The Blurb On The Back:
Shouldn’t everyone receive a stake in society’s wealth?
Could we create a fairer world by granting a guaranteed income for all?
What would this mean for our health, wealth and happiness?
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Guy Standing co-founded the Basic Income Earth Network and is a long-standing proponent of it and in this fascinating and informative book that anyone interested in the subject should read, he sets out what basic income is, the arguments for and against it (although I think his bias shows when assessing objections and he downplays them) and what information has come from those trials that have already been held on it in various countries.
Standing writes clearly and fluently and the book is organised in such a way that he takes the reader through the various definitions of what basic income is and the historical basis for it (which I found fascinating as I was unaware that it had been advocated by Thomas Paine). I was also interested to learn that there are both left wing and right wing arguments in favour of introducing some kind of basic income (although each has different views of what form that should take and how it should be implanted) and Standing does well at tying those perspectives into the wider political aims of each group.
As you would expect Standing is passionate about the benefits of introducing basic income from the promotion of social justice, giving people greater freedom and also providing them with greater security and although I find these benefits quite loose and difficult to assess in terms of evidence, he does tie in his points to experiences gained from basic income trials, which does give them greater weight. Standing also sets out economic benefits, including the fact that it could help deal with the potential impact of increased roboticism of the workplace and – more interestingly – the discussion about payment of a Euro-dividend as a means of slowing cross-border migration and the possibility of it operating as a stabilising mechanism while promoting European unity (which I would have liked to see expanded upon).
Despite his support of basic income, Standing does make a good fist of setting out objections to it but I do think he overplays some of the counters to those objections. For example in his discussion about whether basic income could lead to the dismantling of the welfare state (one reason why libertarians favour it) and how that could lead to people in the public sector losing their jobs, I found Standing judgmental about whether those jobs are actually worthwhile and that those people could find something “better to do with their time”, which I found quite snobby and judgmental – especially if we assume that many low level jobs are also at risk from the rise of the robots. I found his arguments against the premise that basic income would be inflationary to be more interesting as he argues that inflation would be offset by greater spending (where he cites a basic income trial in India as supporting this) but I would still question to what extent that would happen in an economy in recession or stagnating and this is not addressed.
Standing concludes the book by looking at the problems in setting up basic income trials and examining some of those that have already taken place, which I thought was really interesting. Certainly one of my takeaways from the book is that I would want to read more about the trials (including those that are currently in discussion).
Ultimately if you factor in the fact that this is inevitably a pro-basic income book and read it on that basic, this is a great introduction to the subject that gives you a lot to think about.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.