The lofty title of the book leaves one in no doubt as to what the predilection of the author maybe towards one of the most discussed topics of our time. The provision of a Universal Basic Income or “UBI” is by no stretch of imagination, a philosophy, or a concept or an idea that has taken shape in modern times. This is a deep-rooted thinking that has been evident in some form or the other even from Biblical times, as the author himself illustrates. The debates, deliberations and the din surrounding UBI have assumed a gravity that is significant at the time of writing, especially considering the fact that the world has been rocked by what arguably has to be the most severe pandemic onslaught post the Spanish Flu in 1917. The escalating social costs of treatment, rehabilitation, recovery and restoration are putting an incalculable burden on the most deprived segments of the public. For these neglected lot, it is not just a question of accessibility to medical care, but affordability as well that acts as an insurmountable hurdle against hope.
Steven Shafarman has been associated with the Basic Income Guarantee Network since 2000 and is also a life member of the Basic Income Earth Network. A tireless propagator of and for UBI, Mr. Shafarman has delivered a plethora of lectures across the globe to distinguished audiences, wherein he has waxed eloquent on the advantages of a UBI scheme. Now in his book, “Our Future”, Mr. Shafarman not only reiterates his inclination for an UBI, but also makes a passionate clarion call to the common citizens “We The People”, to step up and do their bit for ensuring an expeditious ushering in of a “Citizens Dividend”, which is a designated income for all irrespective of criteria such as strata, level of income, employment etc.
So what does Mr. Shafarman propose? Fundamentally his proposal seems to imbue a simplicity that is elemental. A stipulated sum of money to be provided to every adult citizen, every month, guaranteed for the rest of their lives. Mr. Shafarman also proposes supplementing the UBI scheme with flat rates of taxes. Tax rates according to him may be established at flat rates of 15% or 30%. “People with incomes below the break-even point…get payments from our government, a negative income tax.” Mr. Shafarman also proposes increasing taxes on oil, coal, timber, metals, minerals and natural materials. This, he argues, would discourage consumption. Property taxes could also be shifted from buildings onto the value of land. The logic being, since “land is local and natural materials have local origins, these taxes ought to be the main source of funds for local government.”
The basic objective of any UBI Scheme, according to Mr. Shafarman, should be to promote dignity, equality and social justice for all irrespective of race, background, and identity. There ought to be a modification of current laws and prior sentences as appropriate, so that returning citizens can successfully reintegrate into society. The author also draws on the precepts and aspirations harboured by the Founding Fathers which ensures that every individual has a set of inalienable rights that can never be compromised. “One way to strengthen our democracy is to upgrade our political practices. Let’s ban gerrymandering, reform election procedures, and demand full disclosure of funding and spending.”
The one part of the book which is a little bit difficult to accept in terms of its plausibility is one where Mr. Shafarman argues that a UBI scheme can also act as a deterrent in bringing to an end insurgency and civil strife. As examples, he claims that if a scheme of UBI was to have been implemented in the war torn regions of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, thousands of lives might have been saved and corrupt regimes toppled. Whilst UBI would have, without any semblance of doubt gone on to enhance the dignity, and living standards of the affected populace in the concerned regimes, it is almost building castles in the air to expect that the antidote for ISIS nefariousness would be a steady and unending stream of monthly income. Forcing people to adhere to rabid, radical and fundamental ideologies, these terrorists in fact might end up coercing or threatening the beneficiaries of UBI to part with their stipulated grant so that the money might be put to use for aiding and abetting ulterior motives.
The most striking and commendable aspect of Mr. Shafarman’ s book is a whopping Appendix, titled “Appendix A.” This is a meticulous compilation of extraordinary proportions. Beginning with Leviticus, Mr. Shafarman traces the origin and trajectory of the various contours and shapes that a potential UBI has taken over a prolonged period of time. From Thomas More’s “Utopia”, Ludovico Vives’ “On Assistance to the Poor”, the ambitions and hopes of America’s Founding Fathers, to Karl Widerquist and Annie Lowrey, the Appendix makes for some fascinating reading. Of especial interest would be the example of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Opening a casino in North Carolina in 1997, the Band commenced distributing some of the profits generated by the operations of the casino, directly to all members of the tribe, including children. (“Money for children goes into a bank account until they graduate high school or reach 21.”). Every beneficiary gets approximately $4,000 annually with payments being effected every six months. A research conducted by Jane Costello, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University, revealed the following findings:
“Four years after the casino opened, Indian children had fewer behavioural and emotional problems than did neighbouring children. Moreover, the effect continued into adulthood. At age, 30, one in five of the American Indians had mental health or drug problems, compared to one in three of those in surrounding communities. The Indians had less depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence…The younger the participants were when their families started getting the casino payments, the stronger the effects on adult mental health.”
“Our Future” makes a sincere and compelling argument for the inception of a UBI. Apart from the pros and cons that might be attached to the introduction of one – as is the case with any scheme of socio-economic import – the most admirable part of the book is the intention of the author. An intention that echoes the espousal of values that are well enshrined in any amalgam of humanity that harbours hopes in its hearts and nurtures respect for their fellow companions.
(Our Future: The Basic Income Plan for Peace, Justice, Liberty, Democracy, and Personal Dignity by Steven Shafarman, an endeavour of Amplify Publishing and Mascot Books will be published on the 16th of June, 2020).