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

(We would not normally publish two reviews of the same book, but Geoff Crocker’s review of Money for Everyone on makes some important points that ought to be part of the debate):

**** Citizen’s Income well argued

Malcolm Torry delivers a blockbuster argument in favour of a Citizen’s Income to wholly or partially replace current benefits. His book is well-researched, well-informed, well-written, and is articulate and readable. His main argument is that, given widespread acceptance of a benefits scheme of some sort, then a Citizen’s Income is by far the best option. Specifically it avoids the disincentives of very high marginal deduction rates of current benefits which create the familiar unemployment and poverty traps. According to Torry, a Citizen’s Income would incentivise employment, training, new business formation, women’s participation rates, and can even reduce teenage pregnancy in Namibia. It is socially cohesive. It is less expensive administratively, less intrusive into the private detail of people’s lives, and less distorting of the markets for labour, goods and services. The Iain Duncan Smith / Steve Webb universal credit comes close, but is based on households rather than individuals as a Citizen’s Income would be, and is therefore deficient.

Torry’s very thorough presentation is worthy of the LSE tradition to which it belongs, established by major figures such as Richard Titmuss whom he frequently quotes. It offers a substantial social commentary. The excellent essay on poverty in chapter 11 is a classic case. Torry works as a vicar in London, and so has widespread awareness and understanding of the life situation of people with lower income struggling with a range of adversity, and this gives him great insight into the effect of benefits systems in the population. His deep study of the benefit system itself enables him to offer a uniquely powerful synthesis. The strength and extent of his argument for a Citizen’s Income appears to render it uncontentious. It is only cynical civil servants whose jobs may be at risk who stand in the way, together with inertia in the political system.

Due to its thorough coverage, the book is long, and sometimes repetitive. The argument on marginal deduction rates is repeated too often. But the main weak point is the lack of attention to economics, since herein lies one of the most powerful objective arguments for a Citizen’s Income. Torry’s uncertainty in economics appears immediately on page 1 where he writes ‘Citizens might spend it (a Citizen’s Income) on goods and services, thus creating employment; or they might save it, making lending and investment possible’. The first part of this sentence is thoroughly Keynesian and correct, whilst the second part is thoroughly neo-classical and incorrect. Saving in the Keynesian paradigm does not enable investment, but by reducing demand, reduces investment which businesses plan to meet demand.

Only on page 122 does Torry mention the economics argument for a Citizen’s Income, where he presents Stewart Lansley’s argument that ‘income inequality reduces productivity’, so that wages and therefore consumption reduce, leading to the current crisis that only greater equality can resolve. Even this ignores an alternative powerful economics argument that the crisis has been driven by technology increasing productivity, reducing the wage and consumption element of output, raising output GDP above disposable consumer income, which has been corrected with unsustainable credit. According to this argument, the technology-led wage reduction is inevitable and inexorable, and contrary to Lansley’s proposal, only a Citizen’s Income can replace consumer credit in order to raise consumption to match output GDP. In this model the Citizen’s Income would need to be spent rather than saved, perhaps by being distributed on stored value cards with the value expiring over time. It needs however an alternative theory of money, i.e. that money is virtual and its distribution only has to respect output GDP and not be supported by gold reserves or government debt. This removes the need for Torry’s argument on the affordability of Citizen’s Income – it is output GDP which makes it affordable. These arguments would add considerably to Torry’s case. They also dismiss current deficit reduction and austerity policies as the nonsense they are.