Is a Basic Income Grant stealing from the rich?

An interesting article from BBC Future (There is a problem with the way we look at inequality) looks at the wealth gap and some publications on the subject and concluded that there were actually three different elements that one should distinguish between in order to understand what needs to be done to rectify an obviously unjust situation. The issue, they say, is not the existence of a gap between rich and poor, but the existence of unfairness”.

So the trick is to understand what of the wealth gap is just and what of it is unjust. We would paraphrase the situation thus, we need to deliver justice without destroying that which is just and desirable, because, if we destroy that which is good in an attempt to destroy that which is bad, what is left for those of us who want the good? Perhaps only the bad. This is reflected in the law of unintended consequences.

English is full of pithy little sayings and a very pertinent one for this topic is; “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”. In other words, be careful of the baby (the economy). You don’t wish to destroy the economy.

A point highlighted in the article was that one study argued that the public perception of wealth inequality itself being aversive to most people is incorrect, and that instead, what people are truly concerned about is unfairness” and that “People typically prefer fair inequality to unfair equality”. Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University arguing against a world of absolute equality, observed “why would I work for 50 hours a week if everything I’m given is free?”. Indeed, why work at all if you receive the same as Joe Blogs who works 50 hours a week, when you get the same for not working at all?

The three ideas we need to grasp about equality are 1) People should have equal opportunity in society, regardless of their background, race, sexuality, gender and so on. 2) Fair distribution says that benefits or rewards should be distributed fairly based on merit. 3) Equality of outcome says that all in society should earn the same rewards irrespective of their input into society.

Most of us would agree with points 1 and 2 but many would disagree with point 3 (see Bloom (above)).

Many economist interviewed for the article agree that too much attention is paid to the fact that the 1%, and the super-rich exist. Instead, they argue, we need to concentrate more on helping those less fortunate, who via a lack of fairness, are unable to improve their situation.

Harry G Frankfurt, emeritus professor of philosophy at Princeton University argues in his book On Inequality that “the moral obligation should be on eliminating poverty, not achieving equality, and striving to make sure everyone has the means to lead a good life”.

Experts say the solution to poverty lies in addressing the fact that poverty and unfairness exist because addressing that should be the real moral obligation.

While we at the Direct Democracy Forum (DDF) agree with all of this, our approach is more pragmatic than moral. We suggest it is in fact in the interests of all of society, including the rich and the super rich, that poverty be eradicated, and that it is also in the interest of the market economy that poverty be eliminated. After all, the poor cannot afford to buy cars and washing machines and dishwashers and clothing and medical services and education and housing and recreation and food and travel and electricity and swimming pools and stereo sets and computers and video equipment and so on and so on and so on, while even the modestly affluent, the sort of lower middle class (financially speaking), can, over time, buy all these goods and services. By making the demand side of the economy stronger, we all, even the rich and the super rich, grow richer.

If we use a slightly different analogy, every farmer knows he has to sow the seeds of his prosperity by investing in his land and his livestock. Similarly every person who relies on the economy for his prosperity, both the rich and the poor, needs to sow the seeds of this prosperity by investing not only in the means of production, but also the means of consumption.

So we at the DDF argue that a Basic Income Grant (BIG), funded at first by the economy through the application of a BIG TEAL, will sow the seeds of that prosperity, and should not be viewed as stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but as an investment in the demand side of the economy, and if at the same time, a BIG makes the lives of countless of individuals better and makes ”sure everyone has the means to lead a good life”, to quote Harry G Frankfurt, so much the better.

In addition, it should be remembered that TEAL collects in equal proportion from everyone. While the rich may contribute more than the poor, that is only because the rich are more economically active than the poor. But they all contribute in equal proportions.

So, in answer to the question, is a BIG stealing from the rich, we would answer emphatically and resoundingly, NO! It is an investment in their own and everyone else’s prosperity.

For those who wonder how we could pay for a Basic Income Grant, see how to pay for a basic income grant and take a look at DDF policy on the Basic Income Grant (BIG) and DDF policy on the Total Economic Activity Levy (TEAL).

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