Matt Cooper is right to criticise the article about Basic Income, written by Andrew Harrop on the Fabian website, for its timidity (Solidarity 400). However, a bigger problem is that Harrop makes something fairly simple unnecessarily complicated.
A major advantage of BI is that it does not require much in the way of paper work, calculations, assessments and, most important of all, there is no means testing. Harrop’s “half-way house” proposal gives us the worst of all worlds: it is not a BI and it requires some kind of means testing.
There is no reason for this. Experience demonstrates that a BI can be introduced without all this farting about and that it is embraced by all concerned — after all if you are going to receive, say £100 a week for doing nothing extra in your life, why wouldn’t you be happy! I have made this point before in the pages of Solidarity, but there is a crying need to look at the concrete experiences of where BI has been tried (two pilot schemes in Madyah Pradesh, India; Manitoba, Canada; Botswana, the semi-BI currently operating in Alaska and others). These experiences are all well-documented and should be studied closely.
Trying to widen out the discussion — BI needs to be linked to a re-thinking of the whole idea of work and leisure, of the need to reduce the current working week. The Fabians are quite right to suggest a three day weekend. We work too many hours, too much overtime and too many “voluntary” extra hours. This is bad for our health (physical and mental). Social and family life suffer, and there is little evidence it boosts productivity. Andre Gorz suggested that a 1,000 hour year is quite feasible. We should think seriously about this.
The old miners had it absolutely right in their historic reluctance to work on Mondays; the story goes that a miner’s son asks, “Dad, why do you only work four days a week? The miner replies, “Son, we can’t afford for me to work three days”.
We need to be seriously thinking about and discussing: a drastic reduction in the working week and how we can redefine leisure so that our free time is something more than just recovering from being knackered after working all week. Matt actually echoes the Fabians’ timidity when he remarks that BI is seen as a “progressive reform”, well yes, but it could be much more than that. If BI was linked to the growing call for a Land Value Tax (part of which could go to pay for a BI), the labour movement could have a winning combination here.