It is November 1990 and the river Nistru has a double value. For those situated on its right bank, the river is a boundary, a fronter meant to separate The Republic of Moldova from Transnistria. For those who reside on the left bank, the river is just a cross-point towards the most Eastern part of Moldova. The contention point is the existence or not of such a thing as an autonomous and sovereign Tranistrian state (PMR). At this point a war breaks down between the two sides,a pro-Moldavian force and the separatist one which had some military support from Russia. The open conflict ends with a cease-fire that has not been replaced by a more stable resolution since 1992.
Back to present times, the Moldavian-Transnistrian relation is what we would call a ‘frozen conflict’. On the international level, the region between the Nistru river and Ukraine is recognized as being part of Moldova. In practice however, a filo-Russian centre of power exercises actual control over the disputed territory from its Tiraspol headquarters. I will argue that in a sense, this region is another chess board where NATO and Kremlin show off their skills.
There is an ongoing presence of Russian troops on the ground with the double moral purpose to protect Russian nationals from potential threats coming from the Moldavian majority and to help stabilize the situation in the form of peace-keeping. There is furthermore the strategic goal of maintaining an open door into Eastern Europe, following Kalinigrad’s example. If we imagined a dark scenario where the Old Continent would once more fall into violent conflict, the Kaliningrad exclave would play the part of a strategic military outpost for Russians, which could be further supplied with weapons and soldiers through the Baltic Sea.
The same logic could have been applied to PMR until the current Ukrainian turn of events. As I see it, Ukraine stands between this potential outpost and the Russian Federation. Events in Ukraine bring to light at the least the possibility of a future NATO membership. That translates into the blockage of access to Transnistria for Kremlin’s hard power capabilities. Metaphorically it resembles the clogging of an artery which eventually leads to the death of an organ. The strategic benefit of Transnistria will be lost if Kiev-Moscow relations get interrupted. As a consequence, Russian leaders point now their energy on another outpost in the Black Sea, which is Crimea.
An example that proves all the above is the recent diplomatic scuffle between Romania and Moldova on one side and the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Rogozin. The latter one was intending to fly to Tiraspol for the Victory Day celebration. Since Ukraine and Romania blocked their airspace to the plane on which he was travelling, Rogozin was stuck in Moldova. He managed eventually to return to Moscow, from where he made serious threats to Romanian authorities: ”Next time I’ll fly on board TU-160”. That is Russia’s largest bomber.
It is being said that Rogozin carried with him back home the signed petitions of Transnistrian residents which claim the recognition of their half-a-million-people Republic as independent and autonomous from Moldova. The relation between the two is now at a very low point both because of Russia’s support for PMR independence and also because of EU’s decision to sign the association agreements with the authorities in Chisinau and Tbilisi. The existing pattern shows that most Eastern and Southeastern European countries were admitted into the EU only after being granted NATO membership. If the habitual way of handling EU enlargement does not change, then there is a high probability that Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia will in the foreseeable future have NATO troops on their territories. Under such circumstances, Article 5 will enforce itself directly against Russia in the case of any type of aggression towards the mentioned countries. The West will have the responsibility to act militarily.
Finally, this big power politics explains the recognition movement undergoing in Transnistria. Its parliament is on the path of recognizing Russian legislation as applicable to its citizens who will officially have the Russian language as their national language. These are preparatory steps for being part of the Russian Federation, a desire expressed openly by Transnistrian officials. Nevertheless, prior to Moldova moving a step closer to the EU, Russian politicians appeared a bit reserved in accepting Tiraspol’s offers. Some even went as far as to say that Chisinau is behaving properly in observing the cease-fire and the truce and that only a reunification with Romania would automatically call for a solution as dramatic as annexation. This fear was as a matter of fact probably the main cause for the secessionist move in the first place. Aside from this, most probably it will very much depend on the results of the election for new leaders in Kiev and the situation on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. More than this, it will be conditioned by the love and hate relationship between the EU and the US which materializes in NATO’s strategy.
To conclude our discussion, we can sum up and observe the main antagonists and their interests. First, we have the opposition between Moldova and Tiraspol on PMR’s right of self-determination . Going on a higher level, we have Romania who sees itself as a gateway to Europe and therefore must act as a responsible, strong actor in the face of any potential threat coming from its East. On the big power playing field, we have Russia who is feeling pressured from NATO and US expanding their grip towards its borders. Finally we have the EU and its member states who have a very strong interest in creating a free market that would incorporate the countries around the Black Sea and also an existential need of finding alternative energy supplies, mainly from Azerbaijan, supplies which would cross Georgia and even Ukraine. These are the conditions that will shape Transnitria’s fate and with it most certainly everyone’s future. The heat is increasing around this frozen conflict and its meltdown will unfortunately bring a big flood with it.
Should You Support Universal Basic Income? Who else is in favour?
In the previous article “Universal Basic Income: In Action” we explored that Universal Basic Income under different variants is already being put to trial in different provinces of a number of countries around the world. Before that, in “Universal Basic Income: The Idea” we weighed the potential of UBI in creating a monumental change in the way humanity as a society functions as of today. While there’s still quite some time required to ascertain how easily and efficiently the system can be put into effect and whether it should be put into place at all, some of the more apparent advantages, as well as flaws of the system, are repeatedly considered by experts in determining the answers to the aforementioned questions. In addition, many influential figures have also come out both in support of UBI as well as against it. Let’s take a look at the support UBI has garnered as well as the supposed benefits and criticisms of UBI.
Pros of Universal Basic Income
The first argument often cited in favour of UBI is for its potential to alleviate poverty, improve the standard of living and vastly reduce income inequality no matter which country it is implemented in. the Alaska Permanent Fund (AFP), which we’ve already discussed, was instrumental in improving the state’s income equality rank from 30 to 2. UBI trials in Namibia, Kenya, and parts of India have also yielded positive results in this regard. UBI has also resulted in the improvement of health, especially mental health, as reported by people who have been part of UBI trials in Ontario, Canada. UBI also encourages entrepreneurial behaviour since it guarantees basic subsistence thereby providing an incentive for people to take up a line of work of their liking. UBI trials in India and Namibia have also shown that it has helped promote financial decision making by women resulting in their empowerment. A guarantee of a fixed income every month also brings more power to people when it comes to deciding where they should spend money. The Roosevelt Institute research we discussed previously also suggests an overall growth in the US economy with a countrywide implementation of UBI. UBI is also expected to lead to a positive job growth and lower the dropout rates in schools since it provides more security to families.
Cons of Universal Basic Income
The critics of UBI argue that money that is essential for the poor is being redirected towards the wealthy and those citizens who have no need for it. Robert Greenstein, founder and President of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington D.C. “if you take the dollars targeted on people in the bottom fifth or two-fifths of the population and convert them to universal payments to people all the way up the income scale, you’re redistributing income upward. That would increase poverty and inequality rather than reduce them.” In addition to that, it is often argued that UBI programs are highly ineffective when compared to welfare programs that are implemented on targeted populations. Therefore, unless UBI is implemented without the scrapping off of such welfare schemes, it is likely to find opposition from a huge number of people who currently benefit from these programs. Another argument against UBI one may repeatedly encounter is that UBI reduces the incentive to work, which leads to huge costs for the economy. This may also lead to a dearth of skilled and unskilled labour in the economy. The Swiss government have opposed the implementation of UBI for the very same reason, fearing that the current labour shortages may be exacerbated. Finally, an argument that also holds the door open for many debates is that UBI is too expensive to implement and will cost a lot to the government. As opposed to studies which show a growth in the economies through the implementation of UBI, many economists have also opposed it, claiming that UBI in the more developed nations will be very expensive to guarantee an acceptable standard of living to all the citizens.
Who Supports Universal Basic Income?
Since the idea was first proposed by Sir Thomas More in 1516, UBI has found suitors throughout recent history. Founding father of the United States Thomas Paine was in favour of it, philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell argued in its favour, and even Martin Luther King said: “the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.” American economist Milton Friedman, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and even former US President Richard Nixon came close to bringing UBI to the United States. As of today, a number of high profile names in the Silicon Valley have expressed their support for UBI. An advocate of entrepreneurship and creativity, Mark Zuckerberg sighted UBI as an worth a look in his statement at his Harvard commencement address: “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.” Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk believes implementation of UBI is inevitable. “There’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” Musk said in an interview in 2016. Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay also donated towards a UBI experiment in Kenya. Coursera founder Andrew Ng expressed on Twitter: “More than ever, we need a basic income to limit everyone’s downside, and better education to give everyone an upside.” The list does not stop here.
UBI has at least gained enough attention to get people, investors, world leaders, and governments to talk about it and more importantly experiment with it. The results are not yet out and will take a considerable amount of time still to be able to present a final verdict on UBI and its effectiveness. However, as robots make humans redundant in recurring waves, is there still enough time to just be experimenting?
Universal Basic Income: In Action
Universal Basic Income presents a case to be considered, now stronger than ever, as automation hits us in recurring waves and machines are slowly beginning to take over much of the work that was done by human beings. If you aren’t caught up with the idea behind UBI and what its implementation could mean for us, you might want to read our previous article on the subject. Now, let’s focus our attention on the practicality of the scheme and let’s have a look at some of the existing cases of UBI in different parts of the world along with their results so far, and have a look at who all are backing the program to become the political norm in the coming decades.
Basic Income Around the World
Pilot programs of UBI have been held in different parts of the world. Besides Finland and Ontario, Canada, which began experimenting with UBI this year itself, countries such as Brazil, the city of Utrecht in The Netherlands and even Oakland in California, the United States have implemented varying UBI schemes on parts of their population. Hawaii passed a legislation this year which aims at forming working groups in order to study the effects of UBI. Elsewhere in the United States, the state of Alaska boasts of a genuine UBI program which has existed since 1976. The Alaskan Permanent Fund or the AFP, which is funded by oil reserves gives dividends to its permanent citizens every year. However, also in 2017, 77% of Swiss voters rejected a UBI proposal from being introduced in the country. Now lets take a look at the cases in Finland and Ontario individually.
In Ontario, Canada trials of UBI have recently begun involving 4,000 citizens between the ages of 18 and 64 who expect to receive a total of a little over 12,000 dollars a year. Couples are entitled to nearly twice of the amount. The plan is to study the effect of such a scheme on the health and well being of the subjects, their earnings and also their productivity. While the experiment is still in its initial stages and it’s too early to make any decisions, a few of the participants have already shown signs of a positive change. In addition to boosting the income of some who fall in the lower end of the earning bracket, the scheme has greatly improved their mental well-being, enabled them to afford healthier food and pay more attention to their health and visit their families more often. Other participants have also expressed that the safety net provided to them by the scheme has enabled them to focus on work they want to do and also on helping others.
Unsurprisingly, automation was a major factor in the decision to introduce the scheme in the province. Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne said of the same,” I see it on a daily basis. I go into a factory and the floor plant manager can tell me where there were 20 people and there is one machine. We need to understand what it might look like if there is, in fact, the labour disruption that some economists are predicting.” Ontario has a population of nearly 14 million people. Positive results overall from the scheme may further result in its adoption throughout the province including all 14 million of its populace.
In January this year, 2,000 people were randomly selected across Finland to be part of a trial of one of the most advanced UBI schemes in the world, undertaken by the Finnish Social Insurance Institute. Under the scheme, the selected citizens receive €560 (£495) from the Finnish government regardless of their employment status and how much they earn. Some of the cases in the country show that UBI provides the participants with more flexibility in their working pattern, encourages entrepreneurial spirit to take up what one would like to do, and also create more time and focus on volunteering and charity work.
Ms. Sini Martinnen, one of the beneficiaries of the program who noted the above changes in her lifestyle spoke of the same. “So there’s value in other things you do – if there’s just not enough work for everyone you have to figure out how to inspire people to be creative and do other kinds of stuff”, she said. Her statement falls in line with the kind of environment being created due to automation. Otherwise, you will have a lot of different social problems that will be very expensive – more expensive than the basic income system”, she added.
What Studies Say
The success of UBI among small populations in Ontario or in a Scandinavian country such as Finland does not necessarily mean they will work in larger countries. UBI may be introduced in a limited form in parts of UK, where we may be able to better assess the case of basic income and its viability over a population that is more diverse and layered with complexity at every step of implementation.
Nevertheless, studies on the matter precede trials in many countries. Considering the point, a recent study by the Roosevelt Institute on universal basic income and its effects suggests that the introduction of UBI in the United States would boost the US Economy by $2.5 trillion. The study, titled “Modeling the Macroeconomic Effects of a Universal Basic Income” suggests that a UBI of $1,000 a month to every American adult will lead to a growth of the economy by 12.56 percent over a period of 12 years, resulting in an increase in the GDP of the country by nearly $2.5 trillion. It reaches the statement after considering three different versions of unconditional cash payments. Another assumption taken up in the study to arrive at the given conclusion was that room for UBI in the budget would be made by increasing the deficit and not by increasing taxes. “When paying for the policy by increasing taxes on households rather than paying for the policy with debt, the policy is not expansionary,” the study says. “In effect, it is giving to households with one hand what it is taking away with the other. There is no net effect.”
In the midst of these studies, theories and trials UBI has attracted support and critics from all corners. In the final article of this series, we’ll take a look at who all are backing the program to become the political norm in the coming decades and what are the pros and cons tossed around in the debate around universal basic income.
Universal Basic Income: The Idea
Mankind has come so far because of the ability to adapt. If you were to randomly pick out any point of time in mankind’s history, you would find certain existing threats or those looming large over certain segments of people or a large collection of them. From hunting animals for food for survival to protecting themselves from wars, plagues and famine; for humankind, each step was daunting till it had been conquered. Many of these threats they would brave, while against many others a good chunk of people died trying, leaving behind the ones who were wiser after what they had overcome. In 2017, we are a long long way ahead, still not without problems of our own. One of the gravest, if not the gravest of these problems that is ready for impact in the not so distant future is automation. Automation, with its projected path for replacing much of the work currently done by humans, has the potential to cause a huge disruption in the way we live our life, the way that nearly everyone alive today is accustomed to living. The great challenge that lies ahead of us in the wake of such retrenchment across the world is how to ensure that people are still able to make/earn a living after so much of what they did is taken up by machines. Education and training among others are often touted as the best possible solutions to help make a person stay relevant, but as automation alters the basic structure on which our work life is built, the decades-old idea of Universal Basic Income or UBI has started to once again gain relevance, provoke debates and be looked at as a serious option to catapult the human race into what could possibly be a new social structure.
What is Basic Income or Universal Basic Income?
In case you haven’t been following the idea, the concept behind UBI is to provide every citizen with a fixed amount of money periodically so that they can cover their basic subsistence needs without having to worry about ever living in a state of poverty. The same amount will be received by every individual (with possibly additional allowances for families and children) regardless of whether they are working or how much they are earning from their work. You would not be crazy to point out that the idea behind UBI sounds far too utopian to be true, which is exactly what most critics of the idea have held against it. In addition to that, once you start trying to figure the idea out, you are bound to face really important questions about the scheme. How will the payments to entire populations be financed? Will it exist alongside or replace existing welfare programs in order for its effective implementation? How will the minimum amount be decided? Under what criteria will families, children and the elderly be accommodated under the program if implemented? These are among other questions that merely touch the tip of the iceberg. Without even getting into further details and problems associated with it, UBI may look like an attempt to reach the moon with only a ladder at your disposal.
However, somewhere along the road to figuring out the most obvious intricacies associated with a hugely ambitious and optimistic idea as universal basic income, it is not hard to see why its successful implementation (if it ever happens on a significantly large scale) would be such a game changer for humanity. Besides being a possible solution amid our motivated search to the threats posed by automation, many supporters of UBI also see it as one of the best ways, if not the best way, to create a more advanced as well as equal society. Imagine a world which provides you with sufficient time and room to be able to do what you want to do, to not be tied to your work to be able to afford/make the life that you not only need but the life that you want for yourself. Now imagine if everyone was a part of such a world, that anyone is able to make more time to spend with their family, or to invest in themselves, or to add value to the said world in a manner in which they feel they are most capable, without having to worry about having a meal on their table two times a day.
Where are we with Universal Basic Income?
Yes, all of this does sound maybe too good to be true, especially if this is the first time you are reading about it, but that does not mean it’s not achievable. As a matter of fact, its viability is the biggest question that remains in the open. So, what does the situation look like right now? You’d be surprised to know that variants of the scheme are being experimented across the world on targeted populations in various countries, more recently in countries such as Canada and Finland. More importantly, many of these have shown encouraging results, dousing some of the arguments against the scheme by its critics.
The term Basic Income, or Universal Basic Income is relatively new, but the idea behind it is decades old, or perhaps even older than a century. However, the reasons due to which it originally came about is not the main reason why it has become ever so relevant today. Humanity’s desire to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources has seen its fair share of ups and downs, some too important to forget, but it’s the dawn of automation that the idea of UBI, dismissed countless times over the years due to the intricacies surrounding it that makes it ‘basic’, has come back into the fold, this time with the support of some of the world’s most influential figures. That makes it impossible to just rule it out
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