21 Oct 2014

Why the entire planet should be pushing for an Unconditional Basic Income for all

What's the biggest threat to humanity? Given my obsession with fixing the economy, you might be forgiven for thinking I believe that our biggest priority should be fixing the way our monetary system works.

Well, sure - the economy  is really important. But even more important is the fact that we are destroying our planet, in part because the numbers of humans on the planet is increasing in an almost totally uncontrolled manner. I'm old enough to remember when the population of the world was 3 billion. But it's now well over 7 billion. And  if things go on at the same rate, we will exceed 10 billion humans by around 2060. Surely, it must be obvious to everyone that this is not viable.

I've just seen Neil Young's new song "We're gonna stand up" (and save the earth). Good to see a real protest song for once. It's not as if there isn't enough to protest about.

So, Neil, here's one suggesiton about how we might save the earth.

Why is the world's population increasing out of control? It's clearly a complex issue. But I suspect that for many people in third world countries, the need to have a guarantee of support into old age is a major factor. In a system where there are no pensions, and no system of social protection, is it surprising that people will try and have large numbers of children, simply to be sure that there will be someone around to look after them in old age? Isn't that a perfectly understandable justification for people in African countires having 8 children or more?? If you had no pension, and no way of saving money for your retirement, wouldn't you do the same?

So, how might that be changed?

Well, believe it or not, I think that the solution could lie in - taxing financial transactions and using the revenue to pay a direct Unconditional Basic Income to people in third world countries.

I've already argued that a minuscule tax on financial transactions could provide enough money to provide a very considerable Unconditional Basic Income to people in western countries. For example, given that transactions in the Eurozone are running at well over €2 quadrillion a year,  a tax of just 0.1% could generate enough money to provide a Basic Income of around €6000 to every man, woman and child in the Eurozone countries (there are 330 million of them).

Add another fraction of a percent, and it would be possible for the Eurozone countries to provide a very substantial amount of money to people in third world countries - money that could be provided directly to citizens in those countries. You wouldn't need to provide much to make a huge difference to someone living in Burkina Faso - €20 a month would certainly transform their lives, but even €20 a year would make a huge difference.

The critical point is that if you could convince people that they could rely on receiving these modest sums throughout their lives, the argument for producing large numbers of offspring simply to feel confident that they would have someway to survive in old age would disappear. Of course, you would have to be convincing. It wouldn't be enough to say that we are going to make the payments this year or next year. People in Burkina Faso would need to be convinced that that paymenst would still be coming in 30 or even 50 years later.

Can you think of any other way of reducing the rate of population increase in third world countries? I'm assuming that compulsory sterilization is something that we would rather avoid.

Providing a guaranteed flow of money to third world countries would make extremely good sense for a number of other reasons. For example, if you provide these countries with some Euros (or sterling or dollars), that would allow them to purchase goods and services from those countries - thus providing a boost to those economies. It's clearly a win-win situation.  This would be infinitely more intelligent than the current system in which organisations like the World Bank lend "money" to third world countires, thus getting them massively in debt and requiring them to spend decades devoting all of their acitivities to paying off those debts. Importantly, the direct payments to third world Citizens would be entirely debt-free. Like the Unconditional Basic Income paid to citizens in the Eurozone, the money paid to citizens in third world countries would be entirely without conditions. That's the way it should be.

Seriously, I think that this proposal could really change the future of our planet. I believe that the rate of increase of the world's population could be brought under control - without the need for any restrictive rules.

To make the system work even more efficiently, you could arrange things so that the Unconditional Basic Income payments are only paid to adults. That would reduce any temptation to have children simply to increase the level of payments. Note that this would be a different strategy to the one used in the Eurozone (for example) where there would be not need to directly discourage people from having children, since many couples will only have around 2 offspring each.

Another useful trick would be to arrange things so that people would only receive the payments if they stayed in their home countries. Thus, people would know that if they moved from their original countries, they would no longer be eligable for the payments - thus reducing the incentive to attempt to migrate to places like Western Europe. If they do, they would only recieve the payment if they are accepted as a legitimate refugee.

So, yes, I do think that an intelligent use of a universal Unconditional Basic Income could provide a powerful way to improve the lot of people in third world countries.

There might even be an additional indirect and unexpected payoff of such a move. If overpopulation is clearly one very serious threat to everyone liviing on the planet, another is the spread of Islamic Extremism. What on earth can motivate people to sign up with fanatical groups like ISIS? I can only think that one factor could be an extreme rejection of the morals of current neo-liberal capitalism. Maybe, if people in the west were to demonstrate that they weren't only interested in maximising profits, it may go some way to defusing the currently explosive situation.

But in any case, I am becoming increasingly convinced that a few simple ideas may provide the keys for a truly ground-breaking revolution - one that could transform all of our lives, and the lives of future generations.

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