The RSA's case for a basic income

An idea whose time has come. Again.

Various forms of basic income have apparently been around since the days of the first industrial revolution in the UK: just one of the things I learned listening to a recording of an event last December at the RSA.1 I also learned that free marketeers quite like the idea, especially if it is described as a negative income tax.

Both approaches work in the same way. Every man, woman and child gets a small amount of money every year, as of right. And by small, the RSA means £3,692 for adults, about the same for children, and about double that for pensioners. It replaces most of the other benefits of the UK's Welfare State, such as it is. What you do with your basic income is your business. If you choose to work, you start to pay a normal amount of tax on your earnings, rather than the absurdly high marginal rate that acts an incentive to stay out of work and in poverty. If you choose not to work, or not to accept any old rubbish job, that's OK too. Or you can volunteer. Or learn. Or create. 2 It's up to you. There's a detailed explanation of its own approach from the RSA.3

I've been attracted by the idea for a long while, at least since reading Robert Skidelsky on How Much is Enough?. I don't really know any more about it now than I did then, which is to say, almost nothing. But the idea seems to be gaining traction, with an announcement by the Finnish government just before the RSA event circling the global media in no time flat, and various cities in several countries toying with similar ideas.

All, I have to say, not exactly persuasive, but encouraging. I'll probably be dead and buried before any of this comes to pass, but then as JM Keynes, who might have been the first economist to take the idea seriously, was fond of saying, "In the long run, we're all dead".

Here's to the future.


  1. Full disclosure: I'm a fellow, but anyone can listen 

  2. Brian Eno, in his John Peel Lecture, said that being on the dole, so he didn't have to take a job in which he would be trapped, was an essential factor that enabled him to make music.  

  3. It's at Medium, which is bad for all sorts of reasons, not least that it makes copying from a page way too hard. 

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