Contrary to what some politicians might like you to believe, it is easy to remove most poverty. Simply give poor people, indeed everybody, enough money to subsist. It’s called basic income.
How to pay for it? There are two ways.
1. Pay out of current government moneys
There are many benefits to the economy:
- more economic activity, so more taxes
- less need for benefits, so less government costs
- reduced minimum wage, so more employment, so again more taxes
- less crimes of desperation
- more intelligent behaviour from the poor (yes)
- disincentive to immigration, as would apply to citizens only; there is also less incentive for people to move from other countries with a similar policy
- reduced inequality means reduced discontent with governments
- of course, you would net off against current tax and benefit schedules so that most people were not directly affected and continued to be paid the same as previously
So it wouldn’t cost as much as you might think.
2. Just create the money
The central bank simply creates the necessary cash, outside of government accounts. You could regard this as pump priming the economy. (Compare QE, but this time for the needy.)
If just one government does this, this will inevitably cause its currency to slowly decline against others, but we are talking small percentages, so slow, here.
If a majority of world governments do it, there is no cost. It is free money.
Basic Income is a no-brainer. Why doesn’t it happen?
There is this obsession among the empathy-bypassed richer classes that the poor are feckless and not trying hard enough, so they should be forced into desperation so that they will do any job at any price for all hours of the day and night. I suspect this came from the early days of industrialisation, when cannon fodder was need for the emerging industries. It went away after WW2 (did you know that Richard Nixon tried to introduce basic income in the US in the 1970s?) But this prejudice has been reinforced since the 1970s by right wing parties in UK, US and elsewhere.
It is nonsense. Basic income has been tried many times, and the evidence suggests that if you treat people like paid-up members of the human race they will behave like it. Give people a decent start and they will make their way.
In a world of increasing automation and concern about where the future jobs will come from, basic income seems even more needed.
It’s about political will
In the end, in a world of plenty as we have in the West, poverty is about political will and little else.
Eradication of poverty is also surely an essential precondition for a New Renaissance.
The inspiration for this post came from ‘Utopia for Realists’ by Rutger Bregman. Beware reading it, it might haunt you with the sanity of its ideas!
Featured image is Caricature of poor people at a workhouse having dinner; by Phiz (?), via Wikimedia Commons