Basic Income: Let's learn to value unpaid work

By Martin Whitlock for the Huffington Post

Which is more remarkable - that 77% of Swiss voters rejected proposals for a basic income in a referendum last weekend, or that 23% voted in favour? Admittedly the turnout was low, probably because there was little realistic chance of the proposal being passed, but the fact remains that nearly a quarter of the votes were in support of a radical, socially progressive idea of which nobody much was talking until very recently.

A well-executed basic income policy fixes so many socio-economic issues - both present and looming - that it’s tempting to think not if, but when.

The main barrier, however, may not be demonstrating effectiveness, or even affordability, but overcoming public perception. People are rightly wary of “something for nothing” offers, including the idea that people should be ‘paid’ without committing to ‘work’.

Such perceptions matter, which is why ‘paid’ and ‘work’ are in inverted commas in the previous sentence. We assume that work comes first: once performed, it is valued and remunerated accordingly. In reality, however, money comes first: access to work is filtered through employers, who have the necessary money to invest in a workforce. This is why political rhetoric focuses so obsessively on businesses ‘creating’ jobs and people ‘looking for’ work.

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