Annie Miller's short book provides an ideal definition of basic income and provides a framework for campaigners to clarify what it means and what flexibility it allows.
Author: Annie Miller
Reviewed by: Simon Duffy
When the history of how we finally achieved a basic income (or Universal Basic Income -UBI) for everyone is written then the name of Annie Miller will appear as one of the most important leaders of this movement. She is Chair and was a co-founder of the Citizen’s Basic Income Trust (1984) and of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) (1986) and she continues to be a considered and passionate, advocate of basic income.
This very short booklet is designed to provide a useful tool for the growing global movement that is seeking to achieve basic income. The early advocates of basic income, like Annie Miller herself, have been academics. But today we are seeing many grass-roots groups pop up all over the world. In the USA there is a dynamic movement growing, now galvanised by Andrew Yang. Here in the UK we now have the promise of Basic Income pilots in Scotland, and in England when we achieve a Labour Government. This political interest is stimulated by the growing network of basic income groups, particularly powerful in the North of England:
There are even UBI Labs planned in Jakarta and Bucharest.
These groups bring together citizens with diverse experiences and diverse forms of expertise. They see UBI as something that can make a difference in their lives and in their communities. They are attracted by many aspects of basic income, but they must also come terms with the fact that, as Miller says:
“The concept remains deceptively simple, however, and difficult to define.”
This booklet is not really designed to persuade the unpersuaded of the attractiveness of basic income, books like Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists or Guy Standing’s Basic income: And how We Can Make It Happen have more room to explore the reasons for basic income, and are possibly more persuasive. Instead, this book provides a framework for activists that clarifies what a basic income is, what it is not, what questions remain open for testing and where local discretion, debate and detailed thinking are still required. It helps us get our arguments straight and it stops us falling into some of the elephant traps that are waiting for us.
The Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) is the global hub for advocacy and thinking about basic income, and the booklet begins by redefining the current definition of basic income and adding some further clarifications. Importantly, it makes very clear that the extra costs of disability would need to be met by an additional system (that we call Basic Income Plus). Basic income is also usefully contrasted with competing systems of social security and the main arguments for basic income are outlined.
Importantly Miller stresses one of the key issues - which is often missed by critics and commentators - which is that the most significant beneficiaries of basic income will be women:
“Women comprise the largest single group of people who would benefit from a basic income, particularly married women and those in civil partnerships or otherwise cohabiting, who would be released immediately from the financial dependence that traps so many of them, and with it, the threat of economic abuse.”
One of the great strengths of this book, which reflects Annie Miller’s long involvement of the debates around basic income is that she provides a very useful overview of all the different ‘complexities’ that are hidden within this seemingly simple idea:
It is important that advocates of basic income do not become lumbered with accounts of basic income that are either too vague to be useful, or too precise to be flexible. Annie Miller’s book provides exactly the right balance of clarity and sophistication. For the growing grassroots army this booklet will strengthen our capacity to make basic income seem both attractive and feasible.
Most importantly Miller’s expertise as an economist allows her to directly tackles the biggest challenge for basic income: its affordability question.
As Miller makes clear: Basic income is eminently affordable and will directly benefit most people - although - the rich will need to pay more taxes. In fact basic income is not a cost - it’s just a redistribution of income. It is a redistribution to the poor from the rich and one that will also benefit the economy and society. In practice we will find the best level of basic income by putting the idea into practice: pushing it high enough to eliminate poverty, but not making it so high that there are no incentives to work. Basic income is dynamic and adjustable and this is one of its key strengths.
I heartily recommend Annie Miller’s small book - perhaps it will be the little yellow book of the basic income movement.
NB. Since writing this review Essentials of Basic Income has been re-published via Luath Press at:
The publisher is Annie Miller.
Essentials of Basic Income © Annie Miller 2019.
Review: Essentials of Basic Income © Simon Duffy 2019.
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