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January 3, 2017

Universal Basic Income discussion thread
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:51 PM * 188 comments

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.

Comments on Universal Basic Income discussion thread:
#1 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 06:06 PM:

It's occurred to me that a guaranteed basic income might make at least one playing field a bit more level -- those unpaid internships that are now a requirement to gain entry to so many careers would be open to young people who at present can't afford to work for free for six months or more.

Employers might just find some new way to keep them out of the running, but it'd be one big barrier down.

#2 ::: Rob Wynne ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 06:24 PM:

This interests me greatly also, though like you, I mostly know that I don't know enough to advance the conversation as much as I'd like.

Apropos, just as I was reading this, this link popped up in my Twitter feed:$587-per-month

So, there's a project to keep an eye on.

#3 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 06:43 PM:

I have nothing to say about Universal Basic Income, I just want to express my appreciation for someone else who is not ... (a person who writes ‘an historian’,).

#4 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 07:55 PM:

I think one thing UBI does is remove, or at least blur, the distinction between the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor. That judgment no longer needs to be made--by anybody.

#5 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 08:00 PM:

I think the thing I would worry about is not individuals using the money badly, but businesses using UBI as an excuse to pay people less, charge more for housing, etc. In other words turning individual welfare into a de facto corporate subsidy, just as happens when Walmart pays its workers so little that they need food stamps to get by.

#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 08:01 PM:

On one hand:

I'm flabbergasted that UBI is being seriously considered.

Pleasantly flabbergasted, mind you; like learning that an otherwise horrible politician is concerned about climate change and is OK with marriage equality.

On the other hand:

One of the justifications for UBI I hear from conservatives is that it could be a relatively simple way to do away with other assistance programs, like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, etcetera. This would only work if UBI benefits were a) generous, and b) adjusted for personal needs, and c) adjusted for local cost of living.

I fear it would be a way to Not Care. "Hey, we're giving you $x,xxx a month! Stop complaining about {being hungry}{being unable to pay the doctor}{being unable to pay the rent}."

* * *
There has been science fiction that dealt with the Post Work future. Player Piano, Beggar in Spain*, "Riders of the Purple Wage."

None has been totally satisfactory, at least for me. There needs to be more.

I have a quote typed in somewhere, by Marshal McLuhan in Understanding Media. It is about education in the post-work future. Gotta dig that up.

*A college friend, an ardent Objectivist, admitted that this book really challenged his beliefs. I found that impressive.

#7 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 08:39 PM:

The key to Universal Basic Income is that it goes to everyone -- even those who have money. It would be written so that anyone who wishes to do so can opt out.

Note -- this does not replace Social Security, IF you have a job, you'd still be paying the FICA tax and collecting benefits when you reach the appropriate age. It will end the need for SNAP, and possibly subsidized housing.

There will be a percentage of the population who will be layabouts, BUT it has the potential to unleash myriads of entrepreneurs, and who knows what that might lead to?

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 09:12 PM:

I'm dealing with a family situation that would INSTANTLY go away with UBI.

Literally waiting for a call-back from a counselor on how to deal with this mess.

#9 ::: Becca Stareyes ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 09:36 PM:

I had a sudden thought about blinding in testing UBI. Like, if you are part of a pilot program and know it, how different do you act than if you know the program is large and established?

Like, maybe you want to pursue art, but are worried those looking at 'should we continue/expand?' might see that as 'poor people are lazy' rather than 'people weigh mental health and fulfillment versus the extra income of a job, and some jobs don't get done for the wages offered unless people need them to survive'.

But the problem is that I don't know how to blind the study, since part of the point is that people probably would behave differently under UBI. This is why I'm not a social scientist.

(Another thought: a pilot program, unless it was centered on a geographic area, might not affect things like wages and housing.

#10 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 10:39 PM:

I suspect that the sort of body that does a pilot study of UBI would probably hold up "these participants quit pointless (second) jobs and wrote novels instead" as a pro, not a con.

The question of blinding does apply, of course: even if you know your choice to paint instead of work is supported, you'll still feel pressure to finish paintings, or produce understandable/accessible work, or the like.

Even in a large-scale program, I suspect you'd see major differences in attitudes between people who came of age expecting to conform or starve, and younger cohorts. So getting good pilot-program data is of somewhat limited utility no matter how good that data is.

I'm not entirely clear on the research purposes of these pilot programs, though. It doesn't seem like studying the reasoning/choices of the participants is really all that useful at any realistic scale. I suspect gathering community-level data is much more useful,* but it also seems like maybe some of it is just proof-of-concept? More akin to an engineering demo than a social-science experiment?

*Particularly if it's harder data, like total hours worked, or hours volunteered/classroom hours/whatever, or health outcomes, or for that matter economic activity generated per dollar spent.

#11 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 10:39 PM:

There are two basic categories of political ideology: "nobody wins unless everybody wins" and "nobody wins unless somebody else loses".

The people in the second category would find the very concept of a UBI intolerable. Just look at how they lost their minds over the availability of subsidized private health insurance in the US. A UBI would make it too hard to tell the difference between the winners and the losers, and that's Not Okay.

I don't see that there's any other viable long-term solution to the post-work economy, but I also don't see a way to get there from here. I really wish I did.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 10:51 PM:

Trying to think of what I'd do if UBI was around early in my current career, and if it were around now.

20 years ago: I'd still have moved across the country to Silicon Valley, but I'd take a lot more chances. Jumping to interesting start-ups, rather than following my "safe" but increasingly frustrating job.

If UTI were introduced Right Now: Quit my job, since I'm basically still working out of a sense of worry that I might have to support a family member. I'd volunteer, write, travel, do "Maker" stuff.

#13 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 10:53 PM:

One way to think about UBI is as a revision to progressive taxation. In Australia, on the first $18,200 of your income you pay 0c per dollar. Then you'll pay 19c on every subsequent dollar up to $37,000 of income, then more, then more, then more.

So to implement UBI, add another bracket: on income from (say) -$20,000 to $0 you pay (say) 20 cents per dollar, so if your income is $0, you pay $-4,000. Then maybe continue as before, so if your income is $18,200 you still pay $-4,000, and after that your tax bill starts to creep upwards. Or maybe adjust all the other tax brackets to match: maybe if you've added the negative bracket, you can move or remove the previous bottom bracket.

Maybe thinking of it as a change to taxation would make it more palatable?

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 01:42 AM:

(Cities that offer cash or land incentives to people who move there.)

Sometime in the past couple of years I ran across an article about a US town or small city that had implemented a version of UBI. I can't locate it now, but I'm pretty sure I posted a link here at the time; maybe someone with better Google-fu than mine can find it? The bottom line was that crime and drug addiction went down, high-school graduation rates went up, and in general it was the exact antithesis of what the fascists say would happen under such a system. So there's some evidence out there to be had.

#15 ::: Craft (Alchemy) ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 04:32 AM:

Lee @14, could you be thinking of the Manitoba Mincome experiment? Canada though, not US, but it's the example I immediately thought of from your description.

Also, thank you for the link about cities paying people to live there; that will be useful to someone I know on another board.

Personally, like Stefan Jones @8, I'm presently having to consider the ramifications of a future life choice that would be a total non-issue with UBI. I and partner would like to live together, maybe even get married one day. However, in our present situation, doing so would make him ineligible for unemployment benefit, and I don't actually make enough to support both of us.

Hmm. Maybe we could sell UBI to our present Tory government as a means of helping people who want to get married, or be stay-at-home parents, to do so. They do claim to be in favour of those things.

#16 ::: rosyatrandom ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 05:11 AM:

I'm not going to get into the morality of this; trying to work out how to empathise/change-the-mind-of people who essentially don't care whether poor/outgroup folk suffer just depresses me.

My main concerns are with implementation.

On the first level, should UBI be intended to satisfy some basic living requirements, and if so how should that be tracked? How, also, should we account for those with special needs?

My second worry is of abuse, but not from those at the bottom. What is to stop the exploitation of people who, whether through coercion or bad judgement, essentially sign away their UBI to bigger fish?

#17 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 07:05 AM:

Interesting topic.

I like the concept of UBI, but have a nasty suspicion that implementing it whilst leaving the rest of our current system largely unchanged would fail, and fail badly.

That's not based on any deep economic insight - I'm no economist! But the global interconnected system of capitalism is highly complex & incorporates scarcity as a fundamental principle. To remove an element of scarcity, even at a very proportionally low value, is likely to have impacts we can't predict.

There is also a moral or ethical element to it. Like it or not, judging social standing & prestige by wealth is deeply baked into our society. Of course we can change this... But it won't happen overnight. Perhaps we need to work on what our society values before we consider trying to fix the issues with money?

#18 ::: radmonger ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 07:29 AM:

UBI is slightly tricky to argue against, as are there are three very different things that go under the same banner:

a. not enough money to live on
b. enough money to survive on, but not to thrive on
c. enough money to be happy.

a makes minimal difference from the status quo. c is basically Full Communism, and probably impossible to afford until the robots have been working for 20 years. And b leads to one group being alive but unhappy, and another group to stop working because they inherited, or otherwise lucked into, enough assets to thrive. If enough of them do so, you never get to the point your economy could afford c.

#19 ::: Becca Stareyes ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 08:37 AM:

rosyatrandom @ 16

On the first level, should UBI be intended to satisfy some basic living requirements, and if so how should that be tracked? How, also, should we account for those with special needs?

My own thoughts on the matter would be to peg UBI to cost of living, so that both allows for regional variation and automatically increases it so we don't have the problem the US has now with minimum wage.

I also suspect while it could replace programs like unemployment payments and SNAP (things where money is given out to low-income folks), it shouldn't touch things like health care and disability programs. (Because health care is expensive and can be needed only sporadically when you aren't disabled, and if you are disabled, your health care and accessibility needs are often higher.)

#20 ::: Tim Bartik ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 09:23 AM:

UBI is

(1) Very expensive;

(2) Almost sure to be wildly unpopular in U.S.;

(3) One and two together imply that for a plan to be even faintly politically feasible, the "basic income level" would have to be well below the poverty line, which was, for example, true of the only UBI type proposal that came close to passing, Nison's Family Assistance Plan. Do the supporters of UBI support a basic income of half the poverty line, if that is the only way to pass such a plan.

(4) Providing income transfers to increase income equality does not necessarily increase equality of social status or power or dignity. In a culture such as that of the U.S., which places a very high value on work, it is difficult for the regular, permanent recipient of income transfers to be respected as an equal unless those transfers are regarded as earned by some work or contribution of the individual. FDR referred to welfare as a "narcotic". If the most famously liberal President in U.S. history had such an attitude, what hope is there in U.S. culture for such a scheme?

(4) People have been predicting that technology will take all the jobs away for a long time, and these predictions have never come true. Jobs are destroyed by technology, and jobs are created by technology.

(5) In my opinion, a more politically feasible and better approach to increasing income equality is to aggressively promote full employment, not just through macroeconomic policy, but through an aggressive program of public employment and wage subsidies. Such a program would be more politically feasible and hence could be more generous, would also promote greater economic productivity, and if one thinks there is some value to the notion that work has dignity, promotes the wide distribution of such dignity.

#21 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 10:03 AM:

It's interesting to take a look at some of the earlier responses to automation's effect on the labor force. I recently cataloged a report that the United Auto Workers prepared in response to the rise in automation in the auto industry in the 1950s.

Their proposed solution is "guaranteed wage". People would still work to be paid, but their pay wouldn't be dropped. (The implication in their proposal is that automation would be delayed until employers have new things for the workers to do or the workers can take other jobs.) I don't know if this would have been any more feasible than UBI, but it's an interesting alternate take.

Overall, my basic take on the matter is not that much different from Tim Bartik's @20. But I'd add that *both* UBI and the situation we have now in the US and many other countries strike me as inefficient ways of accounting for the surpluses produced by automation and other productivity gains. (At present, too much of the surpluses are hoarded by a few privileged people; the idea with UBI seems to be to distribute more of the surplus uniformly across the population, regardless of what people do.)

I think the best way to deal with surpluses is to have people who can do so continue to work at useful and needed tasks (which there's still no shortage of, and many of which people would not naturally choose on their own), and to pay them well for it. That's easy to say, and not necessarily easy to implement. Both markets and governments have some mechanisms to bring it about when technology changes productivity and demand, though in neither case can we assume that they will automatically do so.

#22 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 10:29 AM:

Evan at #11: There are two basic categories of political ideology: "nobody wins unless everybody wins" and "nobody wins unless somebody else loses".

The second group we call "losers".

#23 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 10:42 AM:

Stefan Jones @6

'One of the justifications for UBI I hear from conservatives is that it could be a relatively simple way to do away with other assistance programs, like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, etcetera...'

This is precisely why UBI is being introduced by the current far-right government in Finland (or so I was told by my lefty friends when I was over there about a year ago.)

Incidentally, I see the Belgian political philosopher Philippe van Parijs, who's been thinking about some of these issue since the 1990's, has got a bunch of talks up on the Tube of You. I haven't checked them out - though I did read some of his work
on this when it first came out. Anyway, they may be of interest to some of those participating in the discussion.

(One thing I do remember from reading Van Parijs is that he thought he had an answer to 'who will do the unpopular/dangerous/messy jobs.' Basically he thought (thinks?) that a realistic level for UBI would probably be one at which people would, in many circumstances, still be motivated to make more money. If we no longer have a pool of people who are desperate to survive to do the jobs, we'll have to be willing to increase the wages paid to people to do such jobs.

In short, the jobs market will work like any other market. People willing to do nasty jobs will be a scarce resource, so we'll have to pay them more. By contrast, the going rate for jobs that allow for a greater degree of autonomy/power/prestige will decrease as the pool of people qualified to do them increases (because more people will have the time to acquire the qualifications that would allow them to access such jobs.)

(I emphasise that I'm reporting, rather endorsing, Van Parijs views here.)

#24 ::: rosyatrandom ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 10:48 AM:

Tim @ #20:

(4) People have been predicting that technology will take all the jobs away for a long time, and these predictions have never come true. Jobs are destroyed by technology, and jobs are created by technology.

It certainly seems to be one of the factors that have squeezed the labour market; as capital takes the place of labour, inequality increases as its owners accrue most of its revenue. Meanwhile, the new jobs that arise are not sufficient to cover the shortfall. What we see is a shrinking middle-class (read: educated workforce with skilled jobs) with shrinking wages, and and unskilled workforce whose wages are less and less liveable.

(4) Providing income transfers to increase income equality does not necessarily increase equality of social status or power or dignity.

It's a start, and I'm pretty sure those struggling to make basic ends meet would prefer to merely have their dignity burdened.

#25 ::: Jack V ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 11:02 AM:

I have lots of thoughts about UBI, most positive, but some mixed.

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. Making the local equivalent of unemployment benefits and disability benefits generous and easy to get is closer to UBI (if you assume that most people will contribute more to the economy if they can, rather than because they have to).

One big implication in UBI is removing a lot of distorted incentives. If tax is "tax rate is higher and increases more quickly, but everyone has UBI to start with", there's no problem with jobs worse than living on benefits. Every job is a plus (albeit a small one).

People can have quite different ideas of UBI. Many people on very limited income would be better off if they had ANY reliable regular income, which is one reason UBI sounds attractive to me. But it replaces some other benefits, not all. People who need full-time care and can't work at all need more support of the sort they're supposed to get now. If UBI is paid to everyone from birth, that would probably be good, but is quite expensive. But if there's NO payment for children, children massively lose out. There's probably some compromise that is tenable, but people can have opposite expectations of UBI.

I am worried about UBI subsidising poorly-paying employers (as some forms of benefit do now, for people in work, but needing help with housing or other essentials). My hope is that being able to quit and live frugally is a sufficiently practical choice that employers don't hold people hostage with crappy deals, they have to pay something people actually want. But I haven't actually worked out what I'd expect to happen.

Big economic changes can be risky. I know roughly how I'd like to proceed, but I know there may be unforseen problems.

I hope that UBI will have many indirect benefits as well, which if it's a success will probably dwarf the obvious benefits. It's a lot easier to start a business if you have something to live off while you do. Taking a caring role for a friend or relative doesn't have to be so much all-or-nothing. If you're in an abusive relationship, you don't have absolutely nothing if you leave.

#26 ::: J K Hoffman ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 11:05 AM:

I have to admit, UBI is a completely fascinating idea to me. The older I get and the more people I encounter who are struggling, or have struggled, financially the more interesting this idea becomes to me, too. It's also something I've thought a lot about in a science-fiction context the past several years. 20 years ago, I would have been 100% against the concept of UBI, but now, I'm not so sure that it wouldn't solve a lot of problems.

I think it would, of necessity, require significant tax reform, as well, to work. Also, I think our attitudes and ideas about poverty, social responsibility, health care, and what actually constitutes a truly advanced and humane society need to change before it would ever be seriously considered in the USA. But, attitudes are changing. I think more people believe that things need to change than ever have before.

I look forward to seeing the results of the current tests and experiments. I think UBI has the potential to completely change our society, and in ways we probably cannot quite comprehend.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 11:25 AM:

What I read was that it's an attempt to replace the 40-some different social-security plans they already have, which are much harder to track and administer.

#28 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 11:33 AM:

My feeling about UBI and poorly-paying employers is that, with all things, "it's complicated".

I see these two effects:

First, if I have a UBI, I have choices, and I can escape wage-slavery. I don't have to accept a minimum-wage job or face starvation. I can argue for a wage that makes me comfortable, and walk away from the table if I don't get it.

On the other hand, I can potentially offer a lower wage since my employees won't need to be fully supported by their wage. People may be perfectly willing to supplement their income as a $5/hr "greeter" if they don't need $15/hr just to live.

It will change the employer-employee dynamic for low-wage workers, probably in a way that is beneficial for both, once the initial shock of the transition wears off.

For a lot of reasons, I prefer a UBI that is not means-tested. From experience, it is embarrassing to have to prove, repeatedly, that you are poor in order to get the help you need. It is counterproductive to go to the job center and pull up the same 10 job listings in your field day after day because you are required to send 6 new resumes a week in order to get benefits. It is enticing to not mention help you get from other sources, or the work that is not enough, etc, because if you follow the rules and tell about them, you will lose your benefits -- especially health benefits.

#29 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 11:45 AM:

From an SF-point of view, I think the first places I really heard of a UBI (but not in those words) was when I read For Us, The Living by Heinlein. Although the book was published in the 2000's, it was written in the 1930's, and described a late-21st century US which has a UBI.

#30 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 11:48 AM:

I'm wondering if any "means-basing" in UBI would make it too expensive to administrate?

I have been told that one of the reasons why "child supplement" in Sweden (basically, if you are the caretaker of a child, you receive (in 2016) 1050 SEK per month, with an increase in the monthly support number, as the number of children you're the caretaker of increases) isn't means-based is that it's actually more expensive to do the means-testing, administration and dealing with edge cases than simply paying everyone.

#31 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 11:57 AM:

I find myself wanting to do some first-order estimates of what's involved and how much it costs. The current US federal budget is $3.8 trillion, about $12,000 per person in the US (and that includes deficit spending).

Even discounting transition (still have to pay interest, still have to wind down cancelled programs) and enforcement costs (fraud prevention, tracking the population to make sure you have enough, do we put illegals on the UBI or not?), to a first approximation we wouldn't be able to afford anything but the UBI without cancelling just about every other assistance program in existence.

Also, there's a two big huge honking questions. First, will it be politically feasible to pass a program which will allow people not to contribute even though they easily could? Secondly, would in fact enough people continue contributing instead of not-contributing, that the needed goods and services to keep everyone alive and happy would be available?

(And there's the third-order effect: how does this work over generations? would the desire to work and contribute continue over generations if there wasn't a need for it?)

#32 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 02:05 PM:

No means testing.

Everyone gets it, period. This means there is no discrimination. If you are a citizen you get UBI, no ifs ands or buts.

#33 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 02:23 PM:

Piggy-backing on Lori Coulson @32:

No means testing.

Everyone gets it, period. This means there is greatly-reduced fraud, as there are no qualifications to violate.

#34 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 02:28 PM:

Please note there are significant differences between "If you're a citizen you get this" and "Everybody gets this." There's a small margin for eligibility shenanigans there.

#35 ::: Joshua Kronengold ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 02:33 PM:

Ok, a couple of things (I've been very pro UB for...a number of years now):

1. UBI and MBI aren't the same thing. MBI is Minimum Basic Income -- the basic "negative income tax" where at a certain point, making less money means the government gives you money. Make more than a certain threshold? Don't get the money. BI/UBI is "Basic Income" -- where you restructure the tax base such that instead of it being a progressive structure where the first band is untaxed, (or the 0th band is negatively taxed), the second band is taxed at a low rate, etc, you giver people a stipend to start, and -then- you have a first band that's untaxed, a second band that's taxed at a very low rate, etc. Of course, the rates end up being higher--but you can calibrate it so that below a certain number everyone has more money.

2. UBI -is- practical. The point of "give -everyone- $10k" (or whatever) isn't to increase eveyone's income by $10k--instead, it's to make sure everyone has a minimum of $10k and never loses money by making money, with a simple and easy to understand system. So simply saying "There are 242 million people in the US, so giving each of them 10k would cost 24 trillion" is ludicrous. Instead, you need to look at the people who would have -more- money after the change. So if your breakeven is that anyone under $15k would get to keep all the money, anyone $15k-$25k would keep an average of half, anyone at $35k-$100k would break even, and anyone over $100k would pay a higher tax? We're talking 60.5M in the "+10k" band, and 36.8M in the +$5k band -- for a total of less than 800B; not chump change, but comparable to the current welfare costs of 1.1 trillion.

3. No, we couldn't drop -all- entitlements, because we couldn't rely on "throw money at the problem" to take care of making sure people educate their chlldren, do preventative health care, etc. But we could still drop a lot; anything giving someone money or cash-equivalent has a means (or other similar) test because someone decided that we shouldn't give it to people who don't deserve it is probably better given to people more fairly and without the means test (which also means we don't have to hire people to conduct the means tests and investigation). And, of

4. Economics and free trade continue to work even if we give people stuff. The important thing is not to take that stuff away if they start wanting to do things. This is the kind of thing that is best proven by case studies, not assertion or analogy.

5. Yeah, imigration and tax shelters are an actual problem, but not an insoluble one.

#36 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 02:36 PM:

Tony @31:

There are a lot of programs that could be shut down, or at least re-evaluated. In addition to obvious programs like SNAP and TANF, you can also add in many of the farm subsidy programs, a chuck of the military budget, EITC, etc.

The total change to the budget won't be the full cost of the UBI, but it'll still go up, and taxes would have to go up as well.

I'm uncertain how the tax structure would change; the $12K/person estimate you proposed is close to the current standard deduction in the tax code, so maybe it won't change that much, just an increase in current marginal rates.

#37 ::: Joshua Kronengold ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 02:42 PM:

FWIW, the reason to avoid means testing isn't just expense (although that's part of it). It's also that you cut the incentive link if you means test. There should never be a point where providing more value to society results in your having less stuff (otherwise we're paying you expressly -not- to work, which is not the system as intended), Of course, we can achieve this with means tested MBI, with taxes and BI backoff calculated to avoid any gaps -- "the first 10k is untaxed and doesn't affect your BI. The second 10k is untaxed, but we reduce your BI by 50% of that income; the third 10k is taxed at 2%, and we also reduce your BI by 50% of that income, so once you earn 30k you are paying $200 in taxed and no longer recieve BI" and then a properly progressive tax structure above that. But it's silly; it means there are functionally two taxes people have to keep track of, one of which is very non-progressive; in comparison to just taxing people on everything they make at progressive rates, including BI.

#38 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 02:51 PM:

I think that even if current earmarked-cash programs were simply opened to everyone, the U.S. would suddenly be a much better place to live and the economy (by which I mean the amount of money that ordinary people can move around each day, not investment performance) would improve.

Imagine if everybody could get food stamps at a figure that was assumed to pay for the average price of three deli sandwiches per day. Everybody. If you had the time/ability/resources to cook, you could stretch that money further by buying basic ingredients. If you didn't, you would still be guaranteed some kind of food each day if you could reach someplace that sold it. If you were rich, you might not bother to apply for the EBT card (renewed annually). But if you were poor, even if you were homeless or completely unable to find a job, you would be guaranteed food. Every day.

Imagine Medicaid having a single question on the application: Are you a U.S. citizen or a dependent of a U.S. citizen? Imagine nobody anywhere having to stay with a job that was slowly breaking them because they couldn't get health insurance any other way. Imagine small businesses not closing because they couldn't get any employees to stay with them, because no health insurance.

Now, that said, I live in the state that has come closest to UBI, although that is being chewed away. You know what people do with that dividend money? They pour it back into the local and state economy, buying four-wheelers, groceries, Christmas presents, and dental work. They put it away to send their kids to college. They donate some of it even as they apply for it. (You just check a box.) They circulate it, instead of sitting on it like dragons. Sure, some people may make financial decisions with the money that seem stupid to observers, but here's the thing: if that other person is not my minor child or an adult under my guardianship, it is not my business.

So, yeah, if we get a nationwide UBI, some of Those People may buy gigantic TVs when they should be thinking about their retirement or go to the salon when they should be fixing up their houses. But they would be circulating the money regardless, and that's the definition of a working economy.

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 02:58 PM:

There's this weird assumption some people have, that if you're high income, you're a "consumer" and help the economy, even if most ofyour money is sitting in investment accounts - or overseas tax shelters - when all the evidence is that lower-income people put much more money into the economy, because they don't have it to invest or shelter.

Paying people a stipend for food and shelter and clothing is not going to change the need for those things.

#41 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 03:01 PM:

As to whether people would relax for 72 years without contributing a lick of work...


Who would people strive to date? Someone only on Basic, with no detectable skills (social or professional) or someone with ambition and experience?

While we still have procreative urges, a competitive sense, and ambition, we will have workers.

Workers who will seek out the best possible outlet for their personal talent, instead of just the most convenient job that will keep them alive. In other words, worker productivity go boom!

#42 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 03:37 PM:

as Matt Bruenig points out, a form of UBI already exists for rich people. This is the unearned income stream they get from rents, interest and dividends. It does not appear to have prevented them from working.

"The UBI does not invent passive income. It merely doles it out evenly to everyone in society, rather than in very concentrated amounts to the richest people in society.
The average person in the top 1% receives a UBI equal to 7.5 times the average income in the country."

Of course the right wing would like to replace all benefits with UBI. Much like the proposed replacement of Medicare with vouchers, this would effectively penalize the poor as usual. We have to watch out for this.

#43 ::: Megan ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 04:38 PM:

38: I would expect people's discount rates and ideas of what money is good for to change if they are assured a constant stream of money.

If you are poor and expect to be poor, spending a windfall on a big screen tv may be the decision that gets the most utility out of that windfall. It isn't like there are going to be other windfalls that will add up to college tuition. But if you know that you'll have money the following month, and that saving up for a goal is a genuine possibility, the big screen tv becomes less of a worthwhile purchase.

I think an assured long-term money stream would really change people, once they trusted it. Not just the money, but the sense of a reliable future.

#44 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 05:01 PM:

server error *boot!*

#45 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 05:26 PM:

One thing I've been wondering about basic income: how does the record keeping work? Currently, there are lots and lots of people at the margins, living on the streets or with relatives or somewhere else where they don't own property or have their names on a lease.

Would UBI require a full database of every person in the country? How would that be managed with people who currently are legal (generally, born here) but totally or nearly totally undocumented? What about those who in today's society generally end up homeless? How would UBI be delivered to them?

#46 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 05:29 PM:

Hrm. It disappeared. I was speculating about what predatory behaviors would evolve to exploit a UBI. Sort of in the spirit of payday loans.

I wonder about borrowing against future income. I could see people getting up to their eyebrows, if this were possible.

Also: what about things like garnishing wages?

If there are limits placed on what/how much you can borrow against, what are the implications for things like mortgages?

There are whole classes of personal economic dysfunction (gambling, compulsive spending) that the UBI would have implications for, that I wouldn't even attempt to predict the effects.

Contrariwise, "saving for old age" becomes a whole different thing, if you have a guaranteed income.

#47 ::: Jimbeaux D ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 05:31 PM:

First off, I don't believe delivery/transportation jobs will go away. Many drivers also provide the unloading labor and this set of complex behaviors will be difficult to automate at a cheaper cost than traditional human labor. I don't doubt that robots will be able to do all this at some point, but at what cost, and how much maintenance?
While automation will lead to surplus, I am not under the illusion that the owners of capital will be willing to share that surplus with the entire population. No, I think they will only see a surplus of population that should be eliminated. If work becomes unnecessary, then laborers will be seen as unnecessary.
UBI will challenge our view of money. To afford UBI, governments will print money, they won't tax the rich. This may or may not be inflationary. After QE and Negative interest rates, the inflationary argument may be dead. Money and power are directly related. If money loses its scarcity, how does that effect its relationship with power?

#48 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 05:39 PM:

Interesting that the child benefit in Sweden works out to not that much more than the child tax credit here (US$1000 per child per year, or $83 a month, while the Swedish version works out to about $115 a month).

#49 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 05:56 PM:

RE the homeless: a LOT of homeless people are on the grid enough to get benefits. Is just what they get is often not enough to pay for an apartment.

#50 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 06:00 PM:


Anthology of "social design fiction" stories about UBI.

#51 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 06:50 PM:

Heinlein's "For Us, the Living" covers social credit. A very early work, and very far removed politically from his later works.

The interesting part of his lectures cover the meaning of money: how it is a tool to manipulate supply and demand in a successful way. The sole purpose of money being that of allowing all needs and many wants to be satisfied by production, and production being tailored to demand.

For example, one thing we do wrong in this country: Is the purchasing power of all U.S. citizens capable of buying the the totality of U.S. production? Does it?

Interesting book.

#52 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 07:24 PM:

Stefan Jones @50, I was thinking of that too. I don't necessarily want to see stories that are about UBI, because I'm that could edge to close to moralistic message fiction, but I'd like very much to see stories where UBI is a well-thought out part of the worldbuilding, to get some feel for the possible futures down that road.

#53 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2017, 09:42 PM:

Craft (Alchemy), #15: No, that wasn't it. I was sure I remembered it being in the US, so I brute-forced it by going back thru my VAB. It was this -- not a city, but a Native American tribe distributing part of the profits from a casino. And there's a reasonably long baseline on it, enough to show continuing effects.

Tim, #20: (4) People have been predicting that technology will take all the jobs away for a long time, and these predictions have never come true. Jobs are destroyed by technology, and jobs are created by technology.

However, it is undeniable that for the last couple of decades, the increase in jobs produced by technology has not even come close to replacing the number of jobs lost by Big Industry exporting jobs to countries with cheap labor, no environmental regulations, or both.

Providing income transfers to increase income equality does not necessarily increase equality of social status or power or dignity.

Do I really have to point you at Maslow's Hierarchy? People who aren't having to struggle 24/7 just to stay alive have more time and energy to devote to pursuing other things -- like legal equality and justice. A point which is certainly not lost on our Republican overlords.

In my opinion, a more politically feasible and better approach to increasing income equality is to aggressively promote full employment, not just through macroeconomic policy, but through an aggressive program of public employment and wage subsidies.

IOW, a new New Deal. Which is a very practical suggestion, and one which you cannot possibly expect to be endorsed by the very people who are determined to unmake the original one! But yes, a new version of the WPA could solve multiple problems at once, given that we have rather a lot of infrastructure decay that no one is paying enough attention to. However, there's no getting around the fact that it would have to be financed by higher taxes on corporations and the 1%, which makes it a non-starter.

Jack, #25: I am worried about UBI subsidising poorly-paying employers

If the UBI was actually enough to live on, it wouldn't matter -- it's approaching the concept of "living wage" from a different direction.

What I'm wondering is whether or not it needs to be pegged to cost of living for a given area, and if so, on what scale? Part of the problem with the current calculation of "poverty level" is that it's flat-rate across the country, which means that a family with poverty-level income can scrape by in some areas but will be homeless in others. Is county level too granular? (And even then, what do we do about cities like Atlanta?)

#54 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 04:40 AM:

HelenS @ #48:

There's quite a progressive increase, the more children there are. I don't recall when the age cut-off is, I am thinking 18, but I may be wrong.

In order from 1 to 6 kids, the only lines in the table I found, it's 1050, 2250, 3754, 5814, 8114, and 10414 SEK / month.

Sadly, the 1050 SEK from one child is not enough to cover the monthly fee for a pre-school child care spot in Stockholm (it seems I can't find 2016 fees, only 2017 fees, which sort of makes sense, with 2017 having actually started), which would've been 1362 SEK. At two kids, the total fee would be 2270, so daycare would then be essentially covered by the child stipend.

#55 ::: Jack V ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 06:09 AM:

Another way I think of it is, a very left-wing way of viewing progress is a steady shift to centralising things that were previously individual, and getting both ethical and efficiency benefits from it.

Providing a state pension, some form of medical care (even in the USA, there's some emergency care), some form of safety net, some form of nursing care for people when they're invalid, etc. Those are all things which people previously had to rely on their relatives or employers for, and just suffer if they didn't have it. That's partly immoral -- some people just starve. And partly inefficient -- the state can provide those things with an economy of scale.

UBI is another logical step in that progression, in that it adds to the basics most people are entitled to, a reasonable minimum of food, shelter and discretionary spending. With the assumption that with that freedom, people will be more useful to the workforce, not less.

For that matter, another BIG example of that sort of thing is education. If everyone had to be taught to read, to count, to write messages, etc by their employer, employers would constantly walk a tightrope between how much to invest in training vs not lose too much when people eventually switch jobs. But everyone benefits from EVERYONE being taught those things. And if it were possible to support yourself while training in a new skill, that could bring many of the same benefits.

#56 ::: rosyatrandom ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 06:21 AM:

I've just thought of an issue arising from asymmetry; where one country has UBI, but another does not.

If a country has UBI, it is likely that wages will be restructured to account for it and will be, by themselves, lowered.

How would this effect companies from countries with and without UBI, contracting employees from the other country?

From one without UBI, it will find citizens of the UBI-country more attractive, as they would expect less wages. The reverse would also hold.

#57 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 11:35 AM:

re 40: This is the fault with trickle-down thinking, and something which is one of the those Actual Empirical Economic Results that the classical and Austrian types just ignore in their theorizing. There comes a point where people simply can't spend everything, giving them more money to "spend" doesn't get plowed back into the economy. Instead, they use it for speculation, which leads directly to bubbles.

re 51: when you're talking "purchasing power of a nation" you are moving out into national accounts/balance of payments territory. Here's an analysis of this WRT the US and China.

#58 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 12:13 PM:

Helen S@48

That's a huge difference. Not only is $115 around 30% more than $83, the Swedes are giving a cash payment while the US is giving a tax credit -- which only benefits people earning enough money to pay tax.

#59 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 12:58 PM:

It struck me, a while back, that taxing low-paid workers is the only way that a government can be sure of getting tax income from large corporations.

UBI goes against that.

The corporations, and the high-paid executives, can manage their affairs to minimise their tax bill. They don't have to spend all their money in ways that result in purchase taxes.

#60 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 01:01 PM:

Chris Lawson @ 58

a tax credit -- which only benefits people earning enough money to pay tax

That's usually the case, but not in this case--the Child Tax Credit is refundable so long as you have a minimal level of earned income ($3000)--so it benefits even people who don't earn enough to pay tax. It's one of the most progressive pieces of the US tax code.

#61 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 01:26 PM:

Dave B., #59: That's not true. The way the government gets tax money out of large corporations is by eliminating corporate welfare. We had that kind of tax structure in the 1950s -- the only way that corporations could avoid paying taxes was to invest an equivalent amount into expansion, infrastructure, etc. -- and it worked quite well.

#62 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 02:20 PM:

OtterB @52: Look at McCaffrey's universe, specifically "Dull Drums," but it's shown in various ways throughout the different books.

#63 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 02:49 PM:

SamChevre @60:

The EITC is also structured nicely, and has been called one of the most successful welfare programs out there. It, too, is a refundable tax credit.

It credits you with %15 of your income, up to a cap, and also decreases in value as you get closer to a maximum income to qualify. The cap and max income levels vary depending if you have children or not.

When I was helping people prepare their taxes, it was a huge book for low-income families. Unfortunately for me, as a single filer with no dependents, the cutoffs were too low for me to benefit from it.

I think the EITC could be a great model for how a UBI or MBI could work, if it were changed slightly: no initial ramping (so you could get the EITC even with 0 income), higher caps and income limits, and some way to pay it out over a year instead of one lump sum.

#64 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 02:49 PM:

2270 krona is only just over $250. That would be nowhere near enough for daycare here, even for one child, so the daycare must also be subsidized.

And what SamChevre said about the child tax credit. Technically it's the Additional Child Tax Credit that you get if you don't owe enough in tax to take full advantage of the regular Child Tax Credit. It's called a "refundable tax credit."

#65 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 03:40 PM:

Jack V @55
Many people think that emergency care is covered in the US. In most places, it is that the emergency room has to see you, usually treat you, admit you if that is needed. They expect you to pay for it at a later date. If you don't have good insurance, (or lots of money) you may be hounded by bill collectors for the rest of your life for that $500 bandage and $100 aspirin.

We need single payer or universal Medicare or something. Though even Medicare needs improvement: it only covers 80%. No cap. So if you have a $100,000 medical bill, you'll have to pay $20,000 or more. Which is why I, and many other seniors, pay for some sort of additional insurance.

#66 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 03:44 PM:

That's not the only part of Medicare that needs fixing.
It doesn't cover a lot of necessary medical stuff that's now routine, like serum-lipid testing (which is expensive); it doesn't cover dental, even preventive, that would lower costs in other places, and if you need glasses, too bad.
And, of course, it needs to be able to negotiate pricing with the manufacturers that are currently price-gouging.

#67 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2017, 05:55 PM:

Once in a while the news will run a story about a team of volunteer doctors & dentists who set up shop in a school gymnasium or NG armory rural area of the US and deal with a horde of people in desperate need. Usually white, middle aged or older.

These stories are supposed to be heart-warming example of selfless volunteers helping out, but they really get me angry and disgusted.

One, because we don't (even with the ACA) have a health care system that can deal with this.

Two, because . . . the crowds are demographically the sort of folks who voted in Trump, and they're going to get screwed. Again.

#68 ::: HenryR ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 12:20 AM:

I agree with Jenny @38. UBI is a huge and constant economic stimulus. Everyone on the bottom of the ladder will spend most or all of it. It goes right back into the economy, generating more income, profits, and tax revenue. It even trickles up.

I recently read a post on The Raw Story about a fast food restaurant owner who was surprised by the effect of the California minimum wage increase. The first year it went up he saw a 15% increase in revenue. The next year's wage increase brought him another 12%. His basically got more money than he spent on increased labor costs. I'm sure that UBI would have a similar effect.

Over the last 30 years we've been converting from manufacturing industries to knowledge and service industries and have incurred a high social cost in doing so. The profits have mostly been privatized, even more so due to constant tax reductions, and the costs have been socialized. UBI creates an economic foundation for everyone who is bearing the brunt of this conversion.

There will be people who abuse UBI, just like there are people who abuse SNAP or the US Tax Code. These are all crimes. There will be people who will spend the money unwisely, but there are always people who spend whatever money they have unwisely. They will suffer the consequence of their unwise actions. Neither of these is a good reason to oppose UBI.

I like UBI. I think it is not only affordable, but will also boost the economy and partially pay for itself.

#69 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 12:41 AM:

Joining the conversation late, but with something perhaps of interest:

According to conversations with an Australian friend back in the early '80s, Australia's unemployment system at that time worked a lot like what's being discussed for UBI. At the time he was taken aback both by how *much* American unemployment paid back then - around 80% of your employment income, in the states I had experience with - and by how fast it cut off, within 6 months.

According to him, the "dole" paid you just barely enough to live on, but kept up indefinitely, and some people did live off of it for years. (The Australian slang for the people who were intentionally living off of it instead of looking for work was "dole-bludgers" which had a lovely ring to it, "dole-bludging" being the present participle.)

#70 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 12:58 AM:

@Nangleator: Let's say the UBI does what the minimum wage was supposed to do: pay for one adult's safe sleeping/relaxing/stuff-putting-downing quarters, hygienic needs, nourishing food, clean water, clothes/grooming that won't get them looked at funny in their usual milieu, transportation to work and shopping, and access to information and communications, with the ability to put a little bit away each week (this will require widening access to credit unions or reforming the banks) or buy a six-pack or a movie ticket.

We might very well get a group of people who were perfectly happy with their hot dogs and cheap sneakers and a six-pack on the weekend. As long as they didn't get sick--the minimum wage never covered medical expenses--they'd be fine. And they'd be circulating nearly all of that money on a local level.

We would probably also get a bunch of people who for many and various reasons didn't get jobs, but didn't want to sit around all day. Some of them would probably be into stretching their incomes by making and growing things for themselves or as part of a barter economy. And that would be fine; since it's impossible to completely leave the cash economy behind unless you squat in an urban area and go Freegan (and don't get sick), they would still be spending money. Others would volunteer for things, or start non-profit groups dedicated to cheap fun.

And some would whine that the UBI needed to be bigger not because they couldn't work, but because they didn't want to. There are people like that blogging right now, begging for money. They beg and whine and accept donations, blow them on crap, and then beg for more. The thing is--they already do that now. A UBI would make no difference to their massive sense of entitlement.

I'm sure there's a lurker reading my list and going "But but but work is virtuous not working is sinful how dare they sleep in!!!!" To that person: I have inborn brain stuff that makes me able to do a good job OR hold down a full-time job: pick one. Does that mean that I am a born sinner? That I ought to be punished with poverty? OK, now look at my neighbor, who is healthy as a horse and has a degree. If something happens to her that makes her unable to work and drains her savings, should she be punished with poverty? Or how about my relative, who worked like a mule all her life and is now afflicted by multiple life-threatening health issues due partly to having worked so hard? Should she be punished with poverty and fear?

Hypothetical lurker, I'm a Christian. As a Christian, I believe that he who can't work should be cared for and he who can work but won't should not eat. BUT--how do you separate the two? Again, my brain stuff makes working "normally" a huge strain that I can't keep up for long. But I didn't get an official diagnosis, because that costs money. And you can't tell by looking at me that there is anything wrong with my brain. Am I disabled enough for a UBI restricted to the deserving? How the hell do I prove it?

I think the Christian solution is to provide the UBI and not worry about who is poor enough to be accounted virtuous. Don't be so focused on virtue, hypothetical reader, that you thresh the poor in an effort to winnow out the lazy.

#71 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 05:39 AM:

HelenS @ #64:

That would be the Stockholm Council daycare facilities, probably run with an aim to make no more than 1%-2% profit.

If we assume that approximately 10% of the child care fees go to "facilities, food, repairs, etc" and we're typically seeing 2 children per family (because that's easy), you'd be looking at ~20 kids to cover the Swedish median income for one carer.

From memory, I think there were 8-12 kids per carer at the pre-school level, rising to probably 15-20 kids at the after-school level.

So, yes, probably some subsidising, but probably also balanced by the fact that there's suddenly a lot more people that are able to participate in paid work, part-time or full-time.

#72 ::: Jack V ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 07:27 AM:

Magenta Griffith @ 65

I'm sorry, I apologise :( I thought it did represent some sort of progress that the result of acute illness was "bankrupt for life" rather than "die immediately". But I agree, that is a completely unforgivable way to run a country, and that even when there is some care, it is generally woefully inadequate in multiple different ways.

#73 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 08:29 AM:

Side note on work: In every piece I've read about life in the paleolithic through neolithic ages, people have been described as working 15% of the day, and having 85% for leisure. (And every author has found the opportunity to comment that this is the best humans have ever done; farming is a lot more work.)

Thus, work is not our "natural" lot, and we should not think of it as a goal.

#74 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 10:40 AM:

Pfusand: Very true. Funny how there all these laws and customs forcing us to work regularly, but none to make sure that we don't forget to breathe.

#75 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 12:11 PM:

There are a couple of big advantages of UBI over other safety net programs that I can see:

a. No means testing = no administrative resources spent trying to decide who's eligible, no resources spent dodging the means testing, and no state-imposed busybody-ism involved. I think that's a pretty big benefit both in money and in quality of life.

b. No perverse incentives--existing poverty programs with means testing sometimes create incentives to do weird and countrrproductive things to stay on the right side of the means testing--like not keeping any savings, not taking a job, not wanting to graduate from school, not getting married, etc. There are examples of all these occurring with current poverty programs, and I've seen it up close a couple of times.

This assumes that we use UBI to get rid of most of the other poverty programs in place--we stop trying to decide who is sufficiently needy to qualify for food stamps and just give everyone the same check. Ideally, we'd put everyone on Medicaid at the same time, with additional insurance available on the private market, since the healthcare market is broken in ways the market for food and shelter isn't.

The cost is going to be a significant issue. Another issue is that there willl be visible examples of people who misspend their UBI--use it to get drunk from payday till the money runs out, then go hungry till next payday, or whatever. The arguments that led to limit on what food stamps may be used for will show up again wrt UBI. Still another issue is that prices on things poor people buy will rise as more money is available to everyone--some resources will be shifted over to the use of poor people because of those higher prices, but that will still mean that raising the income of the poorest people by $10K will give them less benefit than you'd expect from looking at current prices. (This is the same argument often made wrt school vouchers, with the same logic.).

#76 ::: RuthgGT ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 12:30 PM:

A lot depends on how you define work, of course. Neolithic peoples wouldn't have the concept of working for a wage, which seems to be the definition underlying the question "if UBI, will people still work"--someone has to clean the toilet and wash the dishes, anyway. Actually, you could justifiably say we don't value work now, viz. women's 2nd shift, the "fight for 15", or the complicated web of our agricultural system, in which hardly anyone's labor is being properly accounted for. Or social media, making visible the work of interpersonal connection?

It's a bit funny to me, coming from a culture that really sees work (i.e. purposeful effort) as a valuable part of life, that someone would think that people wouldn't work if they didn't have to, but I suppose if you mostly see work as drudgery endured in exchange for a wage, then why would you expect someone to work if they didn't need to? Oh dear, I think I've just talked myself into having to go read Marx now...

#77 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 02:45 PM:

No one's mentioned Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage"? If I recall correctly, this was based on Nixon's proposal.

A UBI would work only if it met basic needs like food, housing, and clothing. The key thing is how to define "basic", since the fundamental costs of living vary considerably from place to place. It costs a lot more to live in the SF Bay Area than in, say, eastern Kentucky. Should the UBI in the two areas differ? Or should "universal mean universal"? Oakland, after all, is a more expensive place than Olive Hill. Or are we to tell the poor of Oakland that they are to move to Olive Hill where they'll be able to live on the UBI? The good folk of Olive Hill will be in for a surprise.

This will also mean a redefinition of work. If the UBI provides bread and a roof, then work will be about jam and wheels. Work itself may become a measure of status.

Conservatives and reactionaries, who see certain segments o the population as inherently "undeserving", regardless of their actual personal qualities, are going to oppose all of this tooth and nail. Reality having a definite bias to the left.

#78 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 02:51 PM:

#77: Mentioned it in #6! Haven't read it in years. Wonder how it holds up.

#79 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 03:39 PM:

Since we've intermittently had mention here of food stamps/SNAP/EBT: I actually think it'd be worth keeping around and even extending as part of a UBI scheme. Ditch the means-testing, of course, but...

If I (as a government) give everybody $500 (or whatever) a month, that costs me, basically, $500 times the number of people. I recoup only what comes back in taxes from high-bracket individuals. I can't, meaningfully, make it enough of a hassle that rich people won't bother cashing the check without also making it enough of a hassle that poor people will have harder lives.

If, on the other hand, I give out $400 cash, plus $200 in SNAP, I'll bet that ends up costing less even though them as need it get a little more money. The way EBT works now, unspent funds expire after a year or so, going back to the state. Rich folks aren't too likely to go out of their way to spend a few extra pennies, right? Probably most won't go out of their way to return a few extra pennies either, not once they hit your account, but if it's sitting on an EBT card instead of in your account...

It's also likely to encourage at least a small portion of poor folks to eat a little better, too: I know when I was on EBT, I actually had more food-money than I could eat (it was just everything else I had to scrimp for). Now, I have weird food issues, so when I'm watching my money I have to buy things I know I'll eat. That means I cut down on things like "healthy vegetables I might be too much of a failure* to cook and eat."

I'm not, mind you, saying "EBT means more veggies." It did for me, but that ain't everybody and also I fucking hate hearing some "god's poor and the devil's poor" bullshit about that one time you saw someone use an EBT card to buy whatever you think the worst kind of food is. But I think for people without a whole lot of money, removing "is this just cheap, or is it cheap enough for me to afford" from their list of worries at the grocery store can be a pretty big deal.

*Dumb, complicated food issues that I feel guilty about, obvs.

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 03:49 PM:

Government would get back in taxes what was spent on taxable goods - sales taxes aren't income-based. That covers clothing, some foods, and a lot of necessities. This would change to the extent that people can buy more of them.

#81 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 04:31 PM:

Devin @79 Rich folks aren't too likely to go out of their way to spend a few extra pennies

I was thinking, well, if I had food benefits I didn't need, I could buy staples to donate to the food pantry ... oh. There should be a very limited need for food pantries. There would still be a need for things like Meals on Wheels, where the problem is not just affording food. But much less of the "how do I stretch the food to the end of the month" support.

I would like to live in a world where there was a very limited need for food pantries.

#82 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 04:34 PM:

PJ Evans @80:

There's a complication: sales taxes in the US are a local tax, while I'm fairly certain that the UBI we are considering is Federal. So the UBI, in this case, would act via taxation as a transfer mechanisms from Federal taxes to State government, benefitting states with higher populations.

One of the objections to sales taxes is that they are inherently regressive. If you can't afford to save your money, you pay overall a higher percentage in sales-taxes. But if your income is high enough that you can save, you pay less in sales-taxes.

#83 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 05:23 PM:

Re: sales tax. One of the things I love about Minnesota is no sales tax on most food and most clothing. Candy is taxed, for example, but not milk or veggies.

#84 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 05:24 PM:


Assume we have $1000 per citizen per month that we are willing to give out. We can choose between:

Case 1: Everyone gets a debit card with $1000 per month put on it, and they spend it as they like.

Case 2: Everyone gets an approved-foods-only card with $100 and a separate card with $900 to spend on anything every month.

I don't see why Case 2 is better than Case 1. If you need more money for something else than food this month, and can cut back on food expenses, then you're better off in Case 1. The only way you're better off under Case 2 is if you have such bad judgment that you starve yourself to buy some other thing, and if there's no way to game the system to spend money on approved foods and the resell it or something to get cash.

Also, havinga federal program that tries to micromanage how the poor spend their money, which foods may be bought, etc., seems like one of the things we'd be better off without.

#85 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 05:35 PM:

People who want to micromanage things like food purchases have very odd ideas about what people normally buy, and I suspect don't do much grocery shopping. (I'd love to be able to buy shrimp once a year. I'd also love it if I could buy a healthy diet for $25 a week.)

#86 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 05:37 PM:

Also, WIC micromanages what people can buy. It isn't always what people need. It limits package sizes it will cover, for example, and doesn't allow for babies who can't tolerate milk.

#87 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 06:06 PM:

Albatross @84

So far as your scenarios map to the possible outcomes, we're totally in agreement. I think there are a couple of factors you're leaving out, though.

I suspect that if you enroll everyone, without means-testing, most of your cash payments get spent. I don't, presently, need the money... but I could use it, sure, and I'm not going to go find the money and give it back. And I know plenty of people who make a LOT more money than I do who consider themselves cash-strapped and would definitely take a check, right?

Most of those folks wouldn't bother to carry or use an EBT card, though. I suspect, with universal issuing, the stigma would be reduced... but still.

So I suspect that there may exist a Case 3 as well: we have $1000 per citizen per month, which enables us to actually give out $900 cash and $200 EBT, while still spending only 1k/cit/mo since the top half of our population doesn't claim that money.

Maybe I'm wrong! Totally possible, I haven't studied it or anything. In that case, I strongly agree with your arguments for Case 1 over Case 2.

I'm also with you as far as paternalism and micromanagement, in general. However, the current SNAP/EBT system actually works quite well in my experience. It does vary a bit state-to-state, I think, but at least here in Washington, EBT covers pretty well anything you eat or drink, minus booze and restaurants. It does have some problems, but is pretty much functional. (As opposed to WIC, which pays only for certain foods. Because if there's one thing new mothers without a lot of money need more of, it's pointless hoops to jump through, right?)

Re: sales tax
Aside from sales tax being a state/local thing and UBI being maybe federal (which is an administrative/accounting issue, and could be worked out) the major problem is that (As Buddha Buck points out) sales taxes are strongly regressive. This means you're recouping less money from the people who need it least.

#88 ::: Elyse ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 06:24 PM:

Rich person gets UBI card. Hands it to their business manager/PA/spouse to cash and put the money in the bank account, or else use the card first when shopping for the household, so money already in the bank stays there.

Rich people don't get or stay rich by wasting cash or cash equivalents...

#89 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 07:06 PM:

Tim @20: a more politically feasible and better approach to increasing income equality is to aggressively promote full employment

Um, well, except. That's the approach that has been tried by conservatives. See how Britain's horrific "employability" metric is playing out now. See also: the US's "Welfare to Work" policies.

Aggressive promotion of "full employment" has been done. The results tend to be suboptimal for the "beneficiaries."

Also: how do you define "full employment"? Hours worked? The current discussion of minimum wage is driven by the fact that those working forty hours a week at minimum wage do not earn enough to live on. Are they "fully employed?" If you define it as "wages earned," then we are, in practical terms, back to UBI.

Jack @25: I am worried about UBI subsidising poorly-paying employers

Lee @53: If the UBI was actually enough to live on, it wouldn't matter

Running that scenario, Walmart pays me a crappy wage. Quitting makes me poorer, but I can still get by. So I quit and/or go find something somewhere else. Even if the something else pays a crappy wage, if I find it sufficiently entertaining, I stay. So Walmart, perforce, either ups their wage, and/or becomes pleasant enough to work for that people want to stay.

What I'm wondering is whether or not it needs to be pegged to cost of living for a given area

That would be my thought, as well. Given that where you live in the Denver Metro area can make a >100% difference in your living cost, this would almost have to be the case. (I wonder: would that tend to flatten out cost-of-living differences?)

a family with poverty-level income can scrape by in some areas but will be homeless in others.

Saw a comment over on Scalzi's blog the other day that, for what he paid for his spread in rural Ohio, you couldn't even buy a parking lot in NYC. The commenter had actually priced it out.

Dave Bell @59: The corporations, and the high-paid executives, can manage their affairs to minimise their tax bill. They don't have to spend all their money in ways that result in purchase taxes.

Portland Oregon is trying a move around that: Portland Adopts Surcharge on C.E.O. Pay in Move vs. Income Inequality. (Companies will, of course, now move to obscure their executive pay levels, in the same way that they hide other income information.)

Magenta Griffith @65: If you don't have good insurance, (or lots of money) you may be hounded by bill collectors for the rest of your life for that $500 bandage and $100 aspirin.

Hah! If only! Last time I landed in the hospital, I was hit with a $1000 ambulance bill (for a two-block ride) that was explicitly not covered by my insurance. :-\

We actually had a go-round at work recently: trying to reduce medical costs, they tried to make ER visits out-of-pocket (WTF?). My office collectively said, "Er, no." Pointing out that, do you really want your employees second-guessing ER visits because they don't know if they can afford them? They went back to a $400 copay. Which is steep, but not unmanageable.

HenryR @68: His basically got more money than he spent on increased labor costs.

You see this pattern over and over. In Lee's @53 link, the tribe saw long term benefits well over the expense of the revenue payouts. Cities repeatedly find that just housing the homeless is much cheaper than the public service expenses they accrue otherwise.

Which (again) leads me to conclude that, for the people who oppose these kinds of things, it's not about saving money.

Or, what Jenny Islander @70 said: Don't be so focused on virtue, hypothetical reader, that you thresh the poor in an effort to winnow out the lazy.

And then there's the fact that the whole concept of "lazy" needs rework. In the traditional, patriarchal sense, "lazy" means "I don't want to do the work that you want me to (and probably don't want to do, yourself)". (Cf. Southern whites complaining that blacks are "lazy" because they don't want to do what the whites tell them to, for the benefit of the whites but not the blacks.)

I grew up being taught that I was "lazy" because I didn't immediately hop to and do All The Things at every waking moment. I finally discovered that there are conditions that allow me to want to work. In those circumstances, it's a struggle not to work.

One of the forces that I'm pretty sure UBI would unleash is to improve people's ability to discover those conditions for themselves, rather than spending their lives fighting themselves with their Goddamn Tapes yammering in their heads. I'm pretty sure that by itself would unleash a burst of innovation and productivity that we can only dimly imagine now.

Devin @79 &albatross @84: Also, Case 2 will be more expensive to administer, possibly wiping out any benefits over Case 1. I think it's important not to underestimate that administrative overhead.

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 08:10 PM:


Poverty programs often are designed to be kind-of unpleasant and maybe have a stigma, so there will be fewer marginal cases (people who could get by without) using them. And that's not unreasonable, especially if your society isn't rich enough to support everyone.

UBI is more like public schools--you don't want to discourage anyone using them, the goal is for it to be a general benefit for everyone.

#91 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 08:14 PM:


A good way to see this is to look at what fraction of well-off people still collect Social Security. I don't know how common it is, but I seem to recall that some rich people had somehow explicitly not accepted it. (It's not like it would matter to Warren Buffet's lifestyle.)

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 08:26 PM:

I'm wondering if, with a reasonable level of UBI, we wouldn't have a lot of people who work part-time for the interaction with other people, and spend the rest writing or doing art or whatever they enjoy that isn't going to be a Big Payout.

It shouldn't be too hard to have UBI set for local costs - they have the numbers, it's all statistics that the government should have. (Metropolitan Statistical Areas are part of it.)

#93 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2017, 09:17 PM:

@Devin no. 87: The thing WIC does well is guarantee access to certain foods containing nutrients important to the health of pregnant and nursing people and the very young, regardless of price. The most nutritious peanut butter, made with nothing but peanuts, peanut oil and salt, is also the most expensive. But WIC will pay for one jar of peanut butter of a specified size, regardless of price. They say they want you to get the cheapest one, but they'll pay for the most expensive. Likewise, if you can only drink soy milk and it costs 40 percent more than cow's milk, they'll pay for it anyway.

Unfortunately, this can be abused. Toward the end of our eligibility for WIC, I was told that I could only get skim milk because my son might get fat if he drank any other kind. Meanwhile, the doctor was worried because my little musclechunk was losing weight after a recent illness and wanted me to get more calories into him. I got the stupid milk because it was free, but free junk is still junk. It's too salty to quench thirst and too thin to quell hunger. So I used it for cooking. I added 2 extra teaspoons unsalted butter to a recipe for every cup of skim. It was still cheaper than buying milk, and I made a lot of good white sauce that way.

#94 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 12:40 AM:

What communities are there in the US where people have a choice of whether or not to work, with more money if they do, but a basic living either way?

The ones I can think of: Stay-at-home moms, retired people in good health, adults living in their parents' basements, students (depending on workload).

Excluding the more work = more money part, we can also add: people who inherited a lot of money, people who've successfully made a pile of money (say those who won the start-up lottery), people who literally have won the lottery.

Somewhat-related categories: People on long-term disability (who maybe could work some, but maybe not without destroying their benefits), people in prison, schoolkids during summer break.

If we want to know what UBI might look like in the US, those are the closest I can think of to natural experiments, especially the first group.

#95 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 03:22 AM:

Fragano @77 - Here we are in "small world, isn't it?" again. I'm about 40 miles north and a bit east of Olive Hill, on the Ohio side of the river. Been by it a time or two, never stopped off there that I recall. Do you have some connection there, or did you just pick it at random off a map?

And yes, one reason I'm here, 500+ miles from the rest of my family, is that the cost of living is low. Also, I own my house. It might be hard to sell but there's neither rent nor mortgage to pay.

#96 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 11:14 AM:

The first two are very iffy - it's much easier to find jobs if you're young and have transportation (generally a car). A lot of companies aren't interested in people over 50 or those who can't come in on demand.

(Also - Social Security isn't really enough in many areas. And you still have to pay for Medicare.)

#97 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 12:31 PM:


Interfluidity has a post where he makes an argument for *not* adjusting the UBI for local cost of living, for a kind of social-engineering goal of getting fewer people to move to urban areas. I'm not sure I understand his reasoning fully, and I favor an UBI largely to get the Feds out of the "make decisions for the poor as we think best" business, but I know he's thought long and hard on UBI, so maybe his argument is worthwhile.

One potential issue with regional cost of living adjustments is how you get it changed--do you move and live there a few months, and then apply to change it? There's now a little more verification needed (lest people claim Manhatten cost of living while living in eastern Kentucky.)

#98 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 12:46 PM:

One major group that would instantly benefit from a UBI: People who have depression. Can't hold down a full-time job because sometimes you can't even get out of bed because your brain is trying to kill you? That's OK, you can still eat and pay rent. And you won't have to prove your worthiness first using spoons you don't have.

#99 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 04:18 PM:

Stefan Jones #78: My error. Sorry. I haven't read it in years either.

#100 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 04:29 PM:

Albatross@97: I'm pretty doubtful about encouraging people who are having trouble to move away from their support systems, though. And to move away from the support services many need (advanced medical and especially psychological). With a full-blown UBI most people getting it will be doing fine, but the idea of using financial pressure to move those who aren't looks iffy in some ways.

#101 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 04:33 PM:

Albatross #90: In that case, a UBI should be just enough to live on?

#102 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 04:38 PM:

Ann Sheller #95: I lived and taught in Morehead, KY, for four years back in the last millennium. As a result, I became modestly familiar with its environs, including places on the north of the Ohio. Olive Hill is just a few miles east of Morehead. It is otherwise of little note, except for not having any olive trees.

#103 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 06:32 PM:

It's not far from where my paternal grandfather was born and raised. (And, in fact, one of his great-grandfathers is buried near Olive Hill, at Upper Tygart.)

#104 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 08:37 PM:

albatross #97: There is also the point that on a global scale, we actually want more people moving to cities -- AIUI, per capita, city living is much more energy-efficient and easier on the environment.

Also, not making adjustments effectively pushes the poor toward slums, which can then be treaded traditionally: Gerrymandered out of political control, deprived of public services, and left to the greed of "privatized services".

#105 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 08:43 PM:

Me #104: "treaded" was a typo for "treated", but it does seem apropos. ;-)

#106 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 01:26 AM:

Fragano - I've been to Morehead a couple of times, although why I went there I can't recall. I'm in Portsmouth OH, have lived here for most of the last 32 years, and have a habit of going out exploring backroads from time to time, so I'm moderately familiar with nearby parts of NE KY.

#107 ::: GC80 ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 03:41 AM:

Dave Harmon @104: I'd argue that land value tax (as Henry George advocated) is the natural complement to UBI, as without it the UBI is unlikely to cover essential spending due to landlords upping the rent.

One environmental benefit of UBI itself though is that it should mean less petroleum wasted on commutes to bullshit jobs.

#108 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 05:19 AM:

Context note: I'm on the dole in Australia, and have been for most of the past eight years (the last time I had full-time work was about 2008).

As someone who is on the dole in Australia, I'm required to look for 20 jobs per month (5 per week, or 1 job each working day). There were, in November 2016 (according to the Australian Unemployed Workers Union) 725,200 people listed as formally "unemployed" (as in, on the dole, looking for work, registered with JobActive and so on) in Australia. There were 163,700 vacancies available at that time.

Now, even if you just consider the formally unemployed in the calculations, that's over four people to each available vacancy. If you add in the people who are underemployed, and the hidden unemployment (people who aren't eligible to claim Newstart for one reason or another, or people who are still required to look for work while being on other social security benefits, such as the Disability Pension or the Sole Parent Pension), there's over nineteen people looking for work competing for each available vacancy.

Now, considering not all the advertised vacancies are genuine vacancies - there's the "burley in the water" jobs advertised by contracting and temp agencies looking for staff; the "we have to advertise this because regulations" jobs which are going to be filled internally; the jobs which are advertised once on Facebook so the employer can claim "oh, we didn't get anyone who was qualified[1] replying to our ad, we have to get someone in on a 457 visa[2]", and the various scammers and confidence tricksters who are using the job listings to trawl for victims - there is definitely a shortage of actual work compared to the number of people who are looking for it.

So, given the socially accepted purpose of the low payment rate of Newstart - to shame the unemployed into getting off their arses and actually getting jobs - is no longer feasible (even if we want to work, the jobs aren't there), where do we go from there? Now, the current position of the Turnbull government appears to be that the floggings will continue unabated until morale improves (or in other words, they're not going to raise the rate of Newstart, they're not going to do anything about job creation, and instead they're going to just start trying to claw back "debts" which don't exist and never did[3]).

Is it any wonder I'm looking at Universal Basic Income schemes and saying "my only criterion is this has to be better than where we are at present"?

[1] Most important qualification: ignorance of the Australian industrial relations environment, and of the Australian minimum wage.
[2] The 457 visa is the visa type used to import "skilled" workers from outside Australia to fill positions where Australia doesn't have the necessary skills. There's a lot of interesting categories on the list of permitted occupations.
[3] I'm not going to go into this one. Suffice it to say that googling "Centrelink debt controversy" should bring up enough articles to give you the background, and yes, it's correct that most of them are in the Grauniad.

#109 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 06:48 AM:

Megpie71: I've been seeing snippets about the whole Centrelink debacle on Twitter. O.O

#110 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 11:13 AM:

If my husband and I each got a UBI equivalent to an inflation-adjusted minimum wage, I would still work my part-time job because it's good for me. My husband would probably still work at his job, because he's been with the same company for so long that even with UBI, jobs that wouldn't be a step down in terms of benefits are thin on the ground around here. But our household stress level would go down drastically. All those important home maintenance things that have been deferred, for years, until that mythical Someday when he isn't either working overtime or sick? We could hire contractors. Our car just needed $2,000 in front-end work; we could replace it with a decent used model that isn't old enough to drink our money. After those issues had been taken care of, we could pay up our life insurance policies, which are designed to provide retirement income. I could start putting money into my Roth again. Heck, we might even be able to take a family vacation!

#111 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 11:48 AM:

If my husband and I both received UBI, I could pay off my student loans.

The banks, which would lose millions of dollars in interest if that started happening on a large scale, will fight this like mad.

#112 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 11:56 AM:

Lila @ #111 -

As far as I know, under federal law all education loans have no prepayment penalties. You can can make extra payments at any time to reduce the balance. I suspect changing that law would be fiercely resisted.

#113 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 12:10 PM:

Steve C., the point is that I do not, now, have enough money to prepay anything. I'm struggling to meet the minimum payment. If I had the money, I would prepay the hell out of that thing, and end up paying far less interest.

If ALL borrowers suddenly became able to prepay, it would hurt the banks.

#114 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 12:31 PM:

My horseback guess is that banks and other lenders would love the UBI. It would increase the number of people with the resources and the desire to purchase cars and appliances and other goods. While income doesn't directly impact one's credit score, additional earnings do increase the chances of credit approval.

Naturally, lenders would start factoring all this into their algorithms.

#115 ::: jack lecou ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 03:51 PM:


I think the geographic argument is more about making small and mid sized cities viable options for more people, not so much shacks in the mountains. There's no reason quite so many people need to live in NYC, say - a lot of people would be just fine with Pittsburgh or Richmond instead, but there just aren't enough jobs for them.

If those cities could lure in some extra residents (artists, makers, moochers, whoever) and their sweet, sweet Basic Income checks, the local economies as a whole would improve, and they could punch above their weight. At the same time, that would (all else equal, fingers crossed...) relieve some housing pressure in, e.g., Brooklyn.

Which addresses #100 somewhat - the idea isn't to pressure the folks who have roots to move, but rather to offer up some greener pastures and selectively draw off the ones who are less tied down/and or ready to move on. Which ought to take some pressure off everyone.

Would it work out that way in practice? I dunno. We probably need some more empirical evidence. My gut feeling is that highly localized cost of living adjustments are a bad idea though. It's not only more complex to administer, but I don't see how it isn't just going to amplify the cost of living spiral in the handful of cities where that's a thing.

#116 ::: jack lecou ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 04:26 PM:

the feeling that we need poverty as leash and lash for people we see as morally corrupt or lazy.

and @89
One of the forces that I'm pretty sure UBI would unleash is to improve people's ability to discover those conditions for themselves, rather than spending their lives fighting themselves with their Goddamn Tapes yammering in their heads. I'm pretty sure that by itself would unleash a burst of innovation and productivity that we can only dimly imagine now.

It's always interesting to me how many of the 'greats' of the scientific and industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th C didn't need to be. Many or most of them were from the aristocracy or the upper middle class, and could have comfortably idled their lives away in one way or another.

Not all, to be sure, but even a handful suffices as pretty conclusive proof that its possible to be motivated by things like ambition, curiosity, and creativity, rather than pure greed, and/or the abject terror of hunger and homelessness.

And then, if people like Darwin or Maxwell had been forced to split their time between a bunch of part time shifts at McDonald's and Walmart, rather than having the education, time, and resources to indulge their real passions, it might be a very different world we live in today.

But how many Darwins and Maxwells ARE being forced to work 3 jobs just to pay the gas bill, or the emergency room bill (or take all their time caring for kids or ailing relatives) right now, as we speak.

Somehow, I think a lot of folks don't make the connection.

#117 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 06:07 PM:

Faraday learned science by reading the books he was binding....

#118 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 07:24 PM:

Faraday was able to read the books he was binding, while he wasn't binding them, because he didn't have a second job he had to be working in his spare time.

Further, Faraday appears to have had a boss who believed hard work wasn't a paramount virtue and that a lad who got his work done and then wanted to knock off and read was doing a good thing.

I've had bosses like that. I've also had the other kind. Guess which got promoted?

If anything, Faraday is an argument for, not against, UBI at a subsistence level: work can be improving, but especially so when it's a part of your life and not the whole of it, when you have time for other things and time to consider your work in context and freedom to follow some of those paths your work reveals to you.

#119 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 12:10 AM:

Anne Sheller #106: I've been through Portsmouth a few times. It's one of quite a few towns that, quite obviously, has been hollowed out by deindustrialisation.

My favourite ex recently spent some time there evaluating the soc department of Shawnee State. À propos of that, years back, when I taught US government at a local community college, I shocked a young lady who informed the class that she was from Portsmouth, OH, by not only knowing where it was but asking her why she was here rather than at Shawnee State.

US 23 runs through here as well, I should note.

#120 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 03:51 AM:

Incidentally - what would I do if I had a liveable UBI (and here I'm actually aiming low and saying "an amount equivalent to the current rate of the dole")? Much the same as I am at present, but without the necessity for looking for work which isn't there, or the threat of having to attend Work for the Dole in order to keep getting paid.

I'd keep working toward being able to write fiction on a regular basis; I'd keep up the plans to head to university and study the Creative Writing/Professional Writing double major I'm interested in; I'd keep working on the vegetable garden; I'd keep doing housework and cooking and baking and so on. Not much would actually change for me - except that I wouldn't have to spend multiple hours each week attempting to jump through hoops for Centrelink, and I wouldn't have to be worrying about whether I was going to have to Work For The Dole in order to keep my payments (this last is a very real worry for me in the near future - I'm just about to enter a "work for the dole" phase, again, and I'm hoping the study I'm doing will at least count as a mitigation of the requirements).

#121 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 07:38 AM:

Couple thoughts:

1) I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of UBI, but I mostly feel like I haven't thought it through and it's the Law of Unintended Consequences waiting to hit. The point about Indian casino money is a good one, though.

2) I'm not spending any thought on whether rich people should or shouldn't get UBI. The 1%, by definition, only get 1% of the UBI money.

#122 ::: jack lecou ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 10:41 AM:

It's obvious that a well implemented UBI could be good for the poor, and also be a boon to aspiring authors, artists, garage tinkerers, etc. but something I don't think I've seen anyone mention here are the positive effects on straight up entrepreneurship.

For example, I have a friend who started up a small gardening store recently. It's a somewhat seasonal business, and it took a lot of expensive trial and error at the beginning to figure out the right inventory to keep. Now she's finally started to get it figured out, and looking ahead to things picking up in spring and finally making a profit but...she's going to have to close shop for a month or two to have a welcome -- but unplanned -- second baby. Hopefully they can scrape through somehow, but it'll be a close thing.

A good UBI (along with actually decent universal health care) would help people ride out glitches like that while they're waiting for things take off. Or provide a solid floor in case of outright failure. I bet that'd take the sting out of quitting and trying to follow a dream for a lot of people.

(Which, cynically, is probably a good reason for a lot of exploitative employers to find it objectionable...)

#123 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 11:30 AM:

Entrepreneurship will be enormously affected by UBI. I was recently talking to the founder of a tiny startup, and he mentioned that he and the other people working on it hadn't had a paycheque in ages. But, he has a spouse who works, and presumably the other people involved do too, at a level where their family's basic needs are taken care of.

That's not a position I (and many others) can even start to consider, because I (and many others) don't have a spouse who works with enough income to support the whole family. If UBI were a thing, then it would be an option.

With UBI, I'd almost certainly still work (because I really enjoy designing and building big complicated things), but I'd be able to be more selective about what I did and how much I'd put up with from bad bosses.

#124 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 12:01 PM:


That's a point that applies to Obamacare or any other health-insurance-for-all programs that might come into existence. If you, your wife, or one of your kids has an expensive pre-existing condition, that massively restricts your mobility. You can't go start up a company, because the insurance will be prohibitive and if your company fails, you may end up without insurance and running up impossible-to-repay debts.

Just knowing you will be able to get health insurance is a huge plus. (Political uncertainty about it destroys some of that benefit.) My unscientific sample of friends and relatives is that a lot of people stay at their jobs entirely because of the health insurance, even when they don't especially need the money.

#125 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 12:10 PM:

An UBI won't be a direct benefit to most people, because taxes have to rise to cover the cost of the benefit. If we got a UBI tomorrow, I'm sure I would get no direct benefit at all--at best, we'd get an extra few tens of thousands of dollars in benefits offset by the same amount of extra taxes.

I think one strong reason to support UBI and some kind of universal healthcare is because it offers a lot of flexibility--if you need to quit your job and move, or you want to start out in a new field, or you're sick and can't keep a full-time job anymore, you don't get abandoned on an ice floe. That benefit applies to people like me who have jobs, too--the world can change in nasty ways, and it could be me, ten years from now, out of work in my late 50s and wondering how to keep food on the table. Of any safety-net-type programs I can think of, UBI and universal healthcare seem like the ones I'd really like to have in that situation.

#126 ::: jack lecou ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 12:14 PM:

Student debt is another thing that can keep people shackled to 'safe' but bad, dead end or uninspiring jobs.

Huh. When it comes down to it, it seems like there are a lot of mechanisms tailor-made to do that...

UBI would be a partial fix on its own, but it's important to keep all the other stuff like health care reform, college tuition reform, minimum wage, bank reform, etc. on the table too. It all works better together.

#127 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 12:22 PM:

Re: #125

NO, everyone gets it, no ifs, ands, or buts.

This way everyone has an interest in seeing it continue. At the very least it will encourage some to save for a rainy day, at best, those who don't need it could choose to contribute it to their favorite causes.

The principal here is the same as FDR's reasoning with Social Security -- if ALL workers get it, they'll fight to make sure they continue getting it.

We're trying to eliminate overhead and management costs here.

#128 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 12:25 PM:

#124, albatross: In the US, with it's completely messed up health care system, yes, that is also a big factor. It's not top of my mind because I live in one of the many countries with universal health care.

and #125: taxes have to rise to cover the cost of the benefit

Well that's an interesting question, actually. If UBI replaced the existing welfare and EI and food assistance and other means-tested programs with all sorts of eligibility requirements, such that the money given to people in those programs becomes money given to people under a UBI and also the money involved in doing eligibility testing and enforcement becomes money given to people under a UBI, what is the difference in actual cost over and above what's already being spent on assistance programs?

This idea wouldn't involve keeping all other systems exactly the same then adding a new UBI program on top of that. Taxes may indeed rise, but they wouldn't rise by $10,000 for every $10,000 given out by a UBI program.

#129 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 02:31 PM:

One of the things to keep in mind, while pondering the universality of the proposed UBI, is that most people currently on SNAP or EBT are actually working. They happen to have jobs that pay very poorly, and have no benefits, so they cannot afford basic healthy food or basic health care. (The other people getting those SNAP/EBT and other welfare assistance are (1) children, who are not allowed to work; (2) the disabled, who cannot work or cannot work well enough; (3) the elderly, who have already worked for years.) This should be of paramount importance in our assessment of the need for universal basic income. Everyone needs help at some point, even the very rich (although they tend to get their help from their families).

No one gets left out of a UBI system. If I happen to be rich enough that I don't personally need the funds, then I would be happy to donate it to someone else. It's what I do with my unused leave each year, and that's got a fiscal value too.

#130 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 03:36 PM:

Janra @128:

I'll accept the basic premise that taxes will have to rise to cover the cost of the benefit, if the benefit is of any reasonable size.

For instance, if the UBI is $12,000, for everyone, then for the 300M people in the US, that's $3.6T, or close to the size of the total US Federal budget. I feel that UBI can replace a lot of Federal programs (including EITC, SNAP, TANF, parts of the military budget, perhaps parts of the EdDept budget, etc), but not all of it. So I see the UBI as increasing taxes.

But even if it doesn't increase taxes, there comes an income level where the portion of my taxes that goes towards the UBI exceeds the UBI I receive.

So for some taxpayers, perhaps a lot of them (it's hard to tell without a more fleshed-out proposal and, say, the resources of the CBO), the UBI they will receive (and they will receive it; it's not means tested) will be smaller than the tax bite attributable to the UBI.

But while I agree with albatross's assertion that for some people the additional tax burden of the UBI will be greater than the benefit of receiving the UBI, I disagree with his assessment that that will be "most" people.

Consider the scenario where the US gets a UBI of $12k/year, but otherwise does not change the budget -- effectively doubling the US budget, and doubles all existing tax rates to cover it. So everyone who pays taxes, personal and corporate, capital gains and wages, etc, sees double their tax bill afterwards.

So I can look at the current tax tables and find the "break-even" income by looking at who would, today, have to pay $6000/person in taxes, then compare that against the median personal income (which is about $30k).

Doing that, I get $51,265 (standard deduction, no dependents). That's right about the top 25%, so 75% will see a net benefit, 25% will see a net loss. Even if you say that the $12k UBI shifts everyone income upwards, so that the $51K figure should really be a $39K figure, that's still the top 36%, and the majority sees a net benefit.

And that's a worse-case scenario, figuring in no savings.

But even if you do keep the means-tested programs just as they are, surely there are going to be fewer people who qualify simply because the UBI gives such a boost to their income.

#131 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 03:42 PM:

While I love the idea of a UBI for the US, the sheer magnitude of the amount is staggering.

There 242,000,000 adults in the US. If you figure a UBI of $10K/year, that's $2.4 trillion dollars or about two-thirds of current federal expenditures.

#132 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 04:00 PM:

Buddha Buck @ #130 -

Are you including FICA payroll taxes in your calculation? Since the employer pays half of that and the employee pays half, that's 15.3% of the first $118K.

#133 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 05:05 PM:

There could be an argument for having the UBI replace social security -- in which case, the FICA taxes go away. Or, they could be kept to pay for the UBI, at least partially. It's not clear what might happen.

#134 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 05:05 PM:


I agree, UBI should cover everyone. I'm just saying that the money that pays for it will be coming out of taxes. For people who are currently net taxpayers, I think it's very likely that we will not experience an increase in after-tax income from UBI. From a quick Google search, only about 50% of people pay federal income tax. Lots more pay withholding, but that covers social security and medicare, which we would presumably not be eliminating.

The truth is, there's not all that big a chunk of the federal budget spent on poverty programs, other than medicaid, which we also can't get rid of until we get universal healthcare sorted out. So we're talking about either a big increase in taxes, or big cuts in other places. (For example, the EITC, which is kind-of close to UBI in spirit, gets about $60 B per year.)

It's a mistake to think "Gee, what I'd do with $12K extra a year is...." without realizing that if you're paying any income taxes, you'll probably be paying at least as much as you get in extra taxes to fund it. That's not true if you're just barely paying taxes, but if you're middle-class, I think this will make your budget tighter--at least if UBI is generous enough to actually take the place of those existing programs.

#135 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 05:52 PM:

A lot of the money going to UBI is like that for EBT and SNAP: it gets put right back in the economy, so it's a gain overall. (It pays for businesses hiring people and buying supplies, for two places where it's an improvement.) That means more taxes going to the government, also.

#136 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 06:31 PM:

Steve C @132:

I didn't include FICA payroll taxes; just Federal Income tax. I tend to think of FICA taxes as separate; paying into a fund set up specifically to pay out for one program. Since my hypothetical didn't change any of the rest of the budget, there's no reason for it to change how FICA works anyway.

Of course, the last time I looked at my paystub, I couldn't find FICA, but found OASDI instead.

#137 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2017, 08:06 PM:

Fragano, #77: I mentioned the cost-of-living issue back @53: What I'm wondering is whether or not it needs to be pegged to cost of living for a given area, and if so, on what scale? Part of the problem with the current calculation of "poverty level" is that it's flat-rate across the country, which means that a family with poverty-level income can scrape by in some areas but will be homeless in others. Is county level too granular? (And even then, what do we do about cities like Atlanta?)

Devin, #87: UBI will have to be Federal. If it's not, you're going to have asshole governors like Rick Scott and Joe Abbott finding loopholes to avoid giving it out, just as they found ways to opt out of parts of the ACA.

Jacque, #89: It's probably worth pointing out here that the stereotype of "black people are lazy" arose out of the slavery era. Yet another place where the side effects of slavery have never ended.

Dave H., #104: Another reason for encouraging people to move to cities is that, unless you take very deliberate steps to isolate yourself into a bubble, it's difficult to remain insular in a city environment. When you spend your entire life in a place where everyone with whom you interact is either just like you or filling a well-worn social role "appropriate" to those who are not like you, then diversity looks much more threatening.

Jenny, #110: If my partner and I each got a UBI equivalent to $15/hour... well, I ran the numbers and that works out to $2,600/month each based on the assumption of a 40-hour work week. This is more than either of us makes now. If we had that much money coming in every month in addition to our current income, we too could tackle some long-delayed household maintenance work, and my partner could cut back on the number of cons that he staffs for someone else and focus on the wholesale side of his business; this in turn would cut down on the amount of long-range traveling we have to do, resulting in less wear and tear on both the cars and us. (And we're both over 60 -- sometime in the next 10 years or so, that last part is going to happen willy-nilly just because we won't be physically able to handle it any more.) It would allow us to put aside some savings, because our expenses wouldn't go up to any significant extent. It would mean that we wouldn't have to worry so much about unexpected expenses (like a tree coming thru the roof during a hurricane), or being able to afford health insurance. And just the easing of financial worries would probably do good things for our health in general (less stress, fewer bouts of situational depression based on financial issues).

Now, it's probable that an actual UBI would not be that much. But even so, it would help us a lot.

Steve C., #114: But that's long-term thinking, and nobody does that any more. All they'd see would be a steep reduction in next quarter's earnings.

jack, #122: That was one of the big things about the ACA as well -- that it freed up a lot of folks who were otherwise "medical-care slaves", people who literally could not quit their job because they or someone dependent on them would die for lack of medical coverage.

Not to mention that a UBI would enable a lot of people to leave an abusive home environment by making it possible for them to afford living elsewhere. Sadly, this is another thing that's going to cause some very powerful people to fight it tooth and nail; there are several large religious sects whose prescribed lifestyle is inherently abusive to women and children, and who will NOT want those women and children to have any way out.

albatross, #125: Of any safety-net-type programs I can think of, UBI and universal healthcare seem like the ones I'd really like to have in that situation.

Mark the date -- for once you and I are in complete agreement! :-)

#138 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2017, 01:39 AM:

Lee @137

Ideally, yes, though partial or suboptimal implementations are possible (If California wanted to try it, I wouldn't tell them not to, right?) What I actually meant, though, was that the state-sales-tax-vs-federal-UBI issue could be worked out administratively. States can't tax purchases made with (mostly-federal) SNAP money, for instance. For UBI, it would make more sense to deal with that by some kind of rebate system, I imagine.

#139 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2017, 02:06 PM:

Lee @137: It's probably worth pointing out here that the stereotype of "black people are lazy" arose out of the slavery era. Yet another place where the side effects of slavery have never ended.

Yeah, sorry. I meant to make that more explicit in my comment, but brain.

it's probable that an actual UBI would not be that much. But even so, it would help us a lot.

From experience, I'm surprised at how much difference even an additional $500/mo makes. (Sadly, my comparison is of the loss of, not the addition.)

#140 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2017, 03:17 PM:

I got a raise two summers ago that was ~$300 a month, and the difference was staggering. What's that quote about "19 pounds 19 and sixpence, result misery"?

#141 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2017, 03:22 PM:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield.

#142 ::: Felix Lim ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2017, 11:30 PM:

Current and future progress of UBI

(Previous wall of text was a straight lift from driveby commenter's Google Plus collection. Click the link I've inserted to read it there, but it was intrusive and not furthering the conversation. Felix, if you are interested in coming back, talk to people; don't just drop text that doesn't address or add to the conversation here. —Idumea Arbacoochee, Gardener of Threads)

#143 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2017, 01:58 PM:

I work in "tech", and I see a great deal of money chasing brass rings that may not even exist ("the next Facebook" sort of thing) while desperately needed basic infrastructure work goes underfunded, or not funded at all. So one of the reasons I like the idea of an UBI is that it would be a way of paying people for the work they do (or would do if they didn't need to spend all their spoons on a "day job") that the Invisible Hand does not value.

A few years ago I tried to math out an income tax redesign for the USA; the primary idea was to be much, much more aggressive about the income tax itself on the theory that high levels of income inequality are a negative externality, but it had an UBI in it.

#144 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2017, 06:25 PM:

Well, this whole discussion thread is now irrelevant.

The ultimate authority has done a thorough analysis of UBI:

The Pros and Cons of Universal Basic Income.


#145 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2017, 07:49 PM:

Stefan Jones @ 6
My first contact with the notion of UBI in SF was Mack Reynolds. I never met Mack, but his writing reminds me of other progressive activists I've known, people who want to try something different from what we keep doing, because it might be better for the people at the bottom of the economic pile.

Lori Coulson @7
Why couldn't UBI replace Social Security? There shouldn't be any age restrictions on UBI, and if it provides sufficient money to live on, it should provide a basic retirement income.

Jim Millen @17
Yes, in the long run UBI is seriously at odds with global capitalism. It would allow greatly increased mobility of labor, which would reduce the unequalizing effect of the current high mobility of capital.

Tim Barton @20
The jobs created by technology have largely been of both lower economic and social status (e.g. service jobs). And with each wave of automation the number of jobs created has been lower. The coming wave has already statrted to hollow out the middle class, where previous waves affected the lower class primarily. And this wave hasn't really gotten going yet. It's not the robots doing manual work that will have the greatest effect, but the computer software that replaces low and mid-level managers and entry-level professionals like lawyers.

I don't expect to see an effective UBI program in the US, certainly in my lifetime, and probably not as long as the current form of government persists, and none of the states secedes. Elsewhere, yes, Japan and Western Europe once the wave of fascism sweeping the world subsides (fingers and toes crossed), and perhaps the more material-rich countries of Africa if they can overcome the after effects of colonialism.

#146 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2017, 08:02 PM:

Lori Coulson @32

Absolutely, means-testing would destroy much of the social value of UBI by re-establishing the shaming effect of programs like SNAP and WiC (look how many conservatives rant on social media about the purchasing choices people on those programs make).

#147 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2017, 01:17 PM:

Bruce Cohen @145:

Why keep Social Security? To encourage people to continue to work, and the fact that there's no way the Federal Government will stop collecting FICA taxes. Now, if the Feds are actually willing to give up that income stream or transmute it to help pay for UBI, then yes, we could end the program.

Keep an eye on the Congress-critters, Ryan's on the warpath and has set out to destroy SS, Medicare and Medicaid.

#148 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2017, 02:01 PM:

Paul Ryan is entirely welcome to die upon that sword. Or electrocute himself peeing on that third rail. A very wide swath of the public will scream bloody murder over that.

#149 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2017, 06:03 PM:

Paul Ryan's dream is to go down in history as the man who dismantled the New Deal. I will be very happy if this proves to be the end of his political career. He's practically the definition of entitled well-to-do white male douchebaggery.

#150 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2017, 07:06 PM:

Lori Coulson @147:

Now is in fact a perfect time, cynically, to end Social Security.

You see, since the 1980's, the SSA has been collecting more in FICA taxes than they've been paying out, specifically so there would be funds available when the Boomers start retiring the SSA would be able to keep paying benefits without having to sharply raise taxes.

The extra funds are invested in special Treasury securities, which can be called when needed to pay benefits (and on a day-to-day basis, these securities are bought and sold in small quantities to zero out the SSA's cash accounts at the end-of-day). This is the Social Security Trust Fund that everyone talks about without quite knowing what it is.

A couple of years ago, the Boomers started retiring, right on schedule, and the trust fund hit its peak -- the SSA is, as was planned in the 1980's, paying more out than it is taking in, depleting over the next few decades the trust fund.

But remember that the nature of the trust fund is that it's in the form of US Bonds that get called when the SSA needs extra funds to pay benefits.

Get rid of SSA benefits, and those $2T in SSA-specific bonds never have to be repaid. Keep paying SSA benefits, and it's a drain of $2T on the general budget over the next 3 decades.

So, cynically, it's now the perfect time to stop paying benefits.

#151 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2017, 07:37 PM:

Buddha Buck, you're not telling me anything I don't already know, I started my Federal career with SSA's Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Boomers began collecting benefits as early as 2008 and we should see the tail end of that wave in 2044. Solvency is not hard to reach by taking the cap off income subject to the FICA tax or by making all forms of income subject to the same.

If the GOP really is for smaller government, UBI could do that. Not that they'll be willing to!

#152 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2017, 07:49 PM:

So apparently at some point within the past week, big brave defender of American freedom and character Paul Ryan was inspired by all the calls passionately defending the latest good thing he's trying to kill. He was inspired to disconnect his phones.

Tumblr posted his mailing addresses instead.

#153 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2017, 09:36 PM:

I'm going to write Rep. Bonamici and tell her to personally tell Ryan to put his phone back on the hook.

Metaphorically speaking. She is pretty much automatically in our camp, but sending a email to complain about Ryan's ideological stubborness couldn't hurt.

#154 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2017, 01:38 AM:

Huh. Interesting and relevant comment from over on a Captain Awkward thread:

[in response to a discussion about doctors burning out due to constant on-call over long periods of time]

There is: we hire more total people to work fewer hours per person. That is also, not coincidentally, the way to cope with increasing degrees of automation, especially as we automate intellectual labor in addition to physical labor. If we had public sector health care (or even insurance), employers wouldn’t need to offer coverage, reducing cost differences between additional hours worked by fewer people and additional employees. A basic income system would eliminate the need for unemployment insurance and Social Security (which it would replace by universalizing coverage), further equalizing labor costs and making it more feasible for waged workers to take time off. More weekly time off itself would reduce need for additional vacation time, and a larger pool of people doing a given job would make covering longer absences easier, from vacations to family and medical leave.

We don’t do it because worker well-being is not the primary concern of capitalist firms, profit is, and squeezing the most labor out of employees is the way to do that under the system we have.

#155 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 21, 2017, 11:41 PM:

They're trying a UBI in Finland. CNN, The New York Times, and Forbes all wrote about it -- and there's another article in Forbes.

Getting some traction and discussion in the world indeed!

#156 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: January 25, 2017, 03:17 PM:

I wanted to drop into this thread with a link to the Matt Bruenig article, but I see that Doug K @42 has already done so. Consider this post an gentle +1 to that.

#157 ::: Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2017, 01:33 AM:

Fragano #77: Phil Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage" was inspired at least in part by "The Triple Revolution", a think-tank document from 1964. I don't think Farmer drew from Nixon, who hadn't yet been elected president when the story was published in 1967. I always associated UBI with Nixon's 1972 opponent, George McGovern. Anyway, "The Triple Revolution" drew from the ideas of Robert Theobald, which included UBI. There's an entry for it in Wikipedia, from which I'm getting these factoids. I also had a chance to interview Farmer in the 1990s about the story for a radio station, and he brought up "The Triple Revolution" right away. In Farmer's story, the UBI works but has several side effects. The protagonist chooses to go underground and off of UBI, so he can pursue his art, unfettered by societal pressures.

#158 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2017, 11:37 PM:

In other news, French Socialist Benoît Hamon has won his party's primary for the French Presidential election on a platform that includes implementing a UBI. With job loss from automation being part of the impetus for the policy, financial support is to come from a new tax on robots.

Being a significant issue in the primary doesn't mean it will be a signficant issue in the election (in which Hamon's chances are being rated at slim to none), but there may yet be further interesting developments.

#159 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2017, 06:27 PM:

Tangentially related:

An excellent podcast series, from the Medialab folks at WNYC, "Busted: America's Poverty Myths:"

#160 ::: Rowan ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2017, 05:18 AM:

I have two questions about UBI that no one's answered for me yet. I am nothing like an economist, so these may be stupid.

1) I live in a country that has the dole. If you're not working, the State gives you around E190 a week, plus rent allowance and other benefits. (Unless you're self-employed. In which case, screw you.) There isn't a time limit, the way I think there is in the US; you can be on the dole all your life. Except for the self-employed thing, how is this functionally different from UBI?

2) It seems to me that the UBI idea depends on a fundamental misunderstanding of how money works. Purchasing power is relative, not absolute. $1000 doesn't mean anything in itself; it means something only in terms of what it can buy. And prices aren't absolute, they're determined by the amount that people can pay. The problem for poor people isn't that they have too little money; it's that they have significantly less money than the average in their society, so they can pay for significantly less stuff than the average person in their society.

So if people in, say, the fifth percentile for income are $1000 a month away from being able to pay for a decent lifestyle, and you give everyone $1000 extra a month , prices will just inflate accordingly. All the landlords will jack up the rents, all the food shops will jack up their prices, same for the electricity company and the phone company and the childcare places, and before you know it the bottom 5% are $1000 away from a decent lifestyle again. You've just moved the bell curve one notch to the right; you haven't done anything about the actual problem, which is that the bell curve is too wide for the far left end to have enough purchasing power.

Am I missing something? Some indirect effect that would make it work differently?

#161 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2017, 10:40 AM:

Rowan, #160: I'm going to let someone else tackle your first question, but your second one has an answer. This is basically the same as the argument that keeps being raised against an increase in the minimum wage -- only we have empirical evidence that it does not in fact work that way. There are several US locales which have instituted a local minimum-wage increase (I think Seattle is currently the largest one) and their economies are booming by comparison to both the pre-increase level and the rest of the US. And a booming economy means less unemployment, which means fewer poor people to begin with.

And I think what you're missing is that pumping money in at the top (which is what tax cuts and special breaks for the rich do) doesn't change anything about the overall economy, because they just squirrel it away -- but when you pump money in at the bottom (which is what an increase in minimum wage does, and what a UBI would do), people spend it, and that does stimulate the economy. Mostly, they spend it on things they've been having to put off doing for lack of money -- elective medical/dental care, a newer and more reliable vehicle, home repairs, things like that. Sometimes they spend it on a splurge item -- a new TV or a vacation -- but that also stimulates the economy.

#162 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2017, 11:31 AM:

Rowan @160:

What happens to your dole if you get a job? In the US, you lose your benefits. The marginal increase in available income from getting a job can be very low for the work involved, because of the loss of benefits and the increase in expenses.

Let's take the example of a single woman living alone in County Cork who has lost her job recently. She qualifies for €180/week in Job Seeker's Allowance and for €550/month in Rent Supplement, or a total of about €16K/year. If she were to get a full-time, minimum wage job, she'd be making €18759/year, less taxes. That's a marginal increase in income of about €1.38/hour. If there are additional expenses associated with the job (transportation, increased food expenses, etc), then the job could even prove to be a net loss.

With UBI, there is no means testing. The equivalent of the above with a UBI of €16K/year is that the full-time, minimum wage job would have a marginal increase in her income of €9.25/hour, which might be worth her time to take the job.

But don't underestimate the importance of the "self-employed thing". Our hypothetical single Cork woman above can't commercially "pursue her passion" while on the dole, since to do so would risk her Jobseekers Benefit and her Rent Supplement, with a strong change of failure. Similarly, you don't qualify for the dole if you take a chance and quit your job to start your own business. The UBI helps encourage small-scale entrepreneurship along those lines because people don't have to be afraid that quitting their job and having their business fail will lead to starvation and ruin.

As for your second point, I disagree with who has a more fundamental misunderstanding.

Prices aren't set by "amount that people can pay". Prices are set by the tug-of-war of supply and demand, something that isn't going to change by people suddenly having $1000/month more. People will still look for the lowest rents, the lowest costs, etc. And people trying to take advantage of the UBI to jack up prices will find themselves the subject of scorn and approbation.

There will likely be some inflation, as the demand for goods increases due to the increased purchase power, but there is also likely to be a readjustment of cost of labor, as well.

Exactly how that readjustment will play out is hard to tell, but a UBI is likely to be figured into wage negotiations, probably resulting in lower hourly wages, a balance between a lower need for pay, and the ability for employees to quit without starving. As such, I'd expect that the labor component in the cost of goods to be reduced, allowing them to better undercut the competition or increase supply for the same cost.

I am not a macroeconomist, so I can't predict how these things will flow on balance, but to me it looks like it's probably a net positive.

#163 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2017, 01:07 PM:

And something I forgot to mention -- you can tell that raising the minimum wage helps poor people by how eager the current Administration is to prevent states and local areas from doing it. Because being able to look at real data and see how it works puts a big dent in their ability to pull off that "the price of everything will go up and nobody will be any better off than they were before" hocus-pocus.

#164 ::: Rowan ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2017, 07:00 PM:

Lee @ 161: I don't think it's the same thing as a minimum-wage increase. The minimum-wage increase only affects those near the bottom of the income range. Effectively, it narrows the bell curve a little bit at that end, working towards fixing the actual underlying problem of inequality. So it gives the poorer people more purchasing power, leading to all the positive effects you've described. As far as I can see (and again, I may well be missing something), the UBI wouldn't narrow the bell curve, just shift it.

On this:

And I think what you're missing is that pumping money in at the top (which is what tax cuts and special breaks for the rich do) doesn't change anything about the overall economy, because they just squirrel it away -- but when you pump money in at the bottom (which is what an increase in minimum wage does, and what a UBI would do), people spend it, and that does stimulate the economy. Mostly, they spend it on things they've been having to put off doing for lack of money -- elective medical/dental care, a newer and more reliable vehicle, home repairs, things like that. Sometimes they spend it on a splurge item -- a new TV or a vacation -- but that also stimulates the economy.

I know all that, but I'm not clear on what it has to do with my question. I'm not asking how UBI would stimulate the economy; I'm asking why it wouldn't cause inflation that would cancel out the UBI payment.

Buddha Buck @162: Thanks for the analysis on the dole. That does make sense. I've always been self-employed, and the majority of my friends are either self-employed or in ad hoc professions where they're on and off the dole - so I haven't had any experience of the ins and outs of the dole as it interacts with more regular jobs, and I didn't put it together.

On this, though:

People will still look for the lowest rents, the lowest costs, etc. And people trying to take advantage of the UBI to jack up prices will find themselves the subject of scorn and approbation.

I'd love to think it would work that way, but I don't think it would. Where I am, anyway, every time incomes have gone up, rents and prices have skyrocketed dramatically. People still look for the lowest rent, but that's higher than it was six months ago, so even if their income has gone up, they're still looking at the same level of accommodation as they were before (if they're lucky). There's plenty of public outrage, which has little or no effect. I have a hard time seeing why things would play out differently simply because the income increase came from UBI.

#165 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2017, 01:42 AM:

Rowan, #164: Yeah, sorry, I kind of went off on a tangent there. However, now I think you're missing something else -- ratios. I'm going to have to do this in dollars, but look at it this way: let's say the UBI is $12,000/year, a nice round $1,000/month. If your current income is $10,000/year, that more than doubles your purchasing power (because remember, UBI isn't means-tested, it's just added to whatever you were making before). If your current income is $100,000/year, your purchasing power is only 12% more than it was before UBI. And if your current income is $1,000,000/year, you won't even notice the difference. (And it's very late, so if I've screwed up the math I welcome correction!)

So a flat UBI is going to disproportionately improve the lives of the poorest people, just as an increase in the minimum wage does, and will have similar effects.

#166 ::: alisea ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2017, 04:17 AM:

My impression reading about UBI schemes has always been that the taxation scheme would be adapted so that higher incomes pay progressively more taxes that will eventually even out or even eclipse the UBI.

So, there wouldn't be more money in sum to go around, which shouldn't have a that big an influence prices. It is possible though that services primarily aimed at lower income people would hike their prices.

So my income probably wouldn't change at all - I'd get €xxxx on top, but would pay around the same amount more in taxes. That assumes middle class fulltime income. The difference would come into play the moment my income situation changes - if I want to go part time for whatever reason, or give entrepreneurship a go.

Currently I can't even start to think about something like that - I need that fulltime income, and will be for a while. A UBI would make a lot more scenarios doable without having to lean on the social net that I wouldn't feel comfortable leaning on since I can easily provide for myself.

Also, everybody getting a UBI sounds like a good way to take away the stigma often attached to receiving assistance for whatever reason.

#167 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2017, 10:32 PM:

alisea @166:

The UBI tax doesn't even need to be technically progressive.

Imagine it's a flat tax on income above the UBI. Since the UBI is a fixed amount, at some income level the UBI tax will be greater than the UBI. For instance, if the UBI is $12k/year, and the UBI tax is 25%, then anyone earning over $48k post-UBI will pay more in UBI tax than they get.

Of course making it more progressive would push that break-even number higher, which might be a good idea.

#168 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2017, 10:53 PM:

alisea @166: Also, everybody getting a UBI sounds like a good way to take away the stigma often attached to receiving assistance for whatever reason.

The part I'm curious about is less quantifiable: what (if anything) would it do for the need to attach stigma? (Which, in point of fact, I'll bet is where the major resistance to the idea comes from, on some level or other.)

#169 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2017, 04:30 PM:

Couldn't we just look down on people who need to stigmatize others? (In the vein of Tom Lehrer's "I know that there are people in this world who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that!")

#170 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2017, 05:58 PM:

"There are two kinds of people in the world: those who say there are two kinds of people—and those who don't." :)

#171 ::: P J Evans sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2017, 05:57 PM:

ED drugs in Italian are still spam

#172 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2017, 03:57 PM:

Interesting article, applicable to the thread:


#173 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2017, 11:59 PM:

I've mostly turned into a lurker here (And some of that is even skipped; if I am 500 messages behind on an open thread, I am liable to give up) but I was a bit surprised to see that this news item didn't wake up this particular topic.

My main take: Canada has been bad for a while now for starting a cool pilot project... that simply ends when the original time runs out, regardless of success rate. The track record on pilot projects becoming permanent policy is almost nil, and even renewal tends to be miraculous.

But despite that I like that they're trying again.

The province of PEI has been trying to create a province wide pilot project and failing for lack of federal support.

#175 ::: Kiya Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2017, 12:55 AM:

Got pointed back at this thread recently and just wanted to make a response to #94:

I'm a stay-at-home parent. I would, being very generous and conservative about my contributions to the household, have to bring home over thirty thousand dollars after taxes to simply replace the work that I do.

(That back of the envelope calculation is: two kids in daycare; daycare costs locally run from an average $12K/year for four year olds to $17K a year for infants; if I imagine a daycare that splits the difference at $15K (round up) and gives a shocking 50% off on a sibling that would be about $21K. Maid service for house cleaning would run about $300/week, but I am not up to that level, maybe $150/week or so for some general house tidying and maintenance for another $8K. And that's not counting grocery runs, laundry done, picking up older kids at activities and getting them places, as well as other miscellaneous factors.)

So let's say I'd have to earn $40K a year before taxes in order to break even. Which is... roughly twice as much as I have ever earned back when I was in the workforce.

I flatly can't afford to work a mainstream job; even if my health could take it, at best for what I might plausibly get that's a twenty thousand dollar loss. I can scrape together tiny, tantalizing scraps of time to write in between dealing with the kids, and that's got to be good enough for now.

(I know several other SAHP who are in basically the same boat: it costs too much to work, so we don't. Some also have disabilities or health issues in play that make working even harder than it would be for the more fully abled, and thus more personally costly. But basically take all of the 'what's the marginal benefit of getting off the dole' arguments and apply them to replacing the services SAHPs provide....)

#176 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2017, 01:10 PM:

There's a writing contest for the best short story dealing with a Universal Basic Income. Prize is an income of $12,000 over the next year.

#177 ::: chinagadget ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2020, 01:31 PM:

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#178 ::: Joel Polowin sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2020, 01:46 PM:

Spammer writes Russian in Cyrillic, advertises something Chinese, has a Ukrainian URL. Yay for multinationalism.

#179 ::: chinaEpisaTT ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2020, 10:28 PM:

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#180 ::: chinaEpisaTT ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2020, 10:30 PM:

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#181 ::: Joel Polowin sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2020, 11:13 PM:

Same spammers, same schtick.

#182 ::: chinaEpisaTT ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2020, 04:38 AM:

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#183 ::: dcb sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2020, 06:01 AM:

Nothing to report here...

#184 ::: Buddha Buck sees two spams ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2021, 10:12 AM:

Spamity spam

#185 ::: Cassy B. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2021, 09:04 AM:

Refreshingly brief spam, for a change.

#186 ::: Tom Whitmore sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2021, 10:20 PM:

Putin's assistants understand where the real power is in this country -- I don't think.

#187 ::: Buddha Buck sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2021, 11:15 PM:

I can't read Cyrillic. Is this as random as the other spam that gets posted here?

#188 ::: P J Evans sees still more spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2021, 12:55 PM:

Obvious spam is obvious.

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