An initiative that might ultimately arise out of coronavirus would be the implementation of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).
This scheme could run along the following lines: all existing welfare is replaced with government instead providing each adult citizen a sum of, say $1,000 per month (the UBI). This sum could be fixed to inflation; additionally, increased government funding for food relief organisations such as Foodbank may be necessary to fill in further gaps.
When the Greens put forth their UBI proposal in April 2018, while it was financially impractical, I noted “a UBI may be essential one day.” Well, now appears to be that very ‘day’, as current circumstances warrant the establishment of a UBI. This view is supported on the grounds that follow:
1. An efficient means of providing aid
At present, it is projected that Australia will be headed for an unemployment rate of 15 %, with even tighter lockdowns and continued economic carnage in sight. This has brought about a ten-fold increase in people using the myGov website, causing it to crash under tremendous pressure. The resources of Centrelink are stretched such that people making unemployment claims today might not even receive payment for months to come.
This problem of efficiency certainly favours the creation of a UBI. If it be permanently arranged that every adult citizen was paid $1,000 per month, administrative and resource deficiencies would pose no bar to assistance. People would be paid with consistency each month; rather than having to persist through 5-hour Centrelink calls which only menially progress their plight. In this respect, the UBI would be a more reliable source of financial support than current welfare.
2. A pro-family welfare system
Our present entitlements system runs at a cost of 191.8 billion dollars per annum. Much of this accrues towards delinquents, degenerates and habitual welfare users–who generally lack ambition to improve their moral or material lot. Some benefits specifically support single parents, incentivising an undesirable type of lifestyle.
Contrary to encouraging this mess, a UBI would direct governmental assistance more towards the family. Take the hypothetical of a young married couple that pays $500 per fortnight in rent, has one young child and a household income of $120,000 per annum. Presently, this couple would struggle to access significant government assistance. These circumstances would render it challenging for the couple to pay for rearing another child, so they may consign themselves to only one. This would be sad and reflect poorly on a First World country, given family is the building block of society.
An introduction of the UBI would transform this predicament. A household UBI total of $2,000 per month would easily cover rent, electricity and water; likely with some left over. It would consequently encourage family continuation (and for others) creation–necessary developments in our dying society.
3. Providing people with tangible assistance
In his recent press release, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the government’s plan to ‘inject’ $189 billion dollars to boost the coronavirus-afflicted economy. Now there are some laudable ideas within it, such as increasing the NewStart Allowance. But when Frydenberg states “A total of $189 billion is being injected into the economy (my emphasis),” this announcement strikes as detached and indifferent.
How will this ‘injected’ economic relief help ordinary people, both in layman’s terms and on the ground? Obviously and as alluded to, these $189 billion dollars will help someone, somewhere. But will this relief be as accessible and assured as the provision of $1,000 per month to each man and woman? The nature of government could fairly lend one to highly doubt that.
4. The continued trajectory of automation
In November 2017, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute claimed that automation would take ‘800 million jobs by 2030’. Now over two years on, it is difficult to say whether automation is actually set to fulfil this dramatic projection.
Based off pure instinct, ‘800 million jobs by 2030′ does seem to be a little premature and pessimistic. Nevertheless, this report does give us a general idea as to future shifts in employment. Whether they occur in 5, 10, 20, 50, or 80 years’ time, such irreversible job losses will have ramifications greater than those following the Industrial Revolution. Which, as a reminder were enormous: inflicting wholesale social dislocation, causing Marxism, Communism, Fascism, World War Two and the Cold War.
In order to limit future instability resulting from automation, people must be provided with passable, adequate relief. This could be done through the UBI, which recognises employment as unrealistic for a burgeoning part of the population. There can be little ‘pulling yourself up by the bootstraps’ if only an ever-decreasing number of jobs remain.
5. A realistic answer to matters as they exist:
The UBI would find many supporters on the left, who may well promote this as a utopian scheme to reduce inequality, work hours and societal discomfort.
We on the right, however, should be under no such illusions. When people permanently lose work and thus a pertinent part of their identity, they will remain dispirited. This loss might be mitigated by UBI payment, but will never be completely offset. There will be, of course, some who use their UBI for engaging in self-destructive, nihilistic behaviour.
A UBI is not the perfect answer; it is the best possible answer to the problems we are (and will increasingly become) mired in. Welfare, especially in our advanced democracy, is not going away.
Whatever problems may be associated with it, the goal should not be to work towards the elimination of welfare–a fantastical, utopian scheme of itself. Rather, we should move towards an entitlement system that secures the common good to the greatest extent possible. Such a scheme is manifest in the UBI.