Universal Basic Income

Many politicians are telling us that our modern digital and post-industrial economy has reduced or transformed whole classes of jobs. With online shopping, retail sales jobs are disappearing; robots are replacing factory workers, and industrial farming has replaced field laborers. In response, some countries, such as Finland and Netherlands, are testing out a Universal Basic Income (UBI). In such a system, the government would collect taxes from all and give each individual everyone enough money to cover basic living expenses, e.g., housing, food, and transportation. A lobbying group called Basic Income Action has been formed in the United States to promote Universal Basic Income. Some say that providing such security to all would save individuals from having to make bad choices out of desperation (about where to work, for instance), and they also claim that injecting money into the economy where the poor and middle-class trade would be better for businesses too, as people would have more money to spend.

Some prefer UBI to existing Welfare programs, like food stamps and housing subsidies, because it allows the recipients to make “free market” decisions about how to spend their welfare benefits. Critics of a Universal Basic Income say it would be a disincentive to work, and they fear that people would spend money irresponsibly. Other critics of this program consider UBI an example of Bread and Circus and/or Robbing Peter to Pay Paul and offer alternative solutions.

If factory jobs have been replaced by machines, there are many other kinds of important and understaffed positions that can only be filled by people, such as, tutoring and child care, medical care, appliance and electronic repair, building trades, infrastructure building and repair, agriculture that can only be harvested by hand, housekeeping and groundskeeping.

If Universal Basic Income is being presented as a solution to economic disparity and poverty, are there current government policies that create these conditions that could be ended to solve the problem instead? Ending the free trade agreements and imposing tariffs on imports would bring back some manufacturing from China and Mexico, where people not robots do the work. Granting citizenship to undocumented workers would enable these workers to demand higher pay for fewer hours and better working conditions, which might also attract other US-born workers to the job. Eliminating income tax for middle and low income households would be a better way of injecting cash into the economy so that people and hire others to perform services.

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