Monday, December 28, 2015

The 'Nothing' Change

I'm a fan of Seinfeld (the TV show).....mostly because it's a show about 'nothing', and it succeeded with the public because it made a fantastic case about nothing really happening or changing.   I came to this interesting topic again this morning.....after reading through the business news and coming to a piece on Switzerland.

Back in the summer, there was this brief period when Finland got into the news over what they described as an experiment.....to basically pay every Finn citizen a basic income.  It wouldn't matter if they worked or not....they'd would be guaranteed a basic income.  The amount?  Well.....it's still being discussed.  In fact, lots of things about the Finn idea are still being discussed, and it won't be till late spring when they bring it to a public forum, and the government says that the implementation phase won't happen until the summer of 2017 at the earliest point.

The general idea, which goes back almost a hundred years, revolves around the concept that you'd be guaranteed X income no matter who you were or what circumstance you were in.

Naturally, folks kinda hint that most people who have a real job....won't be affected, and there's the claim always at the start of discussions that this won't cost anything to businesses or people (no new taxes).  It's just be a way that you'd talk about people and welfare operations....in a different way (basic income instead of welfare payments).

At the heart of this matter, you'd have to have a couple of economic experts who define the bare minimum required to live (rent, food, etc).  Someone would have to make a decision where the minimum starts and ends.....and it gets to being very tricky how you balance this in a dynamic country....in rural and metropolitan areas.....and if transportation is figured into this or to what degree.

The odds of the Finn experiment actually occurring.  Most journalists feel optimistic and something will occur.  Whether it lasts through the experimental period and becomes a permanent part of the public structure.....is a virtual unknown.

Why any of this discussion matters?

Well, Switzerland has decided to pick up the same discussion and has opted for a referendum for the summer of 2016.....letting the public say if a basic income-law can exist there.

This has generated a few German journalists to come out and suggest that if it passes in Switzerland.....this might come up in a debate for the German national election in 2017.  It would be the kind of topic that I could envision the Greens, the Linke Party and SPD Party of Germany supporting.

A utopia device?

If you stood back and tried to envision this in Germany.....you'd likely have to set the threshold at roughly 1,500 Euro per family unit.  Hartz IV.....the German welfare system....that everyone cringes over and hates to see in political dialog would come to an end and you'd just reinvent welfare into a totally different category of recognition.

There are two pieces to the idea beyond what the journalists or political figures talk about.  First, it's basically eradicating the idea of welfare or identification of anyone on welfare.  If you considered this a stigma in life.....well....basic income would be the new term to use instead of welfare.  You can reshape this all you want and have a great public forum and national vote.....all you get is welfare version 2.0 (basic income).

The second part to this story is that chatter about not costing one penny more....no new taxes....no additional burden upon the government itself.  Sadly (my perception)....no politician will dare write a code into the law which forbids "not one penny more".  To make something like this work.....you end up with categories of people who need X amount of money to live in Berlin, but 10-percent less than X amount of money to live in a small town of the Hunsruck.

I'll sit back and watch the Swiss forum and vote, and view this German discussion over the same topic.  Eventually, some brilliant genius will stand up in a German public forum and ask what's the real difference between welfare (Hartz IV) and basic-income, and the answer will be nothing....unless you tax people more to reach a higher level of welfare.  At that point, the German public will sit there grinning and asking why they are reinventing a word or government program, and it'll be hard for the political figures to carry the discussion forward.

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