Basic Income is the key to creating a liberal society

mphbasicMark Pack has written about his thoughts on whether Basic Income (or Citizen’s Income, as it was called when it was party policy in the 90s) should be Liberal Democrat policy again. He’s going off the idea of it, because he thinks you can achieve the same aims in welfare terms with modifications to Universal Credit, but I think he’s missing the wider implications of basic income and why I, and others, think it is the best option for creating a liberal society.

The principal problem with Mark’s approach is that he’s looking at basic income mainly as a welfare issue and how it would compare to the current system. For me, that misses the point about basic income: it’s not about making tweaks to the current system, but instead about proposing a completely new way of looking at issues of how we use the state to support and empower individuals. Part of this, I believe, comes from the way ‘welfare’ has replaced ‘social security’ over the last couple of decades, with all the connotations of it being handouts to the poor rather than providing a necessary security for everyone in society. To treat basic income as merely a ‘welfare’ policy is to miss the wider point of it.

Liberalism, for me, is about providing everyone with the opportunity and the power to live their lives to the full and a liberal state exists not just to protect people from the harm caused by others but to be proactive, distribute power and enable opportunity. A universal basic income, where society through the state provides a minimum standard of living to everyone without qualification, is the logical progression of other universal provision (such as education and healthcare) that was once seen as utterly utopian but is now widely accepted. A basic income is an inherently liberal idea because it creates opportunity for everyone by reducing risk. It gives people the ability to take entrepreneurial and creative risks because they know that the system is there to support them if they fail and give them the opportunity to try again.

One of the important questions we need to face is whether the vision we put forward of a liberal society is something that’s just a few tweaks away from what we have now, or something much more radical and different. The problem with the tweaking approach is that it ignores the widespread changes we’re going through with the advent of mass automation. (See, for instance, Scott Santens on the wider effects of self-driving trucks) Committing to widespread basic income coupled with other traditionally liberal ideas for redistributing power like Land Value Tax gives us the ability to set out an optimistic vision of a liberal future where automation is a good thing because it frees us from drudgery and gives all of us the opportunity to do more with our lives than merely toil away at work.

Basic income may not seem attractive when considered purely as a solution to ‘welfare’ issues, but it is so much more than that. We need to promote it not just as a policy idea amidst everything else remaining the same, but as part of a wider liberal reimagining of society. It’s a radical proposal to achieve liberal ends in the vein of Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge, and it won’t be something easily argued for or conceded by those who would see their own power drastically reduced by it. Formulating and explaining a fully liberal vision for the future isn’t going to be an easy task, but basic income needs to be seen as part of a set of policies that will bring radical change, not just as another way of keeping things close to what they are now.

(And if you want to do more, there’s the Liberal Democrats for Basic Income group on Facebook)

Core votes and rebuilding: Thoughts on Howarth and Pack

Lib-Dem-logoDavid Howarth and Mark Pack have produced a pamphlet on how the Liberal Democrats need to adopt a core vote strategy, and what that strategy could be. There’s a lot of good thinking in there, and Matthew Green’s response to it is also worth reading, so I only have a couple of points to add.

First up, I think any change in strategy like this needs to ensure it brings in the local parties from the start. One big problem the party has had over the past few years is that far too much campaign strategy has been decided from the centre, with local parties expected to simply fall in line. This reached its bewildering peak in the election campaign, with local campaigners having no idea what the party’s main slogan would be the next day as HQ cycled through ideas at an increasingly rapid pace.

For the party centrally to suddenly declare ‘right, we’re switching to a core votes strategy’ and expect everyone to fall in line would be a disaster. I don’t think HQ would be silly enough to try that, but as Matthew Green points out, if it was simple to switch the party’s strategy in such a fundamental way, we’d have done it already. There needs to be some proper thinking about the tactics needed to implement this, or any other, strategy – and how it links local and national campaigning – and it shouldn’t be rushed out and dictated from above.

I think the idea for a Deputy Leader/campaign chair fits in with that process of getting people to buy in locally to the idea of a change. I think the idea of opening up the position of Deputy Leader to a much wider field than MPs (and giving it a campaigning focus) is a good idea, but the process of bringing in the new role should draw in a lot of people from the start so people know the change is coming and there’s plenty of time for people to consider if they want to stand for deputy leader, and what they’d do for the role. Adopting and electing the new position should be party of the process of change, drawing people into it and thinking about what it will mean for them and their activity in the party. We need to be careful it’s not another change that people who pay attention to constitutional amendments at Conference know all about, while it passes right by everyone else.

Finally, I’d also suggest that if campaigning will be explicitly the role of the Deputy Leader, then we need to understand how that changes the role of the Party President. There’s always been a certain about of nebulousness about the role of the president, with successive holders defining it differently, and there needs to be some thought given to how to structure the role so it doesn’t overlap and clash with the Leader and Deputy Leader. My suggestion would be that we look at making it much more of an organisational role with perhaps a lower public profile than it has had so far. However, for someone to be able to have a real impact on the party organisation, I think the term needs to be longer than the current two years – indeed, I’d suggest looking at making it a post with a five-year term, elected close to the start of a new Parliament and running across that entire cycle.

Anyway, that’s just my 2p’s worth, and I’m sure lots of people will have lots of ideas after reading the pamphlet, not least our new leader when he takes office on Friday.

Worth Reading 137: By the rivers of Babylon

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit – “Why did the projected explosion of technological growth everyone was expecting—the moon bases, the robot factories—fail to happen? There are two possibilities. Either our expectations about the pace of technological change were unrealistic (in which case, we need to know why so many intelligent people believed they were not) or our expectations were not unrealistic (in which case, we need to know what happened to derail so many credible ideas and prospects).”
Future Tense: British science fiction television – A great series of articles from Frank Collins (formerly of the Cathode Ray Tube blog) on the history of SF TV in Britain.
Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital In The Twenty-First Century’ Explained – A good and concise explanation of the theories Piketty proposes.
The Liberal Democrat approach to campaigning: the history and debunking some myths – A fascinating piece of history from Mark Pack.
Nothing Goes Wrong On Palmerston Island – Life in one of the world’s most isolated settlements.

Save money, or save General Election night?

Mark Pack (here and here) and Costigan Quist have both been talking about this Sunday Times story about a ‘threat’ to ‘General Election night’. In short, it seems that more Councils are planning to delay counting general election votes from the night of the election until the day after in order to save money.

Yes, the Sunday Times (and assorted members of all parties, it seems) have decided that this instance of Councils saving money is apparently a bad thing. (As a disclaimer, I don’t know what Colchester is planning, but we did count the most recent County elections on a Friday and the sky resolutely refused to fall) In a time when there’s pressure on Councils to justify every penny they spend, having to pay out large sums to get people to work through the middle of the night is an obvious place to make a saving, especially when delaying the count for twelve hours or so will make no material difference to the result. Perhaps if broadcasters and others are so desperate to have the results on a Thursday night – though I’m quite sure they would easily adapt to a change – they’d be willing to pay the extra costs of it.

(Indeed, if you wanted to be truly free-market about it, Sky News, ITV and the papers could compete for results and sponsorship, paying for extra counters in key seats in exchange for their logo appearing behind the returning officer when they result is declared.)

I’m broadly in agreement with Costigan over this one – when there’s so much else wrong with our electoral system, trying to make a big campaign out of this strikes me as a bit pointless. Following the example of other countries and holding elections on Sundays seems like a much better idea to me, and it would be interesting if some Councils were allowed to trial that as an experiment to see what extra costs it incurs and what the effect on turnout would be. For me, increasing turnout is a much more effective use of spending a limited election budget than increasing the speed of the result.