Have you heard? The Republican president of the United States proposed a plan for "partial basic income" and his plan passed the House of Representatives. In 1969.
President's Nixon's plan, which he called "the most significant piece of social legislation in our nation's history," died in the Senate and never became law. It hasn't really made a comeback in the US. But the idea of "guaranteed basic income" is already back in the news in Europe, because income inequality — exacerbated by COVID-19 — will become increasingly hard for the world's political leaders to ignore.
<p><strong>What's the idea?</strong> Governments could provide all (or just the neediest) citizens with a small amount of guaranteed regular income. Enough cash to survive. The "guarantee" is that checks keep coming even if the recipient has or takes a job. It's an attempt to strengthen the social safety net at a time when widening income inequality, the current deep economic dive, and sweeping technological change in the workplace, are fueling public misery and anger in dozens of countries. </p><p><strong>Many governments have looked at this idea. </strong><a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/spain-introduces-basic-income-scheme-tackle-poverty-200530080443046.html" target="_blank">Spain's left-wing coalition government</a> has just introduced a basic monthly income for families pushed into hardship by coronavirus. In addition, Finland gave 2,000 unemployed people $600 per month in 2017 and 2018. The plan was halted because it didn't prove cost-effective. A <a href="https://www.bloombergquint.com/global-economics/milestone-free-money-study-shows-happiness-grows-but-jobs-don-t" target="_blank">new study</a> finds that the experiment <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/does-finland-show-the-way-to-universal-basic-income/a-53595886" target="_blank">boosted the well-being</a> of those who received the money, but it did little to boost the economy. </p><p>Denmark, Ireland, the UK, and Sweden are now working on short-term versions of the idea. Local governments in Canada, the Netherlands, Scotland, and the US have tinkered with longer-term plans. The so-called Permanent Fund Dividend in the US state of <a href="https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/9/5/20849020/alaska-permanent-fund-universal-basic-income" target="_blank">Alaska</a> offers a modest form of basic income. Kenya is conducting a <a href="https://www.poverty-action.org/study/effects-universal-basic-income-kenya" target="_blank">12-year study</a> on the subject.</p><p><strong>Arguments for:</strong> Unemployed people sometimes refuse work because it makes no sense to surrender benefits to take a job that pays less. With a small guaranteed subsistence-level income, they can take work and get ahead, say supporters of the idea. The idea could prove <em>less </em>expensive than current systems of unemployment benefits, advocates claim, because those who take work will begin paying taxes. And schemes that give money to everyone, regardless of need, eliminate the expensive bureaucracy needed to track benefit eligibility, saving the government money. They also help the workers most vulnerable to automation of the workforce get the training they need to make the leap to new forms of work. </p><p><strong>Arguments against:</strong> Give people money for doing nothing, and they'll continue to do nothing, say the idea's detractors. They'll become wards of the state instead of productive citizens. It's the welfare state gone insane. And the idea will be absurdly expensive at a time when debt burdens are already eating away at many of the world's governments. Another entitlement program is not the answer. </p><p><strong>Bottom line:</strong> None of the various experiments with basic income has proven that it can accomplish what its advocates claim. But we do know that wealth inequality was fueling public fury in many countries even before COVID-19 sent the entire global economy into a tailspin. </p><p>The problem is real. Until a credible alternative emerges, experiments with basic income will continue in different forms in different places. </p>
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What We're Watching: Poland sets election date, Duterte drops his US threat, UK welcomes Hong Kongers
June 04, 2020
Poland's election set: After a grueling political fight between the far-right Law and Justice Party, which heads the government, and opposition parties on how and when to hold a presidential election during a global pandemic, Poland says the ballot will now go ahead on June 28. For the incumbent government, led by President Andrzej Duda, the election is a chance to further solidify its agenda of social conservatism and an alarming reworking of the country's democratic institutions. While April polls strongly favored Duda, the pandemic-induced economic crisis has dented his ratings in recent weeks, giving centrist candidates a slightly better chance to take the nation's top job. Indeed, in last year's election, the Law and Justice party won only a very shaky parliamentary majority and needs Duda to stay at the helm, not least in order to pass controversial judicial reforms that the EU has long-deemed as undemocratic.
<p><strong>Duterte backs down: </strong>After threatening in February to withdraw from a long-term military agreement with the United States, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/world/asia/philippines-military-pact-us-duterte.html" target="_blank">reversed course this week</a>. Duterte had wanted to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows US forces to train in the Philippines, after Washington refused to grant a visa to a hardline Philippines politician (and Duterte ally) who orchestrated that country's draconian anti-drug campaign, which most of the international community deemed a human rights violation. But Duterte has turned tail now, likely for two reasons: First, with its economy battered by the pandemic, the Philippines will have less money to spend on defense, making Washington a critical partner in the near-term maintenance and development of its armed forces. Second, analysts say that Duterte has grown warier of China's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/is-china-taking-advantage-of-covid-19-to-pursue-south-china-sea-ambitions/a-53573918" target="_blank">increasing military assertiveness</a> in the disputed South China Sea and sees the military pact with Washington as a buffer against Beijing.<br/></p><p><strong>Boris Johnson invites Hong Kongers over: </strong>Amid growing tensions between China and the West over the political future of Hong Kong, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/03/britain-could-change-immigration-rules-for-hong-kong-citizens" target="_blank">says</a> he'll offer up to 3 million Hong Kongers the right to move to the UK. The move comes in response to Beijing's recent decision to impose <a href="https://www.gzeromedia.com/beijing-makes-its-move-on-hong-kong" target="_self">a draconian new security law</a> on the city, which was a British colonial possession until 1997. Under the terms of the treaty that handed Hong Kong back to Chinese control, both sides agreed to a "one country, two systems" model, where Hong Kong would retain certain freedoms even after it became part of China. London and the US say that China's new security law violates that agreement. Beijing <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/boris-johnson-has-offered-full-british-visas-to-nearly-3-million-hong-kong-residents-2020-6" target="_blank">shot back</a> at Johnson's proposal with a warning to "step back from the brink." </p>
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The coronavirus crisis has clobbered all European economies, but most have avoided a severe spike in unemployment. That's in part because of government programs that directly subsidize workers' wages while also incentivizing employers to keep workers on the payroll by reducing their hours. This approach has shielded much of Europe from the kind of unemployment calamity that's plaguing the United States, where the jobless rate has increased sixfold since January and is now more than double that of the Euro area. Here's a look at how European job markets have fared in the time of coronavirus.
As protests over the police killing of George Floyd raged across the country, there have been more than 125 instances of journalists being shot with rubber bullets by police, arrested, or in some cases assaulted by protesters while covering the unrest.
Foreign news crews from Germany and Australia have been caught up in the crackdown. Australia's Prime Minister has even called for an investigation. Some of these journalists have simply been caught in the crossfire during surges of unrest, but video and photographic evidence reveals cases where police have deliberately targeted reporters doing their jobs.
<p>We are used to talking about the plight of journalists in "unfree" or authoritarian societies. It surprises no one to learn that journalists have a hard time doing their work in Egypt or China, or that they can't do much at all in Turkmenistan and North Korea. </p><p>But the grim reality is that freedom of the press is now under assault not only in authoritarian countries, but in democracies too.</p><p>A report last year by the watchdog Freedom House <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-and-media/2019/media-freedom-downward-spiral" target="_blank">found</a> that 16 of the world's most free countries – including India, Hungary, Austria, Israel, and the United States — had seen declines in press freedom over the past five years. This trend tracked a broader withering of democratic institutions around the globe. </p><p>There are many reasons that the press is under pressure. The decline of local news has whittled away the connection between people and journalists. The rise of social media provides alternative sources of information that, by design, track and cultivate people's biases. The increasing polarization of cable news in particular has eroded popular trust in the media more broadly. Last year, just 41 percent of Americans trusted the media, <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/267047/americans-trust-mass-media-edges-down.aspx" target="_blank">according</a> to Gallup. In 1972, when venerable TV anchorman Walter Cronkite spent a part of every evening in millions of American living rooms, the mark was 68 percent. </p><p>But there has also been a concerted attempt by self-styled populist leaders to demonize established media outlets. Railing against the press, a supposedly corrupt institution controlled by liberal elites, is a hallmark of populist politics raised to the level of art form by leaders like Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, Turkey's Recep Erdogan, Hungary's Viktor Orban, and Italy's Matteo Salvini. And of course, no pulpit has been more bully on this score than the twitter account of US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called journalists "enemies of the people" – a turn of phrase with chilling historical <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/aug/03/trump-enemy-of-the-people-meaning-history" target="_blank">resonances</a>. </p><p>Language like this from powerful political leaders creates a dangerous situation in which some law enforcement officials who share their views feel that they have license to abuse or harass reporters in the middle of protests. After all, isn't it the job of police to protect "the people" from their "enemies?" </p><p>Democracies depend on the free flow of information. Some reporters let their biases distort their work, and all of them are human, but their reporting, however imperfect it may sometimes be, is critical for the health of an open society. No matter how polarized or troubled a society is, police should not shoot, beat, or arrest them for doing their jobs.</p>
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