Author Topic: Universal Basic Income  (Read 104 times)

Pergamos

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Universal Basic Income
« on: December 09, 2017, 07:54:12 pm »
I mentioned this in the "we're all fucked" thread but I felt like it deserved one of it's own.  Just in case anyone is not familiar with the idea it is "give everyone money"  how much varies from being fixed by some revenue source, like the Alaska Dividend fund, to being enough to meet very basic needs to being enough for a person to have a reasonably decent life on.  The knee jerk reaction to it, from those opposed, is that it rewards laziness and discourages productivity.  This is not true, the current welfare system in most places that have one does actually do this, since you will be removed from benefit rolls if you get a job, basic income is for everyone, without any sort of qualifying criteria.  This means it ends up costing a fair amount less than welfare, per person helped, because there is not the added overhead expense of verifying eligibility and ensuring that eligibility has not evaporated.  Canada and the US have both done studies offering UBI in fairly small communities and the results have been quite positive but the programs were not adopted more widely.

It is definitely something I am sympathetic to, it seems, to me, to be a far better solution to the problems that welfare attempts to address than any current welfare system while still being basically the same concept.  I remain unsure whether or not I support it however for the reason I am about to get into.

A UBI requires a coordinating committee of some sort which disperses the payments.  If the program achieves it purpose of allowing everyone to survive without requiring verification of unemployment the need to have jobs which people can support themselves on goes away.  People will still work due to wanting additional income, or because they will be doing something that they want to do, but the current (inneficient and cruel, but still powerful) infrastructure that makes sure that pretty much anyone can at least have an awful job will wither as it will no longer be needed.  This puts a huge amount of power in the hands of the coordinating committee.  If requirements for eligibility are added later, after a UBI has become a part of the structure of society, they will strike those who are disqualified much harder than they would currently, where crappy jobs are at least an option.  If the number of people forced to find work in order to survive is reduced to a small enough number the jobs that took advantage of that desperate pool evaporate, and that small number are left, devoid of the assistance that everyone else can now assume, and without recourse.  The temptation to use a tool that powerful is not something I can see politicians resisting.  I don't know what criteria would first be accepted as a reason to cut someone off of UBI, but whatever it is, it would be essentially a sentence of exile from the economy. 

My other concern about a UBI is that it is a universal subsidization of consumption.  If everyone on the planet were to consume at the level of your average middle class American we would go extinct in fairly short order.  Unless this subsidization is either limited, in ways that can only be unfair, or is accompanied by serious changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns it could greatly accelerate the widespread environmental unpleasantry that is already occuring.

tyrannosaurus vex

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Re: Universal Basic Income
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2017, 01:50:04 am »
I'm definitely a supporter of UBI, but there's no limit to the number of reasons it will probably never be adopted. It's true that it's basically an expansion of basic welfare (SSI, unemployment, etc), but it also transforms not only welfare but the entire social concept of work. Most American "progressives", not to mention conservatives, are completely flabbergasted by the idea. It completely disassembles the idea that a person's social value is equivalent to the work they do. It isn't even about economics, it's about the notion that I am more important than you because I don't have to worry about where the money for rent is coming from. UBI requires that everyone, or at least most people, admit that human life is worth supporting simply because it exists. And while that sounds like an easy thing to get agreement on, it really isn't.

There's also all the work that's done by people who take jobs just to survive. Walmart cashiers, hospitality workers, shelf-stockers, food service, and tens of other jobs just wouldn't get done, because nobody would need to do them. Employers would have to raise the wages for those jobs to something more appealing, and most of these industries run on low margins as it is, which means either a sharp spike in consumer prices all over the place or entire industries crashing. For this reason, UBI won't really be viable until almost all low-wage jobs are threatened by automation. The flipside of that is that when automation threatens those jobs, which is going to happen anyway, UBI will be one of the only reasonable solutions.

UBI does simplify just about every kind government assistance program. Right now there are hundreds of programs to help the unemployed and underemployed, displaced workers, people who can't afford housing, people who can't afford food, and so on. The underlying assumption in all of these programs is a recognition that our capitalist economy doesn't work out for everyone all the time, and people deserve some help righting themselves when they slip through the cracks. But modern political trends basically deny this idea. Even if it's never stated outright, the popular philosophy now says that if you need help in a capitalist economy, it's because you're stupid or lazy or irresponsible. Before UBI can even be considered, that idea has to go away and we have to return to a more realistic understanding of economics among the general population. It doesn't have a chance while people are still talking about "welfare queens" and "group x stealing jobs from Americans".

As for subsidizing consumption, that's a valid concern. I don't think it's a show-stopper, but it would certainly be a problem while renewable resources and other green technologies were still being artificially restrained by vested interests in old-fashioned energy and production. The fact is that the way we do things now is just good enough for just enough people to keep us from moving forward. While a large enough percentage of people can be fooled into thinking everything is fine, there won't be enough political will to change things. We're sort of at an impasse right now where there is no direct line from here to there. The system we have now has to fail before it can evolve. The problem, of course, is getting the system to fail without letting it fail catastrophically. Which seems unlikely, to say the least.

Overall, UBI is a superb solution to a lot of problems, but it is so incompatible with traditional thinking and existing economic patterns that it has zero chance of even being attempted on any scale, let alone succeeding. It is both necessary and impossible.
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Pergamos

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Re: Universal Basic Income
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2017, 03:07:49 am »
Widespread automation isn't going to happen until it is more expensive to employ people than to use machines, it's already technically possible for pretty much every low skill job