Universal Basic Income

Many politicians and mainstream news outlets 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 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.

There are alternative UBI systems that are designed to run outside government control. These are decentralized networks using blockchain technology to equitably distribute all the proceeds that are contributed to the system by the user. Anyone can join such a UBI community, which would function like a Socialist system operating in parallel.  Because such UBI systems are voluntary, there should be no objections to their existing and operating.

However, a government-run UBI system would not be voluntary.  A Federally or State controlled UBI program would create dependence on centralized government, which could be disastrous.  There is a much more obvious and straightforward solution to the problem of the bottom 60% of Americans not earning enough to obtain financial security.

Instead of collecting taxes and then redistributing that money to pay for everyone’s basic food and housing, government should first simply abolish taxes on the poor and middle class. Government could allow every citizen to own a modest home tax free and to earn a modest wage tax free. Regarding food and housing, self-sufficiency should be the goal, not dependence on government.  For other necessities that require community effort, a Public Bank should provide those funds, for instance for a public health insurance program, basic retirement and disability insurance, free access to information and reliable, lost-cost and convenient mass transportation. (See Roles of Business, State, and Charity.) One of the reasons why corporations switch from people to robots is that the costs of health insurance, workman’s comp and pensions for employees.  If the government provided essential insurance programs, then hiring people would be more economically viable for businesses.

The problem is not that jobs are disappearing.  The problem is that most jobs are low paying.  Ideally every household in the U.S. should live comfortably on a single paycheck, or two part-time paychecks.  Americans work more hours than people do in most first-world countries.  If mindless and low-skill jobs are replaced by robots and unemployment reaches 50%, then the remaining jobs should be higher paying and more fulfilling.  There are many other kinds of important or understaffed positions that should/could only be filled by people, such as, tutoring and child care, medical care, appliance and electronic repair, building trades, infrastructure building and repair, organic farming, housekeeping and groundskeeping, artisan trades, entertainment, custom food preparation, and social services.  These jobs will not be replaced by robots efficiently or effectively.

Before people demand a UBI, people should demand that government  end the policies that have helped create an economy in which the average worker can’t afford basic food and housing.  Nationalizing the Federal Reserve, that is, replacing private fractional reserve banking with a Public Bank, is the first step. Instituting a Public Bank would enable the end of taxation for everyone except those at the very top. Ending the free trade agreements and imposing tariffs on imports would generate revenue for the government and bring back some manufacturing from China and Mexico, where people, not robots, still do the work. Granting work visas 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 these jobs. Universal Basic Income is an unnecessary form of centralized control of resources that is antithetical to the idea of a decentralizing the power and control of a society.

Furthermore because people might spend UBI money irresponsibly, most likely UBI payments would come in the form of vouchers so that people would be forced to spend the vouchers on approved goods and services, and this would create an opportunity for corruption in the industries that get the approvals.  UBI is another form of privatization of social services, which redirects tax money toward for-profit industries. Privatization has been disastrous in the prison system and health insurance system, causing the cost of those services to soar and the quality of those services to decline.

 

 

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