Everybody gets a prize in the fantasy race in Alice in Wonderland.
Real life is not so generous. Mostly, you only get what you work for, and there are losers as well as winners.
The welfare state is supposed to care for those who don’t make it, but after 70 years it’s failing too many people.
So, Labour’s John McDonnell proposes to introduce a Universal Basic Income – a set sum of money paid to everybody, whether they work or not. Alice would approve.
The Shadow Chancellor thinks it is an idea whose time has come. He has £100 a week in mind, plus £50 for each child, taking the place of existing benefits.
A Corbyn government would trial UBI in a number of cities – probably Liverpool, Sheffield and somewhere in the Midlands – to see if it works.
The principle looks attractive, but experiments abroad are not encouraging. Trials in Finland were abandoned after it was shown to make people happier, but not more likely to get a job. Well, that’s a surprise.
In the USA, the mayor of poverty-stricken Stockton, California, is to give his citizens UBI of $500 a month. He says:”If we want to pull people up by their bootstraps, give them the money to buy boots and make sure they have a floor to put their feet on.”
Fine words, but I can see a few problems. Like how do you dole it out, for how long, and how do you prevent abuse of the system?
Not easily. If it’s universal, everybody gets it, as long as they’re inside the magic circle of beneficiaries. Human nature being what it is, people living just over the border would be tempted to flock into Cash City.
And what happens to work? Who wants to do the dirty jobs when you can sit on your backside and draw a pension for life?
I am no defender of the Protestant work ethic – I once won a debate against Ken Livingstone who favoured it – but there is something about a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work that gives meaning to life.
If there’s nothing to get up for in the morning, there’s no point in getting up. And most of us die in bed.