The staff team at WEvolution read John Lanchester’s review of Universal Basic Income in the London Review of Books.
Universal Basic Income provides a guaranteed cash payment for every citizen, rich or poor, unconditionally for life. The amount is enough to live on, not comfortably, but enough.
Lanchester looks at many studies and comes away a proponent. He goes through the various experiments and studies. Our favourite is the Great Smoky Mountain Study1 where, in 1992, a long term follow up of 1,400 children’s mental health got underway. A quarter of the children belonged to a tribe of Cherokee Indians. The tribe were given permission to open a casino, and half of the earnings were distributed, equally, to all tribal members. The money was paid annually, and without conditions. This meant that the Great Smoky Mountain Study could compare the mental health of the children living in families that got extra income each year, with the three-quarter that got no annual bonus.
The results were better outcomes at school, less juvenile crime, better parental relationships, and better mental health in childhood continuing into adulthood.
The evidence on Universal Basic Income is not as clear cut as the Great Smoky Mountain Study, but it gives reason for more exploration. A lot of the interest is fuelled by the prospect of a world in which robots do most of the jobs currently done by humans. Could we not distribute the profits of the robots work?
But perhaps the part of Lanchester’s article most relevant to the movement of Self-Reliant Groups is the graph in the middle. It shows that the marginal rate of tax paid by the poorest in our society is the highest. Which is to say: if those on low incomes behaved in a rational way, they would not seek work. The proportionate income they receive from that work is going to be less than that received by more or less every other person in society.
Members of Self-Reliant Groups strive despite these societal disincentives.