Rutger Bregman on universal basic income | #ANTIDOTE | Sydney Opera House
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Rutger Bregman on universal basic income | #ANTIDOTE | Sydney Opera House

[ Applause ]>>Hello, and welcome. I’m Emma Alberici the host
of Lateline on the ABC, and I’m here with Rutger Bregman who has a fairly
radical proposition. [Laughs] So imagine
everyone gets an income and you don’t have
to work for it. Awesome. [Laughs] And on
top of that, if you do work, you only have to
work 15 hours a week. And all the borders are open. So you go wherever you like and
no one questions you about it. That’s apparently
Utopia for Realists. I’m not sure that it’s
Utopia for politicians. [ Laughter ] So Utopia for Realists
examines a different approach to economics and to life and
it challenges us all to think in a way that modern politics
wouldn’t dare allow us to, certainly not with Donald Trump
in the White House wanting to build walls, and Brexit and
Guilders in the Netherlands and Marine Lapen in France
and Colin Hanson indeed here. Rutger Bregman is a Dutch
historian who started writing about this idea of a basic wage
back in 2013 long before many of the concepts he espouses
could ever be called mainstream. The book is an international
bestseller. We’re lucky to have him here. Welcome. Join me in thanking
him for being with us. [ Applause ] We’re just going to be in
conversation for this hour. So I’ll open it up and then
I’ll start the questions and then we’ve got two
microphones at either side here and I’ll invite you
to participate in the conversation shortly. So I guess we’ll start by
just the simple question of what is a universal
basic income? Give us the concept.>>It’s a very simple idea. So everyone would receive a
monthly grant that is enough to pay for your basic needs,
food, shelter, clothing. So that’s it. Basic income is really a floor
in the income distribution. So it’s not the same
as communism. It’s not that everyone will
receive the same amount of money. It’s sort of you could
see it as venture capital for the people, right? For the first time, everyone
will have the freedom to decide for themselves what to
make of their lives. And say for example everyone
could say no to a job that they don’t want to do. It’s a very simple idea with
quite radical implications.>>But it is the same
amount for everyone?>>Yeah. Yeah, it’s
the basic income that everyone would receive it. Whether you’re employed or
unemployed, whether you’re poor or rich, man or woman,
it doesn’t matter. Everyone gets it.>>And how is it calculated? And how on earth do
countries afford such a thing?>>A big part of my book is about how would this
work in practice? That is the realist
part of the title. When I started researching
this subject in 2013, it was — well, in the first place
it was completely forgotten and what I could find about
it was quite abstract. So a lot of people thinking
about what is human nature like, what will you do
with a basic income? What would I do? Will we all be lazy? Et cetera. And I was really interested
in the practical question, you know, has it
ever been tried? And it turns out there
have been huge experiments, forgotten experiments in the
’70’s in Canada and the US, and since then in
other places as well where they actually tried it. And it turns out that
it works very well. I even discovered,
which is probably one of the craziest stories in the
book, is that Richard Nixon of all people almost
implemented a basic income at the beginning of the ’70’s.>>In fact, it was very popular. I recall something like 90% of
the population were in favour. Republicans were on
board generally en masse.>>Yeah. At the end of the
’60’s, almost everyone in the US and in Canada believed
that some form of basic income was
going to be implemented. So for example, John Kenneth
Galbraith the left-wing economist, he thought
it was a great idea. But also Milton Friedman, you
know, the neo-liberal economist. They actually agreed on the need
for a guaranteed annual income. Martin Luther King, he
was in favour of it. So it’s not that Richard Nixon
was suddenly a great philosopher or utopian thinker. He was just saying,
“Oh, everyone wants it. Let’s do it then.”>>And it’s interesting because
back then also it united the unions, the corporate
sector, churches. And I was just getting
in my notes here, because there’s a
quote from Nixon where he says it was the
most significant piece of social legislation
in our nation’s history. So why didn’t it go ahead?>>It’s a pretty bizarre story
full of crazy coincidences.>>US politics? [ Laughter ]>>What happened in the
first place is that, well, everyone was in favour
of basic income. Richard Nixon had a proposal for
a modest basic income and it got through the House of
Representatives twice. But then it hit the Senate floor
and Democrats started to think, “Well, if this is going
to be implemented anyway, we want a higher basic income. So let’s just vote
against it now and then it will probably get
higher in the second round.” Didn’t really work out that way. So it was basically killed
by the left in the Senate. The idea finally died in 1978
with an experiment in Seattle, one of the big basic
income experiences with a lot of positive results. So crime went down. Kids performed much
better in school. You know, healthcare
costs went down. Basically it turned out that
basic income was an investment that pays for itself
in the long run. But there was one big problem. The researchers found out that
the divorce rate went up by 50%. [ Laughter ] So you can imagine at that point
all the conservatives saying, “We can’t have basic income. This will make women
much too independent. You know, we really
don’t want basic income.”>>Was there a connexion drawn between the basic income
and the divorce rate? Was there an obvious
kind of thread there?>>Well, that’s what
they thought, yeah, that it was really
caused by a basic income. That suddenly a woman can
say, “I want to leave him. Now I’ve got the
freedom to do so.” The thing is that
years later they found out that it was a
statistical mistake. [ Laughter ] So in reality the divorce
rate did not go up at all. But back then we were already in
the era of Reagan and et cetera and the idea was forgotten.>>How is a basic income
any different to welfare?>>I think in a few
important ways. The most important way in
which it’s different is that a basic income is
absolutely unconditional. What we’ve seen in the past 30
years is that the welfare state from Holland to Australia
has become more and more conditional, actually
quite humiliating for the people who have to rely on it. Time and time again,
the assumption is that government bureaucrats know
better what the poor should do with their lives than
the poor themselves. The idea behind basic income
is that poverty is not a lack of character but
just a lack of cash. And you can cure a lack of cash
pretty easily with cash, right? [ Laughter ]>>How novel.>>Yeah. Once you’ve
seen the light, it’s very simple actually. [ Laughter ] But it actually works. I think that’s the
most important thing. My book is I believe a
very evidence-based book. And I believe that’s
also the way forward, is to do more of
those experiments. And that’s actually
what’s happening around the world right now. I mean, Finland is just
doing a big experiment. Canada has just announced one. A lot of people in Silicon
Valley are enthusiastic about this idea. So yeah, it’s really
spreading around the globe.>>But isn’t there also
evidence that when people come into money, they
often squander it? That when they haven’t
had to work for it, they make poor decisions?>>Well, if you watch a
lot of reality television, I can imagine that
you’d believe that. [ Laughter ] One of the stories in my book is
about a pretty crazy experience that happened in London in 2009. And this was a social
organisation that worked with chronically homeless men. And there were about 13 of them and they had tried pretty
much everything at that point and nothing really worked. So it was simply time
for something new. And one of the people who
worked there said, “You know, why not try something
really new? Let’s just give them money. 3,000 pounds, and let’s
see what happens.” Now even at that organisation, obviously most people
were quite sceptical, but they were wasting
money anyway, so let’s see what happens. Now a year after the experience,
7 out of 13 of the men — and some of them had been living
on the streets for 40 years — but 7 of the 13 of them had
a roof above their head. Two more had applied for housing and all had made
significant decisions to invest in their lives. So what did they
use the money for? One of them bought a dictionary. Another bought [inaudible]. One of them took
gardening classes. It was pretty incredible to see that the money really
empowered the men and for the first time they
felt like society trusted them to make their own decisions. Now the twist comes at the end
because that’s when you look at the financial
side of the story. You could say, “Well, we’ve got
to do this because we’ve got to pity the poor or
pity the homeless. It’s the moral thing to do.” But it actually also
makes financial sense. The project in total
cost 50,000 pounds. That’s about seven times less than what they would normally
spend on these homeless men. So even The Economist, you
know, nota very utopian, left-wing magazine, right? Even they wrote, “The
best way to spend money on the homeless might be
just to give it to them.” And to be honest, I think that
is almost always the case. That if we want to
help the poor, just solve the problem,
you know. Don’t try to manage the
symptoms, but solve the problem. And the problem is
the lack of cash. That’s it.>>There’s a talk in your TED
Talk about the other approaches of people thinking
they know what’s best and buying certain
things for them and giving poor kids teddy
bears in countries and so on.>>Yeah.>>Things they don’t need.>>When I gave the TED Talk,
I had one line in my talk. I said, you know, we should
get rid of the vast industry of bureaucratic paternalists and
simply hand over their salaries to the poor they’re
supposed to help. And the TED audience was really
like clapping and laughing and I was a big confused because
I’m talking about you guys. [ Laughter ]>>So you mentioned this
right at the outset, that one of the instincts
people have is, “Doesn’t this create kind
of a bunch of lazy sloths who don’t work anymore and
just collect the money?” That’s kind of instinctively
what you think would end up happening.>>Yeah, yeah.>>A bunch of people
would say, “Well, what am I going to
go to work for. I’m getting paid anyway.”>>Exactly, exactly. I think we have a very
mistaken image of human nature. I mean, if you watch a lot of
the news as most of us do — I believe it’s one of the biggest addictions
in our society.>>Thank God.>>Well, good for you. [ Laughter ] It’s a big problem
for me, actually. I mean, the news is always
about exceptions, right? It’s about things that go wrong, about corrupting,
crises, terrorism. So if you watch a
lot of the news, at the end of the day you
know exactly how the world doesn’t work. Because you’ve only heard
about these weird exceptions. And you’ll have a quite
negative image of human nature. You’ll think that most people,
again, the yare probably going to be lazy or want to be
free riders, et cetera. So I think the only way to
combat that misperception is by telling stories about
what actually happens when you give people
something like free money. And the book is full of
those kind of stories.>>A lot of people on the
surface would look at this and say this is a bunch of
socialist tripe because apart from anything else, it would
seem to run entirely counter to capitalism and the notion
of kind of small government.>>I think it’s completely
the other way around. I believe the basic income would
be the crowning achievement of capitalism. It would give everyone the
freedom to start a new company, move to a different job,
move to a different city. It will make capitalism
much more dynamic. I mean, if you think about
it, just the incredible amount of talent we are wasting
right now in two ways. So still, around
the developed world, millions of people are
withering away in poverty. That’s just a very bad
use of resources to say it like an economist would. And I think one of the
biggest taboos here is that about a third of
the workforce according to recent polls is
now stuck in a job that they think is
completely meaningless, right? So there was a poll in
the UK two years ago, found out that 37% of
British workers have a job that they think is just useless,
doesn’t add anything of value. Now we’re not talking
about teachers or garbage collectors
or nurses here. We’re talking about
consultants and bankers and lawyers, et cetera. So people who are
very successful in the knowledge economy,
who have great resumes, great salaries, who still
at the end of the day — well, maybe you need to
give them one day or two, but they’ll admit it’s not
very useful what they’re doing. In fact, in the book you talk — I think you’ve called
them bullshit jobs. [ Laughter ] Am I quoting you correctly?>>Well, it’s a very
scientific concept. [ Laughter ] It was originally
coined by David Graber, an American anthropologist
who wrote a fascinating essay on the phenomenon
of bullshit jobs. And it’s just astounding. You know, when I started
researching it, I first thought, you know, “How big can this be?” Right? I mean, we’ve
got capitalism, we’ve got the invisible hand
that is supposed to get rid of all bullshit, of all jobs
that are not very necessary. I started researching it more
and more and when I wrote about it people started
sending me emails and tweets and you know, connecting
on Facebook and saying, “Yes, yes, yes.”>>I have one of those jobs.>>Yes, obviously
this is about me. Actually, I’ve done a few
events, one event just after the election
of Donald Trump. It was probably also because
people were really rethinking our lives, you know, that week. [ Laughter ] And I was doing an event, and
the chair asked the audience, “Who has a bullshit job?” And I think about a third of
all hands went up in the air.>>So define a bullshit job.>>I don’t know,
that’s not for me. That’s the brilliant
thing about –>>Yeah, but what makes
it a bullshit job?>>People can define it
for themselves, right? So if people say about their own
job that it doesn’t add anything of value, that they’re
basically just sending emails to other people all day or
writing reports no one reads, or inventing financial products
that only destroy value. [ Laughter ]>>It sounds like politics.>>Trying to get people to
click on ads all the time. I mean, that’s basically
what a big part of the economy is right now. There’s some interesting
research from when we look at what graduates of the
Ivy League universities in the US do. You know, just 30 or 40 years
ago they all went to work for NGO’s, the universities,
government, et cetera. Nowadays they go either to
Wall Street or Silicon Valley. What do they do in Wall Street? They start rent seeking. They start actually
destroying value. If you don’t believe me,
read the recent reports from the International
Monetary Fund. I mean, they’re basically
saying the same thing. And Silicon Valley, well there’s
a great quote from someone who worked at Facebook
for a few years. And he said that the best minds
of my generation are thinking about how to make
people click ads. And that’s pretty sad, isn’t it?>>There was also, you
write about the strikes and different classes of
workers going out on strike. Talk us through that.>>Well, I was just thinking, there is one other
way you can find if you have a bullshit
job, yes or no. I mean, just stop doing it,
right, and see what happens. [ Laughter ]>>Another scientific
experiment.>>Yeah, exactly. I’m just going to look
throughout history at what happened when different
professions went on strike. So at first I thought, you know,
I want to look at a profession that is really, really
important, that if they go on strike, it’s a disaster. I thought the doctors are
probably a good example. So I looked it up, and actually
when doctors go on strike, life expectancy goes up. [ Laughter ] So that was probably
not a very good example. But I thought, well,
probably garbage collectors. They are probably
a good example. And throughout history,
you know, whenever they go on strike, it is a disaster. So in the book I tell
the story of a strike of garbage collectors
in New York in 1968. It lasted for just six days and the emergency state
had to be declared. And it turns out, you know,
a big city like New York, they really cannot do
without garbage collectors. And then I wondered, you know, has it ever happened
throughout all of world history that the bankers went on strike? I was really curious about that. So I started researching
it and researching it and I started actually, I don’t
know, 3000 BC with the rise of finance, et cetera. And I found only one example
in all of world history, and this was in Ireland, 1970. The bankers were angry that
their wages were not keeping up with inflation, so they said,
“You know what, you’ll have it. We’ll just stop working and then
you’ll see just how important we are.” And at that point, all the
experts, all the economists, they all predicted this
would be a heart attack for the economy, right? We really cannot do
without these bankers. The strike started and
nothing much happened actually. [ Laughter ] The garbage collector
strike was six days and this strike was
six months actually. And then the bankers came
back and said, “All right, all right, all right.” [ Laughter ] “We’ll go back to
work this year.”>>Who would have thought that
bankers have bullshit jobs?>>Who’d have thought, yeah? [ Laughter ] And I think what actually in reality happened was
even more interesting, is that what the Irish did is
they immediately invented their own financial system. So they started writing
IOU’s to each other you know, on the backs of cigar boxes or
on toilet paper or whatever.>>This is the Irish.>>Yeah, yeah. And what’s also important
here were the pubs. So there were 15,000 pubs
at that time in Ireland. And the owners of the
pubs basically became the new bankers. [ Laughter ]>>That’s so harsh. [ Laughter ]>>There’s one economist who
later wrote that you know, if you sell liquids
to your clients, then you probably
also know something about their liquidity, right? [ Laughter ] So that is what happened. They invented a new
financial system. The economy just kept growing. Businesses just kept operating. It wasn’t a huge deal. And actually, when
one journalist wrote about this event, 20-30
years later, she said, “Well, people don’t remember much about
it, probably because you know, it didn’t change much.” And that’s probably why so
many people have forgotten about this, the one and
only strike of bankers in all of world history. And I think it also
shows that sure, I mean, we need a financial sector
or we need a money system. The Irish immediately
invented a new one. But we can do without
a lot of the bullshit that is in the current one. You know, all the
speculation and stuff.>>So if it makes as much
imminent sense as you say and so well articulate the idea
of the basic universal income, why hasn’t it been
more widely adopted?>>I don’t know. As a historian, I don’t
believe in big historical laws or reasons or whatever. But if you really delve into
the history of basic income in the ’70’s, that
you’ll just be astonished by the coincidences and that
it could easily have gone the other way. What I think is fascinating is
that if you look at these kind of utopian ideas, crazy
ideas you could say, is that they always start
on the fringes of society. They always start with
people who are dismissed as unreasonable and
unrealistic, et cetera. And then they start to
move towards the centre. So if you look at the basic
income debate, you know, it started in the ’60’s
and then at the end of the ’60’s everyone thought
it was going to be happening at the beginning of the ’70’s. Or Nixon said, “Sure,
let’s implement it.” And I think we can sort of see history repeating
itself right now. I mean, just a few years ago,
in 2013 when I first wrote about basic income — well, you
should know that the Dutch word for basic income is [Dutch word]
which sort of means base salary. And we only used it in
one context back then, as the base salary
of the bankers. So when I wrote about basic
income, people thought, “You want to have base
salaries for bankers? What are you talking about?” And now, I mean just a few
years later you see all these experiments popping up and actually sometimes even
politicians are debating it. But I think it also shows you that it never begins
with politicians. It only ends there. Just like it almost
ended with Nixon, but it will never start there.>>Is it now gaining currency
and a certain inevitability because of the rapid pace
of automation and the talk of artificial intelligence, meaning robots are going
to take all our jobs? You know, some of the
predictions of 50-60% of all jobs done now won’t exist
in sort of 20 or 30 years — is that just going to
necessitate this conversation where we have to find a way
to survive one way or another?>>Well, again, as a historian,
if you look at that debate, that the robots are going
to take all our jobs, you sort of have the feeling
like, “I heard this before.” And then you go back to
the archives for the ’60’s for example, or also in the 1920’s people
were saying that as well. This is a very old story. So if you are a journalist right
now working for, I don’t know, Wired or something like
that, or a tech magazine, I really recommend go to
the archives, copy, paste, publish again and
you’re done for the day. So I think what we
underestimated is that capitalism has a quite
extraordinary ability to come up with new bullshit
jobs, right? This can go on for
a very long time. And that’s really something that people didn’t
predict in the ’60’s. They thought, “You know,
if the robots are going to take all those jobs,
which they did, you know, then we’ll just start
living the good life and boredom will be the great
challenge of the future.” But they never thought that
capitalism would be so adaptive. And I mean now it’s 30% or 40%,
could be 60% in the future. Could be 100%. I mean, it’s theoretically
possible that we’ll live in a society where
everyone is just pretending to work while we’re all in
reality browsing Facebook. I mean, many workplaces are
already like that, right?>>Exactly what I was thinking. Yeah. Look, one of the
other issues you raise in the book is the
concept of open borders, which we’ve actually talked
about on this stage before. It’s a radical concept
and for most people, especially the Parliament,
they think chaos. You only have to look to Germany
they would say and what happened with a million people
flooding in.>>Well, it’s not chaos there. I live quite close to Germany and they’re doing
quite well actually.>>It’s certainly the story the
politicians want to tell us.>>Yeah, yeah. You know, the idea
of open borders around the globe is
definitely the most radical idea in my book. But it might also be
the most important one. Because I believe that
Utopian thinking always starts with thinking about
what is wrong with our current society
or the current world. It always starts with the
injustices in the hear and now. So a basic income is the
answer to millions of people in meaningless jobs,
millions of people in poverty, the idea of a 15-hour work-week
is the answer to you know, so many people that are
completely stressed out and have no time
to devote to things that they really care about. And open borders is the answer to probably the biggest
injustice in all of the world, is just the incredible
inequality that still exists. And meanwhile, we’ve got
a mountain of evidence. And I go over all that
evidence in the chapter about open borders that shows
that so many of the things that we have against immigration
are simply factually incorrect. So they’re not lazy. They don’t take our jobs. They actually create more jobs. It’s not true that they’re
all violent criminals, et cetera, et cetera. If you look at the actual
data, it’s simply not true. So I felt I had to talk about that most utopian
of ideas as well.>>What happens to the
countries left behind? So the countries that are
not wealthy or prosperous and in conflict and so on? If everyone flees, what happens? They just become failed states.>>I think the evidence shows
that home countries benefit from immigration as well. So if we look at something
like the amount of money that immigrants send back
to their own country, it’s triple the amount of
official development aid. So that’s pretty huge. And if we have actually
breathing borders, so people are able to get
into a different country but also get back, then you
know, almost everyone wants to get back to their home
country at some point. There’s some fascinating
evidence about the border between Mexico and the US here. So in the 1970’s and in the
1980’s, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans moved to the US, and it was very easy
to get to the US. And about 80% of them
moved back again, because it was easy
to get back as well. Now, still hundreds of thousands
of Mexicans go to the US, but they don’t go back anymore. So that’s what you do
when you build walls. People still come, but
they don’t go back anymore. So they’re very, very
counterproductive. So the same thing is
happening in Europe right now. The higher the walls, the more
illegal immigrants you’re going to get.>>Is there likely to be
any political appetite for open borders anytime soon?>>I don’t know. I mean, I think that the real
politicians are not in places like Cambara or Washington
or Westminster or something like that. I think that real politics
with a capital P is about changing the zeitgeist,
right, talking about new ideas, what we’re trying to do here. And if more and more
people recognise that the status quo is
simply infeasible, you know, that we need new ideas, which is
I believe happening right now — I mean, after 2016
with Trump and Brexit, I mean it’s obviously
clear to so many people that we can’t go on like this. So yeah, I always say that I’m
not an optimist or a pessimist. I’m a possiblist. You know, I believe that
things can be different. But if we want it to
be different, you know, we’ve got to get up and
do something, right?>>With the issue
of open borders, just in a very pragmatic
sort of logistic sense, if everyone floods into a
country at the same time, how does the state cope? Where do they sleep? How are they fed if they
haven’t got any money? What do they do?>>Now don’t get me wrong, the idea of open borders is a
utopian vision for the future. I think that the road to
utopia is always about a lot of small steps that you
can take in the direction. Like taking a little
bit more immigrants and a little bit
more, et cetera. Experimenting along the way
and seeing what you can manage. I think that is what we
should be striving for, and maybe in the future,
you know, in the year 2200 or 2300 we’ll look back on our
time and wonder about you know, what a crazy, unjust system it
was, that people were not free to move wherever they wanted.>>Underlying a lot of what you
talk about as being utopia is about trying to address
inequality. And I’m wondering
what you thought of the Occupy movement
coming as it did after the global
financial crisis. It seemed sort of
very well-timed to capture the international
anger about inequality and the mood would have seemed
to have been right for change. Did you think the
Occupy movement was a bit of a lost opportunity?>>I think so, yes. What I’ve always been really
fascinated by is the huge role that crises play
in world history. So if we look for example at
the rise of neo-liberalism, it’s quite interesting that
it all started at the end of the 1940’s with Milton
Friedman the economist, Fredrick von Haag the
philosopher coming together with a few other guys. And they were very
lonely back then. They said, “You know, everyone
is a socialist right now. Everyone is a Keynesian
right now. But what we are going to
do is we are going to try to build a movement,
develop ideas, you know, start new institutions,
think tanks, et cetera. And there will be a time at
some point in the future, and it might take years and
years, but there will be a time when the current economic
system or the current body of it just breaks down.” And they were right. I mean, in the ’70’s with
stagflation and the oil crisis and the inflation, et
cetera, it was suddenly clear that it was time for
something new according to many people at least. And they really grabbed
that opportunity and they injected those new
ideas, neo-liberal ideas that they had been inventing
and developing for so long into the public debate. So it wasn’t Reagan or Thatcher that started this
revolution, you know? They inherited these
ideas from other people. The problem with 2008
with the financial crash and the Occupy movement was
that there were no new ideas. I mean, I think that is
still the problem so often with the left these days, is that it only knows
what it’s against, right? Against austerity,
against the establishment, against homophobia, against
racism, against everything. I mean, that was even a title
of a book recently published by a New York intellectual,
Against Everything. First chapter, Against Exercise. [ Laughter ] I’m against it all as well. But you also have to be
for something, right? We need some vision
of where we want to go because that is what
progress is always like. It is always, as Oscar
Wilde once wrote, “The realisation of utopias.” So we need some vision
of utopia.>>So you mentioned in the
book that back in the ’70’s, this was trialled in
Canada, the basic income.>>Yeah. Yeah.>>Talk us through that
and why it was abandoned.>>This experiment
started in 1974 and it was in Dothan, a small town there. What they did is, well, they basically eradicated
poverty there. So everyone that fell below
the poverty line, his income or her income was
immediately topped up. It was called the
town with no poverty.>>How many people in the town?>>A few thousand. So the amount of families that received support
was 1,000 families. Now what happened is that for
four years there were a lot of economists and
sociologists and anthropologists who all descended on the
town and did their research, did interviews, collected
data, et cetera. Now, after those four years, they wanted to start
analysing the results. But you know, it was 1978 and a new conservative
government had come to power. And they thought, “You know, this is a really
weird experiment. What are you doing? I mean, you’re just giving free
money to people and now you want to analyse the results? Well, we already know
what the results are. It was a disaster,
I mean, obviously.” So there was no money left
to analyse the results. What they did is they put all
the interviews, all the data, they put it all in the
archives, 2,000 boxes and everyone forgot about it. It was only 25 years later that a Canadian professor Evelyn
Forgier found the records, did the analysis and discovered
that it had been a huge success. Healthcare costs went down. Hospital admissions went down by
8.5% which is huge if you think about just how much we’re
spending on healthcare in developed countries
these days. Again, crime went down,
performance better in school, domestic violence went down. And mental health
complaints were down. And you know, what people
worry most about or often is that you know, was
everyone lazy? No. Like total work hours
declined by about 1% and almost every time
this was compensated by people doing more volunteer
work or going to school longer or that kind of thing. So this is one of the
most thorough basic income experiments that was ever done, but we had forgotten
about it for so long.>>Why was it abandoned
if presumably, anecdotally at least,
they knew it was working, they would have felt
that it was working?>>I think it was
really the zeitgeist that was shifting back then. So I mean, it was in the ’70’s that obviously neo-liberalism
took off, right? And a conservative government
came into power in 1978 which was already incredibly
influenced by these ideas. I mean, it was only a few
years later that Reagan and Thatcher took the stage. So yeah, I think the
basic income sort of missed its opportunity
to become real.>>If you want to start
making your way to the — it’s very hard for
us to see over here, but if you’ve got a
question for Rutger, just hop over to number
one or number two over here and I’ll draw you
into the conversation. Go ahead.>>Hi.>>You’re quick.>>Hi, I’m Dani. I’m actually part of the
Basic Income Network.>>Cool.>>We’re a global
group that are trying to promote basic
income around the world. And part of the challenge
that I’m having in Australia at the moment is that the
conversation isn’t being taken seriously. I think you saw the
idea very much, that a lot of people
were nodding their heads. So I think that’s
a really good sign. But what’s your advice
for getting corporations, getting politicians to actually
start listening and to listen to people like me and not think
I’m just some leftist young person who doesn’t know
what she’s talking about?>>What I’ve discovered
in the past few years is that it’s really effective
to use right-wing language to defend progressive ideas. [ Laughter ] So what I’m saying all the
time to these business leaders or politicians, I’m saying, “Well maybe you don’t
have a heart, but at least you have
a wallet, right?”>>Yeah.>>So it simply makes
financial sense. I think it’s no coincidence
that so many people in Silicon Valley
are now interested. If we sort of point out that
basic income is an investment that in the long
run pays for itself, and in that sense it’s
literally free money, that is probably much
more convincing to people on the other side of
the political spectrum than if you just
keep on saying, “Oh, the current system is so unfair. And we need to pity these
poor people, et cetera, and it’s immoral to let
them live in poverty.” Which I think is true. But it will only appeal to a
certain part of the population and we need to get
bigger than that.>>And when you’re talking
about the financial benefits and it paying itself
back, you’re talking about the lower health costs and all the other
things that accrue?>>Exactly. There was one study in
the 1990’s, actually sort of a natural experiment. What happened is that a casino
opened in North Carolina and it was operated by the
eastern band of Cherokee Indians and they were allowed to just
distribute the earnings among their members. So suddenly thousands of people,
many of them left in poverty, received $8,000-9,000. And there’s an economist from
UCLA, his name is Randal Aiki who later calculated
that the savings again in lower health care costs, kids
performing better in school, lower crime rates, these
savings were bigger than the cash grants themselves. Now just think about that. That is really radical
and really fascinating. It has huge implications for
what we should do about poverty and about this whole debate. Because normally the
debate goes like this. The left says, “We’ve got
to help these poor people.” And then the right says, “Yeah,
maybe, but it’s too expensive.” End of debate, right? But you can really flip
it around if it’s like, “We’ve got to do this
because it makes sense. I mean, this is an investment. It’s just a good
business decision.”>>Does it end up harmonising
what everybody says? So it in itself is
more equalising?>>That’s a really
great question. And it’s also one of the
most overlooked effects of a basic income. So just imagine, if you are a
garbage collector, a teacher or a nurse and you suddenly
receive a basic income, well it is also a
universal strike fund, right? You can go on strike
all the time. So you’ll have a lot
more bargaining power and your wage will
probably have to go up. Now if you are a banker
or consultant or a lawyer or whatever, and
you go on strike, well nothing much happens. So you don’t have
extra bargaining power and your wage will probably
go down a little bit. So if we implement
the basic income, in the long run wages will start
reflecting the social value of different jobs much more. And we could move
towards a society where cleaners earn
more than bankers. And I’d like to live in
that society actually. [ Laughter ] [ Applause ]>>Hi. I’d like to know where
will the money come from? Will it be like a tax
of the multinationals? And also, who are your
staunchest critics and how do you navigate them?>>Okay, so this is obviously
a very important part of the whole basic
income debate. Like how are we going
to finance it? And I believe that the devil
is really in the details. So there are many,
many ways to do it. There are some forms of
basic income out there that I believe would
be a disaster. There are some neo-libertarians
on the right who say, “Let’s just get rid of
the whole welfare state. You know, let’s get rid
of universal healthcare, let’s get rid of
public education and just give people one cash
grant transfer and that’s it.” That’s not what I’m arguing for. I think that basic income should
be the crowning achievement of capitalism, but also
of social democracy. It should really be
implemented as a supplement to universal healthcare
and public education, which are incredibly
important achievements of the 20th century. Now I’d like to finance
the basic income in a way with taxes, so not just print
out money, but with taxes from the welfare
state right now. I’d like to fund it in a way
that it will reduce inequality. And well, there are probably
different sources you’d need, but the most obvious thing
to start with is wealth. Just if you look at the
incredible inequality that is growing around
the world, you know, in the western world as well,
I mean everyone has heard of Thomas Beckett, right? We didn’t actually read his
book, but we know his argument. That’s probably the most
logical lace to start. But there are many
versions out there. So we should be wary of — well, it sometimes happens
that people say, “Oh, everyone is in favour
of basic income,” but we’re actually talking
about different things. So that’s something
to look out for.>>And the second part
of your question was, who are your staunchest critics
and how do you navigate them?>>I think that like the biggest
criticism that comes up time and time again is that
people basically say, “Well, this all sounds very
nice and well, but you’ve just got
a misguided view of what humanity
is really like.” That is something that people
go back to all the time. Like in the end, humans are
just corrupt and we want to be free riders and you know, deep down we’re just
monsters or animals. And civilisation is
this very thin layer and you’re just being very
naïve about all this. What I think is that that vision of human nature is very
unrealistic and very naïve. That is something that the
evidence actually shows us. But deep down or fundamentally, the debate around basic
income is a debate around what we are really like. Are we nice and creative? Do we want to contribute
to the common good? You know, are we
essentially social beings, or are we all freeloaders, free
riders that just are selfish and want to get as
much for ourselves. That is the big debate that
is behind basic income.>>Thank you. Yes?>>Hi, Rutger. Thank you for putting forth
your thoughts this afternoon. I’m a fan of the universal
basic income as an initiative. I’ve come across
it and read a bit on it the last couple of years. I think it’s important for
it to be understood not as a new concept but
rather as something that has been around
for a while. Maybe it’s just gotten lost
a bit in the last generation. I guess my thoughts on it is
that there seems to be a lot of distrust from both sides
of politics as to how it’s to be administered on
a government level. So I suppose my question
is this: how best can it be administered
on a government level? Yeah, that’s basically
my question.>>What will probably
not happen is that a basic income will be
implemented in one stroke. We will probably get
there gradually, you know, one small step after another. And there are many
roads to utopia. So one of the roads is
the roads of experiments. You know, just doing
more of those experiments and seeing what works
along the way. I mean, that’s happening
in Finland, in Canada and in other places. The other thing you could do is to make our current welfare
system more basic income-ish, you know, to move it
in that direction, make it a bit more
unconditional, make it a big more universal. Make it a bit more individual.>>But the political
problem with that — pardon the interruption — the political problem
with that always is that society generally
doesn’t want to give wealthy people
more money.>>It just really depends
on how you frame it. So with a basic income,
if you would finance it with the welfare for example or
with progressive taxation, sure, the rich will receive a
basic income, but they’ll pay for five basic incomes or ten
basic incomes or whatever. If we compare different
countries now internationally, it’s actually the countries
with the most universal systems where for example
also the middle class or even the rich benefit from
free childcare or whatever, free public education,
it is those countries that are best at
reducing poverty. And the reason is very simple: if everyone benefits it’s
just very difficult to get rid of a certain policy or system. The problem in the
UK and the US is that they are very
targeted systems of welfare. Then if a politician comes
along and is looking for money, you know, it’s very easy to
get rid of those policies or that kind of very small,
targeted welfare state. And these people are not really
able to defend themselves. They’ll lose a lot of
votes when they do that. Now if you have a very
universal welfare state like in northern Europe
or in Australia as well, especially when you look
at universal healthcare, it’s nearly impossible
to get rid of. You know, in many countries, as
a politician, if you really want to touch universal healthcare, I mean you’re finished
as a politician. Now, we’ve got one state that has implemented
a small basic income. That’s Alaska. They finance it with oil money
and it’s about $2,000 each year. Now if as a politician in Alaska
you want to touch that money, which some politicians
have tried, it’s the end of your career.>>And that operates
throughout Alaska?>>Yeah. Yeah, so I believe
if you’ve lived there for a few years, you’ll get it.>>And does it cancel out
other welfare payments?>>No, no.>>It’s in addition to other
specific welfare measures?>>Yeah. And the framing is
also again very different. So a basic income is a right. It’s not a favour. It’s just something you deserve
simply because you exist. Now the language we use around our current welfare
system is really one of conditionality. Like only the deserving poor
can get it and you really have to prove time and time again
that you’re sick enough, that you are depressed enough, that you are really
a hopeless case that will never get anything
done in your whole life. And once you’ve proved that, then you’ll get a very
small amount of money. Now just imagine what
that does to people. If you’ve got to fill
in thousands of forms and interviews, et cetera, where all the time you’re
basically talking yourself down, well is it really surprising that then people
become depressed and find it very hard
to get a job, right? [ Applause ]>>Hi, Rutger. My name’s Mark and
as a bureaucrat in a bullshit job I take a lot
of offence at what you said. [ Laughter ] But as you know, the modern
welfare state has indexation regimes that keep the
rate of payment in line with things like inflation.>>Yeah.>>So what kind of indexation
regime are you envisioning for a universal basic income? And if you give people that base
level of income, won’t the price of products just rise in
accordance with that level?>>That’s a good question. So it really depends again
on how you finance it. If you just fund the basic
income with printing a lot of extra money, then
you’re obviously going to get inflation
in the long run. Now there are some economists
right now who say we should do that because there’s not a
lot of demands in the economy. And Milton Friedman called
this helicopter money, like just throwing money
out of helicopters. Other people call it
quantitative easing for the people. Like we’re now doing it only
for the banks, but for everyone. But obviously, in the long run,
that’s not a solution, right? Because you’ll get
mass inflation. So what we have to do is to finance the basic
income with taxes. Now this means that
the money supply, the amount of money
will just be the same. But inflation is still a risk,
but only if people will turn out to be massively lazy. Because then you’ll
have the same amount of money chasing fewer
products and services and then you’ll get inflation. Now a big part of my book
is obviously about showing that that is simply
not the case, that actually it would
probably make the labour market more dynamic. Now if inflation is locally
for example still a problem, then there are side
policies you can use like indexation, et cetera. And we’ve got a lot of great
researchers around the world that try and answer
the question, you know, how much money do you need
to live a proper life, you know, without poverty? And it differs from
country to country. But I always say the basic
income has to be high enough to get people out of poverty and
just support the basic needs.>>Okay, go on.>>Thank you. Did you want to ask
a follow-up question?>>Yeah. I mean, poverty
is a relative concept. There are five different
measurements of poverty that I know of off
the top of my head. It’s like a relative
concept you’re talking about. That it has to be set at the
poverty level, I don’t mean to be offensive, but it’s
almost a meaningless statement.>>To be honest, I
get that remark a lot. Like, “Oh, there will
always be poverty there because we’ve defined
it in a relative way.” But I mean, if you live in
poverty, even in a rich country, you simply cannot participate
on a proper level in society. And there’s not much
relative about that. And there’s a lot of
research out there that shows that we can eradicate
it, you know? We can have a society in
Australia or in Holland where I’m from where
everyone has the means to make their own choices. Where no one has to worry about
being able to pay their rent or feeding their
children or whatever. And every society should
obviously have a discussion, a democratic discussion about what the definition
of poverty is. And sure, when we get richer, then probably the
poverty line will go up. But that’s what progress
should look like, right?>>Thanks, guys.>>Yes?>>Yeah, hi. My question is about how do you
see this working in countries of different income levels? So middle income, low income? And how do you also see
this as a possibility of maybe changing how our
economic power is concentrated?>>Right now in India, there’s a
lot of interest in basic income. Actually, on a high
political level you could say that they are ahead
of other countries. Why? Well the reason
is very simple. India has hundreds
or maybe thousands of anti-poverty programmes
that are very ineffective. I mean, there’s a lot of corruption, a
lot of bureaucracy. And the actual amount of
money that reaches the people that really need it is little
compared to the amount of money that is sent in the first place. So it’s probably true that basic
income is a more promising idea for the developing world
than for the developed world. It could really make a
huge difference there. And the thinking behind
it is already making a huge difference. In the book I talk about an
NGO called Give Directly. Well the name says it all. They just give money directly to extremely poor people
in Uganda or Kenya.>>On a per capita basis
rather than channelling it through the government.>>Exactly. Exactly. Just $500 or
$1,000 in huge cash amounts. They’re also doing the
biggest basic income study that has ever been done
with 10,000 participants.>>In Uganda.>>Yeah, and in Kenya. Really exciting. And what’s also very interesting
about this organisation is that in the first place, technological breakthroughs
have made this possible. So what they can do is
just give people a sim card and transfer the money to
it and that works very well. That as simply not
possible 30 years ago. And the second place is that they do incredibly
thorough scientific research on the charity that they
do, which is a big exception in the world of NGO’s
and charity NGO’s. And again, these randomised
controlled trials time and time find that it’s
just a really effective way. I mean, it’s pretty crazy
if you think about it that we are sending
white people in SUV’s to incredibly poor countries,
where if we just sell the SUV and hand over their
salaries, I mean it’s going to be a lot more effective. But we are such incredible
paternalists. We always believe that we
know what’s best for the poor. We know what’s best for
them — well, we don’t. We really have no idea. [ Applause ]>>It’s the same basic
concept around micro financing in developing countries.>>Exactly.>>That you give them a loan.>>It’s just that
the cash transfers — I mean, they come out
as much more effective in recent scientific research. It’s just much more — yeah,
if you look at the outcomes, there’s quite a lot of — there’s actually hundreds
of studies right now, especially in the
global south, where NGO’s and governments have
experimented with just giving free cash. Or sometimes with small
conditions such as you’ve got to have your kids vaccinated
or send them to school. But it’s a very different kind of welfare state
than we are used to.>>How long has Finland
been doing it?>>Oh, just since the
1st of January this year.>>And how’s that going? Is it the whole country?>>Still waiting
for the results. No, it’s just an experiment
with 2,000 participants. But it’s interesting to
see what will happen.>>Yes?>>My name’s Ava and I’m a
well-known local stirrer. [ Laughter ]>>Indeed.>>And I’m part of a
group that’s trying to get the basic income
going in Australia. We are spending a large amount
of money on the opposite of a UBI at the moment,
spending it particularly on something called the
cashless debit card. Where we’re persecuting the
poor by taking away their cash. I reckon that we need to ask our
government, and I’m interested in your viewpoint, to put some
of that cash into an experiment by giving the same
indigenous groups, mainly indigenous
communities that have been put onto a highly conditional card
where they have no control over their cash,
or only 20% of it, maybe 50 in the Northern
Territory. To actually experiment and
give the same people a two- to three-year break on
an unconditional card. Because I think given the
evidence you’ve put up here, it would provide
evidence for a country which is extremely
means-test oriented and extraordinarily
paternalistic, that we could actually show
that that particular way of paying money is
much more productive. What do you think?>>Well, I completely
agree with you. [ Applause ]>>There’s a whole
story in the paper today where the minister’s come out
delightedly saying, “It works. I’ve been going through
the data.” And I used to teach research
methods and he’s wrong. It doesn’t work. His data is all wrong.>>Well, there’s
one small problem that I’ve encountered a few
times, is that you know, when you talk about
experiments, you really have to be a barbarian to be
against experiments, right? We’ve always got
to try new stuff and see what works
and what doesn’t. I mean, every big company is
doing experiments all the time, but somehow governments
are not experimenting. But that’s what you should do. I mean, that’s the way
you learn new things. Now what I’ve had a few times
— I actually had a conversation with a conservative politician
a few months ago in Holland. And he said, “Yeah,
experiments are interesting, et cetera, et cetera. But the problem is
that it might work.” [ Laughter ]>>I think that’s what
they’re scared of here. That’s probably right.>>That seems to be what you’re
actually seeing right now. So that is I think what
some politicians are afraid of with the basic
income experiments. They are really afraid that
it might work very, very well.>>Thank you.>>Why would they
be scared of that?>>Well, then their whole
ideology would crumble, right? You’d have to revolutionise
the welfare state. So that is something that people
don’t like changing their minds. That’s something that we find
very hard as individuals. And that’s also why these
crises play such a big role in world history,
because these are moments where everything breaks down and no one knows
what’s true anymore. And that’s the moments
that things change.>>And some good opportunity
for things to change.>>Exactly.>>Thank you, Ava.>>Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Hi, Rutger. Just getting back
to financing again, you touched on automation
previously, so given the possibility that we’ll have perhaps
nearly all human labour wiped out by robots in the long-term, and given that in the
tech industries, you know, generally the activity is
dominated by single players — Facebook, Google, Amazon. Do you see the possibility that half a dozen companies
could be controlling the bulk of the world economy? And how are we going to
get the money off them? Do we socialise at all? Do we tax them 90%? What do we do?>>Well, you know, I gave a talk at Google X a few
months ago while I was on a book tour in the US. And it was quite
shocking actually. Someone said to me, “You know, basic income, that’s
a great idea.” Alphabet could finance
that, you know, the parent company of Google. “We could give about
$100 to everyone in California, no problem. We’ll get basic income.” And I thought, well, maybe Google should
start paying taxes first. [ Laughter ] That would be a great
start, right? [ Applause ]>>Did you say that to them?>>Yeah, it was sort
of laughing it off. Like, “Yeah, yeah,
yeah, yeah, yeah.” [ Laughter ] They thought it was very
unrealistic of me to assume.>>To assume that
they should pay taxes.>>Yeah, or that they ever will. [ Laughter ] But yeah, I completely
agree with you that one of the great challenges of
our time is that there is so much power now concentrating
in a very small number of these huge companies. And yeah, that is a
challenge we’ve seen before in the 19th century and we came
up with solutions back then. We broke up some
of those countries. Some of them were
even nationalised or taxed very heavily. I mean, there is lots of
stuff you can do about that. But it’s obviously that
democracies will be threatened if you don’t do something about
that kind of power accumulating.>>To ask a follow up, so if
we’re talking about these kind of measures, at the moment
these players are relatively — you know, they’re
relatively small compared to what they will
be in the future. Therefore, they’re not the
same vested interest today that they would be when
you actually needed to have these measures in. Do you think these measures need to be implemented
sooner rather than later?>>Oh, we should have
done it 40 years ago. I mean, some people say
we need basic income as an insurance policy for
the rise of the rowboats. We’ve already got the evidence. We’ve got the means. We can’t waste much
time on this, I believe. I mean, there are now millions of people withering
away in poverty. We are now wasting a
huge amount of talent of people doing completely
useless jobs. That is going on right now. So this is not just
some abstract future I’m talking about. It is a very practical idea
that we can do tomorrow. It’s actually probably the
least radical idea in my book. I mean, really rethinking
work or open borders, much more radical and utopian.>>I’m so sorry, everyone,
we are out of time. I need to wrap up the session. But you can continue
chatting to Rutger when he signs your
books out there. Do continue the conversation. But for now, please join me
in thanking Rutger Bregman. [ Applause ]

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