Would everyone be better off with a basic income for all?

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By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

I keep heading back to the Ormeau Baths in Belfast.

I learnt to swim there as a child. I went back a few years ago to see an exhibition by the artist Brian Ballard,

I was there again last night to watch the documentary Free Lunch Society which examined the argument for a basic income for all citizens.

The event was hosted by New Notions Cinema, which was set up by a media collective. On their website they describe themselves as screening films “for people who seek to have a conversation about global things like poverty, surveillance, climate change, food security and corruption”.

Free Launch Society threw up more questions than answers about the concept of a universal basic income for all.

The film highlighted the Alaska Permanent Fund – a $60.1 billion state fund established in 1976 to collect revenue from Alaska’s oil and mineral leases. The money provides an annual stipend to Alaskans, as well as general revenue. Each October, the fund sends a dividend check to every Alaskan resident of up to $2,072 per person, or $8,288 for a family of four (it was reduced last year amid a budget crisis).

But on the other hand the oil firms in Alaska have made billions in profits from a natural resource whilst many people in the US state still struggle with poverty.

US entrepreneur Peter Barnes also advocates in the film for a universal basic income. He wrote in a recent article (http://bit.ly/2xVzKAj): “America’s economy is changing in ways that make an in­come base, if not a basic income, increasingly necessary. The two most significant changes are the impoverishment of our middle class, which began in the 1980s and shows no sign of stopping, and the looming deploy­ment of driver­less vehicles, 3D printers and intelligent machines, which bode to elimi­nate millions of traditional jobs. These funda­mental changes will unravel America unless we find a way to sus­tain a large middle class through a com­bi­nation of labor and non-labor income.”

It was strange to see a clip of a young Milton Friedman, the guru of unfettered free market capitalism, arguing for a type of basic income. But his version would have meant the ending of all other social assistance programs.

Voices from the left were notably absent in the documentary.

Marxist economist Michael Roberts in his blog (Basic Income – too basic – not radical enough) argues that “the demand for a basic income would replace the demand for full employment or a job at a living wage.  For example, it has been worked out that, in the US, the current capitalist economy could afford only a national basic income of about $10,000 a year per adult. And that would replace everything else: the entire welfare state, including old age pensions disappears into that one $10,000 per adult payment.”

“This policy means no fundamental reform of the economy but a just a cash handout to raise incomes and boost the capitalist economy,” argues Roberts.

He goes on to say: “The basic income demand is just too basic. As a reform for labour, it is not as good as the demand for a job for all who need it at a living wage; or reducing the working week while maintaining wages; or providing decent pensions.  And under socialism, it would be redundant.”

Creative producer Aaron Guthrie, left, from New Notions Cinema, said: “We are a new documentary community cinema and we are funded by Film Hub NI. We will be showing a range of films in the future and they will be followed by a discussion. We will be asking people to pay what they can afford on the night.”

For more details about New Notions Cinema, go to https://www.newnotionscinema.com/

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