And how could any politician conceivably sell such an idea in Australia, where the divisive narrative of “lifters and leaners” has been a key plank in justifying recent welfare cuts? Switzerland will shortly vote on whether to introduce a universal basic income, while in the Netherlands, the city of Utrecht is also considering the idea.
This sounds counter-intuitive – giving everyone a basic income to live on without working would surely increase disincentives to work?
But we know that welfare tapers – or the loss of welfare income for each dollar earnt in the labour market – can often be steep enough to ensure that work does not pay, or pays so little extra for a full week of work, that it discourages job seekers.
The language of “lifters and leaners” may help to sell welfare cuts but works less well in the context of the working poor – those in insecure employment faced with low and stagnating wages for whom the recent pre-election budget offered nothing, as Duncan Storrar’s appearance on Q&A and his broader reception made clear.
A system whereby the “strivers” get enough to live on – and also get to keep whatever else they earn – while the “skivers” do not starve but are tangibly worse off – may prove to be attractive to an increasingly disaffected electorate.
As we recently saw with the reception of Duncan Storrar on the ABC’s Q&A program, politicians ignore the economic contribution of poorer households at their peril.
Poorer households do not simply pay tax when they go to the shops or fill their car with fuel but, as shown by the recent NATSEM modelling around raising GST, they pay proportionately more of their disposable income under regressive taxes than the wealthy.
In the same way that most of us want to see business pay more, rather than less tax, it may be that Australian politicians are currently out-of-step with public attitudes.
The recurrent Coalition mantra that growing the economic pie is key, not how the pie is split up, is a case in point.
Generating economic growth to raise revenue to pay for public spending is certainly important.
But so is sharing the spoils of that economic growth, as we see with the growing focus upon widening inequality in Australia and internationally.
Mark Liddiard does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.