For the first time in human history, almost the entirety of the population of our planet is consciously facing the same problem.

As countries go into lockdown, each government is of a necessity having to suspend business-as-usual. The endless churn of the masses generating society’s actual wealth through their labours – which is in turn sucked into the endlessly hungry maws of fewer and fewer staggeringly rich people – is being thrown into the spotlight. Capitalism is revealed more clearly than ever before as being harmful to humanity.

Maybe also for the first time, the complacent right, arrogant and coddled in their unearned security, are being shown how fragile their comfort is, relying as it does on countless ‘insignificant’ others. They’re being shown, too, that when the masses are imperiled, the rich cannot use their wealth to escape from the damages. Some might seclude themselves from a life-threatening pandemic but how truly secure and tenable is that seclusion? Seeing them stuck in their splendid isolations, we question the needy adulation-seeking of the famous and our lack of need for them is made apparent. We see how the ungoverned accumulations of the corporatists is threatened by cessations of whole economies and wonder why people so fundamentally useless to society have been allowed to acquire wealth so vast that they will never be able to use them in their own lifetimes. Can these people see from their ivory towers how interconnected we all actually are? Can they see how fragile their position is?

More to the point, can we see it?

On the other side, governments are scrambling to put together elaborate and complicated aid packages, in order to stop the suddenly work-free masses from running out of food, heat, shelter and communications – all services that have been run for private profit. It becomes apparent how essential to life these are and how easy it is for governments to in essence buy them out, by paying most of us money that we then pay to the companies in these sectors. And yet are governments considering anything as radical as cutting out the unnecessary complications and nationalising these sectors? Only Spain is so far.

In the UK, our government insists on funneling money to most of us through the correct, capital-accumulating structures. This keeps us tied to those structures and helps stop us from questioning why such structures exist and who benefits from them.

We are paid what that structure deems us worth. But why should our government be giving more money to a corporate manager than a burger flipper, when they are both sitting in their homes doing pretty much the same thing? More than that, why, right now, is the sitting-at-home manager being paid more than a shelf stacker who is putting their life on the line to help us all? Or a care worker? Or a nurse? What is the determining factor in the worth of a person’s labour? It must be apparent to many of us now that the value placed on us is not connected to our essential use to society.

How complex and bureaucratic do the government programmes have to be, to stop us from realising that we are more or less all worth the same? That our society will break utterly if enough of us simply stop and, further, that singling out and attacking individual segments of society will ultimately lead to the whole crumbling?

How many people, right now, are sitting at home with a sickening realisation that what they have spent their life doing is less useful to humanity than the most menial job in a supermarket? That, when push comes to shove, we need grocery store staff and drivers and cleaners more than almost any other job, outside of the caring professions?

How many of those people are pulling out a guitar from the back of a cupboard, or opening a dusty recipe book and realising that they’d rather be doing what they’re doing right this moment than what they had been chained to up until now?

The more complex and bureaucratic a government’s aid package and the more it can be linked to a person’s previous position in the economy, the better. To stop change. To stop the dawning realisations of actual self worth. It is imperative to reinforce our previous positions in the capitalist economy and in so doing keep everyone in their position in the giant private profit churn, that benefits so many fewer people year upon year.

The question now is how can all of us – across the whole planet – help birth a new world, in the light of our private and public revelations?

Right now governments everywhere are showing that giving everyone in the country money is possible. That, in fact, without all of us having money our society breaks utterly. Which means that the rich and those who benefit from private property do not have the power they thought they had. If we all say, for example, give us Universal Basic Income now or we stop paying our mortgages and our rents, what can they do? No government can evict or lock up a whole country.

Universal Basic Income would free us from the shackles of private profit. It would not remove private profit, because deeper and more radical change is needed for that, but it would give us enough money to get by and give us all choice. Maybe getting by while slowing down and spending your time baking bread or playing the guitar is better than having two cars, two holidays a year, no time for your family and a life of endless spreadsheets. It will be for some. It could be for many, after months of isolation and thought and revelation. If we have the choice. If we have Universal Basic Income. Is it any wonder that governments are resistant to it?

For the first time in history, the mass or our planet’s population has the chance to say ‘no more’ to the system that has allowed a minuscule number of people to have stolen all of our wealth and to have so damaged our environment.

Universal Basic Income could free an untold number of us. And who knows what could happen after that, what spirit and ideas could be unleashed?

Comments (31)

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  1. Mark Bevis says:

    Has anyone noticed that the current lockdowns have had a greater effect on the economy than any general strike could have ever achieved?

    I do agree, and have said for years, a UBI is an essential step forward. Although we a long way off abolishing economy altogether, which would be the ultimate goal.

    The trick now of course, is instead of UBI being a talking point within one minor silo, it needs to spread throughout the MSM and beyond, to get some mileage with the existing political system.

  2. meg macleod says:

    so manyof us feeling the same……..

  3. Josef Ó Luain says:

    U.B.I. or something associated can certainly be done, but my cynicism tells me it’ll change very little in the world. “He who pays the piper” etc. may be an obvious criticism to make, but it doesn’t diminish the argument.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Josef, re “he who pays the piper…..”

      Perhaps, the question should be about who he – or she – is, or should be.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Josef Ó Luain, is it not more likely that a universal basic income will change things, perhaps in ways difficult to predict? My guesses would include: begging becoming more socially unacceptable; popular support for harsher penalties for petty crime; more people taking on financially-risky creative careers; slight fall in social stigmatizing; slight drop in fraud; rise in UBI-related scams. But those are just guesses. I think we should be prepared to change a lot more of the system than adding UBI, because it may need checks and balances elsewhere (and no doubt some will argue for a larger payment in high-cost-of-living areas, which would impact on the universality concept). I think it is worth trying, I just think we need to be compiling a lot of evidence as it is rolled out and be on alert for side effects.

  4. Gordon McShean says:

    The Queen’s ‘situation’ has been brought to our attention. Her assurances that Royalty’s wealth will continue to guarantee the welfare of all loyal subjects seems empty. We should also be challenging an even greater ‘royal influence’ – the influence of many international economic institutions – that influence the creation of the current economic, political and social convulsions we now suffer. Scotland’s future is more endangered if these commercial influences (including the royal ones) are allow to continue.

  5. Alex Wright says:

    My god man, you have definitely not thought this through! With your insane plan, redistribution of the country’s fictitious wealth to the shelf stackers, delivery drivers, health workers etc will completely eradicate the will of the real heroes. Those who have been entrusted to boost our flagging morale. Let’s all clap for Holly, Piers, Phillip, Lorraine, Vanessa, Suzanne etc. What would we do without them?
    Apologies for the forced jocularity Stewart, it breaks my heart watching how this tragedy is being handled.
    There is overwhelming merit in what you suggest, but will the populace be in a position to acknowledge what you’re proposing, especially as the media is in overdrive with the ” We are all in this together ” nonsense and Her Maj comes on the box to comfort us.
    I have a sneaky feeling that the pitchfork moment will be when proper data is revealed and people who have lost their jobs or small businesses who haven’t survived the shutdown, realise that they have been lied to.
    A new type of system may be feasible should that happen.

  6. eric jarvie says:

    If the rich haven’t learned anything in the last two hundred years of scottish social history then let this present crisis remind them because it’s no irony Boris Johnson lies in hospital on an ventilater fighting possibly with his last breath holding on for his dear life, let that be an lesson to you and don’t tell me any Glaswegian that ever knew the slums that killed with poverty along with tuberculosis pneumonia and meningitis didn’t know any better Mr Johnson because he certainly did.Now you see that there is no sense preaching to the rich or the capitalists about morality or the value of human life because to them it simply has none. None of course until it’s theres, so there learning there lesson all over again we’re not and we don’t need one we lived in the slums we know all about its misery we survived then we will survive now. Capitalists all the money in the world but it can’t save them now can it? Huh..!!

    1. grafter says:

      He’s not on a ventilator.

  7. Wul says:

    Universal Basic Income (UBI) sounds like a state “benefit” or “handout”, which would make it unpalatable to some. Could we call it a “citizen’s share” or “peoples’ profit sharing” or some such instead?

    UBI does make enormous sense since:
    1) Most (all?) economic activity derives from either the land under our feet, the sea and the sun, rain & sky above us.

    2) No human made these things.

    3) We all deserve a share, as birthright, of the bounty of our land and the “marketplace” that our country provides to entrepreneurs.

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      Wul, I agree that’s how it’ll be made to look but with a decent and ‘fair’ tax system then any Universal Income can be clawed back through Income Tax which will need ‘root and branch’ reform to catch the tax dodgers and avoiders. There is also the small matter that the bulk of the population are centrists who are all too well aware that neither of the extremes left or right works as both have their elite, privileged few.

      What is being proposed by too many is called ‘Utopia’ and we all know that no such place or system exists!!!

    2. Mike Picken says:

      UBI has many variants and therefore we need to be very precise.

      It was proposed as a ‘solution’ to poverty through a ‘Negative Income Tax’ by right wing econonist Milton Friedman, whose ideas were adored by Margaret Thatcher and General Pinochet. Under that UBI scheme there is no need for other benefits such as universal credit, or concessionary fares for transport, or free TV licences for over 75s, because people would be given money in their pocket and could then choose which services to purchase from the market at their full economic cost (including the profit margin for the suppliers of course). In Alaska there is a form of UBI that is insufficient to live on but gives citizens the ‘choice’ of which health insurance scheme to purchase and thereby enables the state to reduce its commitment to public healthcare. Thus some forms of UBI fulfill the ambitions of reactionary groups like the ‘Tea Party’ for a dramatic reduction in the welfare role state and an increase in the power of the increasingly unregulated market.

      The issue is not whether we need UBI per se, but what precise form of UBI should we advocate?

      1. Jean de McKluskey says:

        A fine article, Stewart, giving concisely some of the strongest arguments for UBI.
        @Mike Picken: you’re right, we need to say we advocate a pro-welfare state version of UBI: this was
        the one focussed on by the largest modelling to date of UBI within the UK economy, the extensive
        2016 Compass study. (Free full text on line: Lansley and Reed (2016), Universal Basic Income: An Idea Whose Time Has Come? (London: Compass).)
        It needs saying that there is still strong left-wing opposition to UBI, both within Scotland & UK, and across Europe. For example from Aaron Bastani, author of the much-discussed book “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” (2019), who argues that it’s too expensive & would have a low impact
        on reducing poverty.

        In an article I’m still working on, I challenge these criticisms. According to Compass’ own cautions criticisms, UBI at a rate we could all afford would lift almost 1 million children in the UK out of poverty. Here’s the details below:

        “The £284 monthly figure for UBI for working-age adults is indeed one of the sums modelled by Lansley and Reed in their publication for Compass. More precisely, the authors select, for their ‘Scheme 2’ a figure of £71 weekly for adults over 25, excluding pensioners (Lansley & Reed, 2016: 15). This is one of two ‘modified schemes’, which they define as: ‘paying a lower rate of UBI, but leaving in place the current means-tested benefits system and reducing households’ dependence on means testing by taking into account their citizen’s payment when calculating benefits.’ (ibid.) So far, in terms of Bastani’s readings of the study, so acceptable. What is misrepresentative, however, is his all too short summary: ‘child poverty would only fall from 16 to 9 per cent’. Focus on that word ‘only’. Yes, Lansley & Reed, using a widely-established definition of relative poverty—‘poverty is measured as the proportion of children, working-age adults or pensioners in households falling below 60% of median net household income, before housing costs’—do calculate that Scheme 2 would bring about a change in the number of UK children living in child poverty from 16 to 9 per cent. (ibid.) But they also inform us of their far more significant conclusion, which Bastani neglects to mention: the change from 16 to 9 per cent means that Scheme 2 would reduce total child poverty in the UK by 45%. (ibid.) Applied to the total 2018 population of 12 million children in England, Scheme 2 would bring over 900 000 children out of poverty: with what motivation does Bastani dismiss these 900,000 plus children as an ‘only’?”

        More at: https://www.compassonline.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/UniversalBasicIncomeByCompass-Spreads.pdf
        good survey, by Daniel Zamora & Anton Jäger, that UBI has a long history both as a LEFT and as a right-wing political idea: https://csalateral.org/forum/universal-basic-income/historicizing-basic-income-zamora-jager/

      2. Wul says:

        You make a good point Mike. The details matter a lot.

        I can easily imagine a government using UBI as a justification for abandoning its responsibility for social security.
        An argument that a flat-rate, universal benefit payment should be matched by a flat-rate income tax ( an idea loved by wealthy neo-liberals) could also be developed.

  8. Andrew Smith says:

    Agree with every word, stewart.
    On the other hand, we have the orange order planning a march later in the year to say “thanks to the tories” for”everything you have done for us during this terrible time” …I truly despair!

  9. Fiona McOwan says:

    I absolutely support UBI as a core plank of Scottish Green Party Policy. Work has been done on this by Common Weal to get an approximate sensible level to be both affordable and worthwhile. People who don’t need it could opt to pay it forward into a fund to support people who need more, for example people with disabilities who are working with PIP and attendance allowance. It would replace at a stroke the mind numbing complexity and delay in applying for Universal Credit, which isn’t Universal and attracts a level of hostility for its recipients.

  10. John mair says:

    Dare we try this?

  11. Dougie Harrison says:

    Thank you for this Stewart. As a lifelong socialist, now a Green Party member, I endorse both what you argue for, and your reasons for doing so. A perceptive and timely piece. Lang may yer lum reek pal! Ach, maybe that’s not the best Scots expression to use in our currently over-carboned world… but I’m sure you know what I mean.


  12. Craig B says:

    Beautifully thought out and articulated. I feel like the thoughts that support this line of thinking have been coming more and more to the forefront, but this pandemic finally allows the rubber to hit the road; a proper proof of concept. I hope we can all come together and demand this level of human dignity.

  13. M Nicholas says:

    An excellent article indeed! Introduction of a UBI would be welcome for a great many people. I’m no philosopher so can’t really speculate as to how a UBI might evolve (there are many fine commentors here already that have addressed that). I can only offer my view as a long-term disabled person who has had to fight tooth-and-nail for benefits. Having suffered M.E./C.F.S. for almost 20 years, I’ve watched my body gradually fall apart in pain decades before it’s time with an array of challenging symptoms. All the while living literally day-to-day in fear of said benefits being withdrawn (and this HAS happened before to myself and countless others). I don’t know if a UBI would be possible but I pray that it will be. And not a moment too soon. The disabled represent just one of many groups whose lives would be meaningfully impacted for the better, and who might be better able to channel [what focus they have] on improving their health rather than that same energy and concentration going needlessly to waste in the form of incessant worry over finances. A permenant UBI can’t come soon enough.

  14. David McGill says:

    There’s no doubt that the introduction of a UBI would solve many, if not most of society’s current problems. It might even now be the only viable solution. Annie Miller, Chair of the Citizen’s Basic Income Trust has published a pamphlet entitled ‘Essentials of Basic Income’ which examines the pros and cons of the UBI. For more details refer to http://www.basicincome-info.org or contact the author at [email protected]

  15. Steven C says:

    A brilliant piece.
    The tolerance of people to keep working as wage slaves, until they retire and stagnant, is hard to fathom. There lack of rebellion is disappointing.
    The UBI is absolutely reasonable and fundable – but not pursued or touted by the millennials or others.
    My fear, and belief, is that people have people so focused on work and status that they do no want a a better life if it means that the mass of unemployed can no longer looked down upon – as they will simply fellow UBI recipients.
    People want a class to look down at – be it homeless or unemployed- so their ego can be fed as being superior.

  16. mandy kaye says:

    I believe in a universal basic income. Personally I think that it would eventually save the country an awful lot of money in the long run. All these means tested benefits take up so much time and money to implement. I know that more people having more money means more spending, boasting the economy. I’m a minimum wage worker, I can’t afford to save, I can’t afford holidays and barely have a few quid left at the end of the month. If I had universal basic income I would be able to help support more businesses as I would have more spending power. Spain are going to do it so why can’t the UK ?? It would help get us back on track economy wise after this pandemic.

    1. David McGill says:

      There’s a good chance you’re right Mandy and it might actually be cheaper now to introduce UBI on pure economic grounds . Just in case we need more from taxation then perhaps introduce a supertax on domestic rental income and a ten-fold increase on Council Tax for second homes..

    2. "none of the above" says:

      hi Mandy, I’m only in part piggybacking on that appeal to reduced cost and bureaucracy, whereas the rest is more general.
      UBI won’t necessarily save on bureaucracy, seeing as most appear to be advocating for a UBI+ (plus), that is, UBI in addition to rump welfarism, such as current passported benefits like housing benefit (which would require also rent caps so as to have any feasibility, hence the Green’s subsequent amendments though still too weak to be meaningful).
      Then there’s the need for that all encompassing data-spine of the entire population which would need to be built, run, maintained and policed – having successfully argued against such an ID database in Scotland. And all that bordering of who is and who isn’t deemed eligible; precisely how ‘universal’ is deemed universal, does it include all residents, all workers both temporary and permanent, and if not then why not and so would it rather be a highly unequal basic rent as Zizek’s described. How inclusive or exclusive in how it casts populist divisions will have both social as well as other structural/institutional repercussions as regards the currently inclusive (although significantly undermined by the ‘hostile environment’!) acceptability of the universalism of (some) services free at the point of delivery.
      For those of us who need a lot more convincing than cheerleading for faith in the state (new or otherwise) achieves, it would be useful if UBI-advocates grappled with the more substantive criticisms that have arisen. As Mike Picken warns in the comments above, UBI-advocates for some odd reason often hold Alaska out as a positive example, and fail to critically look at how the dividend from the Sovereign Wealth Fund (which is what it is) interacts with the carceral state, for instance – especially in light of the Finland experiment being all about ‘nudge’.

      1. There’s a fun interchange between the inability to see any alternative and the shutting down of options.

        The provider of basic income does not have to be a Leviathan state. In post-covid times it would be good for people to set down some of their pre-registered analysis.

        1. Gordon Asher says:

          Hi Bella Editor – I didn’t read ‘none of the above’s comment in that way – as an outright rejection of UBI/alternatives? (or, did I interpret your initial comment there wrongly?)

          Rather, as an exhortation to critically examine what is actually/might be on offer (particularly given neoliberalism’s, historical and contemporary, cheerleaders for their form of basic income!) and to critically consider what might be alternatively proposed – and what needs to be thought through in doing so?

          1. Yeah, open to having that / hearing that debate Gordon.

        2. "none of the above" says:

          Belittling deflections of ‘miserablism’ aside, critical analysis of UBI is out there and available. Blockage resides in overlapping lobbying interests so far refusing to address these known concerns: from the xenoracist protectionism of the Swiss UBI referendum, to the US carceral state in holding up Alaska as exemplary, to the neuroliberal ’employability’ experiment in Finland that bragged of going further than ‘nudge’. These are all considered ‘normal states’, whatever their nationalistic exceptional self-image.
          Unsurprisingly, I’m more sceptical that inflated ‘ruptures’ like the 2008 financial crisis or SARS-2 in themselves inevitably transform the nation-state, or at least do so in ways necessarily of benefit to ‘the Left’. I’m reminded of that ’80s Chumbawamba set with ‘Imminent demise of capital’ embroidered over the Bayeux Tapestry battle scene 🙂
          I’m not saying don’t pursue UBI, plenty are, some of whom I’ve supported in doing so, putting artist UBI advocates in contact just this week – so much for miserablism. I’m saying in doing so at the very least address the detailed warnings, certainly something more substantial than ‘Whisht-up, there will be sunlit uplands’. UBI is first-and-foremost an appeal made to the existing state form, not an agitation of its demise, nor is the state magically withering away – even the globalists had to ‘bring the state back’ out of embarrassment of it never having gone away.

  17. Gaverne says:

    We have to make this happen now. It’s beyond debate. We just need to build the coalition to make it happen. Otherwise millions will suffer once this blockade is lifted. We all need to be as firm on this as people were as creating a NHS, which meant ruthlessly casting aside a popular wartime leader. No wavering on this.

  18. Jo says:

    The interesting thing is listening, for three days running now, to the representatives of the broadcasters, agitating for an easing of the lockdown and demanding an “exit strategy”. Kuennsberg (BBC), Peston (ITV) and Rigby (SKY) have shown appalling disregard and contempt for the situation we are in. They clearly don’t believe lives matter. They’re a disgrace.

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