Category Archives: social needs

Universal basic income (UBI)

Amazon has revealed its latest plan to automate American workers out of existence with its futuristic machine controlled grocery store.

According to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the use of robots and other manufacturing efficiencies was responsible for 88% of the 7 million factory jobs lost in the United States since peak employment in 1979.

The Economic Security Project (ESP) – a coalition of over 100 technologists, investors, and activists – has announced that it is committing $10 million over the next two years to explore how a “universal basic income” (UBI) could ensure economic opportunities for all.

Elon Musk, the iconic Silicon Valley futurist, predicts “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income or something like that, due to automation.”

With political uncertainty across the Western world highlighting rising levels of economic inequality, many others across the political spectrum are considering adopting UBI in the future, giving everyone a guaranteed minimum payment. In the 21st century to date there have been pilot projects in America, Canada, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya, Brazil, Holland, Finland, Italy and Scotland, described briefly in Wikipedia.

UBI – one of three main economic reforms?

James Robertson shared news (scroll down to 4.The Practical Reforms) of a meeting of the North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress at which there was co-operation between supporters of two of the three main reforms in total money system reform – land value taxation and basic income. Alanna Hartzok, General Secretary of the International Union for Land Value Taxation, expressed a hope for future meetings at which supporters of all three policy proposals could discuss the relationship between reform of the money supply, introduction of land value taxation and the replacement of welfare payments by a citizen’s income.

UBI – life enhancing?

Just as Green parties everywhere have said for many years, Elon Musk expects that UBI will enhance life with ‘ownwork’: “People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things and certainly have more leisure time.” Others, however, believe that without the need to pay for rent and basic necessities, people will not be motivated to work and will not make good use of their basic income and free time. Cynics will – and do – dismiss ‘the happiness agenda’ (Layard, Norberg-Hodge) and the recent Landmark study which found that most human misery in the Western world is due to failed relationships or ill-health rather than money problems and poverty.

If accompanied by a more comprehensive education?

The findings indicate the need for a broader education, giving some concept of good marital and parental relationships, an understanding of the country’s social and taxation systems and the development of expertise (until the Plain English Campaign succeeds) in interpreting official forms and negotiating online applications.

Increasing apprenticeships and retraining for those who become redundant is worthwhile but far more input is needed. The Sure Start focus involving parents and children from the earliest days was working very well until funding was cut by the coalition government in 2011, instead of building on its success.

Harrow mothers campaigning after 4 Sure Start centres had been given notice to quit

There are now 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start centres than when David Cameron took office – a fall of 34 % according to figures obtained by the Labour Party in a Freedom of Information request. The North East and London have seen the biggest fall in numbers, with over 40% of centres closing. The closure rate is increasing countrywide and councils have listed other centres which may well have to go this year.

Compensating for the cost of UBI

A total audit would balance the expense of an enhanced Sure Start programme and the cost of UBI over time, by quantifying:

  • reduced expenditure on the NHS and prison service due to the improvement in mental and physical health
  • and lower expenditure on policing and social services due to less stressful household and neighbourhoods, diminishing the intake of legal and illegal drugs and reducing crime.

So, in the foreseeable future, will 3D printers and robots take care of the necessities? And will basic income lead people to begin to improve relationships with each other and the rest of the natural world?

 

 

 

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Moving towards a new, balanced, green economy

Dr Christine Parkinson’s recently published book sets out the following series of measures which could move us towards a new, balanced, green economy:

  • introducing greater incentive schemes to encourage businesses to develop, use and market greener technologies and to penalise those who don’t. Examples of this could include: using and developing renewable forms of energy; phasing out motor vehicles which use petrol or diesel and introducing those that run on easily-accessible clean energy;
  • investing in research institutions which have the ability to develop innovative solutions to today’s climate-change problems;
  • introducing legislation to reduce the use of the motor car, such as restricting the number of cars owned by each household, unless they run on clean energy;
  • phasing out coal-fired power generation, ending fossil fuel subsidies;
  • introducing a carbon tax on those companies who continue to use fossil fuels;
  • rebalancing the economy, so that the rich are not rewarded for irresponsible behaviour that adds to the carbon load;
  • setting targets for meaningful reductions in carbon emissions by an early date, as suggested by Desmond Tutu in his petition (chapter 1) and ensuring that the calculations for this are correct;
  • phasing out nuclear power and nuclear weapons worldwide and re-channelling the money saved into the incentive-schemes and investments mentioned above;
  • proper funding of those institutions regulating the tax system, so that tax evasion and avoidance is properly penalised;
  • shifting the tax system to penalise those activities which need to be discouraged, such as greenhouse gas emissions and the accumulation of wealth;
  • banning certain household appliances and gadgets, which are not necessary and only add to the carbon load;
  • establishing a new institution, which will monitor the use of fossil fuels by companies and promote, and provide support for, the use of greener forms of energy;
  • encouraging less air travel, by raising awareness about the damage this is doing to the planet and encouraging airlines to invest instead in technologies that do not damage the planet;
  • working globally with other partners to reduce deforestation;
  • re-balancing international trading systems, so that goods and animals are not transported unnecessarily across continents and seas, adding to the carbon load;
  • encouraging countries worldwide to be self-sufficient in terms of goods and resources, so that goods are not imported which can be produced internally;
  • re-thinking and re-balancing entirely transnational trading systems;
  • working globally to find a better means of international co-operation in working jointly to reduce and reverse that damage that is currently being done to the planet;
  • encouraging partnerships between local government and local cooperatives and social enterprises;
  • encouraging the setting up of local groups (3G groups), where individuals can meet together to share what they are doing to reduce their carbon emissions and to encourage each other to keep going with it, even if the majority of others are still in denial (3G stands for three generations – the amount of time we have left).

She continues: “Some of the ideas above are already being worked on, and others are not about changing the economic system but about reducing carbon emissions, but I hope these are a starting point for others to add to, if we are really serious about taking meaningful anti-climate-change measures before it is too late”. 

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“Three generations Left” can be ordered direct from the publishers, using this link. Whilst much of the book is viewable on this website, she would prefer you to buy a copy as any profits from the sale of this book will be used to fund her son’s work amongst slum children in Uganda.  Last year was a difficult one for this project (Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network), as due to the devaluation of the pound post-Brexit, monies sent from the UK to Uganda had lost a fifth of their value. Contact:  ChristineEP21@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

Basic income

Readers who are unaware of the basic income concept can find an outline here.

As Ontario, Canada’s largest province, became the latest to announce a universal basic income three year trial (read on here), we read that a privately-funded, short-term pilot program is being run by this Silicon Valley accelerator, Y Combinator, in California.

The goal is to see how people react in the U.S., says Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator Group. The program gives “unconditional” payments to selected residents of Oakland. The administrators write, “we hope basic income promotes freedom, and we want to see how people experience that freedom.” If it is successful, the plan is to follow up the pilot with a larger, longer-term program”.

Altman says: “50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people.”

The Dutch universal basic income proposal is for UBI to replace other social security benefits. It would be paid for with revenue from a number of taxes, including a 30% tax on business profits, tax on air pollution, and a higher tax on “big fortunes,” according to Johan Luijendijk, co-founder of the Basisinkomen 2018 advocacy group, which argues that UBI would be affordable because it would replace other government support programmes.

Replacement or supplement?

Over the years in Britain the writer had always heard of UBI as a replacement proposal – but now she reads Professor Karl Widerquist, founder of Basic Income News, describing the Dutch proposal as unique.

The Basic Income European Network (BIEN) agreed at its general assembly in Seoul (in 2016) that universal basic income should not be a replacement of other social services or entitlements, but instead should work in combination with other services. Widerquist in an email with CNBC, is reported to have said universal basic income “is not ‘generally considered’ as a replacement for the rest of the social safety net. Some see it primarily as a replacement. Others see it as a supplement, filling in the cracks.”

The Swiss campaign for the basic income referendum

Earlier this year, a draft report, tabled by a Member of the European Parliament, Mady Delvaux-Stehres, warned that preparations must be made for what it describes as the “technological revolution” currently taking place, including provisions for the “possible effects on the labour market of robotics”. The report which urges member states to consider a general basic income in preparation for robots taking over people’s jobs passed by 17 votes to two.

Ms Delvaux-Stehres said: “We ask the commission to look at what kind of jobs — or more precisely what kind of tasks — will be taken over by robots. There needs to be a discussion about whether we need to change our social security systems. And even whether we have to think about universal revenue, because if there are so many unemployed people, we need nevertheless to insure that they can have a decent life”. 

However the recommendation to “seriously consider” basic income was rejected for inclusion in the final report, with 328 MEPs voting against the recommendation, 286 MEPs voting in favour, and eight abstaining from the vote.

A study by Oxford University’s Carl Frey and Michael Osborne estimates that 47% of U.S. jobs will potentially be replaced by robots and automated technology in the next 10 to 20 years. Those individuals working in transportation, logistics, office management and production are likely to be the first to lose their jobs to robots; according to the report universal basic income may be necessary.

 

 

 

Brexit: moving away from globalisation towards self-reliance’  

Colin Hines draws attention to Green MEP Molly Scott Cato’s publication and launch of  a report by Victor Anderson and Rupert Read: Brexit and Trade Moving from Globalisation to Self-reliance’

Although it regrets our leaving the EU and wishes we wouldn’t, the report is written as an alternative approach assuming we are outside the EU.

Its Executive Summary states:This report puts on to the political agenda an option for Brexit which goes with the grain of widespread worries about globalisation, and argues for greater local, regional, and national self-sufficiency, reducing international trade and boosting import substitution”.

Hines continues: “As I am aware it is the first time a report from a politician isn’t clamouring to retain membership of the open border Single Market”

It details the need for an environmentally sustainable future involving constraints to trade and the rebuilding of local economies. Indeed the report actually calls for ‘Progressive Protectionism’ rather than a race to the bottom relationship with the EU – see page14:

Reducing dependence on international trade implies reducing both imports and exports. It is therefore very different from the traditional protectionism of seeking to limit imports whilst expanding exports. It should therefore meet with less hostility from other countries, as it has a very different aim from simply improving the UK’s balance of payments. It could be described as ‘progressive protectionism’, or ‘green protectionism’. X1V reference adds: ‘For detailed proposals on how this could and should be done, see http://progressiveprotectionism.com/wordpress/

Also ground-breaking in Green Party literature of late is its discussion of the arguments for and against managed migration.

Its sensitive handling of this contentious issue for many in the Greens does mark an important step forward and hopefully will help to start an internal debate about whether or not the party should reconsider its open borders approach.

This recent Daily Telegraph article with Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Lawson frothing to get rid of key environmental regulations shows how impossible any green future will be under a hard Brexit.

Hines feels that we won’t leave the EU and central to that happening will be a realisation across Europe that to see off the extreme right they must manage internal migration and protect domestic jobs. At that point the reasons for supporting Brexit for most are no longer valid.

He ends: “This timely report makes a crucial input to this debate, one that will rage for the next two years”.

 

 

 

Population: edited extracts from Progressive Protectionism:

Following the post on migration and immigration, we turn to Colin Hines views on population – a subject which, he notes, green groups have ‘fastidiously’ ignored, in the face of developing countries’ activists and leaders saying it was a form of colonialism and others claiming that the root of environmental problems was the consumption patterns of the rich, not the growing numbers in poor countries.

Two noted environmentalists, Jonathon Porritt and David Attenborough, disagree with their Green companions about population growth

Porritt has pinpointed a weakness: “they have a very deep fear that addressing population issues will distract people from the real issue: over-consumption in the rich world rather than overpopulation in the poor world” but stresses that “It really is possible to pursue two big issues at the same time”.

One of Attenborough’s key insights was in answer to a question about overcoming the problems of an ageing population. It is often argued that we’ll need more young people to look after the old, hence we should encourage larger families or more immigration. Attenborough’s riposte was: “The notion of ever more old people needing ever more young people, who will in turn grow old and need even more young people, and so on ad infinitum, is an obvious ecological Ponzi scheme”.

A United Nations Population Division study by David Coleman demonstrated that for the UK to retain its 1995 support ratio of working-age people to older dependants (4.09), it would need to import 59.8 million immigrants between 1995 and 2050. This would involve inward net migration of more than a million people every year and nearly double UK population by 2050.

Over the years Colin Hines relates that his focus has moved from population to food to nuclear power and proliferation, to automation and jobs then finally to an anti globalisation and pro localisation approach.

He says ruefully, “Along the way I frankly fell asleep at the wheel on the population topic. This has changed however when I woke up to the fact that if net migration continues at around recent levels, the UK population is expected to rise by nearly 8 million people in 15 years, almost the equivalent of the population of Greater London (8.7 million). 75% of this increase would be from future migration and the children of those migrants.

The population growth would not stop there. Unless something is done about this growth it is projected to increase towards 80 million in 25 years and keep going upwards”. See the Office for National Statistics here.

Chapter Two of his book (above, left) looks at the reasons why global population numbers are projected to rise by over a billion more than was forecast a mere six years ago and debunks the idea that ageing populations in rich countries need more immigration. It explores the right to fertility control as well as the responsibility for choice of family size. The policies of Progressive Protectionism which will help to reduce and eventually stabilise population growth – a crucial goal for a densely populated country like the UK – are detailed. Surprising facts are published by Migration Watch:

Over 90% of international migrants to the UK go to England, which now has a population density of 410 people per square km, just lower than India and nearly twice that of Germany and 3.5 times that of France.

As Hines says, the enormous rise in world population annually takes place at a time of increasing food, water, energy and raw material constraints, of ever worsening environmental degradation and mounting difficulty of providing adequate social needs such as education, health and housing in an increasingly unequal world. Acknowledging that population growth is not the only cause of such problems, he maintains that rising numbers also makes them much harder to deal with.

As life expectancy increases and birth rates fall, populations are ageing and it is currently thought that the only way to cope with the reduced ratio of those working to those who have retired is to increase the number of children or young immigrants

But Hines points out that longer, healthier lives mean more people can work longer, unless they are in very physically demanding labouring work. With more flexible working arrangements, more jobs can be done by older workers, enabling them to top up their pensions by working as much or little as they choose.

In the absence of immigration, it is estimated that the potential support ratios could be maintained at current levels by increasing the upper limit of the working-age population to roughly 75 years of age.

There is a fascinating ‘chapter within a chapter’ on the Japanese culture concludingAll these factors result in another advantage, people don’t just live longer, they stay healthier longer. A World Health Organisation study in 2000 found that Japanese people enjoyed an average of 74.5 years of healthy life, compared with 71.7 in the UK and just 70 in the US”. A linked FT study is also of great interest.

Hines’ conclusions:

Reduce the rate of population growth

Hines sees the cornerstone for this as being for people, from now on, to consider having no more children once they have had two. The current Conservative government appears to agree; it has today brought into force new rules on Child Tax Credit – worth up to £2,780 per child per year – so that it will only be paid for the first two children in any family. Like all this government’s cuts and ‘austerity’ this will only be a problem for low-income families.

Train workers in the UK to care for the elderly frail

A valid contribution to strengthening local economies is developing a better resourced and more caring approach to looking after the growing number of elderly who need some assistance will generate huge business and job opportunities in the care sector. A massive education and skills programme will be needed to train workers in the UK for an adequately paid career in this sector.

During this transition Hines realises that it might be necessary – and also in the nursing and agricultural sectors – for some shortfalls to be filled by immigrants for as short a period as possible. He stresses that we should in general avoid taking skilled and much-needed people from their country of origin, but short term transitional arrangements might also improve the skills of those coming and increase the benefit to their host country on their return.

See: http://progressiveprotectionism.com/wordpress/

Colin Hines will be speaking on Progressive Protectionism in Birmingham on April 22nd.

 

 

Mary Robinson’s call for citizens across the globe to trust their best instincts and work together for justice

Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a member of The Elders, writes:

mary-robinsonMillions across the world feel that the current globalised system is not working in their best interests. From unemployed former steel workers in the US rust belt, to the small island states in the South Pacific where livelihoods are threatened by climate change, people are angry that decisions taken by governments and in corporate boardrooms appear blithely indifferent to their daily struggles.

We know from history that crude populism offers no real solutions, creating only false hope and scapegoats. Yet it is also clear that there are many politicians who will cynically exploit genuine grievances for their own ends. All of this means that the new year is beginning with uncertainty and trepidation at every level of society.

Potentially seismic changes in political leadership in 2017, not only in the US but also across Europe, Iran, India and parts of Africa, could disrupt established institutions and multilateral processes.

At the same time, across the world we see rising levels of xenophobia and intolerance, a narrowing of political vision and a focus on parochial introspection. It feels as if a lid has been taken off a simmering pot of tensions and discontent. Views on race, gender and religion that only a few years ago were deemed unacceptable are now commonplace. Over the past year we have seen how public discourse can be tarnished by harsh and ugly rhetoric. This is most evident online, where women and minority groups are targets of cowardly abuse and intimidation.

Some politicians claim this is a populist revolt against global elites and that the whole system of international governance established since the end of the second world war, including the UN, needs to be comprehensively overhauled. I would argue that the values that form the foundation of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were in the 1940s and that our challenge is to uphold them.

Politicians and business leaders must reassert our values of dignity for all At the same time, we need to make changes to the international governance system so that it is more resilient, robust, representative and equipped to adapt to new geopolitical realities and complex long-term challenges, including climate change, mass migration and growing inequality. If we are to have any hope of making constructive progress in 2017, and stopping this rising tide of anger turning into destructive nihilism, all responsible politicians, civil society and business leaders must stand firm and reassert our basic, common values of dignity for all. I am encouraged by the fact that there are many leaders, organisations and citizens who are still determined to act together to secure a sustainable future for our people and our planet.

I saw this for myself at the COP 22 climate negotiations that took place in November 2016 in Marrakesh. Leaders from countries at all levels of development — as well as business, cities, regions, civil society and indigenous communities — renewed their commitment to the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The focus now is on implementation, so that any rise in global temperatures can be limited to 1.5C or below, an absolute prerequisite for climate justice.

Fortunately, leadership exists. In Marrakesh, I was very impressed by the Climate Vulnerable Forum: a group of 48 countries that are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and most committed to leading a rapid transformation in their own countries to carbon-neutral, climate resilient economies. I was inspired by their call for “a new era of the pursuit of development, ending poverty, leaving no person behind and protecting the environment” and for an international co-operative system that is fully equipped to address climate change. This is precisely the right vision and attitude — and a powerful antidote to today’s pervasive gloom. Only by embracing such a holistic approach can we successfully implement not only the Paris Agreement but also the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Taken together — which is absolutely essential, because without action on climate change the rest of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will be unachievable — they have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people across the planet.

It must be a bottom-up approach, in which leaders and policymakers show humility and listen to the experiences and voices of people at the sharp end of climate change, poverty, violence and injustice. This is no time for naive optimism; the challenges ahead are stark and the voices of hostility are strident. But I remain inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, who said in 2003 that: “Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty.”

As a member of The Elders, the group of independent former leaders founded by Mr Mandela to work for peace and human rights, I will hold his words close in the coming year and hope they will continue to inspire citizens across the globe to trust their best instincts and work together for justice.

Delhi’s Devinder Sharma calls for a GEP measurement to replace the current GDP yardstick

Edited extracts from the latest article in Ground Reality

Sensible voices, however few these may be, have now begun to be heard. The pressure to de-globalise is an outcome of the anger that built up slowly and steadily as inequalities worsen and the world goes deeper and deeper into an environmental crisis, fast heading towards a point of no-return.

iucn-header

The term ‘ecosystem’ was coined by Dr Roy Clapham, a botanist, in 1930. According to IUCN, the definition provided by Christopherson in 1997 is apt: “An ecosystem is a natural system consisting of all plants, animals and microorganisms (biotic factors) in an area functioning together with all the non-living (abiotic) factors of the environment.” The Convention on Biological Diversity (Earth Summit, Rio deJaneiro,1992) defines an ecosystem as: “A dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.”

Unfortunately, Adam Smith did not measure the wealth generated by these ecosystems and the generation of economists who followed the principles of market economy also failed to look beyond what was prescribed in the textbooks. Many of the severe problems the world faces today — greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change, the melting of ice caps and glaciers and the destruction of the environment (soil, water, oceans and air) — are due to economic thinking which created and thrust upon nations the GDP structure as a measure of wealth generated – based on a flawed assumption of what actually constitutes wealth. As Sharma has repeatedly said, if a tree is planted the GDP does not show it as growth, but if it is cut down the GDP grows.

But according to one study, the actual economic value of a fifty year old tree is as follows: 

  • Oxygen $ 7,700
  • Water recycling $ 10,000
  • Pollution control $ 17,700
  • Shelter for animals $ 8,300
  • Soil conservation $ 8,300

Yet if the tree is felled, the market price would be in the range of $ 1,100. See also the TOI report on Delhi Greens assessment.

Whether we like it or not, Sharma continues, neoliberal economics is bringing the world dangerously close to a tripping point.

A contract was signed in the early 1990s between the pharmaceutical giant Merck and a public-sector research institute in Costa Rica — InBio. Merck agreed to provide $1 million for two years to support ‘chemical prospecting’ which essentially means scouting the available biodiversity for commercial gain. It agreed to provide a 5% royalty arising from sales of any such products developed from samples of plants, animals and microorganism collected from with Costa Rica. Merck was then able to access huge resources for a meagre fee – 5% of the world’s biodiversity.

Biological resources have been conserved and protected by communities/tribes which have lived in these areas over the centuries

Mineral wealth exists in areas where abundant forests and tribes exist and communities living in hilly terrains and mountains have traditionally protected ecosystems. People living downstream in the river basins and plains have enjoyed the benefits of the untiring efforts of these custodians of immense biological wealth, who have been deprived of all the economic benefits – a one way transfer of wealth which has taken place over the centuries.

tribes-2-farms_and_forest_martali_village_eastern_india_2012

Ehrlich and Ehrlich (1981) coined the term ‘ecosystem services’ and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA, 2005) provided the first international effort to quantify ecosystem services, followed by ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), based at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which created an Ecosystem Service Value Database based on 1500 global peer reviewed publications.

The destruction caused by development is generally considered as inevitable, based on economics that does not make any attempt to integrate the real cost-benefit ratio. However, though a number of studies are currently underway in numerous institutes/universities, the discipline of ecosystem services has still to be recognised. Sharma believes that efforts to calculate the monetary value of ecosystem services will be increasingly valuable in development planning, because the value has hitherto been taken as nil or free of cost. He hopes that once economic values are established, planners will make decisions which will not be based solely on economic gain.

devinder-edited-utube-7Sharma (right) advocates the computation of a Gross Environment Product based on the valuation of ecosystem services, ensuring that ecosystems are no longer associated with poverty. This will require the discarding of the economic assumption that growth automatically trickles down. It doesn’t. The amount of real wealth nations has created should be indicated by the measure of sustainable growth achieved. Becoming carbon neutral is one such indicator.

Primarily with this underlying objective, the Chandigarh-based trust Dialogue Highway, in collaboration with the Department of Environment Studies, Panjab University, organised the 2nd International Dialogue on Himalayan Ecology (Jan 28-29, 2017) on the theme: “The Economics of Himalayan Ecosystems”. (The youtube link leads to the programme in detail, but only a few screen shots). Experts from across the country made presentations based on the outcome of research undertaken to ascribe economic values to the ecosystem services provided by the Himalayas.

Sharma is sure that this dialogue will go a long way towards mainstreaming the subject of ecosystem services in policy planning and intends to undertake a similar exercise for the Western Ghats in the months to come.