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The new glue of society

Borger Payroll. The idea that changes the game
Would a monthly sum from the state to all the community's adults rekindle the sense of community between citizens?


I get the Excel sheet on the screen. Entering 2000 in the forecast, keeping my monthly contribution to Amnesty, downgrading the equipment budget. The low but powerful sneakers will last for a while; hiking shoes have to wait another year. It goes around as far as it is. Had I still had a citizen's salary, a fixed small sum on account each month, it would have been so much easier.

As a writer and a social debater, I have been involved in the topic of citizen pay. Now, for the first time in Norwegian, there is a comprehensive overview of the discussion, which is based on both international and Norwegian reality. 

Norwegian standard work

It is the journalist couple Ingeborg Eliassen and Svein Egil Omdal who are behind the release Borger Payroll. The idea that changes the game. The book will probably stand as a standard work, which through 230's well-written pages shows us how an old idea can potentially transform society today.

I myself am positive about citizen pay – even with quotes in this book. But Eliassen / Omdals also seized on all the contradictions, raising the quality of the book. All relevant social actors come up: NHO, LO and the political parties. This makes the book very relevant and relevant. 

45 percent of the profits of many multinational companies are transferred to tax havens.

It all began with English American Thomas Paine's ideas from 1796 about a basic interest tax, where all citizens should be paid 15 pounds sterling on their 21 anniversary. This should compensate for the loss of property by the globe itself to the real estate; private property had taken revenues from lands that originally belonged to everyone and given these to only a few. Such a payout, a form of citizen's pay, would give everyone a rightful benefit of the earth's wealth, according to Paine.

Technology and working life

The book is based on both today's and yesterday's technology leaps. Did more mechanization in its time lead to fewer or more jobs? Will today's increasing robotization lead to less need for human labor? Will artificial intelligence increasingly transform both the banking, service industries and even creative professions? Working life is also under pressure in other ways, through the enactment of the Working Environment Act, social dumping, short-term contracts and price pressure. 

The first 95 pages of the book are about these changes, and the word "citizen pay" is mentioned only in passing. This is a strength and puts the concept into context. For the reader it is nice to have an update on the technology revolution.

The social contract in Europe is under pressure. The sense of alienation is increasing, and populist movements and political parties are taking advantage of this for their own short-term power building. The question then arises: Are there other ways of ensuring citizens a sense of belonging, dignity and security? Can payroll be a mechanism for just this?

many varieties

The idea of ​​citizen salaries is that all citizens over a certain age get a monthly sum paid into their account. Citizens' wages must be universal (everyone gets it), individual (not to the household), unconditional (no claim for benefits) and sufficient (that is, an amount that corresponds to the politically defined poverty line).

It goes without saying that all these four variables can be problematized and modified, and there are several "schools". The authors go through all of them and discuss opportunities and limitations with academics, activists and think tanks. The liberals, even the libertarian defenders, come out with their views, and we understand why these skeptics of a strong state want citizen pay. Then it is also easy to understand why many socialists think citizen pay is almost a dangerous idea. But there is also a left hand that claims that the introduction of citizen pay can lead to even better welfare. No wonder then that many people think that it is all very woolly and unclear field.

Even more radical variations of the concept of bail-in pay also exist. Economics professor Kalle Moene and his Indian colleague Debraj Ray have developed the idea of ​​one Universal Basic Share, calculated as a fixed percentage of national income. In their proposal, 9 – 12 percent of GNP is allocated to a fund that finances a dividend in line with what is paid to shareholders. The advantage of this (rather than a nominal sum of the child allowance) is that the sum paid is higher. The nominal is eaten up by inflation. The child benefit, for example, has been at the site since 1996, at 970.

The skepticism of the trade union movement

LO boss Hans-Christian Gabrielsen is deeply skeptical of citizen pay as an idea. The authors marvel at this and ask why the movement that has "championed five days of work week, better pensions, paid parental leave and other financial and social guarantees is protesting that people's financial security is further assured?".

The answer is that LO sees civilian pay as a threat to the work place in life, and as a threat to good wages. But can it also be a threat to one's own negotiating power? It is interesting that trade unions in many other countries are showing increasing interest in the phenomenon.  

LO sees citizen pay as a threat to the work place in life.

But can we afford it? This is a question that the authors give a lot of space. Moving taxes from work to capital, wealth taxation, taxation of pure money transfer (the Tobin tax) and not least a serious taxation of multinational companies are obvious possibilities. There is a huge transfer of profits between various parts of Facebook, Google, Amazon and other giants, which foams the cream of the lack of tax coordination. A report cited in the book states that 45 percent of the profits of many multinational corporations are transferred to tax havens. Now, however, the EU is showing muscle and has begun to punish such companies with fines up to billions. There is a lot of money to be made here, and some of these can finance various forms of citizen pay. This is about political courage and leadership.

There are also related proposals, in the form of a so-called carbon tax, which can be distributed to citizens according to a specific key. US climate activist James Hansen has argued for this scheme. Citizen Wage Defender Guy Standing believes that a tax on climate-damaging production can be used to finance citizen wages. If so, a civilian salary may offset some of the damage that the lives of the rich inflict on the poor. 

Social Democracy Dilemma

According to the authors, the discussion on citizen pay is about to emerge as the most important political debate at the start of the 21. century. It captures the fundamental challenges we face: How should we understand work in the machine age, how will the relationship between market and state develop, and how do we secure the social bond at a time when inequality is increasing?

The skeptics are afraid that civilian pay will be the ultimate social victory of neoliberalism. But a good education system and a solid health care system must always be at the bottom, and in addition, tailor-made benefits for people with special needs must be continued. Many financial aid schemes can be removed because citizens' wages will replace them. The latter performance could create greater flexibility and make it easier for people to return to work after periods of absence. Today, if you want to work, but have some kind of social security, you risk losing your social security insurance immediately once you are above a certain level of pay. This seems like an anti-incentive to many, called "welfare traps".

The authors show a great deal of political understanding and flair: Should civilian pay make life better for most people, "those with a history of fighting for the masses must join the debate," they write. Social democracies do not have to compete with right-wing populists about who can place the most stringent demands on the most vulnerable, but must fight for a system that guarantees dignity for everyone, they believe: "The fight for hegemony in the civil-wage debate will be crucial."

I google my way through old sources and see a post in the Municipal Report in May 2002, led by the pen of the Labor party giant Reiulf Steen. Already in 1999, Steen proposed to introduce a social wage for all Norwegian citizens, as a substitute for a large part of today's social security schemes.

Start the debate!

Eliassen and Omdal have provided an exciting and important discussion book. A sustainable society cannot be hunted on yesterday's solutions. We need a new social contract, where everyone feels they are an even bigger part of the community. Maybe citizen pay can be an insurance against the right-wing populism that is now emerging? 

John Maynard Keynes predicted that around 2030 we would have an 15 hour working week.

I close the Excel sheet, unable to compare myself to everyone else. I try to cultivate the pen, the local community and a political and social commitment, outside of traditional working life. John Maynard Keynes predicted that around 2030 we would have an 15 hour working week, because our basic needs would be met. We're not there. I'm not there, but I have my freedom. 

Both Norway and I have taken out the gains we have made in the form of increased consumption, but also in generous leave schemes that, among other things, allow us a lot of time with our children. Today we know that happiness does not exist in a hectic working life or just by lying on the couch. That is why citizen pay can help us a little further on this path of recognition. 

In the meantime, Eliassen / Omdal's book should be distributed as Christmas presents to everyone in LO and NHO. In the discussion about citizen pay it is  still many questions and ambiguities. But it is high that the debate starts! 

Also read: Citizens' pay or negative tax?

Excerpt from the book can be found here.

Andrew P. Kroglund
Andrew P. Kroglund
Kroglund is a critic and writer. Also Secretary General of BKA (Grandparents' Climate Action).

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