A wild prediction

My wild prediction for today is that the idea of a Universal Basic Income will become a hot political issue over the next ten years or so. As Philippe Van Parijs defines it, “By universal basic income I mean an income paid by a government, at a uniform level and at regular intervals, to each adult member of society. The grant is paid, and its level is fixed, irrespective of whether the person is rich or poor, lives alone or with others, is willing to work or not.”
Although I have been interested in the idea of a UBI for some years, I arrived at today’s thought by a somewhat circuitous route. It began with a link in the excellent Crooked Timber to a piece by Jacob Hacker about the rise in the instability of family income in the USA. Hacker writes:
“…. what my evidence shows is deeply troubling. When I started out, I expected to see a rise in the instability of family income. But nothing prepared me for the sheer magnitude of the increase. At its peak in the mid-’90s, income instability was almost five times as great as it was in the early ’70s, and, although it dropped somewhat during the late ’90s (my data end in 1999), it has never fallen below twice its starting level. By comparison, permanent income differences across families have risen by a more modest, if still troubling, 50 percent over the same period.”
While the US may be a particularly extreme example, this sense of economic insecurity seems to be growing throughout the industrial democracies, with curious consequence of people becoming less rather than more engaged with the political process. This linked to the numerous other examples of people’s alienation from party politics, such as this piece recently featured on the BBC news site, leads me to believe that if we are to have functioning democracies something must change. What we have in the UK and USA where a Government only represents a small minority of potential voters looks like a recipe for social discord.
A UBI would give every voter a clear stake in society and a solid reason to participate in the political process. And curiously, although the UBI is very much a fringe concept at present, the fact that it has advocates from across the political spectrum leads me to believe that it is an idea that has got legs.