A "city-driven" basic income scheme from Barcelona - not "smart" but "wise cities"
Basic and citizen income trial schemes are popping up all over the place - and they are happening mostly in towns, districts... and here, cities. As reported by the Basic Income Earth Network (Bien), this paper from a Barcelona-based think-tank (read here) sets the policy in a the context of a "Wise Cities" framework (see graphic to to the left).
Beyond Smart Cities, Wise Cities have emerged as a new human-centred development paradigm in which cities foster interdependently creative and knowledge-based economies along with predistribution policies, which are two sides of the same coin.
The creation of knowledge-based economies through clustering of innovation ecosystems that generate smart technologies is the main focus of Smart Cities. This approach has enabled cities to technify service delivery in multiple areas such as transportation, energy, the environment, healthcare, housing and governance.
Technology providers have developed new business models and cities are learning how to manage public and private partnerships that secure the creation of a Smart City without jeopardising the public mandate.
Still, Smart Cities’ main assumption is that the increasing tech-driven smartness of a city is directly correlated with higher standards of living. But cities lack rigorous monitoring and evaluation systems that can validate this hypothesis. Indeed, sometimes smartness is a source of inequality, especially for cities that have been hit by the Great Recession.
In times of economic turmoil, the classic trickle-down effect of economic growth no longer guarantees the social progress of all citizens. Notwithstanding this, increasing levels of inequality have dampened the capacity of cities to address its dark side – poverty and deprivation.
By contrast, Wise Cities explicitly manage the design and implementation of predistribution policies as well. They are aimed at creating shared prosperity following the principles of inclusivity, resilience and sustainability.
The purpose of such a model is the maximisation of citizens’ quality of life, including the fulfilment of basic needs, the creation of a safe and healthy environment, and access to opportunities, decent work and the pursuit of happiness.
Instead of trying to bring equality through unfair market outcomes through tax-and-transfer schemes (redistribution policies), predistribution focuses on designing policies that more directly intervene in the labour market to reduce income inequality as opposed to polices that redistribute incomes after taxes are levied.
The UBI is a classic example of a predistribution policy. This old idea, originally thought up to fight crime and end poverty, was first proposed by Thomas More in the 16th century and later popularized by Thomas Paine in the 18th century. Traditionally, leftish politicians found in the UBI a way to address poverty, safeguard access to basic services and secure a safer environment.
However, right-wing politicians usually reacted against it, arguing that such a scheme would disincentivise the ethics of work, break the meritocracy of the system and foster a lazy society. And in most cases it was said to be impossible to finance, thus naming this enterprise a utopia.
Today, many decades later, the UBI emerges as a solution to increasing levels of inequality, job precariousness and social exclusion. An old idea for a new time.
The UBI owes its current popularity to the sickness of capitalism. The Great Recession revealed the flaws of a capitalist system that is no longer able to create shared prosperity and social progress by following the tenets of neoclassical economics.
Smart Cities have worked to increase the brand attractiveness of cities in terms of foreign direct investment and tourism. This translates into higher economic dynamism, high quality employment and a new wave of immigration.
But it often provokes a draining effect as rising housing prices push local citizens and local retailers out of the city. Wealthy neighbourhoods get wealthier and poor areas become poorer.
Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton thinks she should have "thrown caution to the wind" and proposed a UBI scheme in her last election. The Guardian, commenting on this, thinks the tech giants should be taxed to pay for it.