The Basic Income Guarantee: Ensuring Progress and Prosperity in the 21st Century.

Author:Pigeon, Marc-Andre
Position:Book Review
 
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by Charles M. A. Clark. Dublin, Ireland: The Liffey Press. 2003. ISBN: 1904148077, $24.95. 150 pages.

Proposals to unconditionally guarantee that no one's income falls below a certain level have been around in one form or another since Thomas Paine first proposed a guaranteed income in 1796 (Widerquist 2001). So far, almost all such proposals have failed to make their way into actual policy, with the notable exception of the Alaska Permanent Fund. (1)

In his book, The Basic Income Guarantee: Ensuring Progress and Prosperity in the 21st Century, Charles M. A. Clark argues that a basic income guarantee (BIG) is the best way to ensure social justice through income redistribution given the demands of the "new economy." Clark argues that "in many ways we are at a turning point in economic history not unlike the one Karl Polanyi wrote about" in The Great Transformation (p. 23). Thus, while welfare-state measures were necessary and appropriate to dampen the excesses of the industrial era, they are too inflexible for the twenty-first century. A BIG, he argues, is much better suited to the needs of post-industrial, new economy societies facing increasing pressure to liberalize trade, adopt full capital mobility, and ensure "flexible" labor markets.

To show how such a BIG might work in the real world, Clark puts forward a proposal for Ireland that in fiscal 2001-02 would have paid a guaranteed annual income of 2,250 euros to persons aged zero to seventeen, 5,693 euros to persons eighteen to sixty-four, 7,083 euros to persons sixty-five to seventy-nine and 7,414 euros to those aged eighty plus. To pay for this package, Clark proposes eliminating most existing welfare programs (including community employment programs and agricultural income supports) and introducing a flat tax rate of 47.14 per cent (to replace the current income tax system) and a "Social Responsibility Tax," the revenue from which would be used to top up the income of those who fall below the poverty line under his proposal. Clark shows that his proposal would still leave Ireland with one of the smallest governments (as measured by the ratio of total taxes to gross domestic product) in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Thus, Clark argues, his BIG proposal is not only affordable-thus addressing one of the major BIG critiques-but also an improvement from an economic, historical, cultural, and social justice perspective over the existing state of affairs in...

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