Thursday, March 01, 2012

Unearned Income

Why we are so enamored with the idea of paid work? This is not about political preferences. The Right bangs on about welfare queens, the left proclaims the virtues of the working classes. Does anybody like idle people?

Strangely enough, as this article by Samuel Brittan shows, Hayek seems to have had no problem with them, or those of us who merely aspire to be completely idle some day.
Hayek went out of his way to praise the existence of the person of independent means, who was responsible for much of the innovation of the last few centuries -- whether in high culture, in the launch of good causes such as the anti-slavery campaign or the more mundane development of the art of living including a great variety of hobbies and sports which were afterwards taken up by the mass of the population.
At a time when you cannot open a business magazine without being forced to contemplate over-achieving businessmen who have no life outside of work, and when people actually seek out tips for sleeping less, as if sleep were some great conspiracy by Nature to prevent them from realizing their full potential, this is refreshing stuff.
Indeed Hayek went so far as to say that if there were no other way it would be better to grant an independent income to one householder in a hundred chosen by lots than not to have it at all. In the 40 years and more since his Constitution of Liberty was published, productivity in the developed world has made great strides. Are we not now approaching a position where some non-wage income could be available not to one in a hundred but to all citizens?
As with so many other ideas, I first encountered the Citizen's Basic Income (CBI) in Chris Dillow's blog. Now that Europe is in crisis, it will be argued that a CBI is impossible there, but I don't think that is the case at all. The real obstacle is always going to be the ideology of work.

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