When, if not now is the time to implement an unconditional basic income (UBI) for all people to fight COVID-19 and keep folks from worrying about their basic needs like shelter and food. It would also take the pressure from the economy on a macroeconomic and from businesses on a microeconomic point of view and support social cohesion within the population.
The current coronavirus pandemic is creating an economic and social havoc among the different classes of the population. If ever the need for an UBI was evident, it is now.
As heads of government still try to save the neoliberal system by trying to make the most of the disaster management to lay the foundations for a new round of disaster capitalism, won’t see it. We hear already the usual asks for bailouts and stimulus packages from capitalists at the expense of the poor. So much for the free market.
Many European countries have already taken exceptional and unparalleled actions, including closing borders to avoid a swift uncontainable propagating of the virus. As it is thought that the coronavirus will be just as dangerously active as the “Spanish flu” and could potentially generate a similar damage in figures of casualties in the coming months.
A drop of 2–3% in the world GDP is expected because of the economic situation that occurred due to COVID-19 which by definition is a recession and the plummeting of global stocks in the past few weeks has been as fast as any downhill run in history, does support the worries.
But loosing for the rich doesn’t have the same meaning as loosing for the poor.
The wealthy folks aren’t losing the circumstances of their social existence, they’ll have good medical care, they can hide away around the world, they have the authority to alleviate their losses, so they’re wasting no time in calling for tax breaks and looking for legal loopholes to make it easier to sack workers.
The millions of individuals who can’t work because of the virus, temporarily or in the long term, won’t only suffer huge “losses” for them but the material conditions of their survival will be in jeopardy. This implies severe vulnerability that will make them more prone to the virus because, for example, they can’t even attain the basic requirements of hygiene prescribed by the WHO.
Nevertheless, coherent, public, and universally applicable economic and social measures are being vigorously pushed, in particular, activists from social movements and left-wing media are now calling for basic income, an unconditional monetary payment to the whole population.
In many countries and states, people are strictly confined to their homes and can only go out in exceptional conditions, like food procurement, pharmacy shopping and medical visits. This means loss of jobs or freelance work and tremendous economic anxiety.
If the US Constitution is of any instance, western liberal governments are supposed to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote general welfare, and guarantee the rights of freedom. They’re failing on all counts and, one might almost say, they are doing quite the opposite, as well as adding insult to injury by mass surveilling their populations and, in some cases, lying to them about public concerns.
We, the people, can’t count on them but must insist on actions that will strengthen our rights and ability to prevent further abuse. A universal basic income would be a very good start because it would bolster social existence.
This isn’t charity, or aid, or a temporary second-best solution waiting for better days. It’s a human right, the one right on which all other rights depend, like the basic human right right of material existence.
People who don’t have this right can’t be free because they’re dependent on others for their social existence. It’s not a form of conditional benefits either, something to be pleaded for, or only obtained when you prove to some bureaucrat that you’re worthy, a handout with a special ex post logic of only helping “failures” after they’re on their knees.
These people who are made to beg have “failed” because they are long-unemployed or are working in conditions that put them under the heading of the working poor, which is the case of 15% of Europe’s wage workers, and other reasons that are products of the system itself.
Conditional benefits are better than nothing, but they’re offered as a slender lifeline to a very small fraction of the truly needy population because of insufficiency, inefficiency, and the downright poverty of the benefits that are allegedly combating poverty. People in desperate situations are humbled into being subservient supplicants, begging for “benefits”. COVID-19 has only made this situation crueler for growing numbers of people.
A basic income of an amount equal to or above the poverty line in every country would guarantee the material existence of the whole population, respecting the dignity of everyone because this isn’t “help” but a right guaranteeing social existence.
The pandemic, literally a life-and-death matter, has made this measure even more urgent. Governments are seized by attacks of the vapors when contemplating the “cost” of such a measure but there are detailed studies showing how it can easily be financed, basically by a stronger taxation system in which the rich would pay more in taxes than they would receive as a basic income.
And let nobody say this is unfair to the rich when one third of the world’s GDP is stashed away in tax havens.
What matters is that paying this “cost” of the material and social existence of whole populations should be a top priority in the crisis we are all now facing. And if the social benefits of this were weighed against the so-called “cost” to the rich who, scrambling for their hiding places, are showing just how antisocial they are, could we even talk about a cost here?
By the way, what would be the social cost of not introducing an unconditional universal basic income now?
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