At the risk of giving the impression I'm argumentative, I am thinking of starting a regular series of posts in which I disagree with people I agree with.
An example of this phenomenon is the Citizen's Basic Income, something that saner, wiser and far more reputable commentators than I advocate strongly.
The idea of the CBI is that:
This would replace the tax allowance for those in work, and IB [Incapacity Benefit] or JSA [Job Seekers' Allowance] for those out of work.For one thing, it would give everyone an equal incentive not to work; if it were at a level where those out of work could subsist, then those in work could also subsist on it if they chose, unlike tax allowances.
One virtue of this scheme is that it recognizes that the state just cannot know enough about every individual to judge whether they should be on IB or JSA or neither.
Also, because it's paid to all, it not only gives everyone an incentive to work but also makes it impossible for politicians to look tough by bullying the vulnerable.
There is, then, a policy that's economically rational and humane. And which, therefore, has zero chance of being implemented.
But there's no denying we have a problem. Chris is right about everything he says in the quote above. It's the omissions I'm worried about.
Because the CBI is essentially a sort of watered-down form of communism: from each according to their ability if they happen to feel like working, to each a basic income sufficient for survival. Given the propensity of governments to project-creep, I can't see things staying at that level for very long. Indeed, I have seen arguments that things like the cost of a child's education should be added to the CBI. That way, people would be able to choose how to spend this educational budget, on the school of their choice or on home schooling. That's a similar idea to education vouchers, but in the form of cash. If people didn't spend the cash on their children's education, then I guess it would suck for the children involved. But it's not a bad idea in principle.
There is a possible different approach, and just like the CBI it stands absolutely no chance of being implemented. That is to leave people's money with the people themselves, to a far greater extent than now (the abolition of income tax would simply be fulfilling the promise of an earlier government that introduced said tax as a temporary wartime measure) and remove barriers to economic entry. People don't deal drugs in deprived areas because it's more profitable than legal trade - for most of them it isn't. Selling small amounts of drugs does not lead to opulence. If someone handling ounces of grass, or quarter ounces of cocaine, stood on the street selling fruit and veg instead they'd make more money. And most of them would be happy to, even prefer it. The problem is, they can't.
What I know, having lived in some of the worst parts of Britain with the highest unemployment rates, is that while they'll take a pound if it's on offer, most ordinary people want to be able to stand on their own damned feet. Entrepreneurial spirit is highest among just the sorts of people often considered to be the biggest problem in society. People are on the dole often not because they don't want to work legally, but because they are being prevented from doing so.
Case 1 - selling drugs. You gain the confidence of a bigger dealer. He lays on an ounce of grass. You sell it, give the cost to the bigger dealer, get another ounce. Maybe after a while you've built up enough cash to buy an ounce outright or to take a larger quantity. To build up this capital, maybe £120, could take months. Yet people do just that. Their Victorian grandparents would have been proud: thrift, independence and long hours for little pay.
Case 2 - selling fruit and veg. You have no money, so you're screwed. OK, say you can borrow £120 and buy some stock. Where are you going to sell it? Do you have a licence to sell on the street? Nope. You'll get arrested and it won't help if you get some kids under the age of criminal responsibility to hold the fruit. OK, in a market. Ah... the most closed of all closed shops. How are you going to get a stall? Maybe if you apply to the council you can go on a waiting list. But markets are controlled by invisible, or semi-visible, mafia. It's almost like the Trade Guilds of the Middle Ages: everything is organised to create a closed, semi-hereditary shop.
But say you can get a pitch on the street or in a market. You've bought £120 worth of stock and you need to get it to the pitch. You have a van? Ah... maybe not. And anyway you would need, as a young adult, to get a driving licence. That's about to cost £3,000.
OK, so you get a lift from someone who has a van. Let's hope they're not going to get bored with ferrying you, or change their supplier or sales outlet. But we're OK for the moment. You get to the pitch and... now you need scales that have been stamped by the local weights and measures people. OK, you manage to borrow some. You sell your fruit (and make more cash than you would have if it had been £120 worth of grass). Brilliant. Now all you need to do is keep proper books of record, complete your year's accounts, fill in a tax return, store your records for six years, maybe pay an accountant, maybe get audited by the Inland Revenue (who sent someone marching up the driveway of a man I know to check he was accounting properly for the dozen eggs he sold every week from his doorstep).
Sometimes drugs are the answer. But we have made that so. We could try to unmake it, or we could introduce communism-lite. But if we choose the latter course, it will still make more sense to sell drugs than fruit and veg, if you're living in Easterhouse.