A Basic Income Grants discussion.

I recently listened to a podcast (Upstream podcasts) in 2 parts on a UBI (Universal Basic Income) which I found really interesting. The podcasts are available here (1) and here (2). If you have difficulty listening to podcasts, you can download the transcripts in pdf format for both podcasts from here,.

What interested me most was the almost universal consensus that 1) UBI or BIGs (Basic Income Grants) were desirable and productive, and 2) where implemented (in pilot schemes & etc) the beneficiaries, their progeny and the communities they were a part of all benefited, and few if any recipients abused the system. So there is a multiplier effect.

I contacted the producers of the podcasts with a view to setting up a dialogue from which I hoped we all could benefit, but was disappointed to find that my contribution showing how capitalism can pay for a UBI was not well received. The producers seemed to feel that using a system which they clearly wished to see the back of, would compromise their ideals for a post-capitalist society. I don’t think this is a very constructive position but instead regard using capitalism to fund a UBI as a step in the right direction, thus tackling the disparity of wealth between the haves and have nots and more importantly, tackling the lack of economic opportunity for the have nots, and who knows where that can lead. But the producers felt that a dialogue on that basis, as they put it, (we) would be talking to cross-purposes. So, instead of having a dialogue from which, perhaps, we all could benefit, we have nothing much at all beyond our separate but ironically similar goals.

Be that as it may, the podcasts are awesome.

Much more disappointing for me was the response of two South African institutions to my approaches. One is the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII), and South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

The SPII were said to be promoting a Basic Income Grant. When I approached them I found they had a project devoted to a BIG with a dedicated manager and BIG committee, this according to their web site and correspondence and conversations I had with their staff. In the end it seemed that their interest in a BIG was limited to a SADC context rather than a South African context. In any event, when I approached them I was met by an unwillingness to engage on the topic of a BIG.

It may be significant that their present web-site (which may still be under development) has no mention that I could find of a Basic Income Grant. Perhaps they have given it up as a bad idea and perhaps that was why they were unwilling to address the topic of a BIG with me. But the SPII are not saying anything to me on that topic.

I also approached the Democratic Alliance suggesting I had policies that would almost certainly guarantee the DA a substantial win in the upcoming 2019 general elections. I was referred to a member of the DA specialising in policy matters. He indicated two things to me. One was a scepticism of the claim that the throughput of money in the South African banking system was anything like an average of 30 times the GDP and that it could bear a ½% levy in place of the 30% or so taxation of the GDP, although he did admit it would be a game-changer if this was so. He also stated that in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, the DA had approached residents of SOWETO who indicated that they did not think a BIG was a good idea. That then, was my time to be sceptical.

The DA’s policy specialist also suggested that I should obtain (for the DA?) written proof from the SA Reserve Bank that such a relationship exists between the GDP and the money flowing through SA’s banking system. My unspoken response to that was that the DA should do their own homework as the DDF and the TEAL Foundation had already done theirs. See here for some information on DDF and TEAL findings.

Never the less, I did and will continue to approach the SARB even though they are reluctant to release any information on the topic beyond what they publish, which is not very much. They claim proprietary rights to information of national importance, which I dispute absolutely. Perhaps I have to brandish the freedom of information act (I think we have such an act) under their noses to get any real satisfaction. Perhaps not.

From time to time I encounter detractors from the idea of a UBI/BIG (the “you can’t give away something for nothing” brigade and the “everyone will stop working” brigade and the “how do we pay for it in our corrupt society” brigade) but they usually walk away from an encounter with me a lot more thoughtful about the prospect of a UBI/BIG. Once you get past those knee-jerk reactions, folk generally seem more amenable to the idea.

So, far from finding possible allies willing to share knowledge and experiences on the topic of a UBI or BIG, I found folk and institutions who, whether for ideological reasons (in the case of the podcast producers) or perhaps for political reasons (was I encroaching on SPII’s and the DA’s turf and in the DA’s view was I not also being a political upstart?), viewed my assertions that I knew how to pay for a UBI or BIG pretty much with indifference.

I find all of that quite astonishing.

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