One of the key policies that the Green Party has put forward since the 1980s is the basic income scheme. The taxation and benefits system would be transformed so every citizen is paid a minimum income, whether they work or not. The basic income, while radical, is becoming part of a new common sense and is increasingly discussed. In a number of countries, including Finland, experimental basic income schemes are being introduced.
While Srnicek and Williams seem ignorant of the Green Party’s long standing advocacy of the basic income, their book puts universal basic income at the heart of their strategic vision of a future that serves the needs of all of us, not just a rich elite.
They argue that the future is being presented as one of automation leading to job losses, corporations destroying the environment and austerity leading to more poverty. They suggest that resistance, if not futile, is largely a waste. Instead of protesting against what we don’t like and slowing negative trends, we need to promote a positive, optimistic vision of the future. Politics achieves results when those of us who are politically active present a vision, which the authors term ‘imaginary’, that inspires others.
Srnicek and Williams advocate a post-work imaginary. While work will never completely disappear, they note that with automation and the fast evolution of the internet, more and more can be produced with less and less work. At present, this leads to a society where a tiny minority of super rich dominate, while the rest of us take on precarious and poorly-paid jobs.
This is where the universal basic income provides the seeds of a different and better future. If work is disappearing because the economy is so productive, wealth that can be produced with little or no labour, must be shared. More and more economists are embracing basic income as a means of making a highly-automated economy practical.
Inventing the Future is a fascinating book and a useful one. It doesn’t simply criticise austerity, climate change or other problems but looks at political strategy. There is much here that I disagree with – for example, the authors really don’t like localised food production and seem keen on a planned economy. However, the book is thought provoking and provides a virtual encyclopaedia of suggestion for strategy and change.