Response to Max Rashbrooke's Introducing the Social Income: A new way to do welfare in the 21st century

March 24, 2019

The equitable sharing of resources has always been a strong determinant for the viability and success of a society. 150,000 years ago members of Homo sapiens were much the same as modern humans. Living in tribes, equitable sharing of meat from the hunt was essential for the tribe’s survival. In our modern world there are still nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes that probably live as our late-Pleistocene ancestors did.

 

Altruism develops as generosity is encouraged with food sharing and other forms of helping. But hunter-gatherer groupings are small in size and the kinship relationships are known. As societies grow in complexity, our instinct for altruism is diluted, and cannot deliver an equitable sharing of resources. Over the centuries, societies have attempted find new methods for sharing resources. Over the last 150 years one of our answers to the problem of fairly distributing resources been the welfare system.

 

The Enlightenment taught us that individuals and societies are best served when we are free determine our own life paths. In stark contrast to the Enlightenment view the Welfare system in New Zealand is designed to coerce our most vulnerable people. There is little evidence to suggest that a strategy of coercion produces greater well-being, equity or economic productivity outcomes. There is ample evidence that coercion causes suffering.

 

The coercive elements of the Welfare system are supported by the assumption that people who require income support are delinquent. This assumption has resulted in a ‘libertarian paternalism’ where the ‘haves feel it is their rightful duty to direct the ‘have nots. In Utopia for Realists (2014) Rutger Bregman provides a simple response to this view:

 

‘poverty is not a lack of character, but a lack of cash.’

 

This is evidenced by pilot studies, which have consistently shown that people who receive a basic Income spend it wisely and choose to engage with society in productive ways

Guy Standing argues in Basic Income and How we Can make it Happen (2017), a strength of Basic Income is that it enables people to make reasonable choices whatever the preferences and opinions of others. It delivers the right of self-determination, which the current welfare system is set against. Standing further writes,

 

‘Freedom must mean neutrality towards individual decision making, not a carefully constructed, devious, non-transparent edifice of devices to induce norm-driven behaviour, however benevolent the intention.’

 

Basic Income is a successful method for delivering income and respects everybody’s right to choose their own life path. Max Rashbrooke’s solution is Social Income which is an “Income (that) would be paid in return for activities such as caring for sick relatives, raising children, volunteering and perhaps studying’. In sharp contrast to Basic Income this would introduce new burdensome bureaucracy.

 

Similar to the current welfare system, people would have to prove that they are engaging in ‘social work’ as a condition of their social payment.

 

Rashbrooke agrees that the welfare system is in a state of ‘disrepair’. ‘The current system’s many failings include….. its punitive attitude towards benefit recipients.’ Rashbrooke believes that the Social Income avoids the punitive elements of the current welfare system-yet there is this troubling aspect of Rashbrooke’s Social Income model

 

‘Those who refused to carry out socially useful activities …………would be placed under intense supervision aimed at getting them into the paid workforce.’

It appears that the Social Income relies on the same logic as the current welfare system. The ‘haves’ should tell the ‘have nots’ how to live

 

Basic Income means a complete rethink of how our society is ordered. For many centuries everyday life was been based on ‘agrarian time’ where the seasons, light and the weather ordered the day. With the Industrial Revolution, ‘industrial time’ changed our days to blocks of eight or nine hours for five or six days a week, and after a period of years there was retirement. Guy Standing identifies our 21st century witnessing a development into ‘tertiary time,’ where ‘work’ and ‘labour’ blur into each other. There is no longer a satisfying balanced equation where labour output equals a wage rate.

 

Evaluating a Basic Income against the background of ‘agrarian’ and ‘industrial’ time is not valid and leads to a conclusion that Basic Income is as Rashbrooke says ‘an illusion.’  Standing asserts in The Precariat (2011) that society has not yet ‘managed to crystallise an idea of ‘tertiary time.’’

 

We need to completely rethink the building blocks which have underpinned the economic system brought here by Pakeha settlers and take into consideration both the radical ideas T of our Western heritage, such as Basic Income, and the alternative knowledge and understanding which comes from Te Ao Maori. Tinkering with our present system is only to patch up, when what we need is a fundamental reset of values and practice.

 

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