Giles Fraser is musing over in The Guardian about salaries, stipends and the idea that capitalism might end up providing a citizen's income to all:
But I do know a little about how it might feel to live on a citizen’s income because the nearest real-life comparison I can think of is my own situation. I am not paid a salary by the church. I am paid a stipend. And the crucial difference is that a stipend is not supposed to be a payment received for services rendered. Rather, it is a way for the church to support its clergy so that they can do their thing without a concern for basic material welfare. There is no bonus for more bums on pews. There is not a quota for souls saved. Being a priest is not really a proper job – it’s not something that can be measured in terms of task. The stuff I absolutely have to do, task-wise, is pretty minimal. Even so, the church gives me a place to live and pays me every month.
Entirely fine, of course, how other people organise their lives is no concern of ours. We would note though that people who write a regular column in The Guardian, yes, even in The Guardian, do gain an income thereby, it being quite tightly linked to the work done to produce a column at the requisite intervals. Several of us have been paid by the newspaper for producing irregular such pieces in fact.
But it is here that we would really like to point:
Optimists argue that new jobs will be created, just like they were during the Industrial Revolution and the computer revolution. After all, if no one has a paid job, who will be buying all the stuff that the robots are busy making? Others suggest that with all this robot-led productivity, societies will become rich enough to pay their populations a citizen’s income – that is, provide everyone with an unconditional sum of money to live on, irrespective of whether they work or not. This is an idea that may be approaching as fast as the driverless car. From the Trump-supporting tech CEO Elon Musk to the lefty Greek politician Yanis Varoufakis, the idea of a basic citizen’s income draws support from across the political spectrum.
Now, I am not an economist, and I don’t know whether the sums will ever add up to make it work.
Our point being that capitalism is already that productive, the sums do add up and we do already have a citizen's income. It not being necessary to be an economist to work this out, just a tad of history and the ability to add up being sufficient.
The history being that the average human income, lifestyle, over the millennia since the invention of agriculture has been about $2 a day (this is, annoyingly, in 1992 dollars, not today's, so adjust up to perhaps $3 if you prefer). This really is saying that the standard lot of people has been to live on what you can buy for $2 (or $3) in Walmart for the day, including food, heating, clothing, health care, housing and saving for that pension you'll not reach. It's also around and about what we describe as absolute poverty in a global sense these days.
Then came capitalism, around 1750 or so. With the result that today we do in fact pay a citizen's income. In the US, for example, the average food stamp payment is $29 a week. That's not the maximum, not at all, that's the average that a recipient of any at all gets. We agree it's not very much but it does, just that food stamp allocation alone, put you into the top 50% of all income earners globally. Yes, properly adjusted for the manner in which things cost different amounts in different places.
Here in the UK the jobseekers' allowance is £75 a week or so. Or, enough to put you, alone and unadorned, into the top 25% of all global income earners. Or, again alone and unadorned, somewhere up at perhaps 5 times that average historical living standard.
And what is that if it isn't capitalism becoming so productive as to provide a citizen's income?