Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What John Kay & Citizen's Income Trust agree on about basic income

Professor Kay thinks basic income for all (not means-tested / tax-free / regular) is unaffordable. His article  (Intereconomics 2017/2) carefully analyses several international proposals, but it does not take full account of the work of the UK's leading advocate for basic income the Citizen's Income Trust. CIT is confident that their revenue-neutral scheme would make a positive start on the road to a larger regular income than their initial scheme allows for. As they say in their critique of John Kay's investigation: 'What matters is the direction of travel'. CIT's scheme retains many existing welfare benefits - essential due the the low level of basic income needed to be revenue-neutral, but it is only a start. John Kay seems to assume a full 'living wage' basic income must be affordable immediately or he won't consider it relevant: 'basic income is a distraction from sensible, feasible and necessary reforms'. Both he and CIT acknowledge there could be sources of revenue yet untapped for a full basic income, but whereas Kay shies away from the political difficulties of that, CIT sees the start of an evolutionary reform away from the complexities of current welfare and its disincentives to work         
One effect of a citizen's income is that some will use it to pay for better housing with rents and house prices likely to be pushed up. It is fairly clear that the incentives given out by recent governments to first-time buyers are a factor in rising house prices. A new source of income from a regular basic income would enable buyers to afford larger mortgages thus adding to the price hike. For every new £100 per month available at 2% interest another £20,000 of mortgage is freed up, driving straight through to rising prices and rents.

This blog has always advocated an holistic approach to citizens income to prevent bad side effects. After all if the housing market is encouraged to let rip even more through a basic income aimed to alleviate poverty, what help is that to the poor?

This is not the state planning for citizens
but citizens planning for themselves, 
empowered through a basic income.

To block that perverse effect of such a benign thing as basic income, what is needed is the levying of land value tax. This to be charged annually on the underlying land value of the building + land plot. It would have a braking effect on house prices as property owners who could not afford the levy would sell. Mortgage providers whilst assessing the added basic income would have to consider the expense of a regular land tax levy and this would reduce the potential of greater credit, which would lead to price restraint, and not, like the government help-to-buy schemes, a price bubble. 

The levying of LVT would raise a fresh source of government revenue concentrated at the higher property value end (see below). It would address the acknowledgement by both John Kay and the CIT that more revenue is needed to make a basic income more effective against poverty. The national pot to run a comprehensive welfare system founded mostly on basic income is currently limited. But the time is approaching when the the huge shift of younger people excluded from property ownership through unaffordability, will translate into a ballot box revolt in their favour. If we are to continue to believe in a fair society, the haves - the larger property owners - sitting on the accumulating nest-egg gains in their land values, will eventually have to release some of these sooner than at their demise through estate duties.

Land values, as clearly spelt out in The Free Lunch - Fairness with Freedom arise from the efforts of us all and are a common resource to be shared. A good start to implementing LVT would be to make a regular charge on a percentage (say 25% representing the land) of the property's value. For political acceptability the overall charge per household would need to be cost neutral for the bulk of hometypes: thus whatever was paid in LVT would be an allowance against a homeowner's income tax. Those in high priced properties having lower earnings would need to consider selling up which would bring a downward pressure on the market and help alleviate the housing shortage. The net LVT raised would go towards increasing the basic income for all. As well as estate duty, transaction taxes such as Stamp Duty could also be abolished and bring a new liquidity to the housing market to the benefit of those needing larger accommodation but prevented by the existence of many under-occupied homes. The Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings owned by companies is legislation that taxes total property value and would need modifying to catch land value only, to adapt it for LVT purposes.   

For the hard case of property-rich / income-poor homeowners with a liability for LVT greater than their income tax liability a deferment scheme should be allowed so that the accumulated  LVT would be a registered charge against the property, payable on the next sale.  

Whilst we must be grateful to John Kay for crunching the numbers, the philosophical and moral case should be addressed. The Free Lunch - Fairness with Freedom  makes the case for putting the citizen at the focus of politics. This implies the acknowledgement of particular rights for people and the expectation of particular responsibilities from them.  A basic income is essential if this concept of  a new 'citizen focus' is to have real meaning. This is not the state planning for citizens but citizens planning for themselves, empowered through a basic income. It is a combination of increased fairness and increased freedom for everyone.
Posted by Charles Bazlinton. Author: The Free Lunch - Fairness with Freedom  

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