The provision of a guaranteed income to every man, woman and child would give each individual a greater degree of independence and enhance real freedom. This would best be accomplished in combination with free universal access to various forms of real income, most notably decent housing, high-quality education, healthcare, and an expanded commons, including free internet access to all available written, musical, televisual and cinematic materials. The guarantee could take the form of a basic income, participation income, broadly defined job guarantee, or some combination (e.g. JIG).
A ‘basic income’ is unconditional, and so simplest to administer. Under such a scheme it might be anticipated, or at least hoped, that most individuals would seek voluntarily to use their free time in socially beneficial or productive ways, but this is not a formal requirement of such a scheme. A ‘participation income’, as the name suggests, requires some form of community participation. The requirement could be defined broadly to include paid employment, volunteering in a wide variety of forms, unpaid housework, childcare, aged care, participation in schooling, higher education and vocational training, and whatever else is deemed by a particular society to constitute suitable participation. A ‘job guarantee’ could serve a similar role provided participation in schooling and higher education counted as employment. A job guarantee, broadly defined, approaches a participation income, which in turn comes to approximate a basic income, if liberally implemented.
Any of these policies would be a step toward greater real freedom for all individuals. This would be reflected in many different facets of everyday life. Here, only a few of them are considered.
Relationships. A guaranteed income would promote greater equality and independence for each partner in a marriage or civil union. In particular, there would be less likelihood of an abused partner remaining in a bad relationship, much of the financial imperative of doing so being removed. In healthier relationships, the partial balancing of power between partners would encourage greater openness and honesty. The emotional risks of communicating home truths would remain, but the financial cost limited. Any relationship that fails to withstand honesty is not heading anywhere positive, either for the partners involved or their potential children.
Inequalities between single-parent and two-parent families would also be partially redressed by a guaranteed income. At the moment, being a stay-at-home mom or dad is considered to be a legitimate choice, provided this is financed out of the earnings of the other partner. But a single parent who has not married or cohabited so lucratively is stigmatized. This encourages ill-matched couples to stay together, with detrimental long-term impacts on themselves and their children, as well as impoverishing those – usually single mothers – who are left to raise one or more children on their own. A basic income, being unconditional, would address this automatically, but a participation income or job guarantee could do so also if parenting were deemed to meet eligibility requirements.
Childhood and youth. Currently, the plight of children is appalling, even in rich countries. Across the income scale, children are at the whims of quite possibly bad parenting, which may include varying degrees of physical, psychological or intellectual damage and, probably in more cases than not, pressure to pursue a life severely at odds with their own inclinations, aspirations and talents. Adults should have no right to impose their own often ignorant or prejudiced attitudes on any child, including their own, or try to live their own unsatisfying lives through the accomplishments of their kids. A guaranteed income would not prevent these excesses during early childhood, since at a very early age the income would need to be entrusted with the parent or parents. But it would alter the dynamic, in the longer term, because children would be guaranteed the means to reject parental demands over how they choose to live their lives.
It would also end the injustice that children and youth are expected to do schoolwork or university study without remuneration. This is reprehensible. Many high school students would work more hours a week than adults at their studies alone, even disregarding part-time McJobs. Even for the least motivated student, the basic school week involves about thirty hours of classes. For any serious student, the hours extend far beyond that, in some cases double or greater, once weeknight and weekend study is included. Not only that, but most of them will never be required to think harder than they do at school and university. Many jobs could be easily picked up by a Year 8 graduate.
There is another difference between education and most jobs. School or university work is not done unless it’s done. Sitting and watching the clock, gazing blankly at a computer screen, taking a coffee break, surfing the internet, or chatting with colleagues is, within limits, paid just as well as time spent working, when a person is in a salaried position. In contrast, procrastination at school or university achieves precisely nothing in the way of a paycheck or a passing grade.
Aid to poor countries. A guaranteed income should be supplemented by full airfare and accommodation in the case of individuals who choose to do approved volunteer work in poor countries. Many places in the world still lack clean water and other basic amenities, or access to enough food and adequate housing. This should be unacceptable to any person living in a rich country. Apart from the homeless, unemployed and working poor, it is difficult to see how anybody in a so-called developed nation could feel justified in wanting more material possessions while most people elsewhere in the world do not even have the basics.
Voluntary participation in the building, in low-income countries, of housing and infrastructure, or the provision of food, basic health care and other necessities, should count as participation in the case of a conditional guaranteed income. Many youth might well be willing to help rectify the worst effects of global inequality if such a path were more open to them. For starters, many of the youth now enticed, through economic duress, into the military might prefer to engage in such constructive activities rather than take part in the oppression of the world’s poor.
Activism. The guarantee of an income would enable like-minded individuals to build a stronger opposition to environmental destruction and the array of problems currently afflicting our societies. An unconditional basic income would be best, in this respect, because it would free individuals to engage, in greater numbers, in protest and activism. Such activity is critical to the health of any society. Without it there is little accountability or internal social criticism and a consequent neglect of pressing problems.
It is obvious at a glance that the world is in a terrible state. Apart from the 1 percent and a middle class in the rich nations that is fond of crying poor, most of humanity is oppressed, and in many cases brutally suppressed at our collective say-so. All this goes on while the environment goes to hell and other species are threatened. In such circumstances, nonviolent activism and protest is not only an utter necessity but an activity that is far more “productive” than anything currently produced by the FIRE sector, advertising and marketing, or any other industry concerned with capturing the social surplus or seizing control, murderously in the case of the military, of natural resources. None of these activities improve average living standards. When they are not actually reducing living standards through war and destruction, they are merely redistributing real wealth from the poor, especially in low-income countries, to the rich.
A guaranteed income is no panacea, but it would be a significant step toward giving a voice to the young, the marginalized, the impoverished, and the disaffected. The vast majority of the world’s people would be enabled to live in closer harmony with their desires and callings, with actions reflecting their own conscience and sense of community.