Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Ex-Clinton minister backs Labour's basic income for all idea

Robert Reich told a Labour Party conference in Auckland today that a guaranteed minimum income for all was "the only way of dealing with where technology is taking us". Photo / Supplied
Robert Reich told a Labour Party conference in Auckland today that a guaranteed minimum income for all was "the only way of dealing with where technology is taking us". Photo / Supplied

Former US President Bill Clinton's Labor Secretary is backing a Labour Party idea to pay everyone a basic income that could be at least $200 a week.

Robert Reich, who said he once dated Hillary Clinton before she married, told a Labour Party conference in Auckland today that a guaranteed minimum income for all was "the only way of dealing with where technology is taking us".

"When technology is going to be replacing most jobs, how do we get the money back to people so they can buy the technology?" he asked.

He said technology was heading towards what he called an "i-everything" that would be able to use 3D printing to print out anything a consumer wanted.

"The problem is no one will be able to afford that, because nobody will have a job," he said.

Professor Standing said a universal basic income should not be a policy for "the distant future".

"We always have to act and speak as if it's tomorrow, not say kick it into touch and we'll deal with it later," he said.

He said a basic income could be justified on the principle that most of our current wealth was created by our ancestors, and it was only fair to share some of that common wealth with everyone.

"You allow private inheritance, Mr Prime Minister," he said. "They have done nothing for something, they are given the right to incomes and wealth. Can we have a modest social amount?"

A document on "10 big ideas" released by Labour at the conference proposes a trial of a universal basic income in a town or region.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the proposal was not yet Labour policy, and Labour was not committed to economist Gareth Morgan's proposal for a basic income of $11,000 a year ($211 a week).

"It is not Labour Party policy to guarantee $200 a week," he said.

Finance spokesman Grant Robertson picked up a comment by Mr Reich that any national basic income scheme might be 10 or 15 years away.

"It's some way away," Mr Robertson said.

Mr Reich suggested that a basic income could be funded by "a small share of the revenues from intellectual property".

But Mr Robertson said Labour had not considered that.

The co-leader of the Basic Income Earth Network, British professor Guy Standing, hit back at a comment by Prime Minister John Key that a universal basic income would be "barking mad".

"He should be very careful that we don't issue a very loud 'woof' and bite his whatever," Dr Standing said.

- NZ Herald

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