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Why the objectors to a citizens income are wrong

basic-incomeThe first rule of polemic is if you’re going to argue against someone’s position, at least do it in an intellectually honest fashion. Falling short of this is Sally Gimson’s piece on Progress. Sally attacks the Citizen’s Income on the grounds that because Charles Murray, author of the notorious and reviled The Bell Curve, and the Greens agree that a basic income could promote social cohesiveness that the latter buys into the libertarian nonsense of the former. Never mind that the Green policy document, which I suspect she didn’t bother looking at, underlines a continued commitment to extra support for housing and the disabled. Rarely since the days of high Stalinism, when Trotskyists were lumped in with fascists because both had criticisms of the USSR, do such clumsy amalgams come along.

There are citizen incomes and there are citizen incomes. The previous post on this topic trailed a few of these. Chris Dillow has explored some issues further. There are libertarian schemes. Green schemes. Means-tested schemes. And socialist schemes. While the Greens’ are bringing it more mainstream attention thanks to their rapid growth, it’s not the be-all and end-all. There is no set way. Not one set of ideas have achieved the status of hegemonic thinking beyond the basic income being a right of citizenship.

Boffy’s objection, that “it would encourage bad, inefficient employers to pay low wages, and to take account of the fact that the state – that is other workers from their taxes – would be making up a large part of what they should be paying as wages” can be met with a “not necessarily“. To be sure, this is precisely why libertarian advocates love the idea: it’s yet another state subsidy for inadequate wages. The policy, however, does not preclude the retention of existing provisions around the minimum wage or, indeed, its extension. It all depends on the strength of the labour movement. In fact, as per Boffy’s model of a much more dynamic and confident movement there is no reason why its administration, along with whatever is left of the social security apparatus, be devolved to it.

Despite the best efforts of libertarian and Green advocates of the citizen’s income, and its critics to wish it away, class struggle exists. It is to capitalism what dishonesty is to the Liberal Democrats: integral and indissociable. Policies pursued by governments can affect class struggle, and in turn the character of policy and their implementation is so conditioned. This is no less true of the citizen’s income. Its socialist friends have to fashion it so a) it can win over wide swathes of the labour movement, b) ensure that its implementation and maintenance does not impact negatively on our people, and c) that it is weaponised to best pursue the interests of the overwhelming majority against the narrow, anti-social, and destructive imperatives of capital.


  1. Robert says:

    I totally agree that we should be braver and as a socialist labour movement or what we once were,the idea of a citizens income should be looked at and why not, I’m disabled I worked from 1966 to 1966 lucky as hell I was only unemployed for two weeks but did not sign on I found work quick, then I was always in the right place on the right job when the recessions hit.

    Now I get £96 a week

  2. James Martin says:

    I get the stuff about non-means tested payments save lots of money on admin over means-tested ones. It’s one reason why the move to a state pension above means-tested pension credit levels makes sense, and the move to means-test child benefit didn’t.

    However I’ve heard the Greens try and explain this policy (pretty hopelessly) and I’ve also seen some analysis of it that shows on their current proposed payment figure that the poor would actually be worse off, but the main reason I’m sceptical of these sorts of schemes is that in reality it is not an obvious way to redistribute wealth. Now of course the middle class tree huggers may not mind too much about that, but personally I do. Besides, it also has huge whiffs of Fergus O’Connors disastrous and utopian Chartist Land Plan to my eyes.

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