A few days ago I listened to a podcast interview with Guy Standing, a researcher and author on the idea of Basic Income. He, together with many others, puts forward compelling reasons for the introduction of Basic (Universal) Income; where every person is given a regular sum of money by the government, sufficient for subsistence. This means that people would no longer have to work to survive. The theory is, however, that most will continue (or start) engaging in work or activity for many different reasons including achieving a higher overall income. Basic Income differs from welfare in that it is paid to absolutely everyone: no means test or criteria are applied.
The merits or otherwise of Basic Income are hotly debated. Some of its perceived advantages include lower inequality and a streamlined welfare system. Amongst its perceived disadvantages include its cost, and a fear that it will result in less overall economic activity.
Climate change is a super-wicked, complex problem, and because of this we lack many of the cultural, social, policy, economic and technological tools and processes needed to respond. In many cases we don’t even know what these might look like. Further, in an era defined by complexity and complex, interconnecting systems, it is not always clear how to support the emergence of these tools and processes.
Complexity thinking provides some clues, suggesting that a high level of innovation and experimentation in a system is critical for systemic resilience. This is because we do not know exactly what is coming round the corner, and therefore we do not know what it is we need. The system needs a high level of responsive capacity. In the context of climate change, therefore, we need social systems with high levels of experimentation and innovation in order to supply the necessary tools and processes on an ongoing basis.
So finally, here lies the connection with Basic Income: A Basic Income can give people the space to experiment. Because subsistence is taken care of, artists and thinkers, designers and entrepreneurs can develop and grow ideas without the time and energy sapping pressures of a job-for-income. Of course this doesn’t mean that everyone will suddenly start thinking about climate adaptations and ways of decarbonising. But a rising tide lifts all boats, and other measures can be used to direct the direction of innovation. Just imagine how many more water saving mechanisms would emerge in response to Cape Town’s water crisis if those with creative ideas (and vast experience of resourcefulness) could be sustained to develop them rather than spending their days in a fog of deprivation and depression?
Yes, there is a bit of detail-devil in this proposition, as in most. But I assume that South African readers in particular didn’t miss the bit about Basic Income’s contribution to equality? So for now, here is a provocation: Why is the Department of Environment not promoting Basic Income as one of its key climate change policies?