Worst Take of the Week: Universal Basic Income Didn't Work in 27BC, So It Won't Work Now!

Another reasoned and informed opinion from our political class in a time of criss.
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by NEO
March 27, 2020, 4:07pm
Universal Basic Income
Photo: Emily Bowler
Welcome to Worst Hot Take of the Week – a column in which @MULLET_FAN_NEO crowns the wildest hot take of the week.

Story: MPs are seesawing over whether a universal payment to everyone in the UK is a good idea or not.

Reasonable take: There are many valid arguments for and against a Universal Basic Income. Although, in these current set of circumstances, I’m sure a one-off payment to help pay everyone's rent and utility bills wouldn’t necessarily have huge ramifications for the economy. Let us have a sensible discussion?

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Brain rot: These sort of fanciful ideas could bring down the very economic order we love and appreciate today. We must turn for guidance to our contemporaries in Ancient Rome! – Former MP Douglas Carswell.

It was only last week that our (now corona-struck) Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to rule out the prospect of a Universal Basic Income. During the PMQs, Johnson said that he would "certainly consider" the idea as a means to alleviate the financial woes of the UK populous in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. However, on Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak downplayed those calls for Number 10 to implement such a scheme, stating that they were “not in favour”.

In response to absolutely no one, professional Brexiter Douglas Carswell tweeted his critical insights on the notion of a no-strings payment to UK citizens: “Universal Basic Income? The Romans tried it from 123BC and it destroyed the republic. It would destroy our liberal economic order today, too.”

Some might argue that UKIP's first ever elected MP condensing the multi-faceted collapse of the Roman republic into the singular cause of Gracchus subsidising grains for the citizens of Rome, because the free labour of all the slaves they had procured had massively devalued paid labour, is hugely disingenuous to the current set of circumstances. But maybe Douglas Carswell is right to turn to history of the Romans for guidance.

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There are many valuable lessons the British have gained from them, after all. The Romans showed us Brits how to construct sewers and sanitation. They also showed us how to build an extensive connective network of roads and aqueducts. And, most importantly of all, they demonstrated to us how to colonise and enslave entire large swathes of the world for profit.

Maybe Douglas Carswell is right to show skepticism of their decision-making. I mean, they did crucify the son of God. But giving the plebs "unearned" readies? That is simply a step too far. You simply have to draw the line somewhere.

It’s a shame there haven't been any very recent examples of governments across the world implementing a streamlined method of direct financial support payments during a pandemic for Douglas to cite. Oh well, I guess he has no choice but to simply recall the faltering “socialist state” of the Roman Republic circa 27 BC to argue his point. Forget looking at the actions of other neighbouring nations right now. I, personally, can't think of a better way to safeguard the livelihoods of present day citizens of the UK in the midst of a unprecedented pandemic than by turning our thoughts back towards what the Romans did some 2143 years ago during a totally unrelated set of occurrences.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that it was just 22 days ago that the British state was proposing the UK should "keep calm and carry on the economy", as Boris told us to rope-a-dope the coronavirus into tiring itself ineffective by allowing it to sweep through the entire country and kill as many people as it wanted. It seems like circumstances change? Huge if true!

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It must be unbelievably tragic to have a brain that broils at the prospect of the state handing back some money to the taxpayers in the form of a one-off payment in the middle of a world health crisis because you are “in principle” against people getting something “for free”, because you believe it’ll discourage them from “getting a job”. You know, the job they had that no longer exists.

What’s more, I say fair play to Douglas Carswell for his rally-cry for us to preserve “our liberal economic order” in its current shitshow of a situation that has left millions of people reliant on state handouts. It feels like he wants us to give CPR to massive dog turd he’s found on a pavement.

Maybe the real concern for British people at the moment shouldn’t be whether they can afford to live without a job, or the hundreds people who are dying terrible deaths daily, but Jonty’s stock portfolios being slightly dented by The Line.

I guess what makes this terrible take from Carswell even more tiresome in our post-COVID-19 world, is that our once never-ending debates over the economical feasibility of the “pie in the sky” politics of left is more farcical than ever. As all councils in England have been informed by the central government to suddenly house all homeless people in hostels and night shelters by this weekend, it's hard not to zero in on the fact that everything bad we’ve allowed to happen to our society before the coronavirus was a moral choice and never a financial one.

Even so, there simply seems to be no let up for committed right-wingers like Carswell – a man who once challenged world leading scientist theories that the moon wasn’t the cause of tides. Imagine being the co-founder of Vote Leave and feeling you need to soapbox about what is sensible or not for the British economy? I would simply shut up and be grateful that quarantine UK is basically the Brexit Britain he dreamed of on steroids; there’s no bog roll, freedom of movement is all but finished and we aren’t being forced to join the faffy EU schemes anymore, like the ones that ensures we get extra ventilators to tackle the coronavirus crisis. Hurrah!

@MULLET_FAN_NEO