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Why we should put ‘basic’ before ‘universal’ in the pursuit of income equality

TJ Ryan Foundation Board member, John Quiggin, comments in The Guardian (7.2.17) on the current popularity in some economic circles of the notion of a basic universal income. The author contends, though, that providing a basic income to all that’s not enough to live on makes no sense; instead, the first order should be a guaranteed minimum income for those who need it.

‘The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) has been around for a long time. However, it has seized the imagination of large sections of the public only very recently, in the wake of the global financial crisis and the subsequent political upheavals.

‘The failure of the market liberal (or neoliberal) economic order that has been dominant since the 1970s is evident to just about everybody. This has presented a big problem for the parties of the centre-right, supporters of the “hard” version of neoliberalism exemplified by Margaret Thatcher. But it has presented an even greater problem for the parties of the centre-left, which capitulated to neoliberalism in the 1990s, but sought to retain their relevance by offering a “soft” version, sometimes described as a “Third Way”, along with claims to superior, less ideological, management.

‘None of this works in political terms any more. The right has mostly managed to retain its support by stoking resentment against various ethnic, religious and cultural minorities. But the left needs new and exciting ideas, after decades of defensive managerialism. A UBI seems to fit the bill.’

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