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Western Institutions: Should They Be Exported?

Claudiu Sonda

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Democracy, liberalism, free markets: all concepts that we regard highly in the West. They are products of our historical and political tradition and they are surely seen as fundamental instruments in the toolkit for future problems and uncertainties. But sometimes we tend to forget exactly this, that they are instruments, not ends in themselves. And this leads me to question whether other parts of the world agree on their uniqueness.

In this article, I would like to explore whether or not the upper mentioned concepts hold some ground in non-Western regions of the world or they are simply seen as empty buzzwords. Before beginning, I would say that I expect to find out how these ‘other’ societies respect our political and economic systems but most probably would choose their own paths toward the same level of human development achieved here in the liberal-democratic hemisphere.

Liberty Close-Up

Source: Brian [email protected]

First, it is wise to make an essential distinction between values/principles and instruments used to pursue the former. Democracy, liberalism and free market are ways of organizing societies for the purpose to bring about desired outcomes. These outcomes offer to us the satisfaction of certain needs in terms of values and principles: equality, a multitude of freedoms and liberties, toleration, justice and fairness, well-being in general. We do not seek fair and free elections for the sake of electing but because we want to choose those leaders that would support us in getting what we need.The same with constitutionalism, which is in a sense a sum of ideas and patterns of behaviour that have the aim of guaranteeing the rights of the individual which are sometimes under threat from democratically elected power centres.

These paths to ‘a good life’ are our own and are the result of a turbulent, violent, and tyrannical past. There has of course always existed a lot of debate between more conservative and more progressive views on the efficiency and legitimacy of these ways forward in terms of stability and peaceful development. But even the most skeptical ones would agree that following a different radical route for preserving and going forward with our Western achievements would be too risky, having learned some lessons from the deadly ideological experiments of the 20th century.

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Source: Mark [email protected]

With regard to ‘the others’, it would be critical to understand the effects of the imposition of ‘our model’ on non-Western communities. There is a lot of literature on the failures of doing precisely this, therefore I will leave this discussion for another time. What I want to see is if people from other places are curious or not about ‘our way’ of doing things.

One first revealing case is the Russian Revolution of 1917 which ended not in the installment of liberal capitalism and a pluralistic democracy but in Marxist-Leninism and in the ultimate rule of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This state of affairs did indeed come to replace the old Czarist autocracy and truly embodied the hopes and aspirations of the Russian people for a fair, equal and progressive society. Nevertheless, the means to achieve these goals were not embodied by European-style political and economic institutions. Furthermore, this system lasted for almost 70 years and even today there are quite a few ‘nostalgics’ out there both in Russia and in the post-soviet space. This to say that the consensus on the legitimacy of the ‘soviet path’ was close to our consensus on the liberal-democratic path.

Another curious example is Cuba. If during the Cold War it was understandable why the Castro regime prevailed over the US liberalisation agenda, now that the Soviet Union is gone, what could explain the continuation of a socialist and illiberal type of economic, social and political environment? More than this, Fidel Castro has been replaced as top figure , therefore the leader’s charisma can no longer be the answer. The relevancy of the Cuban exiles in American elections still cannot bring about the integration of Cuba into the US sphere of influence. The power of globalization, EU aid and trade and its political conditionality, the spread of Western ideals all over the globe- they do still not produce a Cuban Spring. Why is this? The mainstream response places the blame on the oppressive political regime. But what about the idea that maybe despite the shortcomings of their situation, Cuban citizens would actually prefer to gradually find their own way to a better life? I think it is a thought worthy of consideration.

Since we touched on the concept of Spring, the Arab revolutions of the recent years are also exemplifying cases of the principles vs instruments misunderstanding. What all protests had in common was a deep desire for ethical and moral principles such as justice, freedom, dignity and respect. Western leaders embarked on a liberal-democratic wave of support and mistook the genuine demands of the Arab people for the success of the Western model. Unfortunately, this turned (in an extreme case) into a regime change in Libya whose truly ‘democratic’ future is still far from reality . Also, it lead to the spread of instability in the region due to the free movement of weapons that fueled the Tuareg rebellion and the increasing role of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Northern Mali.

To conclude, I will restate that so far the model of liberal-democracy is the best one for countries in the West. This is because it provides the organizational means to promote those values that we long for. In other situations though, these very same values and principles can be pursued through different actions and institutional frameworks. If our system proves itself to the rest of the world as being efficient and beneficial, then I think nothing can stop other communities from incorporating it. What we must not be tempted to do is to lecture people on how to organize themselves and to patronize their leaders. Nobody likes to have another’s agenda pushed on them. Advice is always better then sterile criticism.

Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.

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Opinion

Should You Support Universal Basic Income? Who else is in favour?

Manak Suri

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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?

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Universal Basic Income: In Action

Manak Suri

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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.

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Culture and Lifestyle

Universal Basic Income: The Idea

Manak Suri

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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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