A short history of the poverty-busting power of basic income
TheStar.com – News/GTA – Theory of paying the poor has been around for centuries.
April 18, 2017. By
The idea of a minimum or basic income has been around for almost 500 years.
According to the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN — the French word for good), 16th Century humanists such as British author and statesman Thomas Moore first floated the idea as a way to reduce theft, often perpetrated by the poor.
Moore’s contemporary, Italian philosopher Johannes Ludovicus Vives, is considered the “true father” of the idea for suggesting cities pay a basic income to the poor as an efficient way for society to live up to its moral responsibility to care for the disadvantaged.
In 1796, American revolutionary Thomas Paine, who argued the earth in its uncultivated state belonged to everyone, proposed a “citizen’s dividend” of £21 to be paid to all men at age 21, funded through a tax on landowners. He also suggested annual payments of £10 to those over age 50.
More recently, economists and activists on the left and right of the political spectrum have supported the idea, including American conservative Milton Friedman, who in the early 1960s saw it as a way to abolish the minimum wage and limit the “welfare state.” His liberal contemporary, John Kenneth Galbraith, championed it as a way to end poverty.
After a flurry of North American experiments in the 1970s, including the Mincome study in Manitoba, the concept fell out of favour among mainstream thinkers.
But, now it’s the international darling once again.
Pilot projects are planned or underway in almost a dozen countries in both the developed and underdeveloped world in response to concern that globalization and technological advances are leaving large swaths of the population behind.
In January this year, the conservative government of Finland began tracking the impact of a basic income on 2,000 unemployed people between the ages of 25 and 58. Instead of unemployment benefits, individuals will receive a monthly basic income equivalent to about $800 for two years whether or not they find work.
The Dutch city of Utrecht along with several others in the Netherlands are preparing to launch small-scale trials this year. New Zealand is studying the idea. And the city of Glasgow, Scotland, has just voted to conduct a feasibility study.
In what has been described as the largest project to date, GiveDirectly, a global charity, is raising $30 million to fund a 12-year basic income experiment in Kenya that is expected to eventually help about 26,000 people in more than 200 villages. The privately-funded initiative will link donor cash directly to study recipients through cellphone-based payments.
A California technology company is designing another privately-funded pilot project for the San Francisco area.
However, a referendum last summer in Switzerland, the only country that proposed to embrace the concept without a trial, rejected a universal basic income of about $3,300 a month out of fear it would bankrupt the country and encourage idleness.