10 Ideas for the New Week

Ten ideas to consider and discuss during the new week.

I’d be interested to hear any views anyone might have.

1 – Citizen’s Income

The idea is that all adult citizens of a country receive an automatic monthly income – regardless of whether they work, how wealthy they are, or anything else. Receipt of this income would be a basic right. It would be enough to live on, but low enough to encourage people to work in order to create extra income for themselves.

The supposed advantages are that it’s fair (in the sense it’s received by all), it’s simple and cheap to implement, it means working is always financially beneficial (as wages don’t replace benefits), it lifts the very poorest out of poverty, it encourages people to take part-time jobs to ‘top-up’ their income, economic activity would be distributed over a broader section of society, and not concentrated in the hands of the wealthy.

It would be funded by increased income taxes, in the UK it has been estimated that to provide a £360 Citizen’s Income for everyone would require a 7% increase in the rate of income tax – but everyone earning around £30,000 or less a year would be better off overall.

The idea first emerged in the 1930s, and is currently being considered by the South African Government.

2 – Gross National Happiness

Why do we measure our progress using gross domestic product ? GDP simply tells us how much money is being spent in an economy, not on what it’s being spent, or whether anyone is happier as a result. GDP includes consumer debt, money spent of weapons or harmful addictions etc, but omits things without a direct financial value, such as time spent playing with children, nature or healthy social communities.

As an alternative the concept of Gross National Happiness, a sort of wellbeing index, has emerged – the idea being that societies should focus on improving the gross happiness of citizens, rather than just GDP. GDP’s critics argue that it is simply the wrong target to aim for, and we should instead aim to improve our quality of life. Perhaps we should seek growth in GNH, not GDP.

The idea was first coined by the King of Bhutan in 1972, with many countries now producing some form of wellbeing index.

3 – Contraction and Convergence

If the world is to achieve a level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that allows a safe and sustainable global climate, a figure for global emissions will have to be set. Contraction and convergence provides a framework by which current emissions may fairly be reduced to this safe level, and divided equitably between everyone on the planet.

The idea is ultimately that emissions quotas are allocated to countries on the basis of population, thus allowing equal emissions per person. Obviously this is a very different situation from that which currently exists, so various transitional arrangements will be required.

The idea was first put forward by the Global Commons Institute, prior to the climate conference in Kyoto in 1997.

4 – Pay it Forward

The basic idea behind pay it forward, is that rather than having someone pay you back for a good deed or favour, they do a similar good deed or favour to someone else instead. Instead of ‘paying it back’, it’s ‘paid forwards’.

Various forms of the concept exist, one, a sort of virtuous pyramid scheme, by doing good deeds for two people and asking them to repay the good deed each to two others, an ever expanding cascade of good deeds takes place.

The earliest recorded usage of the idea was in an ancient play written in 317BC, but various other proponents have postulated similar ideas since, including Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It also formed the basis of a recent book and film.

5 – Collaborative Society

Collaborative consumption is the idea that rather than everyone needing to own one of everything, we collaborate as small communities or groups in order to share – ladders, bread making machines, hedge trimmers, lawn mowers, electric drills, vans, tents etc are all frequently given as examples of things we often own, but sit around unused most of the time.

As well as collaborative consumption, the idea of collaborative design or production is also now gathering ground, with open source software, crowd funded projects or crowd sourced digital content becoming more widespread – Wikipedia being a good example. Why not extend this concept to actual production or provision of services, perhaps of locally produced food, childcare or similar.

The rise of collaborative systems really exploded with the arrival of the internet, making it easy to commute with like-minded individuals locally and around the world.

6 – Industrial Ecology

In natural ecological systems materials are constantly recycled in circular processes – the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle etc. Human industrial systems and processes, by contrast, are typically linear, with raw materials entering the system at one end and a combination of useful products and waste emerging at the other.

Industrial ecology is a term used for encouraging the adoption of ‘joined-up’ thinking and processes, to achieve a more circular economy, producing less waste and requiring fewer resources as a result by reusing and remanufacturing wastes from one industrial process in another.

Although industries have always sought to improve efficiency, the real origins of what is now called industrial ecology were in the 60s and 70s, with the term first being popularised in a paper in Nature in 1989.

7 – Local Currencies

There has been a rise of interest in local currencies, used to promote trade and services within a local area. Part of the idea is that local currency circulates much more rapidly (velocity of money) than national currency, as they are not seen as investment or financial instruments, and this promotes local economic activity.

Local currencies are promoted by the Transition Towns movement as a way of stimulating underutilised local resources, support local business and provide local jobs. The so called Totness Pound, being perhaps the best known UK example.

Historically one of the best known examples of a local currency was the example of Worgl in Austria in 1932, where an impoverished town council put in place their own currency in the hope of revitilising the local economy. It is recorded as having been very successful until it’s banning by the Austrian Government in 1933, in fact now often being referred to as ‘the miracle of Worgl‘.

8 – Random Acts of Kindness

The idea behind the idea of ‘random acts of kindness’ is as old as history – performing selfless acts of kindness for strangers out of love, comradeship or compassion, with no expectation of reciprocity – making the world a nicer place in the process.

The phrase has now caught on globally, being referenced in a number of films and books, including Danny Wallace’s Join Me movement, and his book Random Acts of Kindness: 365 Ways to Make the World a Nicer Place.

The phrase is believed to have been coined by the American writer Anne Herbert, who supposedly wrote it on a napkin in a restaurant outside San Francisco in 1982.

9 – Slow Movement

The slow movement considers that the pace of life has become too fast and frantic, and characterised by more anger, more consumption, more greed and less connection, less community and less enjoyment. Their objective is to promote and support a return to a slower pace of life.

Slow food, in particular, is promoted as a more nutritious, sustainable, satisfying and ultimately enjoyable alternative to the rise of fast food. Similar ideas exist for slow parenting, slow gardening, slow investment, slow fashion and slow media.

The movement stems from Italy, from the protests featuring Carlo Petrini, against the opening of the first McDonalds restaurant in Rome.

10 – Debt Cancellation

At it’s most fundamental, wealthy people lending their spare money to poor people who need it, for which they charge them more money (interest) can be viewed as a means of keeping the rich rich and the poor poor, and for that reason was banned by many of the world’s religions as usury. The Old Testament also required that outstanding debts be regularly forgiven and slaves freed for the same reason, the so called time of Jubilee.

Many developing world countries are indebted to the rich world’s banks, often as a result of corruption by dictators or financing conflicts, and to such an extent that there is little prospect of them ever repaying the amount they owe. Several organisations consider this effective financing of the rich world by the poorest countries in the world immoral, and continue to campaign for a cancellation of the remaining debt.

The debt cancellation movement came to prominence after the Live Aid events of the mid 80s, leading to the international Jubilee 2000 campaign and the 2005 G8 Summit at Glen Eagles – unfortunately much of the debt still currently remains.

Photo by James Bowe, via Flickr

Comments

  1. A series of ideas that are bound by one theme – we don’t do them here. Change can seem good and exciting, but what you are changing to is not necessarily ovjectively perfect. For example, many Brits love the idea of living in Australia and for many that move wax lyrical about how much better than Britain it is. Then why do so many people emigrate to the UK from Australia?

    The point I am making is that few things are without pitfalls. Moving towards the Citizens Income sounds positive. But what if the poorest citiezens buy drugs or prostitutes with their income? If they have to pay for healthcare how can they afford it if they spend their money? IS it not better to have free access to health, education and housing and spend the money on their behalf on what we know they need to spend their money on?

    I am certain we should measure happiness and seek to improve it. But what is the minimum level of happiness we deserve to have and can we offer equity of happiness? Happiness probably has some fundamentals associated with feeling safe, loved, empowered and healthy. I guess we know why people may not feel these already so are we doing enough to resolve these now?

    Changing systems brings hope that you are part of the majority who are helped by the new system. Singular systems rarely help everyone. Reducing my income tax helps me, but not the person who relies on state benefits if those benefits are reduced as a result of my lower tax burden.

    Doing good stuff, with people is probably what the human race has done since it ‘began.’ I would support anything that drew groups of people together to do good stuff any day. RAK, Pay it Forward and Colloborative Socities are a great concept.

    The danger is, maybe we’re already spectacularly happy, we just don’t know it.

  2. Gareth Richards says:

    I don’t think there are any legs in your Citizen income idea, unfortunately it will distort our basic human nature.

    1) The idea that the state will look after you if you can’t look after your self may seem like a nice thought. Unfortunately even a government run with the best intentions could guarantee it could pay a citizen income forever.

    2) People need motivating to get into work a citizen income would probably reduce the
    number of people in work thus making it vastly more expensive than you estimate.

    3) The promise of a strong safety net would encourage people not to save and plan for the future, actually encourage more failure which would cost society more to clean up.

    4) Even with this policy you won’t end poverty, some citizens will use their income to drink, gamble and take drugs to excess. Needless to say this would not go down well with your tax payers or the Daily Mail.

    • All good points and objections as ever, Gareth, whether you’re right or not we won’t actually know unless it’s tried somewhere of course.

      I’d love to take credit for the idea of Citizen’s Income, but it’s quite a longstanding concept – often attributed to Thomas Paine [ http://bit.ly/I9dWlu ], American founding father and author of The Rights of Man.

      It’s current party policy of the Green Party [ http://bit.ly/I9dELs ] but interestingly isn’t an idea entirely associated with the political left – it has a lot of similarities with free-market economist Milton Friedman’s idea of negative income tax, for example [ http://bit.ly/I9ebgu ] – so I’m not so convinced it would fail the Daily Mail test, or indeed be unpopular with the tax payers, the majority of which would be better off (though this obviously depends on how progressively income tax is levied).

      I might also suggest that I might imagine the opposite of what you describe in your third point is more likely to occur – that by giving previously economically marginalised and inactive people more of a secure financial basis on which to plan for their future and make decisions, more considered and engaged spending and saving would occur. In any event saving wealth for it’s own sake has many problems, unlike investing – getting capital working to generate more wealth (or various sorts – not just economic), which is obviously to always be encouraged.

      Alaska do something similar with oil revenue redistribution . . . so perhaps a limited income provision scheme might be a ‘more acceptable’ place to start than a full-blown replacement of the existing tax and benefits system.

  3. Your first idea, citizens income, is an interesting one. I have no desire to live in any kind of dictatorship and I think there would be outrage at the idea of unemployed people being paid enough to live on, but in an ideal world I think that is what should happen. The unemployed could then be required to do some kind of work that is suited to their abiliities, which could help train them in order to make them employable.

    There are different reasons why people are unemployed. Some have very few skills including social skills. Others are just not as efficient as those still in employment or may have been unlucky that there employer could no longer keep them on.

    A scheme that valued people and tried to develop their potential would be expensive to administer, however.

    That the minimum wage should be higher goes without saying in my opinion. It seems morally wrong that an adult in full time employment should need to have their income subsidised or have to work ridiculously long hours to make ends meet, which is detrimental to health. In effect we are subsidising the employers and people who buy the goods more cheaply as a result of the low wages. However, the way are economic system works seems to make it impossible for all employed adults to receive a living wage.

    I think we need a lot of re-education where work and wages and how we value people are concerned before this kind of idea could work here.

    Work gives people a sense of worth, but that sense of worth is diminished if their work is not given proper monetary value. Our ideas about who is worth more money than others often seems confused. Why should those who keep our environment clean and healthy, those who look after us when we are ill and even save our lifes, those who educate future generations, those who save us from flood and fire etc be paid more than those who gamble with money that isn’t their own for instance?

    I’ll be interested to see if anything comes of the idea of citizen’s income in South Africa and if so, how it works out in practice.

    • Karim – very interesting.

      As you say there are many reasons why people are unemployed – both through choice, perhaps because they have inherited wealth and therefore don’t need to work, or because they have caring commitments, or alternatively through an inability to find paid employment. I don’t know we can ‘train and skill’ our way into some kind of high-tech high-skill future, that offers jobs for everyone though . . . but we still need to allow less economically powerful people to find meaningful roles, develop a stake in society, and have a decent quality of life.

      I also quite agree that a core issue is the idea of ‘fairness’, something our politicians have been struggling to define recently – and ultimately comes down to subjective value judgements. Nurses-bankers-civil servants-tax payers-shoppers-supermarkets . . . everyone has their own opinions.

      I must confess I don’t have a clear and strong vision of the ideal future society I’d create if I were Supreme Ruler of the World (megalomaniac moment!) – but do think what we have at present is very broken and change urgently needs to come from somewhere.

      As you say, it would be interesting to see Citizen’s Income, or some other alternative model of economic governance tried somewhere . . . maybe one day :)

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