Citizens’ Income and Green Economics
by Clive Lord
3rd December, 2012
Founding member of the Green Party Clive Lord gives his perspective on the theme of how to stop mankind overexploiting the earth, and calls for a cultural shift based on a strategy of sharing necessities unconditionally, whilst allowing other rules for everything else.
There are no answers within the ‘growth’ paradigm, yet the experts cannot seem to think outside it.
Capitalism as we know it is not defensible, but I think that attacking it is misguided for two reasons. First, capitalism is robust, and will successfully resist efforts to destroy it until it is too late.
Secondly, it is a symptom of a growth-based culture which now dominates the world, rather than a cause. The real problem is that a ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is in danger of being played out on a global scale.
As competition for ever scarcer resources becomes intense, the reaction of humans appears to be not one of co-operation or restraint, but aggression, and inevitably warfare. Even if technology manages to stave off the ‘Tragedy’ for a while longer, sooner or later the mind-set which doomed the Easter Islanders will still lead to the same catastrophe.
Yet if human kind is truly intelligent, then it should be possible for the world community to adopt a strategy for managing the global commons without first going through the ‘Tragedy’. Such a strategy might follow the wealth sharing culture of the Siane. This New Guinean tribe distinguished between necessities, which were shared unconditionally, and luxuries, which could be traded in a kind of ‘free-market’. Through this system each tribe member had an identity of interest when dealing with ecological limits.
My suggestion is to put forward a Citizens’ Income (CI) purely as a thought experiment, so that people worldwide can get used to the idea. The CI is the ‘Siane’ strategy in a form appropriate to a developed monetised western state.
Every man, woman and child will receive a weekly sum sufficient to cover food, fuel, clothing and accommodation. The CI will be tax free, paid to individuals and unconditional. Everyone will keep it, working or not, or whether they need it or not. It will replace all existing social security benefits and tax allowances for the able bodied. It will be revenue neutral because it will be paid for out of taxation, though resource dividends could also play a part.
A communal approach to wealth sharing is indispensable to the primary purpose of an ecological identity of interest. This entails a considerable reduction in inequality, but I advocate the Citizens Income in preference to Socialism because it allows the better off, including entrepreneurs large and small, to keep at least some of their differentials. This crucial widening of potential support is more than a compromise between old enemies. The CI has both ideological and practical aspects and can become a fusion of core ideas from the now outdated ‘left’ and ‘right’.
Some may ask, isn’t all this irrelevant, as the world monetary system is coming apart at the seams? I confess, the Citizens’ Income proposal was originally intended as an idea for the long term. But the serious mistakes which led to the current Eurozone debt crisis were all part and parcel of the growth economy.
If the Citizens’ Income principle had been in people’s minds before the current economic downturn, the transition to a steady state economy could have seemed a natural outcome, in place of the fear and insecurity which has hithero been associated with recessions.
The Citizens’ Income, purely as an idea, can allow, but not automatically bring about attitudes consistent with a sustainable environment, just as the underlying principle has done in less sophisticated cultures. It is a strategy which needs to be adopted between nations internationally, as well as between individuals within each nation.
This is an abridged version of Clive Lord’s essay ‘Capitalism is wrong – but don’t shoot the messenger’. The essay is published as part of a collection entitled Citizens’ Income and Green Economics. The book is published by The Green Economics Institute.
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