Robaird O’Cearbhaill
Hong Kong Correspondent

Two individuals at opposite ends of the age range are Covid solvers. A 100 year-old man raised MOP 280 million (32 million in British sterling) charity walking to support UK health service workers. The other a young best-selling author and historian whose last two books on Universal Basic Income (UBI) and tax plans show we can get rid of poverty, and achieve fairer income equality. So relevant now, with the pandemic’s heavy damages to employment. Pope Francis proposed UBI at Easter and urged a much more balanced economy not only favoring the rich few to support the poor young and old. That, especially with economic devastation wrought by the Coronavirus, is urgently needed for the vulnerable. UBI would provide economic security which is disappearing even in the richest developed nations.


The highly unusual author, Rutger Bregman, son of a Christian pastor, is well-known for his successful book, Utopia for Realists, heavily criticising tax-avoiding billionaires at Davos World Economic Forum meeting, via a YouTube video, which went viral – and his latest book  Humankind: A Hopeful History.

Utopia for Realists, a New York Times best seller and critically acclaimed, resonates with Pope Francis’s Easter suggestion of Universal Basic Income too.  Humankind: A Hopeful History states that cooperative – wanting to do good – behavior is human nature. Not the black, warlike, selfish hearts cynics that some political and business leaders think.

He uses the famous Lord of the Flies novel of violent shipwrecked boys two of whom are murdered, poignantly showing a real life laudable example of six Catholic boys stranded 15 months alone on a tropical island. Cooperation and altruism was how the six 10-14 year old shipwrecked boys survived an almost waterless island. The dark fiction and the true story for Bregman represents the dominant how-evil-is-mankind philosophy of Hobbes compared to Jean Jaques Rousseau’s nobility of man and Christian spirit.

Bregman, who had abandoned academia to write, is also a philosopher.  Passionate about UBI, in both books, he advocates, using strong research background, plans for a fairer and more altruistic society. While before Covid, UBI was often raised by conservatives especially, now it is widely discussed at senior political and academic level, by activists and citizens.  But it is not a newcomer.

A UBI was drawn up in 1930 in the UK by the very influential economist John Maynard Keynes but not much more progress was made in America. It was nearly established in the US in the 1970s under President Nixon. He sent up for legislation two UBI law drafts but they failed to be passed.

Unfortunately for Nixon, the Democrats in the Senate disapproved, saying the income was too low. But one national UBI, in Spain, is being established and back in the 1970s there was, as Bregman said, a “hugely successful” UBI in Canada, beneficial for children’s education, health and crime as Bregman wrote.

The four-year plan was stopped by a new conservative government before analysis was done. However, 25 years later, an enterprising professor dug up the documents and analysed them. Bregman summarised them to CNN from Davos. The results were: “people didn’t massively quit their jobs, hospitalization decreased by 8.5%, crime went down, kids performed better at school.”

Bregman was so distressed by what he saw as hypocrisy and insincerity at Davos, he discarded his prepared speech and composed another. Talking to the Income Inequality panel there, he said: “1,500 private jets landed here to hear David Attenborough talk about saving the planet. But none of them pay tax: they don’t even use that word”.


Now 100 years old Captain Tom Moore helped health service charity by methodically planning 100 daily garden walks to end on his centenarian birthday. While he aimed for MOP 10,000 (1000 sterling pounds) the former WW2 army officer caught delighted media who transformed him into a national and international celebrity. The donations kept rising beyond his target for good reasons.

“To all you people in the NHS, (UK health service) all you nurses doctors and backup people, who this morning at 8 o’clock were all entering into something where you’re putting yourselves in danger for the good of all the people here – you are doing a marvellous, marvellous job.”

Moore had good spirited advice too, for his lockdown country: “I think you’ve got to think that things will be better, that the future is in front of us all. Without doubt things will get better. We should get through this very difficult time. Tomorrow is a good day, we will all get through it in the end.” (Image: DiEM25)