I recently contributed my view on the moral underpinnings of a Universal Basic Income to a wide-ranging conversation on the topic facilitated by the Great Transition Initiative: “Universal Basic Income: Has the Time Come?” Here’s the question they posed:
“Should society provide every citizen with a basic income, no strings attached? Some proponents of a “universal basic income” view it as a tool for system correction, but the focus of this GTI Forum is on system change. Should a UBI be a central element of strategies for transformation?“
My answer is a strong affirmative. I see a Universal Basic Income as a cornerstone of a transformed economy within an Ecological Civilization: one that is life-affirming rather than wealth-affirming
I recommend exploring the full conversation (including arguments against) at the Great Transition Initiative website.
I WOULD IMAGINE THAT most contributors to this discussion agree, to some degree at least, with the principle that we need deep, structural changes to our current socioeconomic system. It is not enough to tinker with a few parts of the system, no matter how beneficial that tinkering might appear. Our civilization, torn apart by gaping inequalities, is currently hell-bent on a course to disaster. Its suicidal addiction to economic growth paralyzes it from making the changes required to avert climate catastrophe, while it destroys life’s abundance on our beautiful but wounded Earth.
We need to change the fundamentals of our society. We must move from a wealth-based civilization to one that is life-affirming—an ecological civilization. Without this Great Transition, we are leaving future generations to face the horrors of a collapsing civilization on a devastated planet. Can we transition rapidly enough? And can the transition occur without the old civilization collapsing catastrophically around us?
Given this context, I have been surprised by how much the discussion of a universal basic income sounds like arguing how to stack the deck chairs on the Titanic. Can we afford it? Would it be inflationary? Would the right wing use it as an excuse to take away basic services? In my view, the fundamental issues need to be: Does UBI help with the process of transforming civilization from within? Can it help to move us seamlessly into the Great Transition?
My own answer is a strong affirmative. I acknowledge that, by itself, it is not enough to redirect our global society, but I view it as one of the most important trimtabs available that (a) meets an urgent and current need, while (b) helping unravel some of the economic and cultural structures that have set our civilization on its collective suicide pact.
A full-fledged UBI—one that unconditionally provides every person with enough income to meet their basic needs—would fundamentally alter the paradigm of capitalism that has locked workers into the dominant system ever since its inception. Capitalism has endured by commoditizing people’s lives, forcing them to sell the bulk of their available time and energy, or else face destitution and starvation. A true UBI would transform the relationship between labor and capital and weaken the power of the wealthy elite to control the population.
Even more fundamentally, UBI has the potential to shift underlying mainstream misconceptions about human nature. The dominant contract between capital and labor has reified the idea that humans are essentially selfish and lazy, and must be forced to work by a combination of fear and greed, which is effectuated by wages and other monetary “incentives.” However, it has been widely demonstrated (and summarized well in Rutger Bregman’s Humankind) that humans are nothing of the sort. In fact, people have a fundamental need to engage in a livelihood that is meaningful and to feel valued by their community. Work is not something people try to avoid; on the contrary, purposeful work is an integral part of human flourishing. If people were liberated by UBI from the daily necessity to sell their labor for survival, they would reinvest their time in crucial parts of the economy that, as Kate Raworth outlines in Doughnut Economics, have mostly been hidden from view—the household and the commons. They would care for loved ones, build community, and dare to do whatever it is that inspires them. The domination of the economy by the market would inevitably decline while those other, life-affirming sectors would be strengthened.
From a values perspective, UBI elevates the principles of trust and fairness as organizing structures of society, while eclipsing the ethic of cynicism that dominates our market-oriented system. Morally, UBI recognizes a precept of human history that has long been ignored—that the overwhelming proportion of wealth available to modern humans is the result of the cumulative ingenuity and industriousness of prior generations going back to earliest times, including such fundamentals as language, cultural traditions, and scientific knowledge. Once we realize the vastness of the cumulative common resources that our ancestors have bequeathed to us, it transforms our conception of wealth and value. Contrary to the widespread view that an entrepreneur who becomes a billionaire deserves his wealth, the reality is that whatever value he created is a pittance compared to the immense bank of prior knowledge and social practices—the commonwealth—that he took from.
It is the moral birthright of every human to share in the vast commonwealth that our predecessors have collectively built, and I see a global UBI as the most effective way to make that happen. There are many structural changes required to shift our society’s disastrous trajectory and replace our wealth-based, growth-addicted civilization with one that is truly ecological. A UBI, by itself, would not be nearly enough, but in my view, it is one of the most important cornerstones of a future that fosters sustainable human flourishing on a regenerated living Earth.
25 thoughts on “Universal Basic Income: The Moral Birthright of Every Human Being”
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The only issue I have with this is the notion…
A full-fledged UBI—one that unconditionally provides every person with enough income to meet their basic needs
I would like to see what happens when someone actually does this in a moderate metropolitan area.
I worry mostly that it would inflate prices until the UBI was either insufficient or just scraping by.
Example: You raise the minimum wage to $15/hour. This of course puts a lot of pressure on other wages to rise somewhat so that they are still above minimum wage. So the three guys who were sharing a flat spending half their income on rent, can now afford to do this with only two of them. One moves off into another apartment with his girl friend.
This raises the demand for low end flats. Landlords, always keen to a good thing, raise the rents. Net result, most of these guys have to go back to three per flat.
I don’t *know* that this will happen. I suspect that it will, and some of the preliminary reports I’ve seen come out of Seattle and Vancouver suggest that it is happening.
That’s why it needs a full scale test. Pick a reasonable sized metropolitan area that is somewhat isolated from the rest of the country. In Canada, I’d suggest Saskatoon, SK, or St. John’s Newfoundland. In the U.S. maybe Boise, or Albequerque.
I would also ramp it up gradually — say over 3-4 years in 4 month steps. Four months would give you 12 pulses of income that you would be able to measure. Maybe you want 3 months so you can tie into all the quarterly economic reports.
Also: Make it *uniform*. Kids get it too. (Rather, their parents get it for them)
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You make a good point about the need to make this fully universal and, as you say, uniform. Yes, even kids should get a UBI. That is something that Anu Partanen explains in her book. It’s how Scandinavian social democracies support individualism better than the United States social Darwinism.
It’s common in Scandinavian countries for government programs to offer services and resources to individuals, rather than to couples and entire families. Even marriage is treated differently there, such as individual finances being maintained separate by law. Just because your spouse is rich or your parents or rich, it doesn’t limit your access to government programs.
This means an abused wife doesn’t have to fear leaving her husband because she might become homeless. And if a high schooler’s parents won’t pay for college, it’s irrelevant how much money they make since the government provides free higher education for all equally. This puts the rich and poor on more equal footing. But it also guarantees the individual has greater freedom to take actions to better themselves, no matter their familial or relationship status.
The U.S. system instead encourages people to be treated according to their relationships. This is why American rhetoric of individualism is so superficial and deceptive. Individualism is only real to the degree the individual can freely act, something that sadly is not a reality for most Americans. Something like UBI potentially could be a step toward such genuine individual freedom.
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A UBI is also a solidly American idea. Thomas Paine, shortly after the founding of the United States, proposed what he called a citizens dividend. It was seen not as charity but justice.
The commons, as land and natural resources, had been privatized and enclosed. This was theft from every generation that followed.
So, if we are to have a capitalist society dependent on such perament and ongoing theft, the citizenry should be compensated by taxing those who have profited from that theft.
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Although I love the principal the devil – as they say – is in the detail. A few things spring to mind. 1) there will always be some who will prefer to loaf around – how would they be regarded by those working ? 2) Will those working for an employer also get their wages – and thus be various levels of richer ? 3) If people were freed to choose their employment, how would you ensure that the essential jobs were still taken care of ? 4) What about those who already have a huge amount of wealth and no need for more ? 5) I also perceive a strong possibility that those in the US who regard ‘socialism’ as the ultimate evil would be up in arms – and many would also see it as a way for the government to ‘control’ the people. (many already fear anything with even a whiff of control) I would nonetheless love to see this happen, if the many difficulties could be overcome. It would certainly do away with the current numerous social benefit payment systems, which are very much open to abuse.
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To respond to your first doubt or criticism, if you’re interested in the practical and real world details, check out the Candian mincome experiment (Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment). It lasted five years. The only reason it ended was because conservatives came to power and they were afraid of it because it succeeded so well. The whole project was not quietly shut down in the hope to keep people from learning about it.
Even so, researchers were able to access the data. They found that unemployment rates didn’t go up. There were only two main changes in this regard. Most of the people who chose not to work were simply those who had more important things to do with their time, such as married young mothers and students. But this was balanced by greater unemployment in other demographics. The secnd thing was that people took longer to find the job they most wanted and so were more satisfied with the work they had.
As long as employment was available, the average person chose to work. It’s not hard to understand why. All that the basic income did was give one enough money to survive with food and shelter. If you wanted anything beyond that (a vehicle, home ownership, entertainment, eating out, vacations, etc) or simply wanted to save money, you still had to work to pay for it.
That gets to your second issue. Beyond the basic income, one could work as many jobs as one wanted or invest or get further education and training for a new career. With a basic income, one could start a new business without fear of failure because you’d always have the means for survival. Also, no one would have to worry about going into debt and becoming homeless because of a single medical issue.
So, there would still be rich people. It just means there no longer would be desperately poor people. Most people don’t care about economic inequality on principle. Wealth is a symbol of access to resources and opportunities. If everyone has a basic level of wealth to not only survive but better themselves, then inequality becomes less of an issue. This is particularly true under Scandinavian social democracies where education and job retraining are offered for free.
In that case, one’s main limits are one’s abilities and motivation. It removes the factors of luck and privilege. But an additional factor would be to remove big money from politics which would eliminate plutocracy and corporatocracy. Otherwise, big money politics will find a way to subvert or destroy even the most well functioning social democracy. That might relate to your fourth thing mentioned. It is largely irrelevant the wealth disparities as long as it doesn’t interfere with the public good in a free society of democratic self-governance.
About your third point, the same economic motivations remain in place. For those with less skills for whatever reason (lower IQ, limited education, lack of requisite training, less motivation, etc), they might still want some extra money to pay for the simple enjoyments of life. Few people are satisfied at a level of bare survival. Anyway, as David Graeber argued, many and maybe most work in our present economy are bullshit jobs. Once we stop using work as social control, much of the work might disappear or be taken over by computers and machines.
Now number five is the real stinker. That is always a problem in the United States. Everything that serves the public good will get accused of being socialism, communism, Marxism, radicalism, or something along those lines. You have to remember that socialists were the first to advocate and implement sewer systems as public municipalities that served all citizens. The idea that all humans deserve clean water is socialism.
But to right-wing fringe, nearly every government program that ever existed when first introduced was socialism: Social Security, Medicaid, welfare, Obamacare, etc. Even the GI Bill was seen as socialism by some, as they thought it made veterans lazy. Also, it wasn’t only the likes of FDR who was accused of socialism but also Eisenhower and Nixon. Yet after a generation or two or three, what was once perceived as radically left-wing becomes normalized. Consider how most Americans across the political spectrum now support not only Social Security and such but also environmental regulations, same sex marriage, and women’s right to choose an abortion.
If we live in fear of being labeled socialists, needed human progress will be made nearly impossible. When such accusations are being made, it means the enemies of freedom are feeling the pressure and are afraid of the public good achieving success. The louder they get, the harder we should push. The benefits are not minor, as can be seen in the Scandinavian social democracies where inequality is lower and outcomes, social and health, are vastly improved. Even healthcare is cheaper when ‘socialized’ and people end up living longer.
This was also seen with the Canadian mincome experiment. The gains were not minor. There was a decrease in property crime, violent crime, and total crime. Also, a drop was seen in work-related injuries, emergency room visits from accidents and injuries, hospital visits, psychiatric hospitalization, mental illness-related consultations with health professionals, etc. The recipients of mincome were generally healthier, happier, and more satisfied.
In addition, the lessening of stark inequality (with extreme poverty at the low end) would eliminate some of the worst outcomes of societal stress, as shown in the work of Keith Payne, Kate Pickett, and Richard Wilkinson. The data and research shows that even the wealthy suffer from this stress with higher rates of stress-related diseases, addiction, and alcoholism. So, once this kind of broad public good was established, all demographics would benefit and it would reduce the level of public mistrust, populist outrage, reactionary thought, and authoritarian demagoguery.
The trick is getting the political will to make the changes. The basic public support is already there. For example, most Americans already want universal healthcare provided by the government. Even before Obamacare, the majority wanted healthcare reform much further to the left. The challenge is that this is a suppressed and silenced majority. This society at present is a banana republic, not a democracy at the national level. There are those in both main parties who immensely benefit from the present corrupt system of socialism for the rich and social Darwinism for everyone else.
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In no particular order:
People who are already wealthy: Easiest to give it to everyone, but pay for it with income tax. So the rate for the wealthy goes up by 3%.
People who also work: They get it too in addition to their wages.
People who loaf: So what? I suspect that it will be a pretty meagre existence just on GUI.
Selling it to conservatives:
* It’s a replacement for welfare.
* It’s cheaper than welfare (because of the lack of overhead for all those case workers)
* It’s much simpler than welfare, so we can reduce government bureaucracy.
As to devil in details:
Economies aren’t homogenous, but stratified. The bottom classes keep to their part of town, go to walmart, not L.L.Bean. Yeah, the well to do, go slumming. And some stores cater to multiple economic groups.
But, as an illustration: If rental condos have a vacancy rate to 20%, the owners don’t rent to single mom’s on welfare, even though in theory, getting some rent is better than nothing.
This has to ramp up slowly, otherwise you just have more dollars in play chasing the same resources. This creates inflation, particularly in non-mobile assets: housing. The housing supply has to expand proportionally to the increase in available rent money. There are a lot of people who don’t have the mindset to save money. So if they have extra money, they will spend it. This may mean they buy a better hoodie at Walmart. Or it may mean that with the increase in prosperity in the neighbourhood that Walmart jacks its prices up 20%.
I’ve seen this happen. The U of Alberta campus has a Safeway right on the edge of campus. Prices there are 20% higher than the Save on Foods 8 blocks away. But the majority of students don’t have cars, so they shop at Safeway.
Re: “Can start a business without fear, as can revert to UBI” Maybe not. As a safety net, it’s more like 4″ of sawdust than a net. Many people who start a business are already middle class. UBI won’t let them keep their house, buy the clothes the kids are used to etc. It *will* help people who are in the gig economy. E.g. Guys who mix audio files for up and coming musicians.
As to what people will do, take a look at retired people. They often are living on a fraction of what they are used to, and several I’ve talked to have said that between their new social whirl, their volunteer work, and visiting kids and grandkids, they now need a daytimer.
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@SGBOTSFORD – You point to the claim that one “Can start a business without fear, as can revert to UBI”. Then you respond, “Maybe not. As a safety net, it’s more like 4″ of sawdust than a net. Many people who start a business are already middle class. UBI won’t let them keep their house, buy the clothes the kids are used to etc.”
This would depend on many things. If it was given as one lump sum every year, then some people would end up spending or losing that money before the year was out. This could be true even if they were careful, as unforeseen costs could come up such as medical bills. But it would be far differently if the basic income was given as a monthly check at the beginning of the month when such things as rent are due.
That would mean, even in losing all one’s money, the next UBI check would come in next month. There would always be money to pay for the most basic needs such as utility bills, food, and clothing. Sure, if you suddenly fell into poverty or debt, the UBI check would only allow for bare survival until you got back on your feet again, but it would guarantee you wouldn’t be homeless or starve. One might lose ownership of one’s house, though, and have to move into a small apartment, maybe with rental assistance, or some kind of government housing.
It’s because of the immense risks to starting and operating a busines that, in our present social Darwinian system, it’s usually only the middle class who are in a position to pursue such ambitions. But once the worst risks are removed, it makes business ownership a possibility to an even larger part of the population. All that is required, then, is to save up some money for enough funds to get the business going. But even that would be easier since, as all basic needs are covered by UBI, all money earned from a job could entirely go into savings in preparation for starting the business.
All of that said, for UBI to work it probably would have to be part of a well-functioning social democracy and well-funded welfare system. As a safety net, it might be necessary to maintain some basic level of free education, free housing, and free healthcare for the most needy, especially in areas where living costs are soaring (or else find a way to relocate people to where housing is cheaper and jobs more plentiful, maybe combined with job retraining like done in Scandinavia).
The public debate would be about what is the most minimal level that should be provided to ensure individual freedom and rights along with public health and safety while keeping costs down. But overall costs might naturally decline, as is seen in some countries when healthcare is ‘socialized’. That was an argument made in Utah.
The Utah state government decided the best solution to the homeless problem was to give homes to the homeless. Then they are no longer homeless. Sheer genius! They came to this conclusion after doing a cost analysis showed that paying for housing would be cheaper than all the funding that goes into dealing with a large homeless population.
To enact this policy, they used all levels of government working with the private sector to get the kind of housing necessary with the onsite social services that would be required, such as drug rehab. Utah hasn’t entirely solved it’s homeless population, but they did manage to get thousands of the chronically homeless into homes which is more than any other state has ever accomplished.
Whether UBI or anything else, it will only work to the degree that there is a functioning government and society. In Scandinavia, there is immense public trust toward good governance and it apparently is deserved. But even diverse immigrant communities in Scandinavia get better results than seen in most of the United States. So, it’s not merely that Scandinavian countries are homogeneous.
Interestingly, Anu Partanen makes the point that Scandinavian social democracy does a better job of supporting individualism than American social Darwinism, although I’ve long argued that the US isn’t particularly individualistic considering its socialism for the rich. That is the hard part to communicate to Americans who rarely can think straight for all the generations of Cold War-style propaganda. Hyper-individualism makes for idealistic rhetoric, but it doesn’t match the reality of American society where authoritarian oppression and capitalist desperation does not encourage healthy individualism.
The challenge is if actual social democracy could ever be replicated in a large dysfunctional society like the United States. It’s possible the U.S. is too large for any form of democracy, social democracy or otherwise. Maybe authoritarianism and corruption inevitably results when too much power is concentrated in a national government larger than any empire in world history.
So, that wouldn’t be a criticism of UBI but of our entire American society. Maybe we will have to return to smaller Scandinavian-sized countries if we ever hope to achieve freedom, self-governance, and public good. But that is an even harder public debate to have than about UBI. It really does all come down to whether we have democracy or not.
We might have to let other countries take the lead on this. There are some UBI experiments already being started, as I recall, but I don’t know any of the details. That is what will be required, immense experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t. Then we’ll need researchers to collect and analyze data. And based on that, we hopefully can have informed public debate that will give political force to the already progressive moral majority.
To not be cynical, one might note that the United States once had a strong culture of trust and it wasn’t that long ago. We had one of the best welfare states in the world with job programs, subsidized housing and education, and numerous government programs. The U.S. also was considered to have had the best functioning bureaucracy in the world and this was maintained until it began to decline in the 1980s. All of this was paid for by massive taxation of the rich that continued for may decades.
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Do you read any of the comments ?
I can’t answer for Jeremy Lent, but I did notice that he liked two comments above. That probably indicates he read them. Although he hasn’t responded to anyone here, he has responded in the comments section of earlier posts. So, it’s probably safe to say that he’ll see any comment you leave, whether or not he directly acknowledges it.
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I read all comments with interest. I appreciate the thoughtful perspectives and generative conversation in response to this post.
This sounds very much like NWO Agenda 2020…..
One might suggest that a right-winger today calling universal basic income an “NWO Agenda” is the equivalent of a right-wnger a century ago calling public sewer systems and water plants socialism. It’s the same basic rhetoric and narrative framing.
Every new area of progress is left-wing radicalism. And, in the reactionary mind, somehow there is almost always a global conspiracy involved. Such fear-mongering moral panic doesn’t seem like a helpful, happy, and healthy way of going through life.
Well said, Benjamin, I could not have put it better. I cannot fathom why so many people are so strongly in favour of inequality.
I don’t want to be dismissive of those who have genuine concerns. And I don’t even really want to be dismissive of those who are being dismissive. But I find these kinds of simplistic and fear-ridden narratives to be demoralizing, to say the least. They don’t inspire us toward progress and the public good. Instead, they ensure the problems continue without solution.
That said, as a nod to the critics, I’m not necessarily a fan of one-size-fits all solutions. It would be better to see many local experiments going on. Let a thousand flowers bloom! But that is the problem. The naysayers want to shut it all down, to close public imagination to other possibilities. We can publicly debate public policy toward the public good. What we can’t meaningfully discuss is a mad, fevered nightmare of “NWO Agenda”.
I ignored the NWO comment by G KARADZIC. Here’s why:
* Recently a friend of mine who has gone to the Dark Side cited an article on NWO’s web site as evidence for something. So I checked the article. It was thin — 2 paragraphs; it had no numbers, just statements with “all” “most”, “many”. It attributed no sources at all. Scanning a half dozen other articles on the website found it to be all fluff pieces, with no substantive, verifiable content. So something have either NWO backing or rejection is not very meaningful.
* Discounting an idea due to it’s source is in effect falling into the Argumentum ad Hominum bias trap: “The child molester said we need a stoplight at that intersection. Since he wants it, it must be bad” Ideas should be judged on their own worth, irrespective of the source. What’s the accident rate at that intersection? What kinds of accidents? How do accidents there compare to other intersections? How much traffic does it handle? Is it a problem that needs a stoplight, or would a 4 way stop or a traffic roundabout be sufficient.
A first step that people on this group can do, especially if they know their way around the various government statistics sites, would be to create spreadsheet model.
* Divide the nation into economic tiers, by tax bracket.
* Have a variable as to what would constitute a basic income.
* Calculate the amount of money it will cost for everyone to get this.
* Set a percentage increase for each tax bracket to pay for it.
* Corporations should pay some of it too. This will cause a lot of pushback, and perhaps companies leaving the country.
The UBI counts as taxable income. So for all but the poorest people, some of it will be clawed back. I suspect that by the time you get to income levels that correspond to lower middle class, it will be mostly clawed back.
You need to figure out which programs can be scrapped:
* Many social services/welfare programs. There still needs to be support for people, but not handing out money to people. Cutting these departments will provide some of the funding.
* Would social security payments be rolled into this?
While the spreadsheet is a reasonable first level model, we need to go into more detail.
Theoretical micro economics researachers have economic models of varying degrees of complexity. I don’t know the current state of the art. (Economics is often called “the dismal science” due to it’s inability to make reasonable predictions.) Even bad models however can give insights. Get a few dozen modeling groups active.
Now you make your small scale experiments. Get the modellers to predict what will happen.
Some of the fears about inflation, particularly rent, can be checked in places that have legislated an increase in minimum wage. While this is not the same as UBI, I would expect it to create similar pressures. Checks in European countries that have given universal relief for covid can also provide insights.
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There is one possible risk with a UBI, from a progressive perspective. It could be a benefit that some right-libertarians and conservatives support it. But that could also be a weakness in undermining it. By seeking support from the political right, the essence of a UBI could be whittled down and become compromised.
Those on the right, including corporatist Democrats, could take it as an opportunity to attack and eliminate social programs, as if a UBI could replace the entire safety net and welfare state. Then this could be used as a strategy to prevent a genuine social democracy. If this were to happen, the majority might become more desperate and disenfranchised than they aleady were.
We have to keep our eyes on the goal, the greater vision of public good, democratic self-governance, rights and freedom. UBI is merely one potential tool toward that end. But if it becomes co-opted by reactionary and authoritarian forces, we have to be ready and willing to shift to different strategies. We need to remain nimble to keep ahead of the regressive forces of society.
SGB makes some excellent points. The suggestions for us to create spreadsheet models I fear may not take off, with so many folk so busy – and others not capable. The points for consideration would need to be agreed too. Tiering by income tax bracket for example might become a minefield – although how else to work out levels I don’t know. We already have a large amounts of money lost to the nation through tax avoidance – I would like to see that addressed before UBI is attempted. And would the same amount go to someone with millions in the bank – and who clearly does not need it – as would go to the homeless person with no job ?
I am for streamlining when possible. Redundancies and waste should be eliminated. UBI, if done with good intentions and design, could take off some of the load from other social programs. But the US already has such a deficient safety net as it is. Most people on welfare are emplyed but still struggling.
Scandinavian social democracy is both more generous and more effective. It’s sometimes even less expensive while getting better overall results, such as with healthcare in terms of lifespan and healthspan. But spending less money by itself is not the goal. We should spend as much as is necessary to maintain a free society of public good.
In our lifetimes, the US government probably has already given away hundreds of trillions of dollars in socialism for the rich. The issue isn’t whether we spend money but in how we we spend it. There is always the needed wealth and resources whenever a corporation needs another subsidy, a bank needs bailed out, the defense industry needs government funding.
Trillions of dollars go to single industries every year. That doesn’t even include the externalized and hidden costs, from cleaning up spills to giving away natural resources off public lands. For a fraction of those trillions wasted every year as socialism for the rich, we could easily fund a social democracy with UBI, universal healthcare, free higher education, job retraining, basic housing guarantee, and still have change left over.
About separating benefits by income brackets, some Scandinavian countries found that was a bad idea. That is how reactionaries turn the middle class against social democracy. If it is framed as a class war, we’ve already lost. That is why, in Scandinavian social democracies, even the richest person gets the same benefits. It makes it nearly impossible to turn it into a political football.
By the way, my initial comment in this particular thread was not intended to be a response to SGB. But looking back at his comment, I now realize it could be taken that way. I was making a more general point and not implying SGB was a right-wing agent of regressive forces or was being duped by them or whatever. LOL I apologize if I came across as critical in this manner.
Please understand that I’m a bit of a libertarian myself, albeit a left-libertarian. I’m prone to an Anti-Federalist take on American politics, by which I mean original Anti-Federalism. Many of the Anti-Federalists were defenders of a more democratic Federalism, by way of the Articles of Confederation, prior to the pseudo-Federalists gaining ascendancy and winning the war of rhetoric — hence, falsely calling themselves Federalists when more than a few of them were really nationalists and imperialists, along with some nostalgically longing for a return of monarchy.
I have no inclination, much less principled position, toward promoting big spending of big gov. As I’ve often said, the American Empire is a banana republic and the only way to get democracy, social and political, would likely require dismantling that empire into smaller nation-states or else returning it to actual and full Federalism. I’d prefer to see a diversity of local experiments done according to the public opinion and needs of the affected populations, through some combination of direct and representative democracy.
The complaint about socialism for the rich is not merely the probable waste of at least hundreds of trillions of dollars in my lifetime. The way it undermines democracy is in some ways worse. But admittedly, we could have done wondrous things with all that wealth and resources over the generations. And we don’t need to speculate about what is possible, as other countries have already achieved it. Even ignoring Scandinavia, many other Western and several non-Western countries have far better social democracies than the US and do it with far less wealth and fewer resources.
Still, if we are going to look around the world for examples, we should emulate the best that can be found and that is largely in Scandinavia, a region that has balanced public good and individual freedom better than anywhere else. Iceland makes for a great comparison, as it is a resource-rich country like the United States. Here in the US, we take natural resources from public lands and essentially give them away to private corporations. It’s actually worse than that, since we do so at below market costs which means we are basically taxing citizens in order to subsidize private profits.
This is what socialism for the rich means. Benefits that would be public are privatized while costs that would be private are socialized. The benefits and costs involved can’t be fully measured in monetary terms as most of what is involved in the commons and public good can’t be translated into fungible wealth. It just gets lost and destroyed in the process with a net loss to society. Iceland, on the other hand, has a state-run company to sell its natural resources. The profits are saved as national surplus which equals to more than a million dollars per citizen and can only be used for programs, services, infrastructure, etc that directly benefits the public.
There is nothing stopping us from doing the same. Or rather the only thing stopping us is plutocracy, authoritarianism, and corruption. So, why do we tolerate this waste of public resources and harm to the public good? Why are we so cavalier and cynical? Why do we lack to imagine as even being possible what already has been achieved by other countries with even less resources and wealth than we have?
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Here is a second thought. Instead of everyone getting the same amount, could it be worked out how much each person needed in order to reach a predetermined level ?
You *really* don’t want to do that. You have to create a whole new bureaucracy to handle it. Give it to everyone. The government already has a system which sort of evaluates your need — the income tax people. You give it everyone, count it as income, claw back as needed. Now, as an option, if you’re wealthy, you can say, “apply my UBI to my tax bill.”
In Canada already you HAVE to have an electronic way to get your tax refund. So that department knows where you bank. You don’t have to set up a whole new federal department that knows where you bank. I would mean that parents would need to set up a bank account for each child.
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Here is another thought. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. In discussions about such things, there is rarely reference to all of the examples of countries around the world that have successfully experimented with or fully implemented all kinds of social programs and services: UBI, universal healthcare, free higher education, job retraining, housing guarantees, etc.
When mentioning examples of other countries, it’s often the response that the comparison isn’t meaningful, that what works elsewhere won’t work here. That criticism seems invalid to me. Scandinavians and Americans are all the same species. Heck, we are closely related both genetically and culturally. Germans and Canadians have decent social democracies as well and our populations are also closely related. If a UBI worked in Canada, why not look to what worked there and copy the best parts of it.
The Scandinavians and Japanese don’t have some special quality we lack. This is demonstrated by the fact that the US once having had a fairly well functioning social democracy that has since declined as public trust and public funding declined. This is part of American culture, not some alien concept or foreign system. Look to the sewer socialism of Milwaukee that was one of most widely revered success stories in US history, having lasted for more than a half century.
It would be a good thing if we Americans were better informed about other countries and how they have done things. I must admit that I’m one of those largely ignorant Americans, as I’ve never traveled outside of the US. But I try to make up for my lack of worldliness with some basic curiosity. Still, I can’t claim to have researched this topic to any great degree.
Within my limited reading, I would recommend Anu Partanen’s book, The Nordic Theory of Everything. Has anyone else read her book? She doesn’t discuss UBI, as I recall, although the book seems like a good place to start in understanding the kind of society that would be necessary to make a UBI or similar progras work most optimally. It’s most basically about what makes a healthy social democracy with a strong culture of trust, sense of public good, and promotion of individual rights and freedoms.
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I appreciate this rich conversation! I would recommend reading Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman, which has a great discussion of UBI, including examples where it’s been tested extensively.
And I strongly recommend this great article in Vox which details every basic income program that’s been tried around the world: https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/2/19/21112570/universal-basic-income-ubi-map
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Hi Jeremy, Thank you for the UBI , I agree with your argument, it would give people a wiggle room to do the work that really motivates them, and contribute to social well being, such as volunteer work. I would add that along with UBI, let’s focus on the 17 UNDP Sustainable goals, the 80 Drawdown projects, and reduce the population to 5 billion, and we may achieve a Relative Utopia, as described by Hanzi in the book Nordic Ideology. UBI is a good trimtab.
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