Citizen’s income – can it work?

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Positive Money and AntiUniversity’s ‘Citizen’s Income’ Panel Discussion: Sunday 11th June 2017 – Report by Rebecca Zack

There was an air of positive expectation rising from the crowd of over eighty at Positive Money’s Citizen’s Income discussion this Sunday. From young people who had never been to an economics talk to long-time supporters, and people from various interest groups as well as members of the public, the crowd seemed eager in anticipation, perhaps optimistic from the surprise general election result, or maybe just eager to learn how a Citizen’s Income could be made to work in practice.

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Set in the historic Conway Hall in Holborn, known for its association with radical thought, the event was introduced by John Campbell of Positive Money Hackney. John gave an energetic introduction, outlining the event schedule and nominating a ‘jargon buster’ from the audience to ensure debates didn’t become overly technical. He described the progressive history of Conway Hall, saying it was like, “the Glastonbury of radicalism,” and mentioned the increasing relevance of Citizen’s Income, explaining how it had gone from a fringe topic to something which is now talked about “all the time.”

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Barb Jacobson from Basic Income UK launched the discussion and spoke engagingly about Universal Basic Income (UBI), giving a simple definition of UBI and detailing its history which goes back several hundred years. She explained how UBI could be a significant step forward for women in society as it would allow for the reorganisation of the social structure to allow unpaid work to be better recognised. She moved on to detail some of the progress being made with basic income pilots around the world, in places like Oakland, Ottawa, the Netherlands, Finland, India and Nigeria.

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Moving from evidence-based pilots from the globe back to the basic objections we might all have, Duncan McCann from the New Economics Foundation gave a frank summary of the most common objections people have to UBI. For instance, that it would be unaffordable, that people would stop working or that it would be wasteful as it would involve giving money to the rich, which spoke to a lot of the lingering doubts in the room. Duncan then outlined his current research into a Sovereign Wealth Fund, which would be publicly rather than state owned, and would pay a dividend, which could help eliminate the funding shortfall that currently exists in the models of UBI that researchers have produced. This solution combined with UBI, he said, could transform people’s lives.

IMG_5102(2) Universal Basic Income? Could we move from ‘work harder, buy more’ to a level of dignified income that supports people to do better work?

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Finally, Rachel Oliver,  Positive Money’s Lead Organiser, addressed this key issue of how a basic income leading to a better quality of life for all could be funded – through Positive Money’s approach:

“Who here remembers studying this stuff?” She said, kicking off her presentation with a slide of trigonometry diagrams. A ripple of groans spread across the room.

“And how many of you learnt about this?” She continued, switching to a slide showing images of credit cards and cash. The room was silent.

Following this revealing demonstration, Rachel asked the challenging question, “Where does money come from?” and gave us two minutes to discuss it with the person next to us. She laid out the current problems with Quantitative Easing (QE) and offered some potential alternatives, such as Green QE, or the People’s QE, which includes ideas such as investment in infrastructure projects and renewable energy. She also discussed helicopter money, the idea of giving direct, one-off payments to people, as an alternative to QE, rebalancing our finance-heavy economy and sending money flowing to the productive sector where it has an impact on jobs and families.

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The issue struck up a really lively discussion with the speakers.

The evening then gave way to the final Q&A session, which reflected the broad range of people in attendance. When the conversation turned to the problems of housing speculation, one Positive Money supporter suggested we “think of the problem in terms of energy…currently energy’s sitting in batteries, doing nothing.”

By the time the Q&A discussions had wrapped up, it seemed that everyone was really satisfied by the evening and people left feeling positive. The organisers did a great job of keeping the speakers to time and the questions on topic, so that the event felt professionally run but still relaxed and informal. Nominating a Jargon buster from the audience was a good idea, though happily not needed as all the speakers managed to keep their talks jargon-free.

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I left with the impression that the event had brought together a disparate group of people who otherwise might not have been sitting in the same room together, to have a productive and inspiring debate. Hopefully discussions like this will continue to be a part of Positive Money’s future.

This event was jointly organised by Positive Money Hackney and Positive Money Action Group in conjunction with Anti-University Festival, with special thanks to Joseph from Positive Money Hammersmith. The Positive Money Action Group is a non-local, action-oriented group focused on doing visible and impactful actions to further the Positive Money campaign. If you are interested in  joining or taking part in events to raise awareness of Positive Money’s ideas, please contact Ali Norrish at hellopmaction@gmail.com.

Please follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/positivemoneyactionnetwork/

 

 

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