The appeal of Halloween today, according to the views of costume-rental businesses, comes from the fact that it is one of the few major (Anglo-American-Abrahamic) festivals which allows us to treat ourselves. It’s a perfect opportunity for consumerism. However, it is also a festival premised on giving charity to others, who challenge us to extend our hospitality not only to friends and family but to ghosts and ghouls.
Gift-giving is distinct from charity in that gifts carry an obligation to the reciever. Throughout history this has been intensely entwined with obligations to the provider (for example through hospitality in the provision of food, drink and lodging to passing soldiers, pilgrims or other travellers) as a matter of honour.
Policies regarding state welfare payments are frequently contested due to differing views on whether they should be understood as charity, economic mechanism, or gift. The extensive critiques of the application of the UK welfare system in recent years have highlighted how these state ‘gifts’ can be accompanied by toxic obligations which nullify their value. Horror stories of those with terminal illness or accessing church and charity-run food banks on state support attempt to bring to government attention that our collective hospitality is failing, and this is a cause for shame. Unlike the householder who fails to stock enough apples and sweets for the trick-or-treaters, however, governments react hardly at all to their house being egged.
Universal basic income attempts to promote a different model of welfare akin to promising all trick-or-treating monsters the same reward regardless of the quality of their costume. It’s promotion lies not only in its potential as an economic mechanism, but also in the characterisation of such payments as hospitality rather than an obligation-conferring gift.
Although today’s Halloween festival is one that in our society is not compulsory, it’s cultural significance as a mechanism for allowing ourselves to give freely to unknown others is one we should examine more closely. The spectre of generations in poverty and stifled economic growth may otherwise haunt us for much of the future.