Monday, 6 March 2017

The Charter of the Forest and a commons argument for the UBI

"Every student learns about Magna Carta, the ancient scroll that enshrined the rights of barons against the arbitrary authority of England’s monarchs," writes Jason Hickel at the Guardian. 

"But most have never heard of its arguably more important twin, the Charter of the Forest, issued two years later in 1217. 

"This short but powerful document guaranteed the rights of commoners to common lands, which they could use for farming, grazing, water and wood. It gave official recognition to a right that humans nearly everywhere had long just presupposed: that no one should be debarred from the resources necessary for livelihood.

"But this right – the right of habitation – came under brutal attack beginning in the 15th century, when wealthy nobles began fencing off common lands for their own profit. Over the next few centuries, the enclosure movement, as it came to be known, shifted tens of millions of acres into private hands, displacing much of the country’s population. Excluded from the basic means of survival, most were left with no choice but to sell themselves for wages for the first time.

"And it wasn’t only England. The same process unfolded across Asia and Africa and most of the global south as European colonisers staked private claim to lands and forests and waterways that were previously held in common, leaving millions dispossessed," Hickel adds. 

Indeed, the process continues in many countries, including post-colonial countries which continue to dispossess indigenous people.

In the context of the argument of a universal basic income, what's interesting is that Hickel bases his argument on a right to share in the commons.

"Critics of basic income often get hung up on how to fund it. But once we come to see it as linked to the commons, that problem becomes more tractable," he argues, giving the modern day example of  the US state of Alaska, where "natural resources are considered a commons, owned collectively by the people, so every resident receives an annual dividend from the state’s oil revenues."

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Guaranteed minimum income as percentage of national income

Economists Kalle Moene, director of ESOP – the Centre for the Study of Equality, Social Organization and Performance at the University of Oslo, and his Indian-American colleague, Debraj Ray, have called for countries to set aside 10 to 12 per cent of gross national income for a universal basic income, reports. 

"We propose a minimum income for everyone as a fixed proportion of gross national income – Universal Basic Share (UBS)," they argue. "The scheme can thereby be introduced in all countries, poor as well as wealthy. It would function in India equally well as in Norway."

In India, this sum of money would be shared among just over 1.2 billion people, and each person would then receive a wage that corresponds to the current poverty line, while in Norway this would constitute approximately NOK 90 000 ($US10,700).

"The whole point is to link the payments to the country's income level. This has three important implications," Ray argues. "Firstly, the poor receive an amount that is independent of personal income. Secondly, the amount paid is automatically linked to inflation. Thirdly, people have no need to fight for the authorities to adjust the amount to keep pace with the growth in the national income."

"Why are these proposals being made now?

"The keywords are: unemployment, inequality, globalization and automation in manufacturing. Those who own the robots rule the world. 

"The universal basic income gradually increases as technological development forges ahead. The scheme means that everyone shares in the prosperity," they conclude.