Universal Basic Income

Keith Pierce
Sunday, 10th September 2017

Keith Pierce explains the similarities between permaculture and Universal Basic Income, and discusses its advantages and why we should support it.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an economic system whereby every citizen of a country receives a guaranteed amount of money, enough to allow them to provide themselves with the basic essentials of life: food, shelter and safety. UBI is paid to each and every citizen, regardless of age, gender, income or status, without precondition or threat of withdrawal or suspension. Everyone gets paid the same amount to spend as they best see fit, and as best suits their personal circumstances. (Children get less, seniors get more, convicted criminals get nothing while incarcerated, special rules apply for the disabled, and there would be a minimum domicile qualifying period.)

UBI is not some far fetched, utopian dream conjured up by a radical group or think tank, far from it. UBI has many influential and well respected proponents ranging from Thomas Paine, Friedrich Hayek, Thomas More and John Stuart Mill, to Milton Friedman, Joseph Stiglitz, Martin Luther King and Thomas Piketty.

UBI would be an ideal partner for permaculture, as the idea fits perfectly alongside permaculture principles, sharing many of the same societal, individual, local and global goals. UBI slots neatly into place with permaculture, allowing both to gain from the others’ simpler and complementary solutions to many of the problems we will face. Mutual co-operation and understanding would benefit both systems equally, at a similar time in their natural growth cycles, each drawing strength and momentum from the others’ activity, promotions and actions.

UBI has already been tried and tested in many places around the world, with some very encouraging outcomes. Countries including Germany, Holland, Finland, Brazil, India, Pakistan and several African nations, have all reported positive results. Currently there are proposals for a significant sized pilot scheme to be tested in Glasgow, Scotland, while other UBI projects are already underway in Ontario, Canada and Finland. Switzerland and New Zealand are presently reviewing the data, encouraging debate and holding referendums with their citizens, while the Netherlands is to start projects in the cities of Utrecht, Tilburg, Nijmegen, Wageningen and Groningen, in 2017.

All of the major political parties in the UK have looked into the viability of UBI and some have already adopted official policies in favour of its intro-duction. Many scholarly individuals, revered colleges of education and respected think tanks have undertaken their own investigations, often funded by or on behalf of large corporations or institutions such as pension funds, hedge funds and NGOs. UBI is an idea that has been around for many decades, waiting for its time to come. Recently it has seen revised prominence and perhaps that time is now?

In the UK, the amount of UBI could be set at something similar to the current UK welfare rates such as income support, child benefit and old age pension, three existing forms of payment we all understand and accept. The main difference being that UBI would be a guaranteed payment, a citizen’s right throughout their lifetime.

There are many obvious questions and arguments around UBI, such as how it would be funded, what exclusions or special conditions might need to be attached and even whether there are any moral aspects to consider or what any longer term implications there might be. Anyone who investigates the UBI concept will find a large body of evidence, scientific data, research and information reporting in its favour; just Google ‘universal basic income’ and see the wealth of websites and documentation available.

Many of the same questions, difficulties and arguments surrounding UBI also arose back in the late 1940s, just before the establishment of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. The NHS was an idea that came into being at the right time, when it was most needed. The idea was so obviously beneficial and simple that few people could genuinely argue against it, but it still took brave and visionary people with deter-mination and skill, from all walks of life and backgrounds, to make it happen. Eventually, and despite all the naysayers, the NHS did come into being and what a huge success it has been. I believe the same will be true of UBI one day soon.

A Permaculture Scenario

One of the fundamental questions asked by many of us considering adopting a permaculture inspired lifestyle is, “How can I support myself and my family?” or “How can I make a living in permaculture?”

Imagine the scenario. You want to create your own permaculture inspired lifestyle, perhaps living closer to Nature, growing your own food, teaching others about permaculture. Maybe you want to get more actively involved in the promotion of permaculture in your local area or even on a global scale, UBI allows you to do just that. UBI provides you with a small amount of money each month, enough to cover your most basic living costs, taking away the worry and fear of how you will pay those essentials, all important bills. But equally, or perhaps more importantly, UBI provides freedom of time, time to invest into your own life, into something genuinely satisfying, important and worthwhile.

No one is suggesting that everyone will want to live solely on their UBI, while that is perfectly possible and achievable, as I can attest from my own personal experience and research. Many people will want to add to their UBI income from other sources, perhaps choosing to keep their conven-tional ‘jobs’ going. Some people will decide to work only part time, others may choose to sell their produce at their garden gate or local farmers’ market, teach Permaculture Design Courses or offer their individual skills in other ways to supplement their UBI income.

Ultimately UBI gives people choice and opportunity. That could be the opportunity to stop conventional work altogether and give up their ‘day jobs’ investing their newly found free time into building a permaculture lifestyle instead.

To help permaculture gain more mainstream exposure and gain critical traction, I suggest that everyone within the permaculture fraternity should consider getting behind UBI, investigate it thoroughly for themselves and, if convinced, become supporters and advocates for its introduction. At a time when the world is confronting so many different problems, perma-culture is ideally placed to provide sustainable and regenerative solutions, perhaps in conjunction with and underpinned by a version of UBI.

Soon, all of us in the developed west are going to have to face and address a wide range of serious issues, including underemployment due to auto-ma-tion, the collapse of political institutions such as the EU, and probably another devastating financial collapse, this time of even greater, epic proportions.

There will be inevitable knock on effects to the globalized food supply chain, collapse of fiat currencies, and greater economic and refugee migrations. The potential for serious civil unrest and societal collapse is all too apparent.

As the widely anticipated impacts of climate change and global warming continue to increase, many if not all of our current societal systems will come under severe pressure and eventually many are going to fail, by which time it will be too late to start looking for alternative solutions.

Permaculture, applied in conjunction with a system of UBI, can be an essential part of that solution, offering people a genuine way forward, a way to help overcome the problems we will face, providing real hope for the future. Permaculture now needs to push itself forward and expand expo-nen-tially, promoting its message quickly and as effectively as it can. It needs to be ready and prepared, it needs to be ahead of the game.

I believe that we should all adopt UBI as an aspiration and even as an integral part of the permaculture movement. I would like to see permaculture join with advocates and representatives of UBI, forming an agreed position, creating an efficient lobbying group that can speak together, proposing a future model of society. This joint venture would propel both groups forward more efficiently and effectively for the future.


Whilst UBI isn’t a panacea for all ills, there is extensive documentation of the advantages of the system. Here are two examples.

Native American Casinos and Tribal Profit Sharing

In the 1990s, Jane Costello was studying 1,420 low income children in rural North Carolina regarding mental health conditions and low income. It had the unintended result of also measuring the effect of an unconditional cash increase to the same group. The Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth found that a quarter of the families belonging to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians experienced a surge in annual income due to the distribution of profits from a newly built casino. Behavioural and emotional disorders among these children dropped, family relationships improved and there was also a reduction in parental alcohol consumption.1

Namibia Basic Income Trial2

In 2008 in the village of Otjivero-Omitara, every resident in the village received a basic monthly income, regardless of income and work status. One year after implementation, and the levels of malnourished children has dropped from 42% to 10%. The local school reported higher attend-ance rates and that children were better fed and more attentive. Poverty rates declined from 86 to 68%, unemployment dropped from 60 to 40% and the police statistics showed a 36.5% drop in crime. There was also an increase of 29% in average earned income, excluding the grant.

1 Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman, Bloomsbury, ISBN: 9791408890264

2 www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/archive/policy_innovations/briefings/000163

Keith Pierce is currently experimenting with a permaculture inspired lifestyle.

Useful links

Designing your household alternative economy


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