There is a surreal quality to some of the arguments being made in favour of a basic income grant (Big), which is presented as an unassailable social good, an unavoidable state intervention against the backdrop of intractable poverty and joblessness. An idea whose time has come.

But proponents of the grant often blithely ignore the critical issue — where the funding is going to come from — as if this were a mere trifle, and not a billion- (or even trillion-) dollar question. Various think-tanks want to impose a raft of new taxes on SA’s tiny pool of overstrained, short-changed and increasingly resentful taxpayers. Other advocates of the grant seem to think the state can magic up the money, essentially by printing it, without any adverse economic consequences.

There is nothing inevitable about the need for a Big, just as there is nothing inescapable about SA’s double-digit unemployment rate. There is one inevitability you can count on if an ANC-run government implements a Big, though. Having incorporated a new underclass of dependants into its patronage network, the ANC will claim to have “solved” the so-called “triple challenge”. And it will completely abandon any attempt to bring about the vital reforms — to the education system, the economy and the labour market — that are actually needed to turn SA into a functional, let alone prosperous, nation.

Michael Cardo, MP
DA shadow employment & labour minister

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