The Basic Income Debate in Australia, feat. Emma Dawson

The Basic Income Podcast
The Basic Income Podcast
The Basic Income Debate in Australia, feat. Emma Dawson

With a recent proposal for universal basic income by Australia’s Green Party, the debate over the policy is alive and well down under. Owen and Jim spoke with Emma Dawson, Executive Director of Per Capita, a progressive think tank in Australia. Dawson is a strong supporter of Australia’s social programs but is skeptical that universal basic income is right for her country.


Episode Transcript

Owen: Hello, and welcome the Basic Income Podcast. I’m Owen Poindexter.

Jim: And I’m Jim Pugh. Those of you who have been following recent basic income news may have heard about a proposal that came out just in the last few weeks in Australia. Now most of our conversations on this podcast tend to focus on US policy, but the conversation around this really is an international one and what happens in places around the world can shape perspectives, and certainly there can be similarities and also differences on policy solutions in different places.

Owen: So for this episode we’ll be speaking with Emma Dawson. She’s the executive director of Per Capita, which is a progressive think tank in Australia. And we’ll be discussing a recent proposal there around basic income which she has some concerns about. So welcome Emma.

Emma: Hey, nice to be with you.

Owen: So we’ve had some guests from countries around the world in the past. And like Jim said, we tend to focus on the US and the challenges we have here and what basic income might look like in this context. However, as we discussed in a recent episode with Professor Alma Zelleke, the assumptions and values inherent to the social safety net in a particular country have a major impact on what new policies solutions will prove effective.

So to start with can you just tell us generally about the current state of the economy and social programs in Australia and what challenges you currently face?

Emma: Sure. So Australia is a growing economy, a reasonably large economy. We’re a wealthy nation, second only to Switzerland in terms of wealth per capita, and we actually hold the world record now for the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth. So we’re going to 26th year without a recession. And unlike a lot of countries, we didn’t go into recession during the GFC. We had a a government that implemented a fairly Keynesian style fiscal stimulus package at the time and kept a lot of people in work that otherwise almost certainly would have been thrown out of work.

We also have a fairly strong social safety net. We have the most tightly targeted tax and transfer system in the OECD. So our welfare spend is very carefully targeted to those who need it. There is a degree of so-called middle class welfare, but certainly not as much as you might find in other comparable jurisdictions.

We have a reasonably strong minimum wage. It’s I think $18 39 Australian, which is which is a little under $15 US an hour, is the absolute minimum wage. We also have, of course, universal healthcare. So we have some some measures in place in our safety net that certainly aren’t there in the US.

At the same time, all those headline figures look really good, but we do have a higher unemployment rate than the US. It’s currently sitting around 5.5, 5.6 percent and that hasn’t budged for a long time. We have a very high rate of under utilization in the labor force, so we have about 1.1 million out of our population of 25 million. We have that 1.1 million people that are looking for more work than they’ve currently got, and you only need to be employed for one hour a week here to count as employed in the statistic.

And our wage growth is pretty stagnant. It’s sitting at around 1.9 percent per annum at the moment, which is barely keeping up with inflation. And our inflation measures, of course, take into account a whole range of costs and prices, but the most significant prices, things that are not that are essential spending like electricity, housing, healthcare, and education, those costs are rising at a rate rapidly outstripping wage growth.

So people in Australia are feeling squeezed. Our economy looks to be in good shape from the headline figures. But the reality on the ground is that I would argue, and certainly most people on my side of the political debate here are arguing, that prosperity is not being fairly shared at the moment with working people and particularly with people that aren’t working that are out of the workforce for whatever reason.

Our New Start payment, which is our unemployment benefit, is I would say criminally low. It’s as low as 250 Australian dollars a week, which is well below the poverty line. It hasn’t risen in real terms for a quarter of a century. Our pension age pension rate was lifted under the last Labour government, that’s our, you know, you would call them liberals, although the Liberal Party is our conservative party here.

The age pension rate was given a boost then, but it’s still barely adequate particularly for people that don’t only home. And single renters find it very difficult on their pension. And similar payments like the disability support payment another income support measures, I would argue, need lifting considerably in a country that I said is per capita the second wealthiest in the world.

Jim: Now there’s been quite a bit of media attention directed to a recent proposal from Australian Senator Richard Di Natale, leader of the Australian Green Party, to establish a universal basic income in Australia. I know you have some concerns around that proposal, and we’ll get to that in just a moment. But can you start by describing what exactly has been proposed here?

Emma: Yeah. Well, it’s difficult to do so because there wasn’t a lot of meat on the bones of Di Natale’s proposal. He made it at an address to the National Press Club, which is our, you know, primary forum in Canberra, the capital, for politicians to speak to the press over here.

And really the headline of that address, there are a few, it was a bit of a grab bag of policies as I said in my article critiquing his announcement, but the UBI was kind of thrown in there. And all he said literally and I can quote him, he said: “That’s why we need a universal basic income. We need to UBI that ensures everyone has access to an adequate level of income as well as access to universal social services, health, education, and housing. A UBI is a bold move towards equality. It epitomizes a government which looks after its citizens. It’s about an increased role for government in our rapidly changing world.”

And that was about it. And the Greens haven’t announced any other detail on that policy proposal on their website or in any of their policy documents. So it was really a kind of, we think this is a good thing, but we haven’t we haven’t thought about it much further. We haven’t costed it. it’s not a detailed or costed policy proposal from the Greens at this point in time. That’s pretty much all that I’ve been able to find. Although their research institute, each of the political parties here has an affiliated think tank or research institute, and the Green’s think tank certainly has been advocating for a UBI for some time, but it hasn’t made it any further into formal policy adoption by the party as yet as far as I can see.

Owen: So even at that high level description of the policy, you’ve got some concerns around it. I believe a number of aspects don’t make sense. So can you just talk us through some of those concerns and also share what new or expanded policies you feel would best address current social challenges?

Emma: Sure. So, the UBI debate here’s a live one as it is in the States on what I call my side of the political divide. I’m a progressive. I’m very concerned about social justice. Our think tank Per Capita is focused on fighting inequality in Australia. So UBI has been a live issue for us for a while, and I’m certainly a bit of an outlier compared to some of the other thinkers in our space on the UBI, and many of my colleagues, some of them within Per Capita, some with affiliated organizations that we work with are proponents.

My concerns are, they’re multiple and they come primarily from a practical point of view, but also some philosophical concerns, and it’s important to be clear that when I talk about a UBI in Australia, the U, almost with everybody, stands for Universal rather than Unconditional. I have no problem with the basic income card, it’s the universal part that gives me cause for concern.

And particularly in the way that Di Natale talked about it. Literally, he said we need a UBI that ensures everyone has access to an adequate level of income as well as access to universal social services, health, education, and housing. Now, I don’t want to see any of those Services disappear. I think they’re critical and they are fundamental part of what makes Australia a pretty good place to live.

But if you are going to fund a UBI at an adequate income leve,l and in Australia that poverty level would require every adult to get about 23,000 Australian dollars a year to be above the poverty line, then some pretty reputable costings done by Peter Whiteford at the Australian National University here has found that that could be around between 250 and 350 billion dollars a year in additional tax revenue.

So even if you take the roughly 160 billion a year that Australia currently spends on income support on its social safety — our social services programs, unemployment benefit, age pension, disability support, etc — even if you got rid of all of those payments and replace them with the UBI, you couldn’t save all that 160, you’d need to retain some of it because it’s spent on administration and and bureaucratic systems and so on. You’d still need to raise at least another three hundred billion dollars a year in tax revenue.

And that’s a pretty big ask at the moment our government. Our government parliament system isn’t quite as riven as bipartisanship conflict between the parties as yours, but it’s getting there, and we have a conservative government at the moment that is all about cutting taxes for businesses and cutting spending on social services. And the idea that we’re going to raise another 300 billion dollars anytime in the near future I think is fanciful.

If it were to be done, some early costings by Ben Davison and Miranda Steward at the Australian National University, which are underway at the moment, but their early findings have been that there’d be need to be a minimum income tax rate on working people of around 40%. It’s currently sitting at the average is about 27. So the average so the average working income tax rate would lift by 13% on high-income earners and be as high as 78%. It would require a wealth tax which would mean placing a tax on the value of the family home, which in Australian political history has proved to be political suicide for anyone who suggests that.

Now I do support wealth tax actually. I think it’s where we need to be as a country. I think taxing income rather than wealth is inherently regressive, but to shift from what we have now to attack some transfer system that would require such a massive change to the tax base I think is going to be virtually impossible to achieve.

So that’s my first very practical concern about the suggestion. I’m interested in what we can do now to help people that are living on $250 a week while they look for work or living on $400 a week as on the age pension and they don’t own their own home or people who are being forced into disability support payments that are barely adequate to live on.

We have a system at the moment that’s incredibly punitive towards people that need our help. Our current unemployment benefits cost us about 1 billion dollars a year. So if we were to increase that payment that 250 dollar a week payment by just the $50 that the Australian Council of Social Services and union movement is suggesting, that’s around two billion dollars, which is 1% of the cost, less than 1% of the cost of the UBI, and I’d like to see that happen tomorrow.

So that’s my first concern, really, but then the thing that attracted the most criticism and I think the most misunderstanding from the article I published a couple of weeks ago was when I said that a UBI robs people of agency. And that’s probably something I should explain a little bit further.

Owen: Yeah, please, go ahead.

Emma: So my concern there is, not that giving people who are in need of income support for whatever reason a cash payment of their fair share of government of tax revenue and of national revenue and prosperity robs them of agency. I don’t believe that at all.,I think we should give people a decent basic income without a whole heap of conditions that makes it impossible to get and that just provides them with dignity.

And there is a lot of evidence from around the world that if you do that, they’re much more likely to be productive, find purpose, and have agency over their lives. So that wasn’t what I was saying. What I’m addressing is specifically when people hold out the UBI as a solution to the disappearance of work, that this argument that the robots are coming, and they’re going to take all our jobs, and there’s not going to be any work for anyone anymore. And so the answer is just to replace income.

My argument is that, that’s very nice and very good and it will keep people out of the poverty line, but it negates the other values of work, the values of work that go beyond providing income, which are that it does give people a sense of purpose, it allows people to feel that they’re in control of their lives, that they’re managing adequately to provide for themselves and their families, that they can do that themselves without relying on support from an external party. And I think a lot of advocates of the UBI too easily dismiss the value of work beyond income.

And I know that a lot of arguments about the UBI are saying, well, it allows people to do other things, and more meaningful things, and it supports entrepreneurship, etc. etc. It has to be set at a really high level for that to be the case, even more than the 300 billion dollar cost that I was talking about earlier, for people to be able to genuinely thrive and be creative and perhaps start a new business or pursue some artistic pursuit. You need to provide them with a pretty serious level of income.

Even if you did that not all people are going to do that. Not all people are waiting to write the next novel or start the next Uber or whatever. A lot of people find value in work just from going to work, being with other people. It’s the social aspects of work. The value of just getting up every day with something to do with a purpose that allows you to provide for yourself. That work itself doesn’t always have to be for a lot of people incredibly creatively fulfilling. There is value in what in Australia, and I know in the US as well, we’ve traditionally called Blue Collar jobs.

I think there is a worrying tendency amongst a lot of highly educated progressive caring advocates of the UBI to dismiss Blue Collar work and say those jobs are crap anyway, and if they go, people will be able to do better things. A lot of people engaged in those jobs don’t think they’re crap, you know, they they actually get a lot of value out of going and working in a manufacturing job or a retail job and engaging with people.

And so I’m a lot more concerned that we don’t just lie down and say the robots are coming and there’s nothing we can do about it and let’s implement a UBI. I think there are things we can do about it, we can protect work and the value of work and the inherent dignity that comes with having a job.

Sure, if some jobs are disrupted, and there’s a lot of evidence that a lot of Industries will be disrupted. They have been throughout history right since the first Industrial Revolution. There are going to be people that are thrown out of jobs that they’ve held for a long time and they are going to need a lot of help out to find something else and some of them will not, some of them will be at a stage in their life where retraining or reselling or adapting to a new job is going to be, if not impossible, then too difficult to manage in the time available. And we absolutely need a decent level of support for them, a basic income for them.

But I’m not happy to say that should be our primary focus. Our primary focus should be to help as many people make the transition as possible and find something meaningful and rewarding to do with there.

Jim: The concerns you just let out very much echo concerns that we often hear in the United States. And I think, we’ve spoken on the podcast a few times about this in the past, but I do think that there is a challenge that arises when you mix and match basic income as a means of addressing current challenges versus basic income as a way of dealing with coming rampant job loss from automation.

And where I think our perspective has landed is that from the automation perspective, basic income would be necessary. but not sufficient. That if you actually end up in a world where there really is not enough work to go around, as someone who wants to support people, you should make sure everyone has money, but that you would absolutely need to have programs or changes in culture beyond that in order to ensure that the structure that jobs provide today, that the lack of that would not cause much larger issues.

Emma: Yeah, look, I’m on board with that. I’m still questioning why we’re all still working 40 hours a week when you know, it’s 75 years since Keynes told us would be working 15 hours a week. I’m a big advocate for the shorter working week. I think we need to divide up the hours of work a lot more evenly than we do.

We know in Australia that around one in five people want to work less than they’re working. And another one in five people can’t get enough hours, and there’s a crazy mismatch there. If we could reduce our working week to 30 hours a week, and in Australia the basic rate is 37.5, but we have some of the world’s worst overtime workers, people that work long hours without being paid particularly in the professional classes.

If we produce the working week to 30 hours a week for a start, we’d see a lot fairer distribution of hours. It would be incredibly helpful particularly for women who continue to take a disproportionate burden of unpaid work, and we haven’t talked too much about unpaid work yet, but it’s a critical part of this debate, as you know, as you often talk about on your podcast. I’ve listened to a few episodes.

I think that a fairer division of working hours with a shorter working week and a cultural shift that could see men and women equally say, well, I’m leaving to do school pickup today. I’m going to take the Friday, to do the to do the laundry and the grocery shopping and share that that unpaid burden a lot more evenly, we’ll see a massive shift in society. And the way the old ways of working where we structure all of our social security payment, our working week hours, even our transport and commute times around the idea that the man goes out to work at 8:30 in the morning and comes home at 6:30 at night and the woman picks up the slack at home. That’s a nonsense and it’s always been a nonsense frankly. It’s a particularly middle-class, mid-twentieth century phenomenon. I come from an originally working class Northern English background, and the women in my ancestry pretty much went out to work at the age of 12 just like the men did in cotton mills and so on. So working-class women have always worked.

And the structures that we have in place in society just need to shift massively. And I completely agree with you that those things are absolutely necessary. At the same time as we do look at what’s in place to support people when they can’t work for whatever reason.

And there are there are good reasons to not be able to work. For a start, in Australia, there aren’t enough jobs. A colleague of mine said the other day, if every job candidate in Australia was the absolutely perfect candidate that was immaculately presented in a suit and tie with a polished CV and exemplary experience, the unemployment rate would be exactly what it is today. Because there aren’t enough jobs for the people looking for work.

Quite apart from that, there are people that can’t work because of disability or illness or because they’re caring for family member, children, elderly parents, another family member with disability or illness. They may have a mental illness. There are legitimate reasons that people can’t work, and we need to support them better when they can’t. But if we could divvy up the work that is there for the people that want to do it in a more rational and reasonable factor and all get a little bit more time to look at the other aspects of our lives as well as paid labor, I think the world would be a much better place.

Owen: Yeah, I certainly share a lot of those goals. I see basic income as something that could help us get there too, perhaps a shorter work week and more equitable, better distributed, labor all around. In terms of cost, just in terms of how much you’d have to give to each person and what the total figure would be, it is a very large number. One way that people have talked about addressing that is through a negative income tax. So, the sort of two basic ways you could do it, it could be either through just distributing variable payments with the amount determined by an individual’s current income level, or it can be implemented through the tax code with full basic income payments going to everyone and increasing the tax level to retrieve the funds from higher income earners.

You started to touch on that in a previous answer, and I’m curious, first, if you support any implementation of a negative income tax, and second, does your support differ between those two designs?

Emma: Look, again, just up front, I want to make clear that the basic income part I support, it’s the universality that’s the problem. And that’s what we’re talking about here, whether it’s the basic income model or the negative income tax model. And no I don’t, for practical purposes and partly philosophical purposes too.

For practical reasons, even if it was implemented through the tax code, which tends to be the model that’s talked about in Australia because we have a strong tax and transfer system here and progressive taxation. It just essentially leads to what people call tax churn. And the cost of administering that, I don’t see how they’re defensible when you’re essentially handing out money only to get it back through the tax system. So, people don’t receive that. It just basically would lift their tax free tax free threshold, and not by much. I mean, their tax free threshold here, the amount of money you can earn before you start paying taxes, currently about 18.5 thousand dollars a year. A UBI set at the poverty level would be about 4.5 thousand more than that.

But the income tax on wealthy people would still, in order to make that payment a livable payment, and in order for the UBI to work the way advocates say it will work, which is allows people to refuse badly paid or work with poor conditions, it needs to be a significant payment. And so I don’t think that that we’re going to get agreement from the Australian populace to lift tax rates on the wealthy by that amount that drastically that quickly. I just don’t believe it’ll happen, and I think there are there are other priorities.

But more than that, a lot of the arguments that I hear is well, if you give it to everybody then it de-stigmatizes welfare. If everybody’s receiving the payment, then those punitive approaches that we see towards people receiving income support go away because everyone gets it, so then rich people won’t complain about paying for poor people. That argument just doesn’t hold water with me, firstly because if rich people aren’t actually seeing the cash payment because it’s being done through their tax system, they won’t perceive it that way anyway.

But even if they did, I think we’re better than that. I think it’s up to those of us on the progressive side to persuade people that paying their fair share of tax to support citizens, their fellow citizens that are in need, is the right thing to do. It’s the price we pay for civilization, and we can do it by persuading people rather than bribing them, which is essentially what a universal income is. It’s saying, well, if we give it to everybody then people won’t complain about those that need it, and they’ll just take it because they think they’re getting it too.

I maybe maybe have a little bit more faith in him and nature than that. And I think the left for too long has capitulated to neoliberal arguments around tax and spend and reducing the size of government and the fact that those on welfare are a drain on the rest of us. And it’s time we fought back directly against those attacks rather than capitulated to them and say okay, then we’ll just bribe everybody to be good people and pay their fair share.

I find that, I can’t make that capitulation. We recently released in Australia a report that we did at our think tank for Anglicare, which is one of our social service providers, that found that the tax of, the cost of foregone revenue to our federal budget, the money that we’re not collecting from people in the highest 20% of income in the country because of tax concessions, things that we allow them to do to reduce their taxable income like, salary sacrifice into their superannuation savings, their retirement savings, and get a tax discount and things like that, that’s costing our budget 68 billion dollars a year.

And if you average that out, that’s 37 dollars a week for every taxpayer that’s going to make the wealthy people here more wealthy. The government came out in January here with an attack on people on welfare saying every person on welfare is costing the Australian taxpayer 83 dollars a week. And if you broke that down, the cost of someone living on an unemployment benefit to the average taxpayer, as they like to say, per week was six bucks. Six dollars a week was coming out of my pocket to support someone on income support, but 37 dollars a week is coming out of my pocket to support people so they can have a holiday house and and a luxury car.

I think we can win that debate without handing out cash payments to the wealthy.

Jim: I think that’s a great point, and it brings up some almost philosophical questions about, and I’d be curious to know more about what what the specific perspectives are there, but certainly in the US, the sort of Welfare Queen myth. This idea that yes, you have this class of people that is a drain on the system, has been so indoctrinated that the amount of effort to tackle that head-on seems, honestly, it seems like a much larger task in many ways than to pass something like basic income and to increase our tax base here by massive massive amounts.

So I think it seems like we have big challenges ahead of us no matter which direction we take here, and perhaps there’s different interpretations as to…

Emma: And look, I’ve said to people on social media over the last few weeks when I’ve been engaging with people in the States about my views: if I was in America, I might have a different approach. You guys don’t have universal healthcare. Your minimum wage is pretty woeful. You don’t have nearly as well targeted a welfare state as we do. So I might say, look, fixing that really is too hard, and it’s easier to do UBI. I don’t know, maybe that’s how I feel if I was living in that environment, but here I don’t think that’s true.

And I do think it’s an indictment on the Left, if you want to use the universal term for your Democrats, are our Labour and Greens Parties here. It’s an indictment on us that for 30 years, we’ve let neoliberalism win the debate to the point where, as you say, that Welfare Queen narrative is so entrenched that we feel it’s impossible to overturn that and we have to go and look at new things that that are pretty radical.

And there have been some pretty convincing arguments as well that a UBI is in a way a capitulation to capitalism. It’s saying that the only way of valuing any kind of work or any kind of existence is through cash. This comes back to the argument about, well, it supports unpaid work. Well, yeah, that’s great, and I think that we need particularly for women who take a lot of time out of the workforce and are not rewarded for that and end up in Australia with half the retirement savings of men. Women over 55 here our fastest growing group of homeless people. That’s directly because they they take the burden of unpaid work.

And so I do think, we saw our last progressive government in here finally introduce paid parental leave. I think that leaves you guys as the only English-speaking advanced nation on Earth that doesn’t pay for parental leave, so at least we’re getting there. But those things need to be recognized, and we do need to reward unpaid work, particularly if we’re going to close the the equity pay gap and gender equity across the board.

But I also take some issue ideologically with the idea that the only way of recognizing volunteering and caring is by giving people cash. It’s really a pretty big ideological capitulation to capitalism.

Owen: Yeah, I can understand that. I feel like one thing that appeals to me about basic income is that you don’t have to anticipate every situation, every person who’s in need or who is doing work that should be compensated in some way and isn’t. And while cash is, it’s impersonal and it is, as you said, a capitulation to our capitalist system, it is just kind of universally valued and effective. And so that’s what appeals to me..

Emma: I was more being ideological rather than practical. I fully accept that.

Jim: So one thing I would say beyond the specific practicality or even the ideology of the policy itself is something that I would say has come up amongst the many supporters of basic income that I’ve talked to. Pretty much everyone, regardless of whether you support or oppose the policy, would agree that universal basic income would be a radical shift over what exists today. And many supporters see that as a positive and actually feel that we need to have some really out there ideas as a way of pushing people outside the traditional political box and encouraging bigger thinking. So I’m curious what your perspective is around around that interpretation.

Emma: Radical ideas are essential and I wouldn’t be engaged in the debate if I thought it wasn’t worth talking about. I think it’s great to have the debate because it focuses on what the issues are and what needs to be done and that there really are incredible imbalances in prosperity in the way that we treat citizens according to some pretty arbitrary decisions about what’s of value. And that growing inequality in the developed world is a huge problem.

So I really value the debate because of that, and I love radical ideas. I’m arguing against it because it’s worth arguing this issue. It does make us think about, you know, we might not all agree on ultimately what the solution is, but the thing I found over the last few weeks since I came out against the UBI, as people have put it, is that myself and most of the people on my side of the debate, we all agree on what the problems are. And if we can shine more light on those problems and get more debate around those problems and the different things we can do to fix them, that’s only a good thing. And often that’s only achieved by debating the radical ideas.

So no, I love the debate, which is why I do engage with everyone that contacts me on Twitter or however, even the ones that get pretty nasty at times. I always try and answer the questions because the contest of ideas is I mean, I work in a think tank, so yeah, that’s something I think is pretty important.

So no, I think radical ideas have to be out there. Keynes was a radical economist. He’s probably my go-to economist when it comes to these issues. I like radicalism. It’s what shifts the debate, it’s what moves the needle, shifts the needle. But yeah, I’m still focused at the end of the day of what can we do now to lift people out of poverty? What can we do now to give kids a better start in life, to get a better equality of outcome as well as of opportunity for people in society? And that’s going to paint me as a Communist in some parts of America, but I’m really not one, I’m considered quite Center Left here in here in Australia.

But you know, what can we do now and what’s practical, and if that means engaging with debate and saying look, UBI, nice idea in a utopian world. Maybe one day we’ll get there. But at the moment let’s focus on the BI part for those that need it and not give up on creating jobs and responding to automation the way that we have through every other industrial revolution of the last 250 years.

But yeah, let’s all agree on what we do agree on, which is we need to address the balance for working people and for people that can’t, for whatever reason, work and that needs support from the rest of us. Because we’re a society. We’re not an economy. We’re a society. We’re not a collection of individuals. We are actually, you know, we function best when we look out for one another.

Jim: That was Emma Dawson, executive director of Per Capita, a progressive think tank in Australia.

Owen: So I thought she laid out a lot of the main objections to basic income in a really well thought out way. And I’m glad we got some time to focus on the idea that a basic income, you know as she put it in the article, robs people of agency, and I think she got a better chance to kind of explain what she meant by that in the podcast. And I think that’s going to be really key to advancing basic income is to show people that this is not about giving up on work and that that’s still going to be pretty core to what we do, but the basic income is still a necessary part of that.

Jim: Yeah, and as we talked about recently in the episode with Andrew Yang, either we talk about universal basic income as a solution for what we face today, or if we’re talking about it for farther in the future, then yes, we need to have more. We need to talk about what is the answer beyond that. That expecting just giving people a base amount of cash every month, that is not a sufficient replacement for the structure that our labor force currently provides. And even if you believe that we may eventually get to a point where everyone in our society is fully self motivated and can figure out for themselves what they’re gonna do and have new community structures. That world looks so different than what we have today. If you’re talking about basic income to address automation, I think there is a degree of responsibility to go that one step farther and talk about what that other transition looks like as well.

Owen: Yeah, I also thought it was insightful to hear from someone who lives and works in a country that does have a more robust social safety net than the US, where it’s easier to see just patching up the holes in that social safety net as opposed to a brand new program. I do, you know, I’ll stand by the point I made in the interview that I think a blanket approach is always going to catch people who you’re just going to inevitably miss, but it is I think helpful to have that perspective.

Jim: Yeah, I found it very interesting, her perspective that it was going to be easier or at very least the right way to try to change people’s perspective on deserving and undeserving members of society and that moving to a place where there wasn’t stigma attached to people receiving some sort of welfare or social benefit program that was delivered in targeted way, that that was the more appropriate path to go down than to say everyone gets this. This is just something that we receive for being alive. I think that it’s very hard for me to imagine that being a more viable way to proceed here in the States, and it’s interesting that her view is that that is the case in Australia.

Owen: Yeah, I mean I do agree with her that it’s a little bit shameful that the Left has not really made a serious effort to counteract the Welfare Queen idea. But yeah, at the same time, I feel like it’s always just going to be there if you have the sort of safety net that we have, especially a weaker one. I wonder if having a stronger social safety net gives more people pride and makes it less of a stigma around receiving benefits from it, but I do feel like conservatives in whatever country will tend to target those benefits to reduce to reduce government spending.

Jim: And I think, finally, I really appreciated her perspective on debate around big ideas. I think that there are people out there who have different interpretations of what the right way to proceed is, but when you dig in you see we’re actually trying to do the same thing, and if we can actually come to that alignment and agree that we need to be talking about some more radical change, that seems like a really productive conversation to have probably.

Owen: Yeah, I was struck by how many of her bigger long-term goals line up with mine.

Jim: One more thing I’ll add: when Emma posted her article opposing basic income on Twitter, it drew a lot of critique, not shockingly. And some of that was productive, but there was also quite a few pretty disrespectful responses, questioning her knowledge and understanding of the economics here. Obviously as we just heard, and what you could have figured out with, I think, literally ten seconds of googling, she has thought a lot about these issues and is clearly an expert space.

And I think it’s important to stress, if we’re going to win over folks to this idea, we need to do so respectfully. For people who disagree with us, challenge them, but do it in a way that’s not the meaning or patronizing and actually prompt a real conversation.

Owen: Yeah, and just to add on to that: it’s impossible to know how much of that response was fueled by the fact that she’s a woman, but just based on what we know about the world, I think we can assume at least a little bit of it. So I would just ask basic income advocates and anyone else to just be sensitive around those issues and to give people their due respect.

Jim: Absolutely. Well, thank you for listening to this episode of the Basic Income Podcast. Thank you to our producer Erick Davidson. If you like what you hear, please do make sure to rate and review us on Apple Podcast or the podcast service of your choice, and please do tell your friends. We’re always looking for new listeners. We’ll talk to you next time.

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