What is Basic Income?

A Basic Income is a livable wage provided to every citizen unconditionally

Video Credit: Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell

Why should I support a Basic Income?

It allows people to be genuinely free

True freedom means freedom from coercion x. If we live in a society that forces people to generate profit for a company in order to stay alive, how can we say that we are truly free?

A Basic Income gives everybody the freedom to say “no” to unsafe, illegal, unpleasant or unethical working conditions and financial dependencies within abusive relationships. We teach our children the importance of being able to say “no” in the bedroom, and it’s time we extended the same values economically.

When people are free from forced work, they’re free to do their best work. Many people today want to do something to improve themselves/their community/the world but their time and energy is drained generating profit for an employer.

“I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops” – Steven Jay Gould

It would end poverty

We live in the most abundant time in history with more empty homes x than homeless people x and more food is being produced than can be eaten x, so why do we continue to allow people to go homeless and hungry?

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.” - Martin Luther King Jr

We guarantee a certain level of healthcare to all people because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and we should do the same for poverty, given that poverty is linked with an increased need for child services x , prisons x and policing x .

The current “default income” is $0/wk and if people want to change that then they have to actively do something about it. With a Basic Income the “default income” would be a livable wage so while poverty may not be eradicated entirely, people would have to actively try to fall into it.

We live in a technologically unprecedented time in history

200 years ago life expectancy was half of what it is today. 75 years ago programming languages didn’t exist, 45 years ago machine learning had just been conceptualised, 30 years ago the internet became open to the public. The world is changing and the traditional rules for structuring society don’t make sense any more.

Technology that is currently in its relative infancy such as self-driving cars, Amazon Go, farmbot and machine learning algorithms are predicted to put approximately 50% of the workforce out of a job within the next 20 years x and while all evidence shows that new “bullshit jobs” x will be invented to keep everyone busy, the reality is that we don’t need everybody working to keep society functioning (and if we did then there wouldn’t be more job-seekers than there are jobs x). For some, this displacement will mean going back to university to study programming but for many without 4+ spare years for retraining, this will be devastating.

For all of human history up until a few hundred years ago, 80-90% of the population were farmers because they had to be in order to keep everybody alive. Today that figure in Australia is closer to 1% x (and with fully automated farming technology recently introduced to the market x we could see that figure soon move closer to 0%) which leaves a huge amount of “slack” in the economy. The argument that we need to force people to work to earn a living made sense when we needed “all hands on deck” but simply doesn’t hold up to the reality of modern day.

“You ever think about how bad we had to fuck up to create a world where robots taking all the jobs is somehow a bad thing?” – @heatdeath on twitter

The role of the government should be to empower the people, not make decisions for them

Traditional thinking would suggest that in order to empower people and combat poverty that the government should provide services, but studies x x x have shown that it’s more effective to just give cash directly because people in poverty know best how to use the money allocated to them. We live in the most educated society in history x and we need to acknowledge that poverty is primarily due to influences in our collective economy rather than an individual’s lack of education.

“The task of government is not to make decisions for you or for anyone. The task of government is to enable you to make decisions for yourselves. Not to see the truth of that statement is fundamentally to mistake the genius of democracy. We have made too many mistakes of this type—but no more. Our job is to get resources to people in need and then to let them run their own lives.” – Richard Nixon

It would boost the economy

The natural state of our economy is for money to pool at the top in the hands of the richest, by raising taxes on them and distributing money to all it forces circulation into the system, increases the Velocity of Money x and increases demand in the market.

“Give [money] to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow’s hands” – Will Rogers

Studies have shown people are more entrepreneurial when they are protected from risk x and when they are free to innovate x - a Basic Income ensures both.

It would empower workers

To fight for unions and workers rights isn’t enough. So long as people’s livelihood is dependent on employment there will always be workers taken advantage of because the poorest workers will never have the freedom to walk away from bad working conditions.

A Basic Income would also empower workers to more freely fight for their own rights. Without fearing for their livelihood they would be able to strike and withhold their labour indefinitely.

“Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.” – Arundhati Roy

“I like the idea, but…”

How do you pay for it?

There are many different schools of thought regarding specifics x but the broad consensus relies on a few facts:

  1. money is a tool used to represent value x
  2. we already live in an era of overabundance x x

This means that the problems we have don’t come from a lack of “money” but rather a problem in the distribution of money. A handful of very wealthy people have hoarded too much (a larger percentage share than in decades x x ) while many struggle to get by.

The bottom line is that it would involve higher taxes on the richest people because if the objective is to put money in the hands of everyday people then there is no logical reason to tax anybody earning less than the Australian average (~$107,000 x).

Is it fair to increase the tax burden on the rich?

With productivity on the rise x , growing automation is on target to create trillions in new value x the more appropriate question is whether it’s fair for the wealth generated by all of us to be monopolised by a handful of “owners”.

“I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned. If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” – Warren Buffett

Why are you entitled to this?

What is more entitled: to think that you deserve basic necessities in a time of overabundance or to think you deserve luxuries before others deserve basic necessities?

If the choice is between the feelings of a billionaire being hurt or someone homeless getting somewhere to sleep or someone food insecure getting food then the choice should be obvious

How can you pitch the idea to rich people?

A few ways:

  1. “Everyone does better when everybody does better” x . By guaranteeing a basic standard of living to all people you can have a larger and stronger consumer base. If we can move past this failing trickle-down ideology x then we can realise that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero sum game x.
  2. Without people being dependant on you for jobs you will be able to more aggressively transition to full automation.
  3. It’s okay, you will still be richer than everybody else.
  4. Sorry, in a democracy everybody gets one vote and you’re vastly outnumbered

I’m worried about capital flight

If these people are only staying in the country so that they can squeeze us for profits then they are people we should welcome leaving. Remember that the economy is driven by demand, not by supply - and by removing their business they are opening up new markets for entrepreneurs who may actually want to contribute back to society. Perhaps some of the company’s skilled and knowledgeable workers would like to be those entrepreneurs.

I’m worried about hyperinflation

Hyperinflation is related to the ratio between money in circulation and products in circulation x. As long the Basic Income isn’t funded by printing money then the ratio wouldn’t change and there is no logical reason to fear it.

Prices are primarily kept down by market competition x and as long as there is genuine competition within a market there is no reason to expect prices to rise. If anything we would likely see prices drop as people have more economic opportunities. Take the real estate market for instance, there is some competition but not genuine competition because in order to get a “good job” people are forced to move into the city. With a Basic Income people would be able to base their decisions less around their jobs and more around affordability and lifestyle. With less market pressure in cities rental prices will have to become much more competitive in order to entice tenants.

Why give it to every person?

Not only would it be less bureaucratic and more efficient, it would also be a powerful symbolic statement towards all people that says “everybody deserves to live”. In the same way that we say “everybody deserves a basic education” with free public schools, and “everybody deserves access to basic health care” with Medicare.

Means-testing for welfare is a very degrading and dehumanising process that adds additional strain to people who are already struggling. It also creates, stigmatises and demonises a class of people who receive targeted welfare, which in turn makes those programs easier to cut.

“What if we only installed seat belts in the cars of those who had gotten into accidents? That’s welfare” – Scott Santens

Without work, won’t people get bored and lazy?

There will still be work. This isn’t an end to labour, it is simply an end to forced labour. Not only that but by freeing people from ‘jobs’ they will have the freedom and capacity to ‘work’ on projects that actually matter to them and their community. Studies has shown that giving people extra money makes them feel financially secure. That security ends up leading to empowerment, not de-motivation x

The idea that people will become destitute and idle when given the option not to work is completely disconnected from any psychological analysis of motivation. For instance, looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs x a Basic Income would cover the two base levels relating to fundamental needs but would still leave many needs to be fulfilled that can’t be achieved solely using money.

There will of course be some exceptions as there are in any case but…

“We need to decide as a matter of social policy that we would prefer to be generous and be taken advantage of on occasions, than be mean and have catastrophic outcomes like [we see around us]” – Julian Burnside

If you give people cash they will spend it on drugs

In cash transfer studies is there no evidence of this, however there is evidence of the exact opposite: that they start eating better and taking care of themselves. Not to mention addiction is more complicated than you’re making it out to be and fundamentally comes from a place of escapism x. We should prioritise treatment and building a society that people don’t feel the need to escape from, above demonising people with an illness.

I don’t want people to be dependent on the government

It’s not a question of being dependent on “government” but rather dependent on society (after all, the purpose of government is to enforce the rules that we collectively agree on as a society). Did you build your house? Did you grow your food? Do you personally test the food safety and product quality of everything you buy? If your employer were to not pay you, are you dependent on the government legal system to hold them accountable?

We live in a complex interdependent society today and we will continue to live in a complex interdependent society with a Basic Income. None of us alone can stand against the forces of nature.

I’m worried this will be used as a tool to cut government programs

Firstly, if people are given a living wage there aren’t many programs that people will qualify for from the government anymore so it’s likely that the demand for many programs will go down significantly.

Secondly, that is not what we are suggesting. Our goal is to increase the quality of life for all people, not to cut back on services. We need to set the terms of the conversation and make sure that our needs and views are heard.

We need to trial the idea more first

Giving people money unconditionally has been trialled many times already x and regularly shows positive results such as increased mental/physical health, decreases in crime, students able to more clearly focus on studies, new parents able to devote more time to taking care of children, etc. The one trial that hasn’t been done is a country-wide living wage.

Much like with vaccines against diseases, a vaccination against poverty would likely show significantly greater results due to “herd immunity” x

I prefer the idea of a “job guarantee”

“I have actually debated this issue with over twenty professors over the last twenty years. To me, a job guarantee is a lie. What is it? You are going to guarantee every Pole a job. Imagine what this would mean! I am sure a lot of Polish people would like to be the president of Poland. Are you going to guarantee them the job of being president of Poland? What sort of jobs are you going to guarantee them? Is it a job that pays a decent wage? Is it a job which leads to an occupation that they believe they are capable of performing? No. The “job guarantee” would be saying to the unemployed: you must have this job because we’ve got it. And you’re going to take it. It might be a very low-paying job, or a very humiliating job, or a very stigmatizing job– because to take that job that is only a job because the employment office says it is a job is stigmatizing. If that goes on your CV it’s a sort of a marker meaning “failure”. De Tocqueville, in his famous book Democracy In America, actually illustrated the situation rather nicely; I quote it in my book Work After Globalization. He said that if you had a job guarantee, it would either lead to complete communism, because you would be telling everybody that they can only have bread if they take these jobs we provide, or complete inefficiency, because you would be paying somebody to do something which is unproductive and useless. I’d challenge anybody talking about job guarantee: where is your concept of freedom? Where is your concept of emancipation? Because you’re basically talking about coercion: you have to take the job that I decide and you will be grateful: I don’t like that approach. I think it’s paternalistic, it’s directive and it is contrary to all the great philosophical traditions of freedom” – Guy Standing

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