Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Citizen's Wages

Universal Basic Income (UBI), is certainly a popular panacea right now. Most of the progressive websites have featured sympathetic articles on the topic, usually combined with worker-owned collectives as the "socialist" alternative. The UBI (or Citizen’s Income) should be relatively a cheap reform. For those in work, it turns into a tax rebate, up to the value of the citizen's income.  Anyone paid enough to pay more tax than the income would then subsidise the unemployed. The state then abolishes all other welfare benefits, since the citizens' income gets declared to be enough to live on (and it would be cheaper to administer without having to manage the entitlement gateway).  It then becomes a constant struggle to hold the basic income at just below subsistence, so people are forced into low-wage work (which will now come relatively cheap for employers).

 If the UBI is introduced it will be in the form that is acceptable to the ruling class and for the purpose of mitigating the cost of the up-keep of the increasing and unavoidable numbers of casualties of the class war, automation being one field of battle. The capitalists and their State need us to be impoverished, indebted and enslaved.  Would a basic income remove this or just create a new form of dependency? Any UBI will always be framed within the tight parameters that capitalism will permit a reform which will only be passed if it fits in with the agenda of the employing class, will have sufficient built-in constraints  that it will fail to satisfy the expectations and hopes of our fellow workers and as the reform was made in the name of "socialism" and promoted by those calling themselves "socialists" then the subsequent disillusionment and disappointment will not be with capitalism and the owning class but with the actual idea of socialism and those recognised to be "socialists".

In the recent Swiss referendum on the issue for a proposed Basic Income referendum the pro campaign literature said that, with the introduction of Basic Income, wages would be reduced by its amount:
“Wages are going to adapt themselves to become a complement to Basic Income. For example with a Basic Income of 2500 Swiss Francs, someone who at present gets 8000 Swiss francs from his employer will not get more than 5500 or so wages which will come to be added to his Basic Income.”

So, anyone with a wage above the poverty line is not going to be better off: their income will be exactly the same, with instead of it all being paid by the employer, a part will be paid by the State and a part by the employer. It would lead to a massive downward pressure on wages. In fact, it's part of the scheme. They have openly and explicitly said that their scheme involves a wage reduction for all workers above the poverty line even if their total income is to remain the same, i.e. will make no financial difference to the vast majority of workers.

What UBI proposes is a reform of the welfare system that would benefit only those on benefits, allowing them to receive these as of right without means testing or the obligation to try to find work. For many supporters, it only makes sense that the budget for UBI would come from cannibalising existing welfare. UBI would not exist as an add-on benefit. The logic is to shut down housing benefit and the rest and replace them with a single cheque. The welfare system can finally be eliminated.  Nice if you could get it but hardly likely as long as capitalism lasts. The more extravagant claims about a basic income being a transition towards the abolition of the wages system and breaking the link between income and work are just that -- extravagant claims. This is one reform which will only see the light of day when the capitalists have to take desperate measures to distract the workers from abolishing the wages system.

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