UBI As Salaried Citizens, Not A Gift

The universal basic income (UBI) should compensate citizens for taking part in civic life. It isn’t a gift from the rich to a lazy underclass.

It’s a payoff to a working class whose labor is no longer needed. Markets cannot provide for the needs of everyone within them. They have no morals. Markets only determine what is profitable, not what is necessary.

A monthly cash payment that liberated everyone from financial need would improve lives. A system that also brought millions of people into civil service would build community as well.

Liberal policy circles are currently embracing the idea of a guaranteed income. A UBI designed to protect workers from exploitation in capitalist labor markets could lead humanity into a more mature age. A UBI designed by the self-styled political elites who would be implementing it would protect the capitalists from the mobs produced by weakened labor markets and poverty.

We’re headed down the path of reforms that entrench exploitation in the labor market. To get off of this path the left would need to build political power before these policies become unavoidable.

UBI: Origins

George Bush Jr. and Milton Friedman.

George W. Bush. and Milton Friedman. Source: ?

The libertarian economist Milton Friedman suggested a negative income tax (NIT) as an alternative to social welfare policy. NIT is a policy mechanism where the government gives money to people who don’t bring in enough income. Friedman believed these government pay-outs should replace all other welfare spending.

Friedman believed that NIT policy would only be satisfactory if, “it replaces the host of other specific programs that we now have. It would do more harm than good if it simply became another rag in the ragbag of welfare programs.” He saw it as a way to get rid of social welfare spending on services such as food stamps, assistance with energy bills, and homeless services.

The goal of UBI policy from a populist perspective should be to ensure that everybody has enough money on a monthly basis to meet their needs, whether they can find good work or not. The policy would buffer people from being compelled into taking dangerous jobs, or working close to 100 hours a week at minimum wage.

Why It’s Coming

UBI policies will become more relevant in America in the next five to ten years as the labor market continues to lose jobs to automation and outsourcing. Americans will be thrown into a saturated tech market and a service industry reliant on tips. The voting bloc of people who are financially insecure and people whose financial security is precarious will grow. And the demand for policies that decrease the suffering of the working poor will become more powerful.

Milton Friedman saw this growing demand coming. so he developed the NIT. The wealthy people running our governments have a very simple plan and it’s rather obvious what the outcome will be…

“Concentrate all of the wealth, status, and strategic resources into as few hands as possible. See what we can make them do for bread.

Respectfully, the undersigned oligarchs…”

…Policies that privatize government services and the economy will increase inequality. Services that were previously working for the public now operate for-profit. Those were the lessons of the economic coups in Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, and Russia. In those countries students of Friedman’s Chicago School of Economics got control of the legislatures briefly through crises and passed legislation ostensibly intended to create laissez-faire paradises.

General Augusto Pinochet deposed the socialist President of Chile, Isabel Allende, in a 1973 coup. His economic team then enacted a 500-page piece of legislation that deregulated and privatized the economy, and cut government spending. It led to massive inflation and expanded poverty dramatically in the following years. This strategy saw the same results in every country it visited.

In the book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ Naomi Klein told these stories of a capitalism that seizes upon political, environmental, and economic crises to dramatically expand the powers of monied interests.

UBI policies from these minds would simply pacify the growing ranks of people consigned to poverty. Meanwhile, corporate behemoths and oligarchs would continue to gather wealth and pollute.

Why A UBI Could Be Good

One major benefit of UBI policies are that they give individuals more time to spend at leisure. This mean relaxing in a lot of cases. However, it also means that more science fanatics would have the time to experiment. Artists could spend more time on their art. Inventors could focus more on innovation. And humanity would benefit.

Universal Basic Income cartoon

Pointless Jobs. Source: @BasicIncomeIMG

Instead of a UBI there should be a universal salary for participating in civic life. The monthly payments shouldn’t be seen as a gift, but as income earned for being an engaged citizen. This would address one of the great weaknesses of markets. The market is only a platform for ventures that produce profits. Producing profits doesn’t mean that you are solving a problem. Society is full of problems that markets cause and can’t solve. There are people without grocery stores within a reasonable distance of their homes. Medical profiteering bankrupts American families. And empty houses outnumber homeless people many times over.

Allowing people to dedicate their lives to their passions and removing the need to take any job in order to survive would blunt the machinery that drives our planet-destroying festival of paupery and excessive consumption. If the fast food industry’s entire labor market was just people who have a passion for fried, low-grade foods they might find it difficult to convince anybody to man their stores. A mentorship program on the other hand could go from a hobby for a few volunteers to a Googellian (Alphabettian) enterprise producing healthy, well-adjusted teenagers.

What A UBI Could Be

People willingly volunteer to help children already. A lot of lives would benefit if that could become a widespread professional duty. People could consider their own interest and problems over those of powerful people

Regarding the fast food industry, if money weren’t an obstacle then people passionate enough about food to dedicate their lives to it would probably want to be making delicious, (or) healthy foods. Food workers wouldn’t want to serve the public the junk we have come to accept from McDonalds and Wendys.

I imagine a system where citizens receive enough money on a monthly basis to live reasonably comfortably, say $1500 to $2000 a month. We would have access to healthcare and education,  we could eat and drink what we need, we might have some extra spending-money for recreational purposes, and shelter would be our right.

In return we would volunteer with local social initiatives, vote and work on local boards of government, and use our scientific and artistic talents to push humanity forward.

Beyond the basic duties of a citizen people would have the option to sell their labor for more income and access to luxuries. Unlike in our system today, however, people wouldn’t be reliant on their employers for survival. The employer would need to offer the worker an attractive deal. The hours would need to compliment the civic duties of the worker. The worker wouldn’t be desperate enough to take anything

Issues of equality and survival besiege humanity. The climate is ramping up to cook us because of industrial markets. Wildlife are dying with their homes. Billions of people who own nothing prop up a class of people who own billions of dollars. And ‘developed’ consumers litter the world with billions of Keurig cups, packaged potato chips, and other novelties.

Humanity has a grasp of the solutions to the climate problem but people are very difficult to reach and inspire to action. We have known we needed to address climate change for decades and we failed to do it. A UBI could be leveraged to put value back into doing good for the community. Instead of just being a replacement welfare system it could become a public works project where citizens solve the problems that remain in their communities.

It would be a system where people can earn their living from work that helps society, not just whatever is most convenient for capitalists and bureaucracies.


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