The welfare state ain’t what it used to be. Maybe it should be completely different. Switzerland is to hold a vote to initiate an unconditional basic income.
This has been described else where as communism within capitalism. The whole aim of communism isn’t equality, but liberation from the need to sell your labour to live. The swiss are discussing a 2,500 Swiss Franc monthly payment. That’s £20,000 a year.
I think it’s a fantastic idea, but its going to be expensive. The only way to really fund this is to dismantle the rest of the welfare state. That means no more housing benefit, unemployment assistance, no more nothing. So is abolishing the welfare state for communism really worth it?
Yes! If abolishing the welfare state means abolishing high marginal tax rates for the poor and fewer forms and bureaucracy, I’m all for it.
But, there are two problems (at least two problems, there are more but I can’t list them all).
The first is that once you’ve dismantled the welfare state it’ll be very hard to remantle. Once its gone and the only support left is a unconditional basic income it will become trivially easy to remove state support. It might not be popular or likely, but the worst case scenario is a libertarian dystopia where we’ve exchanged the welfare state for a mess of pottage.
The second is that we don’t just need money and a market. Individuals are very dependent on the services provided by that state. Telling someone with a disability that they don’t need to fill a form in any more, and that they’ll no longer be penalised for working if their care costs £40,000 a year and we’ll only cover £20,000 of it.
The needs of some people are more expensive than others. To merely live life some people need more support than others and there’s nothing unfair about it. If you think it is, ask yourself if you’d swap placed.
There are ways to work round this, with differentiated support but we might see some role reversal. With left wingers demanding a gutting of the welfare state and conservatives suddenly protecting the disabled.
The basic income is, like drug legalisation, hopefully a cause whose time has come. Unfortunately, the cost of implementing this wonderful idea may fall on the backs of the most vulnerable. Much as it ever was. I’m more optimistic and I’ll watch Switzerland with interest.