Money for Everyone: Why we need a Citizen’s Income, by Malcolm Torry

Policy Press, 2013, xiv + 300 pp, 1 44731 125 6, pbk, £24.99, 1 44731 124 9, hbk, £70

From the book:

The structure of the book

Following some notes on terminology and on graphical representation, chapter 1 sets the scene by asking the reader to imagine themselves trying to solve the financial crisis, to imagine some representative people trying to cope with our tax and benefits system, and to imagine themselves creating a tax and benefits system in a country without one. The second chapter offers a historical sketch, because it is helpful to know where we have been before we set off into the future; and chapter 3 discusses existing schemes similar to a Citizen’s Income and also some Citizen’s Income pilot projects. Chapter 4 discusses the changing labour market and the changing family in order to locate our discussion of benefits reform in its context, and asks whether people would be more or less likely to seek paid employment if they were in receipt of a Citizen’s Income; and chapter 5 establishes a set of criteria for a successful benefits system and judges both the current system and a Citizen’s Income against those criteria. Chapter 6 discusses poverty and inequality and asks whether a Citizen’s Income would tackle them; chapter 7 explores the notion of citizenship in order to decide who should receive a Citizen’s Income; chapter 8 asks whether it would be ethical to pay a Citizen’s Income; and chapter 9 explores a variety of political ideologies’ possible responses to a Citizen’s Income in order to discuss whether a Citizen’s Income is ever likely to happen. Chapter 10 asks whether we can afford a Citizen’s Income and discusses funding mechanisms; chapter 11 discusses a variety of other reform options, and some issues not tackled in the rest of the book; and a brief chapter 12 offers a summary argument for a Citizen’s Income. (p.viii)

A review by Professor Bill Jordan

This is a very important contribution to current debates about tax-benefits systems. In his carefully-argued and comprehensive examination of the case for and against Citizen’s Income, Malcolm Torry presents an updated and extended review of the state of play in the UK and worldwide. Even as some developing countries are experimenting with versions of the idea, ours seems as far from doing so as ever, despite its obvious advantages.

We are living through the most recent of a series of missed opportunities for the principle of state payments to all citizens to be accepted. Whereas the others (such as the introduction of contributory National Insurance benefits and National Assistance after the Second World War, and of Family Income Supplements for low earners in 1973) were innovations in income maintenance systems, the present one combines financial and fiscal crisis with the consolidation of means-testing and coercion through ‘Universal Credits’. As Torry points out at the start of the book, ‘money for everyone’ could have been an alternative approach to both the bail-out of the banks and the Duncan Smith reforms

The early chapters of the book set out the processes through which our present mix of universal, contributory and selective benefits was established, how universality as a principle was accepted in the case of Child Benefits, and how a CI scheme might be implemented (for specific groups first, or at a low initial level). There follow four chapters on criteria for a benefits system, demonstrating that CI scores well for coherence and simplicity, adaptability to changing family patterns, supplying incentives, efficiency and dignity, and appropriateness for a flexible labour market.

He analyses with care the issues of work motivation and the responsibilities of citizens raised by the proposal, acknowledging that prejudice and timidity have influenced political responses to the idea, even in the face of strong evidence. For instance, despite the finding from a CI experiment in a district of Namibia that people engaged more in work and education, the government still expressed fears that a wider introduction of the scheme would make people lazy. Yet even in the face of these barriers, CI has continued to gain wider attention.

Above all, these chapters show how what was originally seen as an outrageous idea, espoused by a handful of outsiders, has gradually come to be accepted by a wide range of philosophers, sociologists, political theorists and members of the social policy community. With impressive scholarship, Torry assembles the arguments and research findings by which scoffers and nay-sayers have been converted (or have converted themselves) over the past 40 years.

Finally, he demonstrates that all the major political traditions support goals that would be served by CI – individual enterprise for the New Right, equality and solidarity for Socialists, inclusion for One Nation Conservatives, personal freedom for Liberals, efficiency with justice for Social Democrats, and modernisation for advocates of the Third Way. It could also be introduced in affordable ways. So why is it still marginal to politics in the UK, USA and almost all of Europe?

Although Torry does not say so, the answer seems to be that – with capital in the ascendant over organised labour, and globalisation extending its strategic options – it is the disciplinary role of the state that all political regimes seek to uphold. Instead of improving incentives for work, enterprise and savings, they scrutinise and sanction those with low earning power; instead of enabling family formation, they police parenting; and instead of promoting equality, they divide and rule.

Malcolm Torry’s book shows that the introduction of a CI could be rational, ethical and efficient, if combined with other measures to promote sustainability and the common good. It could also be afforded under several different taxation regimes. Unfortunately, none of this makes it likely to happen, so long as power over societies is exercised for the benefit of the few.