Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guthrie and Morgan on tax and UBI

Susan Guthrie and Gareth Morgan have an interesting piece in the Herald today about "the rot at centre of modern economics": selfishness and a monomaniacal focus on (measurable) paid work. The former has led to debates around taxation being purely around cuts, with no recognition of why we pay tax or of the need for redistribution. The latter doesn't just mean that the economic picture is incomplete; it also has led to the active devaluation of some people as citizens:

Worshipping unfalteringly at the altar of paid work exhibits a tunnel view of how value is created in society. Who is going to claim that raising a child is worth less than packing shelves at a supermarket? The market certainly does.

To acknowledge the value of unpaid work and admit that by far the majority of people are in either paid or voluntary work, each making a contribution to society - that very few indeed can be accused of being a dead weight on others - means overcoming a prejudice that the unwilling should be forced into paid work.


That our consumer society has become so mesmerised by materialism that the common belief is that everyone should be in paid work is testimony to the corrosion of what we value and our obsession with material gain, no matter how trivial. We have, sadly, lost the plot.

This is part of Guthrie and Morgan's advocacy for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a simple, equal payment made to every adult, sufficient for a basic standard of living. This would completely replace the welfare and superannuation systems, while recognising unpaid work and giving us more freedom and control over our lives. It would require big changes to our tax system (but not the flat tax Guthrie and Morgan inconsistently advocate for; we can still retain progressivity), but its certainly affordable - and moreso if we tax wealth as well as surplus income.

The question is simply one of what sort of society we want to be: one which values all its citizens, or only those who work for money; one which enables people's freedom, or binds them in economic chains; one which provides for all, or one which doesn't. I favour the former, and so I support a UBI.