The Blog

Basic Income and the Three-Day Work Week


There is a crisis in the British Labour Party and it is not just the internal struggles of the hard versus the soft left, nor is it between the few who have been plotting to take down Corbyn for well over a year versus the legitimate critique of those on the left who find Corbyn's stance on prostitution as a "private matter" deplorable and his ability to lead equally as elusive. The real problem facing the British Labour Party is that their solutions to the changing scope of labour--work, not the party--is stuck in another era.

As British youth are being saddled with student debt in the hope that university fees will eventually pay off with rewarding future professions and higher salaries, the reality of the job market reveals something quite different. Today, jobs are decreasing in many sectors, to include routine manual labour and routine administration, according to a study published by the Resolution Foundation. However, to measure the job market purely by increase or decrease in roles will not tell the whole story here since, for example, university lecturers are being hired, however, like many other sectors, lecturers are being underemployed and underpaid with zero-hour contracts the norm in many professional sectors today. And after the EU referendum, vacancy adverts fell by 700,000 highlighting a national crisis of unemployment across all sectors, even more pointedly dire for university educated individuals who face higher rates debt due to the paucity of jobs. Add to this the fact that debt collectors in the UK are buying up student loans sold to private debt collection companies, a knock-on effect is created which can destroy people's credit history and future ability to maintain financial stability and professional mobility.

The dearth of jobs due to software and robotic replacement highlights the the need for employment reform. It is even time now for those with jobs to consider the need to share the very resource they possess which they may never have before viewed as a shareable resource: their full-time employment. While the basic income model has been debated publicly in Switzerland and in forums with Brian Eno, I have to say that I am uncomfortable with a model of economic remuneration without social participation. The basic income proposes a guaranteed sum of money paid by the state to everyone regardless of income or employment status. The idea behind this model is to move away from economic benefits and ensure that everyone in society is given a level playing field from which to survive, thrive, and even create. Yet this model serves either the entire population regardless of need (which is not altogether a bad thing), or it could be tweaked to only serve those earning under a certain threshold, a top-up of sorts to the already existing benefits system.

Stephen Bush queries if the basic income model can work and analyses John McDonnell's support for the Fabian Society's basic income model which is essentially a reversal of the threshold raise and basically reverting to the social welfare model. I find this proposition confusing and fundamentally alienating for those who should be involved in society, not at the receiving end of some pellet feeder. And this is the uncomfortable part of the discussion for Labour voters I have found: most do not wish to critique the social benefits systems whatsoever and view benefits as something owed to anyone who whines loudly enough. The problem with that model, however, is that often those who are in dire need do not whine very much (if at all), nor do they know how to navigate the vast topography of the system. What leftists need to discuss in all forthrightness is how to ensure that the elderly and critically disabled are completely taken care of through social benefits while discussing the need for the rest to participate in a society where we all contribute. The three-day work week along with the basic income would provide this opportunity.

Recently Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim, proposed the three-day work week where workers are paid the same salary as for the five-day work week, stating that this must be viewed as a moral obligation of society to share resources, to include jobs. Announcing this initiative at a business conference in Paraguay, the telecommunications magnate said it was time for a "radical overhaul" in the way people organise and undertake work stating that such a move would generate a healthier and more productive labour force, while tackling financial challenges linked to longevity.

Is Slim wrong? Not according to Adam Perkins whose book, The Welfare Trait: How state benefits affect personality, argues that the welfare state is eroding the economic and social prospects of the UK by "increasing the proportion of individuals in the population who possess the employment-resistant personality profile." Perkin's book demonstrates how the welfare state which "sets up perverse incentives that increase the number of children who are born into disadvantaged households (as happened in the UK circa 1999) will increase the number of individuals in the population who suffer personality mis-development due to exposure to disadvantage during childhood."