by Louise Perry
Thursday, 28
May 2020
Response
11:53

Universal Basic Income: A solution to Wokenomics?

Single mothers can be supported without the state's intrusion
by Louise Perry
Feminists have argued for half a century that childcare and housework should be viewed as economic labour

Peter Franklin is critical of a political analysis he describes as “Wokenomics”, and I agree with him — mostly.

Proponents of this analysis (“wokeonomists”?) are wont to describe almost all activity as a form of “labour” which must be itemised and monetised, stripping away meaning and intimacy from human relationships. Sophie Lewis, for instance, author of a recent book on the family, argues that the surrogacy industry should be understood in coldly economic terms, with surrogates as workers, babies as products, and abortion as a form of wildcat strike. Franklin is quite right to describe such an approach as “moral madness”.

Lewis is elaborating on an idea that has existed within feminism for half a century: that childcare and housework should be viewed as forms of economic labour and that these labourers should be financially compensated by the state. Franklin is wary of this proposal:

[T]he state, in taking responsibility for payment, would thereby take control. That, after all, is the thing about getting paid — your employer decides what you do and how you do it. They also get to own what you produce. Is this really an arrangement we want to apply to motherhood?
- Peter Franklin, UnHerd

True enough, but there is a problem with this argument. Traditionally it is already the case that mothers are vulnerable to an “employer”, of sorts: their husbands. Perhaps “patron” would be a better term, since this system depends upon one person (typically the father) financially supporting a mother while she’s pregnant, nursing, or otherwise unable to earn enough money to support herself and her children.

For some people, this patronage system works just fine, and those people might well resent the intrusion of the state into their private affairs. But it does not work for single mothers (roughly a quarter of UK families with children are headed by a single mother) nor for women in abusive relationships. Without a dependable partner, these women are acutely economically vulnerable, and so might very well prefer patronage by the state, which in the UK has been available in a very modest form for more than a hundred years in the form of child benefits.

A Universal Basic Income might provide a way forward, allowing us to negotiate a compromise between the ‘“Wokenomics” ideal and the current model. The key advantage of a UBI system is that, by offering everyone the same degree of unconditional financial support, we are not required to tally up every hour of “labour” performed, at mothering or anything else, thus avoiding some of the pitfalls that Franklin identifies.

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William MacDougall
William MacDougall
2 years ago

It’s all nonsense anyway. Housework and childrearing are paid, in kind, just as self-sufficient farming is paid in kind, by the product produced and consumed at home. If the state paid for it as well, then it would be paid twice over.

Bill Gaffney
Bill Gaffney
2 years ago

Such BravoSierra! Husbands are the male in the house married to a female. Children can be a by product of the union of two opposite sex persons. “Partner” is someone with whom one other has entered into a business relationship. If the two opposite sex persons are not married than it is not a union…it is a shack job of two friendly persons, one of which is taking advantage of the other. “Governments” have no money except that which is stolen from those who work. In a marriage children are the responsibility of the two opposite sexed persons who are married to each other. They are not the responsibility of those outside of the marriage.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
2 years ago

“Who are the baddies these days? Globalisation has been tricky for Hollywood action screenwriters, whose stories need a source of villains that it’s culturally legitimate to hate.” No, it hasn’t. Pace Mary, Russians have never gone out of fashion as people to be reviled, and Serbs are fair game as well. Recall the 1997 film “The Peacemaker”, which was obviously inspired by the first Al Qaeda effort to bring down the Twin Towers, but where the villains threatening New York City were Russians and Serbs, not Islamist terrorists. The same year, against a backdrop of hijackings by Chechens, Harrison Ford starred as an American president in “Air Force One”, whose plane was hijacked, ludicrously, by Russian nationalists. The other target that is fair game is right wing extremists. In “Designated Survivor” it is right wing crazies, and not Islamist terrorists, who take out most of the American government, leaving Kiefer Sutherland to pick up the pieces. Hollywood got the Islamophobia memo long ago and has muzzled itself, presenting a hugely distorted view of the world of the last few decades. It certainly isn’t anti-Muslim, but it could be fairly characterized as Russophobic and Serbophobic, and it is decidedly leftist in its orientation. Because of its leftism, it is unlikely to go after the Chinese Communist Party with any vigour, however badly the CCP behaves.

Dianne Bean
Dianne Bean
2 years ago

So regardless of how many children a single mother has, she would get the same amount of money from the government under the wokeconomics? In the US welfare encourages single mothers to have more children and collect more welfare for each child.

Peter Ryan
Peter Ryan
2 years ago
Reply to  Dianne Bean

In the Green Party (the only parliamentary UK party to actively advocate UBI as far as I know (setting aside Labour’s mere flirtation)), it was suggested that a lower sum could be paid to the guardians of a child (with a per child sum)in order to account for this – but the sum would be lower, and given the costs of having a child & the frugal nature of the UBI sum paid to each child, I don’t think it would risk a financial incentive to reproduce.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
2 years ago
Reply to  Dianne Bean

No, Dianne, I doubt very much that this is what Louise Perry is proposing. I am not familiar with basic income proposals in other countries, but the basic income pilot in Ontario did not affect the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) or the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB) received by the parent or parents of children. A household will get a CCB for each child; the amount doesn’t vary depending on the number of child, but it is somewhat lower for an older child. It was costed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (very similar to the OBR in the UK) in 2018 in a document called “Costing a National Guaranteed Basic Income Using the Ontario Basic Income Model”, although UBI advocates claim that the PBO made it seem more expensive than it actually would be. The new Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario cancelled the pilot early and the last payments under the pilot were made in March 2019, the last month of the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
2 years ago

Bravo, Polly! Everyone interested in public policy should read your piece.
The promotion of a basic income program in Canada has gained momentum with the universal basic income (UBI) pilot introduced by the previous Liberal government in Ontario and cut short by the current Progressive Conservative government. Inflated claims were made for how this program would so simplify social assistance that the bureaucracy delivering it would disappear, despite the fact that the bureaucrats determining eligibility for disability, drug, and dental benefits remained in place. Of course, these were supposed to fade away if UBI got implemented, but it was hard to see how or why. As British Columbia economist Kevin Milligan noted, a system where disability benefits were not still ruled on by bureaucrats would not be any improvement: “Instead of getting a wheelchair if you need it, UBI says here’s a cheque; buy your own damned wheelchair. *Not* a more compassionate approach.” If many Western democracies do get a UBI system in the future, it is a vain hope that this will so simplify social assistance that layers of bureaucracy can be dispensed with. As you show so well, this is not a simple world, with problems amenable to simple solutions.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

It’s a wonderful Utopian thought, but how on earth, in practice, could we achieve such a thing? Every social worker with a budget and discretion as to how to spend it?

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

Surely the ’employer’ of the mother is the child, not the husband? For whom, by definition, is a mother’s work done?

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

Simplicity is at the root of election wins: ‘Get Brexit Done’, ‘Take Back Control’, Labour Isn’t Working’. Long may simplicity continue.

Peter KE
Peter KE
2 years ago

More left wing trash. The UBI will lead to a destruction of our way of life and a move to communism or maybe the one party rule of china and russia. We need to follow our path of individual responsibility and less state involvement. So a smaller state, less tax, more competitive, strong laws that are enforced. Cut the state subsidies and payment systems.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 years ago

Whilst I am all in favour of fathers paying to support their children, even if they have no access to them – they should have behaved better when they were together with the mother. I think the concept that house work is women’s work is utter nonsense in this day and age. It certainly is not that way in my house. I have always cooked more meals for the family than my wife. I don’t do cakes though, but my wife and daughter like baking them. There are some jobs I hate – emptying the airing cupboard for one as I don’t know whose clothes are whose and it is a tedious job that all I get is criticism for. I only do it when I have no choice. My wife hates emptying the bin so I get called to do it when she tops it up – I don’t mind, but she could put a new bag in while I am taking the old one out, but she prefers to let me forget so she can complain about me only doing half a job – hey ho so what. We do the main house work together, she dusts and tidies and waters the plants, I follow round with the hover and mop the floors, which means she starts first and finishes first. It may not be a totally equal division of labour, we are not totally rigid about who does what and we are both happy enough. We both work, but I have been working from home during lockdown, whilst she goes out every day so I have been doing far more around the house than usual. That is fair just as it would be fair if she was the one at home more of the time. She went back to worth 3 months after having each of our children, which was mostly her choice, but I was keen for her to do so, not because we needed her wage but because of what it was costing as she met up with baby group friends for lunches and shopping trips every other day.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 years ago

‘begets’, not ‘begats’ – ‘begat’ is the past simple of this irregular verb.

Derek M
Derek M
2 years ago

Apparently everything can be twisted into an argument for a UBI these days

Derek M
Derek M
2 years ago

“financially supporting a mother while she’s pregnant, nursing, or otherwise unable to earn enough money to support herself and her children” – ah yes, biology is just so sexist