Danial Rahman has education close to his heart and welcomes feedback at danialrahman0330@gmail.com.



by Danial Rahman

NOW we know. May 9 is polling day for GE14. In the heat of the general election, all the key political parties have released their manifestos. In a viral infographic circulating via WhatsApp, a comparison is made between the manifestos of Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan and PAS. Drop me an e-mail if you’d like to see it.

As young people in or entering the workforce, we should not only be looking at the personalities contesting, but also the policies promised and how these policies will impact us and our future.

Speaking of the future, our jobs will disappear due to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (automation, artificial intelligence, robots, etc). Stress levels and mental illnesses will continue to rise (no thanks to social media and the always available Internet), and our wallets will still be tight despite productivity rising (where is all the wealth going?).

So, in choosing the policies that are best for us today, we must also think of what we want for the future.

I was recently inspired by Utopia for Realists. There are two key ideas from this book that I’d like to see implemented in Malaysia one day – universal basic income (UBI) and a four-day work week.

Author Thomas More, in his fictional book Utopia, dreamed about the notion of UBI, or as others put it, free money. UBI refers to a situation where each citizen is given a fixed monthly payment, regardless of wealth, gender, religion or employment status. A monthly allowance, enough to live on, without having to lift a finger. Sounds good, right?

In 1973, Canada allocated millions of dollars to run the world’s largest basic income experiment ever. All 13,000 residents of the small town of Dauphin, northwest of Winnipeg, were guaranteed a basic income, ensuring that no one fell below the poverty line. This meant that a family of four received C$19,000 a year, no questions asked.

Unfortunately, the project was abandoned a year later due to a change in government. With institutional support lacking, the data was archived away.

In 2009, Evelyn Forget, a professor at the University of Manitoba, found data from the experiment and began to analyse it. She noted that there was a concern that UBI would cause people to stop working and start having large families.

But what Forget found was the opposite of the Dauphin residents becoming couch potatoes.

Young adults in the programme started family planning. School performances improved. Among male breadwinners, total work hours hardly reduced (which meant they were still productive), while new mothers had additional cash for longer maternity leave. Students were staying in school longer.

Most remarkably, hospitalisation reduced by 8.5%, while domestic violence and mental health complaints also declined. The UBI experiment made the town healthier.

Economist Charles Kenny once said “it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that giving them (the poor) money is a great way to reduce that problem (poverty)”.

Cash handouts in Namibia have led to lower malnutrition, truancy and crime. In Uganda, beneficiaries would invest in their own education and business ventures, with income going up nearly 50% and employment odds increasing 60%.

In 2017, Finland began its own UBI trial, paying about €560 a month to 2,000 unemployed people aged 25 to 58. It is still ongoing but it is hoped that this will enable the unemployed to focus on finding jobs.

Ontario, rural Kenya, Glasgow and Barcelona are just some other places where UBI is being experimented in one form or another.

In Malaysia, we actually have a version of UBI, namely the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M).

When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, during the BN manifesto launch, announced that he was increasing BR1M and expanding its recipient base, my reaction was, “Not bad”.

I was impressed. This appears to have been made possible by the reduction in blanket subsidies in favour of more targeted ones. I do hope that BR1M continues to progress. The last I heard, Pakatan Harapan supported BR1M too.

Before you accuse me of being lazy because I favour the four-day work week, imagine what it would be like to have a three-day weekend. The additional day could be spent for volunteerism activities and social work, and the other two days for spiritual pursuit as well as family or personal leisure time.

This idea isn’t unusual. British economist John Maynard Keynes once remarked that the biggest economic challenge of the 21st century would be “leisure”, caused by a sea of too much time. He even predicted we’d be working just 15-hour weeks by 2030 (fingers crossed).

In fact, when Henry Ford first proposed a five-day work week in the 1920s, people called him crazy. The industrial revolution meant workers worked round the clock. Ford was reported to have remarked that if people worked 24/7, there’d be no one to buy his cars to go on road trips!

In this Fourth Industrial Revolution, the case for a four-day work week becomes even stronger.

Automation will see productivity continue to rise without human intervention. The real challenge lies in how we utilise free time to help, care for, teach and support each other.

It has been argued that working less may even lead to lower stress, reduced climate change, lower unemployment, greater women emancipation, less inequality and more care for an ageing population.

While none of the political parties’ manifesto speaks of a four-day work week, there are attempts to ease day-to-day life.

Whether it’s UBI or a four-day work week, I do believe these are notions we should strive for in the future. Let us play a role in achieving the policies that work best for us and our future.

This column was originally published in The Star on Thursday April 12, 2018.