There are many things I am not, among them an economist, a futurologist, a historian of labor, (a person who writes ‘an historian’,) or an expert on Universal Basic Income in any or all its variants.
But it’s pretty clear that the world economy is changing. Jobs are already being automated away; the advent of self-driving cars, trucks, and vans is going to take another big bite out of the labor market. Between that and the lack of a living minimum wage, one possible future is more people scrambling after fewer positions and getting poorer in the process.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have the resources in America and Europe to feed and house our people, all our people, at an acceptable minimum standard. Thus, the proposal for a Universal Basic Income, which would give people economic security. Work would then become the way one earns extra money, acquires luxuries, or just something one pursues because it feels good and is interesting.
It’s almost a litmus test for one’s view of humanity: do we need fear and anxiety to keep us going, or do we work and create for the sheer pleasure of doing it?
Some of the fears UBI raises are the ones that turn welfare so toxic: the fear that those people will get away with something, the feeling that one’s possessions should be entirely one’s own, the feeling that we need poverty as leash and lash for people we see as morally corrupt or lazy.
(And one has to accept all of these things for any kind of redistributive system: there will be people who abuse it—but more people will benefit; the rich will have less—but inequality breeds political chaos and injustice; there are almost certainly poor people who are immoral for any given value of immorality—but you can say the same for any class of people; there are certainly poor people who do not like to work—but I’m not always big on getting out of bed of a Monday morning either.)
And there are more realistic issues too, ones I certainly don’t know the answer to. Who will do the unpopular jobs, the messy ones, the dangerous ones? Won’t everyone just stop working? How can this work with immigration? Is it moral to keep the population of the West in (relative) luxury on the profits of offshore labor? (Would we do something more moral with the money?)
And the big questions: what will people do with their time? Will they produce art, great or mediocre according to their talents? Will they be less stressed, and spend more time and energy on their families, creating a generation of more emotionally secure adults to face the future? Will they have more children, and is that a good thing? What jobs will we keep working at, and why?
In short, will UBI make us more free, or will we all melt into the sociological equivalent of grey goo? And how could we get there?
I’m watching the trials and proposals with interest. I think we need more information, more evidence. But I’m also aware that I haven’t read up on all the options and implications. I haven’t had the time. I have to go to work tomorrow.