Universal Basic (Services / Income)

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The word “essential” has taken many forms throughout the ages, religious orders have solemnly declared what it is and is not, economists have associated it with the accumulation of goods, and most recently with the distinction between essential and non-essential work and services. Anna Coote asks us again to consider “what is essential to a good human life on this planet?”, while explaining Universal Basic Services (UBS) and how they are intrinsically related to a social guarantee which ensures that everyone has access to life’s essentials within planetary boundaries. Nutrition, education, healthcare, housing, childcare, social care, transport and access to digital information are examples of life’s essentials needed for a good life. This is a way to ensure that secure foundations are provided for all in consideration of planetary and social boundaries.

Decision makers typically show little regard to the public interest, so how can we put people into control and ensure governments promote equal access to essential goods &  services? When making sure that everyone has enough to live with, it is also required to consider the wages people earn for a fair living income. According to Anna Coote, Universal Basic Income (UBI) is too broad and expensive for the state to implement and if it is conditional upon an unemployment status or wage then UBS already covers this in the form of a minimum guaranteed wage. Equality, efficiency, solidarity and sustainability are the main gains from collective action to achieve Universal Basic Services.

How does a UBI differ from UBS? One key difference concerns the role of government control and individual choice. For instance, the UBI pays no heed to ecological limits. It doesn’t define/prioritize what is essential, nor determine what can or has to be consumed. There are several versions of UBI attached to libertarian and monetarist systems aiming at individual freedom over collective needs and biophysical limits. Focusing on money can distract us from what really matters: solving the climate crises and restoring our social structures & solidarity. For example, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are keen on the UBI policy because it poses no danger to capitalism as it motivates people to continue shopping with no regard to natural resource boundaries. Also, a UBI could lead to increasing inflation, especially in food and housing as discussed by Maximillian Kasy in the session.

According to Anna Coote, Universal Basic Services are pillars of the US Green New Deal. It is important to highlight that this connection between UBS and the Green New Deal goes beyond technological or environmental issues. It includes the social aspect as part of the equation and promotes community belonging as seen in cooperative structures of conducting a business. In times of individualistic perspectives and atomized priorities we go back to the first argument of this text: essentials. When facing a global challenge in the form of climate change and weakening of social structures, what can be more essential than focussing on life’s essentials for a good human life?

Written by: Nikhil Kulkarni and Raul de Lima

Based on the sessions "Universal Basic Income" by Maximilian Kasy and "Universal Basic Services" by Anna Coote during the AEMS summer school 2021.

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