something that is the main reason, as far as I’m concerned, for supporting a basic income.
If you want a good society, [00:06:00] then the values I’m about to mention should be absolutely central to building such a society and, at the moment, they’re not. The first justification for a basic income is that it’s a matter of social justice. For me, this is the really important starting point. The wealth and income of all of us [00:06:30] is far more the result of work and effort and achievements of the many generations before us than anything we do individually by ourselves. But we don’t know whose ancestors, yours, mine, or numerous others, have contributed to that collective wealth.
In a sense, if you allow for private inheritance of wealth by individuals through their families, [00:07:00] and you allow for private returns to capital investment going to private shareholders or whatever, then one should allow for the fact that we should all have a share in the collective wealth of our societies. The best way to do that is to think of it, a basic income, as a sort of social dividend on that wealth. I think that’s fundamentally important, [00:07:30] especially as we know that the land and the resources have been taken by minorities, rich, affluent landlords, or miners, or whatever they might be, who’ve been lucky or successful by chance or whatever.
Much of the wealth has been accumulated by people who are the descendants [00:08:00] of robbers, or gangsters, all sorts of things like that. So, a basic income would be a way of sharing some of that collective wealth. I think that’s crucial. The second reason, and related to the ethical question, is of course that if you’re religious – I’m not religious – but if you are religious you can say that basic income [00:08:30] would be a compensatory payment for the fact that we all have unequal talents coming from God or whatever. It would be a compensatory payment because, of course, you can tax back from the wealthy, even if it’s a universal basic income.
So, it would be a compensation. Now, that I think is a supplementary matter of social justice. If I were a religious person I would put that as a [00:09:00] high consideration. The second justification for a basic income is that it would promote freedom. Now, the trouble with most social policies as they exist today is the opposite, they don’t promote freedom, they constrain freedom. They apply behavioural conditionalities, for example, they say, “We will only give you a benefit if you perform this, [00:09:30] that, or the other. And this, that, and the other, we believe, or we say, is good for.” This very paternalistic argument. When you look at what they’ve been doing, it’s very, very much a matter of limiting personal freedom.
They often dress it up by posing characters who need to be led etcetera, etcetera, but [00:10:00] closer examination of data show that most people who have been forced to behave in certain ways haven’t needed to be guided to do those things, it’s part of a bureaucratic paternalism that is rather unedifying. And, of course, one set of conditions lead to tighter conditions, lead to more conditions, and so what we’ve got today is an edifice of restrictive conditions. That’s contrary to freedom.
By contrast, [00:10:30] the basic income provides everybody with a modest, guaranteed amount whereby their bargaining position with figures of authority and figures capable of oppressing them or exploiting them is strengthened. Their power to say, “No,” to an unwelcome grope, an unwelcome bureaucrat, [00:11:00] an unwelcome employer forcing them to do extra labour, the risk, if not, of losing their job etcetera, etcetera. Not saying that the modest basic income will give us total power, but it strengthens the resolve. Collectively, that might be very important, because you could well have solidarity expressions [00:11:30] helping each other and that would be strengthened by everybody having a basic income.
For me, the strengthening of the ability to say, “No,” is very important. But it’s also a way of strengthening what I call Republican freedom, what is called Republican freedom. Republican freedom means the ability to go forth in society feeling that you are not [00:12:00] subject to the unaccountable will of the other, the unaccountable power over you. It’s not a matter of being able to say, “No,” it’s being in a situation where you know you could say, “No.” This is a very important aspect of freedom. Now, one I’ve argued is that the emancipatory value [00:12:30] of a basic income is greater than the money value.
That is quite a challenging statement. By giving people senses of choice, by giving people a sense of being in control of their situation to a degree, they feel emancipated. Whereas, other forms of social policy, and I list a lot of them in the book, are the opposite. In other words, their emancipatory [00:13:00] value of that benefit is less than the money value. This, I think, is a very important consideration, especially today when more people are educated, more people are wanting to make choices, more people are in a position that they need to make personalized choices is very important.
So, freedom, I think, is a key. Those policy makers who don’t place a value [00:13:30] on freedom should basically get off the stage and jump of the whatever, because that is fundamental. Prattle on about freedom but, in fact, don’t introduce the considerations of freedom into their social policy thinking. The third reason is that a basic income would give a person basic security. Not total security, which is always dangerous, [00:14:00] leads to carelessness, but basic security. Basic security means that, in extremes, I can rely on it and I feel secure.
Now, psychologists have taught us that insecurity not only causes mental harm and mental instability, but actually lowers IQ, lowers intelligence. I think anyone [00:14:30] who’s experienced a period of insecurity, financial or other, realizes that they lose their mind to a certain extent, and start making rash decisions and behaving in ways in which they wouldn’t behave if they had security. It’s a corrosive feeling which causes incredible stress, incredible distress. And a basic income would provide a [00:15:00] basic security which would enable people to have mental calm and their IQ would rise, therefore they would be making better strategic longer-term decisions.
By incidentally, a basic income thereby would tend to lower health costs and demands on health services, therefore have a beneficiary effect outside the cost [00:15:30] benefit of a basic income. For me, these are the major three reasons. There are other instrumental reasons that would help stimulate more ecologically balanced growth, which I think is vital in the 21st century. It would promote reproductive work, preserving our communities, our health and so on, rather than resource depleting labour, which tends to be much [00:16:00] more polluting. It would do those things and it would help do something that’s rather intangible, which is help us all slow down a bit, get a control of our lives.
So, these reasons are all social and societal and also individual. As far as the robots are concerned, which is what’s prompted a lot of people to be interested in basic income in the last couple of years, [00:16:30] I’m an economist and I tend to think that all new technologies generate new demands, new requirements, new forms of work and so on. I don’t think we’re suddenly going to be all made redundant and have nothing to do. I do think that it’s going to alter the structure of work and, very profoundly, increase in equality, which is even more reason why we need a basic income. The main reasons [00:17:00] for supporting the basic income are ethical.
Mike: Euvie and I both come from a background of entrepreneurship and being artists, as well. I really love to think about what it would be like if everyone had a basic income, how much art would explode, music would explode, and entrepreneurship and innovation would explode. What do you think are some of the other net effects to society, this sort of aggregate effects to society, for basic income?
Guy: I think you’ve put your finger on a very crucial part of it. [00:17:30] The idea that we’re all here to chase jobs and be in jobs all the time and consume, and consume, and consume, is idiotic obviously. The reason I think many artists and cultural people appreciate basic income is that it would encourage us at the edge [00:18:00] to relax more and to be risk taking in a creative sense. I may not be a good musician, but I could spend more time trying to do it. I may not be a good something else, but I would want to spend more time on it. if we think about it, some of the greatest geniuses, if not, many of the greatest geniuses in history, had they not been able to afford downtime, [00:18:30] they would not have produced their great works of genius.
Mike: I think you make an excellent point with the risk taking. If I think about the type of risks that our society needs to take, versus the type they’re forced to take, it would almost reverse those, too.
Guy: That’s right, that’s right. Risk taking means, sometimes, just doing nothing or appearing to do nothing. If you think of Michelangelo, he must have spent an enormous amount of time just looking at pieces [00:19:00] of rock or pieces of marble. Then he would have been condemned by some bureaucrat as being a lazy bum, which is ridiculous. You can look at all the great artists that may have had periods of stillness while they’re building that energy to take the risk again. Any artists knows that indulging in any artistic pursuit is enormously risky in a [00:19:30] personal sense. You may fail. You may produce crap. You may just not have the talent when you have to reveal that, because you’ve taken the risk and you find you can’t do it.
This is existentially a real zone of risk taking. But it’s the human condition. We all want our children to do that and we’re reading to stand by and say, “Never mind, [00:20:00] try something else.” But that risk taking is something that you can only do if you have enough security to know that, if you fail, you won’t be impoverished, homeless, in an asylum or whatever it might be. I think a basic income would help in that sort of humane social policy direction. Whereas, we don’t have it at the moment, and that’s why [00:20:30] so many people are out of control and saying and thinking things that are basically disgusting. We’re in a dangerous point historically in that.
Euvie: I really like your point also about the ability to say, “No.” I find that that’s something people who don’t have a lot of personal power, they might not even realize the things that they’re doing that they wouldn’t otherwise had done if they had a little more power.
Mike: More sovereignty.
Euvie: Yeah, a little more sovereignty.
Guy: That’s right, that’s right. [00:21:00] We found, in our pilots in India in particular, that this made a huge difference for women. You don’t need to go into why but it’s obvious. That’s why women have benefited. I’ll give you an example. We were doing a pilot in Namibia. At the end of the pilot, I was visiting the villages and I called some young women across to ask them. [00:21:30] I asked them, “What was the best thing about having this basic income over the past two years? What was the best thing?” They giggled then one of them said to me, “When the men came down from the fields at the end of the month, we always had to say yes. Now, we have our own basic income, we can say no.”
That graphic example, whenever I give it in speeches, is understood [00:22:00] by everybody. You can replicate it in numerous variants, whether you be in Canada or in Thailand or in Switzerland. People understand that. I think that ability to say no is vital.
Euvie: I think it was actually from one of your studies, as well, that the rate of teenage pregnancy tends to decrease dramatically with these experiments.
Guy: Again, it’s pretty clear why. [00:22:30] There are several reasons. One, of course, the women can not expose themselves when they don’t want to expose themselves to the risk of becoming pregnant. Two, they can buy contraceptives or force their boyfriends to buy contraceptives, etcetera. Three, they can get a greater degree of control over their own lives and plans and so on. You find that people who have basic income security tend to [00:23:00] hitch up in a marriage later, because they don’t feel they have to Get married because they’re do bloody insecure. They are all various reasons why that positive relation exists. None of them are very difficult to understand. It’s a disgrace if policy makers ignore that sort of thing.
Euvie: Yet, some people have strong criticisms for basic income. What are the biggest ones that you’ve had?
Guy: [00:23:30] There are the various objections that have been made over the years. I am totally convinced I’ve heard all of them that could be made. I’ve listed in the book a whole chapter called the 17 Standard Objections. I won’t go through all of them now, but I went through them and dissected them, to my satisfaction anyhow. I think they’re all refutable. [00:24:00] The main objections, first and foremost, comes from people who haven’t really thought about it, they haven’t been in the situation where they would understand what it would been to them. They say, “I’m against giving something for nothing. I’m against it, they should work for their money. They shouldn’t get something for nothing.”
If you look at this reality of society, a huge [00:24:30] minority of people get a lot of something for nothing in the form of inherited wealth. If you’re against giving something for nothing, you should stand very strongly against inherited wealth. You should say, “There should be no inherited wealth, because that’s something for nothing. Get rid of them, don’t allow them.” But it’s not something for nothing anyhow, for the reason I gave earlier, because you’re saying, “This is a social dividend [00:25:00] to the returns from the efforts of numerous people,” often including my relatives and your relatives, and maybe in the past…
And we cannot make anything but arbitrary judgements that you person X out there whom I don’t know have not made contribution. Any rule that excluded and included somebody who should get something is [00:25:30] arbitrary and unfair. I think that something for nothing argument is ridiculous, but you’re also giving something which is promoting something. If you give a basic security to an individual, there are very good reasons for expecting that that individual will become more altruistic, more tolerant, more productive, more responsible, and a better fellow [00:26:00] human being.
You can anticipate, on the basis or probabilities, that you would be getting something for nothing, something for very little rather. Now, the more virulent criticism is, of course, that if you gave everyone a basic income, they’d become lazy. They would stop working, stop doing jobs, the society couldn’t afford that because [00:26:30] we need the contribution of everybody. I think that is an insult to the human condition. If I gave you $100 or £100 or whatever it might be per week, you are not going to start sitting on your backside and doing nothing. The human condition is we all want to improve our lives.
If the argument that giving money [00:27:00] induces laziness, well, there’s a very good argument that taking money away from rich people, because they’ve got a lot of money, and therefor we want to increase their work by taking money away from them. But of course, that’s not what happens. The idea that a basic income would lead to laziness is not only wrong because we want to improve conditions, but it’s wrong empirically. [00:27:30] We find that people who have basic security work more, not less. They have more energy, they have more confidence, they take entrepreneurial risk in small or big ways.
They don’t fear taking those risks to the same extent. They do other forms of work that are not labour. You can’t spend a lot of time caring for your relatives or caring for your [00:28:00] community or garden if you’re in desperate insecurity and you have to labour as much as you can, because wages are low etcetera, etcetera and you’re insecure and you have to be saying yes to a boss and be at his disposal at all times. You are able to be in control if you have a basic income that’s guaranteed to you, and therefore you will work on many of the things that are useful, [00:28:30] valuable, but are not valued in the market.
Those things go along. Empirically we find that, in fact, a basic income induces more work, not less. The third objection is, of course, that it’s unaffordable, that you can’t possibly give everybody in society a basic income, because back of the envelope calculations show that it would take a third of total national income. [00:29:00] Now, this argument is very one-sided because what we would be doing is you provide everybody with a basic income but you would be taxing back from the wealthy, so that the net costs would be well below the gross costs, and, of course, it would have dynamic effects because it would be a substitute for some other things, some means tested benefits.
It would be a substitute for that and it [00:29:30] would also have beneficial effects for the economy, for society, which are typically not taken into account in those back of the envelope calculations. I strongly believe we could afford a modest basic income with relative lack of difficulty. I’ve gone through the standard objections. In my own country, the UK, the government each year operates over 1,000 [00:30:00] forms of selective tax reliefs. What that means is they give tax privileges or subsidies to a huge number of people. Turns out, that’s highly regressive. In other words, the people who gain from those tax reliefs are the wealthy and the middle-income groups, not the poor. And the total sum, those foregone revenues, comes to over 400 billion pounds a year.[00:30:30] Now, if you allocated those 400 billion pounds a year, instead of giving them as tax reliefs, you gave them as a basic income, you can easily afford to give a basic income. Similarly, with quantitative easing which the governments have pursued in recent year to stimulate their economies. They poured money to bankers and the banking communities, hundreds of billions of yen, dollars, euros, pounds which have gone to the wealthy, the financers [00:31:00] who have been able to make more money and more profits and go to tax havens etcetera.
So, anybody who says we can’t afford it is either naïve or deceiving us. The third type of objection is that a basic income would be inflationary. If you put more money into the economy through paying everybody a basic income, prices would rise and therefore, in the end, nobody would be better off. This is one-sided economics, [00:31:30] because what you’re talking about is shifting money, instead of paying it for X, Y, and Z, you’re paying it as a basic income. So, to a large extent, you’re talking about shifting expenditure. In addition, as we’ve found, if you pay a basic income to everybody and then, therefore, your benefiting low income groups, the structure of demand for goods and services changes [00:32:00] in favour of basic goods and services. Food, basic services, locally produced products etcetera relative to imported luxuries.
Therefore, you stimulate the economy in a way that has network effects and positive community effects. For me, that inflationary argument is also very feeble. Those are the main objections. I think we can answer [00:32:30] them with confidence. The standard objection, which I’ve just read recently in the Observer newspaper by their leader writer, I think is a viscous one, that Albert Hershman, whom I quote in the book, would have regarded as typical. If you had a basic income it would distract attention from other important issues, that’s the claim, therefore it must be wrong, [00:33:00] it’s stupid.
Because it would mean that we would abandon the national health service and blah, blah, blah. I’m only slightly exaggerating her argument, only slightly. This sort of juxtaposition of a basic income with other priorities is a disgrace. Nobody in their right mind would propose a basic income and abandonment of your health service. [00:33:30] It’s ridiculous. You want a good health service just as you want people to have basic income security. There isn’t a competition between the two. You can think of numerous forms of expenditures which are regressive and undesirable, like expenditures on unnecessary arms, expenditures on vast fracking exercises or nuclear energy plants or whatever you might think is right or wrong.[00:34:00] You don’t have to choose something like a national health service, which everybody supports, therefore, “You couldn’t kill the national health service,” therefore we can’t have a basic income. That is a dirty way of arguing, really dirty way of arguing. It’s cheap. If I were judging students in that sort of argument, I would fail them. I think it’s disgraceful. There are those things and there are others that I’ve discussed in the book. I strongly believe that [00:34:30] we can defeat the objections and what I am finding extremely interesting is that a lot of young people who are students, who are having enough time and inclination to think through these things, are emerging unscathed by the cynics and are understanding that enlightenment value that a basic income [00:35:00] offers, the sense in which it’s egalitarian ethos. It’s promoting freedom which we all should want and it’s providing security and solidarity. Precariat, the group I write about and interact with, they understand the value of all of those.
Euvie: You talk about the concept of this group, the Precariat, but it’s not a uniform group, there are different kinds of people [00:35:30] that make up that group. Could you elaborate on that a bit?
Guy: Yes, I’ve written several books on the Precariat and every day, every day without exception, I get emails from people around the world you identify themselves as being part of the Precariat. It’s growing rapidly I believe. You’re absolutely right that it’s not homogenous group. In other words, not [00:36:00] everybody comes from the same background and everybody suffers from the same insecurities and everybody has the same attitude as a result. But that never was the case with the concept like a working class, it was never the case with the bourgeoisie or the middle class, it was never the case with capitalists. There are all sorts of differences within any social grouping that you can conceive of.
What the Precariat essentially is that [00:36:30] an enormous number of people are being arbitrated to accept a life of unstable labour, casual in and out of jobs, without a sense of occupational identity or narrative. They find their education is greater than the jobs they can typically obtain. They don’t feel that they’re developing themselves through their labour. [00:37:00] They’re living bits and pieces lives. In addition, they’re having to rely on money wages without access to good benefits, money wages that are increasingly insecure and volatile and they are on the edge of unsustainable debt.
They, most importantly, find that they are losing the rights of citizenship. That, to me, is the most important thing about the Precariat. [00:37:30] The Precariat is not defined by insecure labour. You could put up with that if you had a background of a basic security, for example. The Precariat is most defined by the fact that they feel like supplicants. They feel as if they don’t have the firm rights of citizenship, they’re losing them in various ways. Now, the Precariat is internally divided, as you correctly noted, [00:38:00] into a group that I call the Atavists. These are the relatively uneducated who feel they’ve lost what their fathers and mothers and communities had, which is a life of stable labour and, at least, a predictable life.
This group tends to be relatively uneducated, as I said, and listen to populists like Trump [00:38:30] and support people like Trump, because they’re angry, they’re bitter, they’re lashing out, it’s the worst part of the Precariat. The second part of the Precariat is what I call the Nostalgics, these are the people who feel they don’t have any sense of home anywhere. They’re migrants, they’re minorities, they’re often women, disabled, they don’t feel they have a present. They look in the past imagining a home.
This group [00:39:00] tends to be dangerous in a different sense in the way that they are detached from society. Many of them drift through life without engaging as citizens. I think this is a terrible loss to society, it’s a loss to them. Their numbers are growing and I begin to think encouragingly that they are beginning to reengage in a political life – and they must. The third group is what [00:39:30] I call the Progressives, the people who go to university or college and they were promised a career, they were promised a life of development, and they come out disillusioned, angry, they don’t see a future, they see insecurity around them, they see themselves going into that life of insecurity, and they see themselves as having debts and no future.
The first group feels [00:40:00] they have no past, the second group they don’t have a present, and the third group doesn’t have a future. The third group, I think, is growing relatively fast and is going to define progressive politics. That third group tends very strongly to support the idea of a basic income, very strongly. Wherever I talk, and I’ve talked to hundreds of groups, they understand it, they get it. They’re wanting a new [00:40:30] politics paradise, as I’ve called it, they’re wanting a combination of enlightenment policies and they’re looking for new political movements. They’re dangerous in the sense they reject the old social democrats, they reject old style centre left, centre right parties. Their energy is fantastic and they’re beginning to define a new politics. Basic income is one part of that.
Mike: I would like to hear more about [00:41:00] some of the experiments that you’ve done or that you’ve heard of, as well, and some of the stories that have come out of there that have been surprising.
Guy: I’ve been fortunate in being able to put to test this idea that I’ve held firmly for 30 years. That doesn’t happen to many people and I feel very privileged that that has been the case. That also makes it very important that you respect the [00:41:30] need for objectivity and that you must constantly be saying, “Must make sure that this is objective and fair and done properly.” We were involved in a pilot in Namibia early in the century. That was a very successful pilot, but one of the objections I had to the design that [00:42:00] the majority of the group wanted was that I thought there should be a control group. In other words, if you give basic income to one community and then monitor what happens, as we were doing, then you should have another similar community that doesn’t get the basic income to see what happens to them in the same period because it could be external events that influence rather than the basic income.[00:42:30] They didn’t want to do that because they thought it was immoral to be using people as guinea pigs not receiving a basic income but being asked a lot of question. I don’t agree with that but I can see the rationale for it, I can see the appeal of it. That was a very successful pilot nevertheless, because it showed the beneficial nutrition effects for children, the improved schooling and the attitudes, [00:43:00] the increase in economic activity in the villages, growing more food, the decline of economic crime, and the rising status of the women in particular. It was a very useful pilot.
The pilots we did in India, which has resulted in a book called Basic Income, a Transformative Policy for India, began with a small experiment in west Delhi where [00:43:30] we gave 450 families the choice – it’s not an ideal experiment of a basic income but it was moving towards what we wanted to do – a choice between sticking with the subsidised goods that they were provided, rice, sugar, flour, and kerosene, they got those subsidised prices, or being given a basic income each month [00:44:00] of equivalent value. It was very interested that about half chose to switch to a basic income and half stayed with what they knew and received, the rations.
In the course of the pilot, which lasted nearly two years, a large number of people in that community who had opted to stay on the rations were coming to us and saying, “Please can we switch [00:44:30] to the basic income?” It was quite instructive. But we couldn’t do that because we’d agree with a design that everybody, through the experiment, should stick to what they chose initially. They wanted to shift. What we found in that experiment, again, is that there were significant improvements in nutrition and health of children, because the families that had the basic income were buying [00:45:00] better food, better quality stuff, and more according to their tastes, and were making choices to improve their family’s living standards.
Then we did a much bigger pilot in Madhya Pradesh, where we gave a basic income to every man, woman, and child – the child paid half what we were giving to the adults – a basic income for 18 months. [00:45:30] That was 6,000 individuals. 6,000 individuals in 8 villages, separate villages. We monitored what happened to them by comparison with the past and with what happened during the course of the receipt and at the end. But also, by comparison with similar type of people living in similar villages, [00:46:00] similar size etcetera. That was a total [inaudible [0:46:02] about 12,000 individuals. That, of course, is a big sample. You can do a lot of analysis of the outcomes and so on.
What we found is that there were, relative to the other communities that weren’t receiving the basic income and in terms of absolute changes, there were huge improvements in child nutrition, [00:46:30] child school attendance, child school performance, in health, the use of healthcare, taking medicines more regularly and to completion, for example. There were huge improvements in economic activity, production went up, people were using part of their basic income to buy seeds and small equipment and increasing [00:47:00] their work and output. And in particular, women’s economic status improved and women’s independent working capacity improved. There were community effects on sanitation and an organization of things like petty transport and things like that.
The end result of the experiments there was that it was what we call [00:47:30] transformative. All these things individually fed into community benefits, which transformed those local economies. I would go there, I would rarely leave without tears in my eyes because it had been so wonderfully liberating for those people. Then we did one smaller pilot in a tribal area [00:48:00] where tribals are very, very low-income people in Indian context. We found that the results were even more strong in the tribal area than they were elsewhere. Those pilots, for me, I devoted over five years of my life to doing those because there’s an incredible amount of work involved in doing them.
We had over 100 people working on the pilots, for example. [00:48:30] The pressures, working in the tropics, being bitten by this, that, and the other etcetera. But it was enormously rewarding. Now, at the moment, I’m advising a number of pilots in rich countries, Canada, California, Finland, Scotland, that we launched and so on. These are very different and there [00:49:00] are different challenges, but I have no doubt in my mind that the same sort of behavioural reactions the receipt of a basic income will take place. One of the things we found in the Indian pilot, which we really subject to scrutiny because it struck us as somewhat surprising was that the consumption of bads, the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, in those villages [00:49:30] actually went down.
A lot of people say, “If you give basic income to these people – these people – they will spend it on alcohol, drugs, tobacco, illicit sex,” all sort of bads. This is a typical middle-class prejudice. I’m glad to say that the consumption went down and we asked people in the villages [00:50:00] why they thought that was the case. The most common response was that people had more to do. They had more productive activities to do. They had more chances to help their children, they had more chances to interact, to take to activities that could improve their lives in other ways, and more energy. Therefore, they didn’t [00:50:30] sit back in indolence and resort to mind blocking things like excess alcohol and endless cigarettes.
We were encouraged by that. Then I read a [inaudible [0:50:45] study, which is surveyed as much evidence as they could obtain on the difference between people who received cash transfers and the consumption of these bads, [00:51:00] perceived private bads. It’s a global trend. It’s a global trend. It’s very healthy, it’s very encouraging. But it also reinforces my own belief that human beings are basically wanting to improve their lives and they resort to dead end activities and deadening behaviour, in most cases, through being losers [00:51:30] and being insecure and depressed and feeling there’s no hope.
Of course, you’re going to be able to find exceptions. Of course, minorities are always going to be lured into gambling, lured into habits that destroy themselves, but I think with education and with security, many more move away from those.
Mike: I know you’ve got to go here, so I just want to say thank you for coming on the show [00:52:00] and simplifying this topic for us. You’ve pretty much answered all of the objections and answered all of the common questions that I think people have about this subject, and I especially like the examples that you gave us, too. Thank you for joining us.
Guy: Great, I hope it’s useful. Cheers.
Euvie: Thank you.
Guy: Have a good day.
Euvie You too, bye-bye.
In this episode our guest is Guy Standing, a researcher and former professor at SOAS University of London. He is one of the most prominent researchers and advocates of universal basic income, a topic which we’ve talked about in several Future Thinkers episodes before. Guy Standing is the author of a book called “Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen”, published last year. In this episode we talk about the evolution of the basic income idea, the transformative effects it would have on individuals and communities, and how it can be made reality.
The Concept of Basic Income and Its Justifications
Basic income is defined as a regular, unconditional amount of money paid to all legal residents of a community.
Guy explains the three main justifications for basic income, which are fundamentally moral, ethical and philosophical.
First, Guy argues that basic income is a matter of social justice. It would represent a dividend of the current wealth accumulated as a result of the work of many generations before us.
Second, it would promote freedom, providing an individual with an emancipatory ability to say no to figures of authority capable of oppressing or exploiting them.
Lastly, it would give the person a basic security that would allow them to gain control over their lives. It would also encourage the person to take risks in the creative sense and provide space for growth in areas they are interested in.
As Guy explains, there are several common objections to the idea of basic income. The most common of them are the objection to giving somebody something for nothing, the fear of people becoming lazy, the economical unsustainability, the fear of it being inflationary, or that it would take attention away from other important issues.It’s not a matter of being able to say no, it’s being in the situation you know you could say no. Click To Tweet
What Is The Precariat?
The idea of basic income and its values speaks most to the new emerging class of the precariat. Guy argues it is a new class of people characterized by chronic uncertainty and insecurity in terms of labor. As a result, the members of the precariat have no sense of occupational identity, but most importantly, they feel like they are losing their rights.Risk taking means sometimes just doing nothing or appearing to do nothing. Click To Tweet
Basic Income Pilot Experiments Around the World
Guy continues talking about experimental pilots that took place in Namibia, West Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and other locations.
All of these experiments had numerous beneficial effects on individuals and communities involved, including improved nutrition and health of children, improved schooling, increased economic activity, improved status of women, and the decrease of the consumption of substances such as alcohol and tobacco. People also had more productive activity and more energy.
At the moment, Guy is designin a number of pilots in Western countries that he thinks will have similar effects.If you give basic security to an individual, there are very good reasons for expecting that individual becomes more altruistic, more tolerant, more productive, more responsible and a better fellow human being. Click To Tweet
In This Episode of Future Thinkers Podcast:
- What is universal basic income and why is it necessary?
- The transformative effects of basic income on individuals and society
- The most common objections to the idea and how to deal with them
- What is the precariat?
- Basic income pilot experiements from around the world and their results
Mentions and Resources:
- Basic Income Earth Network
- Why everyone should have a basic income – TedX Klagenfurt
- What is the Precariat – TedX Prague
- Basic Income: and How We Can Make It Happen by Guy Standing
- The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class by Guy Standing
More from Future Thinkers:
- FTP031: Scott Santens – What Happens When We Give People a Basic Income?
- FTP025: James Hughes – Cyborg Buddha, Transhuman Enlightenment and Basic Income
- FTP011: Bitcoin and Blockchain and Basic Income, Oh My!
- Video: What is Universal Basic Income and Why Support it?