The Basic Income Guarantee: ensuring progress and prosperity in the 21st century, by Charles M.A. Clark

The Liffey Press, 2002, 147 pp., pb., 1 904148 07 7, np.

This book is one of the outcomes of a research project carried out by the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI) and the Citizen’s Income Trust with the help of a research grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. This book relates to the situation in the Republic of Ireland: the other book resulting from the project, Stumbling Towards Basic Income, relates mainly to the UK, and is now back in print.
Clark discusses the global and Irish economic environments, the concept of a Basic Income (an unconditional, universal and tax-free income) and its advantages, the difficulties of employing market forces to achieve social justice, and the importance of non-market mechanisms for distributing the benefits of economic progress.

Most of the book is an explanation and discussion of just one possible Basic Income scheme: €43.17 per week to age 17, €109.20 per week for adults, €135.86 per week for 65 to 79 year olds, and €142.21 per week for the over-’80s, paid for by raising income tax to 47.14% on all income.

Looked at from a British perspective, this is a bold proposal. If instituted here it would take most individuals and families off means-tested benefits (including tax credits) and many families off housing and council tax benefit. It would enable considerable numbers of families to choose that one or both partners could be employed part-time, thus improving children’s experience of parenting; it would enable unemployed people to take low-paying jobs and see considerable improvement in net income; and it would enable people on low incomes to see considerable net benefit from increases in earnings. But it would also impose a considerable tax burden on low-earners which would negate some of these effects.

The book continues with useful chapters on the improvements in economic competitiveness which would follow from the establishment of a Basic Income, on the greater flexibility a Basic Income would offer to the labour market, and on the redistributional effects.

A chapter follows on alternatives, such as a participation income, or a lower Basic Income. These are dismissed because they would not offer the benefits which the scheme discussed would offer. And such funding options as an environmental tax, a property and wealth tax, a Tobin tax (on currency speculation) and a BIT tax (on electronic information traffic) are discussed – but not a progressive income tax, which seems rather odd.

A final chapter compares CORI’s criteria for a just benefits system (adequacy, guaranteed, eliminating poverty traps, etc.) with the goals of Ireland’s National Economic and Social Council, and a good fit is found between them. A final section argues that Ireland can afford a Basic Income and that the effects would be advantageous.
We shall watch developments with interest.