The march of progress has come to a halt. Not abruptly. The writing has been on the wall for some time; the blurring of ideologies with a centrist vagueness now the path adopted by many politicians on the left, that growingly consumerist culture and the resignation of progressives. Regressive forces in Mauritius and worldwide are working full throttle. In the pursuit of higher margins and greater power, they have judiciously placed their pawns in positions of power. Varoufakis aptly phrases it, “one can be in government today and not in power, because power has migrated from the political to the economic sphere”. This is further accentuated in Mauritius which has a political financing system that is mired in opacity and therefore plays to the advantage of those who have financial might.
The middle and lower classes are squeezed, inequality in its many forms is on the rise, democratisation has been relinquished, the political system is afflicted with dynasties and corruption, work conditions are deteriorating and measures to tackle poverty more often than not impotent. Still, some in the media are adamant at keeping our minds away from the telling changes and want to inscribe growth as the sole agenda; a quixotic pursuit which benefits only a few and never the many.
“Progress Is The Realisation Of Utopias” - Oscar Wilde. Progress starts with thinking beyond established parameters and cogitating on how to ensure that citizens live a life better than previous generations. No longer do young adults believe that their lives are likely to be as good as or better than their parents. And there is nothing more damning for a society than the loss of hope by the youth.
The Right to Freedom
Reactionary forces have managed to make work all-engrossing with the obligation to be connected at all times. So much so that, ‘unplugging’ from work is a luxury rarely afforded to employees. Our private lives are encroached upon through modern communication devices which make us immediately reachable for work-related commitments. The requirement to be connected, of having to reply to mails and messages even when off work has meant that our professional and private clusters are no longer distinct. These intrusions should not be tolerated for they have a nefarious influence on the family life of individuals. Since the 1st of January 2017 in France, the El Khomri law paves the way for dialogue between employers and employees on the modalities of a disconnection agreement. The high number of psychic conditions related to this new work culture, notably the case of burn-out (professional fatigue) is also more easily recognised in France. This should be the role of any responsible government which understands the changing nature of work. More protection to employees should be at the core of our fight for a better future.
A Basic Income to Everyone
Now more prevalent across the world, the idea of a basic income to everyone traces its origins to Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). Such a measure would reduce poverty, would give employees greater leverage and would allow people to do social work benevolently. Budding entrepreneurs would no longer be able to set up their own entity more easily with this added financial aid.
Such a measure would be deemed unrealistic as preconceived ideas would dictate that people would no longer work and become lazy. No such thing was found to happen as the results garnered positive results in previous experiments in Canada. Named ‘Mincome’ as a neologism for Minimum Income, it was a reality in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Dauphin in the 1970s under Trudeau’s prime-ministership. Bregman emphasizes the findings of Professor Evelyn Forget on the Mincome experiment:
“School performance improved substantially: The “Mincome cohort” studied harder and faster. In the end, total work hours only notched down 1% for men, 3% for married women, and 5% for unmarried women. Men who were family breadwinners hardly worked less at all, while new mothers used the cash assistance to take several months’ maternity leave, and students to stay in school longer…[the] most remarkable finding, though, was that hospitalizations decreased by as much as 8.5%. Several years into the experiment, domestic violence was also down, as were mental health complaints.”
Other attempts to introduce such a measure are being made in Netherlands and in Finland and would warrant a study in our country.
Inheritance for all
An idea which originated in Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice (1797) and which was brought to light in recent times by Anthony Atkinson, the philosophy behind same revolves around giving an opportunity to everyone in life. The British academic believed that the inheritance should be given to everyone aged 18 and which would be financed by an inheritance tax.
“To create a National Fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property.”
A heritage to everyone would allow the gap between people to be narrowed and would allow people not entitled to a heritage to have a better chance of securing their future.
Tackling Poverty head-on
Giving money directly to those in poverty has gained ground internationally. Such a measure would be more coherent than support programmes that cost a lot and do not solve the problem. Several initiatives in Africa were found to be successful. Give Directly is an organisation that believes in helping the poor by giving them money directly. Contrary to the popular misconception that the poor would blow the money away, people had invested in small enterprises and were using the money judiciously. Michael Faye, the founder of Give Directly, sums up the philosophy behind the organisation’s actions:
“This puts the choice in the hands of the poor...And the truth is, I don’t think I have a very good sense of what the poor need.”
Bregman underlines the success of such endeavours:
“According to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Give Directly’s cash grants spur a lasting rise in incomes (up 38% from before the infusion) and also boost homeownership and possession of livestock (up 58%), while reducing the number of days that children go hungry by 42%.”
In other research undertaken by the University of Manchester, findings showed that cash handouts without any commitment have been successful in a number of African countries. In Namibia figures for malnutrition decreased sharply from 42% to 10%, truancy declined from 40% to almost nil and crime declined by 42%. In Malawi, school attendance among girls and women went on the rise. Those standing to benefit more were found to be children who suffered less disease and performed better at school. A pilot project would be more than welcomed in Mauritius.
Using poverty alleviation to spur entrepreneurship
Mauritius has endured a nagging inability to help young people seeking to become entrepreneurs. This idea of an aid could be restructured as an initiative for them. This was the case in Uganda which in 2008 decided to distribute $400 to approximately 12000 citizens aged 16-to-35-year olds. The money was free but came with the obligation of submitting a business plan. Over the medium term, the results were found to be positive. Having invested in their education and business ventures, the beneficiaries’ income had gone up by nearly 50% and their chances of getting hired had increased by 60%. Another programme initiated in Uganda triggered the distribution of $150 to over 1800 women in poverty. It was found that incomes shot up by 100% with a report that concluded that it marked “a huge change in poverty alleviation programs in Africa and worldwide”.
The Case for a Land Value Tax
Over the last two decades, successive governments in Mauritius have played along the wishes of those who wield power and devoted the majority of their measures towards creating a fiscally attractive environment to sell property schemes to foreigners. With speculation rife as a result of same, rising prices in Mauritius have put properties out of reach of most young adults. Lalit rightly terms this a ‘destructive strategy’ and the fight being against ‘the big-time capitalist’.
David Cooper in The New Statesman reminds us that “Land differs from assets as it does not require maintenance and does not depreciate” and quotes Churchill’s strong take on the passivity of landowners:
"Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains – and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced."
Advantages of the Land Value Tax are that it offers transparency as it cannot be hidden and would not be difficult to administer and enforce. Such an introduction would release the grip of monopolists on land and as this obligation would “deter speculative land holding” and “oblige landowners to develop vacant and under-used land properly”. These would contribute towards more affordable housing.
Progress can be re-ignited if people are ready to question the status quo. It can come to life if we are honest in the way we see things. Merely following preachers of the neo-liberal doxa will do us no good. Artificial development is now regularly heralded as progress when often it marks a step back for the masses. It is time to do justice to revive our democracy and give due power to the people.
Charles, K. 2013. “For Fighting Poverty, Cash Is Surprisingly Effective,” Bloomberg Businessweek. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-06-03/for-fighting-poverty-cas...
Atkinson, A. 2015. Inequality. Harvard University Press.
Cooper, D. 2013. Why All Progressives Should Support Land Value Tax. New Statesman. Available at: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/02/why-all-progressives-should...
Bregman, R. 2016. Utopia for Realists, The Correspondent.
Riché, P. 2017. 25 Idées Pour Réveiller La Gauche, L’Obs No 2723.
Christopher Blattman et al. 2014. “The Returns to Cash and Microenterprise Support Among the Ultra-Poor: A Field Experiment.” Available at: http://sites.bu.edu/neudc/files/2014/10/paper_15.pdf
More, T. 1516. Utopia. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2130/2130-h/2130-h.htm
Varoufakis, Y. 2016. Capitalism will eat democracy — unless we speak up. TED. Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/yanis_varoufakis_capitalism_will_eat_democracy_...
Lalit’s campaign so far on the land question. 2017. Available at: http://www.lalitmauritius.org/en/newsarticle/1942/lalits-campaign-so-far...
What is land value taxation? Land Value Taxation Campaign. Available at: http://www.landvaluetax.org/what-is-lvt/