Thank you for opening up a proper debate on Basic Income. As much discussion of BI tends to alternate between uncritical enthusiasm for it or outright opposition on account of it being a social program, it is refreshing to read a critical yet sympathetic debate. Both Elisha and David raised numerous important considerations regarding Basic Income, and we are better off for it.
I’d like to add another perspective, as it seems that one crucial dynamic was left out.
While Basic Income certainly has the potential to dramatically improve people’s lives, the way it ultimately gets implemented will – like all laws and social services – be reflective of the state of class relations at that moment. Given that the working class is relatively weak at this moment, it seems quite unlikely that the final version of the program will significantly support low income or precariously employed people any better than is already the case. There is simply no incentive for an austerity-oriented government to establish a truly transformative program. If anything, implementing a Basic Income may enable an extension of neoliberalism and austerity as it seems likely to come with a rollback of more universal programs. Indeed, for some advocates that is the promise of BI!
As members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty wrote in a longer critique titled The Neoliberal Danger of Basic Income, “If austerity driven governments and institutions of global capitalism are today looking favourably at basic income, it’s not because they want to move towards greater equality, reverse the neoliberal impact and enhance workers’ bargaining power.” We may hope that a Basic Income will have a levelling effect, or will at least make life more manageable for those of us who are struggling to get by, but other players have different hopes. We need to seriously consider which vision is likely to win out.
If a truly transformative Basic Income is actually on offer, I will gladly support it. If it is not, however, I think we are better off pushing to expand our existing services while we build our collective power and work to roll back the tide of austerity and neoliberalism.