• David R Thompson

Universal Basic Income – This Much I Know

For each of the last thirteen weeks, I have produced a short article on Universal Basic Income. Thirteen weeks. That’s a quarter of a year. I think it’s time to summarise my thoughts.

It seems to me that, like any society throughout history, ours has its problems. We cannot know at this stage what solutions will be adopted, if any, and where we will be in the next fifty years (although there are a large number of climate scientists who have a pretty good idea).

However, it is our prerogative as citizens to campaign for particular solutions that we believe will help, even if our voice is tiny compared to the lobbying of the wealthy corporations and fake news media. And I’m happy to argue that Universal Basic Income has an uncanny ability to address and solve many of the problems our society faces. Let me show you how.

Free market capitalism promises to provide prosperity to all members of a society, because a prosperous ruling class will create more jobs and distribute its profits to hard workers. Except that it doesn’t do this. We can show this by the increasing value of shares, dividends, profits, CEO pay and, yes, the reduction in unemployment, which all co-exist with flatlining pay and increasing inequality. We know this is true because wages have to be supplemented by benefits and people with full-time jobs go to food banks. That’s right, a full-time job often doesn’t pay enough, so charities and the State have to top up earnings with in-work benefits and donations. WTF? Everything is in place for the trickle-down effect to take place, including more people in work than ever before, but it just doesn’t. There is no trickling down of wealth, which is jealously guarded at the top of the tree.

Universal Basic Income corrects this aberration. It recognises that all citizens provide as yet unmonetised benefits to society and distributes a dividend for their contribution. It transfers the wealth of a society to the public outside of wages, because wages seem incapable of doing this on their own.

UBI will also allow anyone to become an entrepreneur. If capitalism requires such leaders to create jobs, then UBI can be effective in creating those leaders. How? Well, because UBI takes care of money for food, housing and makes sure that there is money for the kids. So, everyone is able to pursue more fulfilling goals than simply keeping afloat financially. Many start-ups fail. With UBI, at least that won’t ruin you. You can even have another try! Statistically, the more new ventures there are, the more will succeed. A genuine demonstration of the American Dream, right there.

We have an aging population. We’re told how taxes need to go up to finance pensions and care. But people can’t look after their own relatives because they have to go out to work to feed their children. The State has to step in to do a worse job of caring, and pays low wages, which, again, have to be topped up with benefits. If we had Universal Basic Income, people could stay at home and look after their relatives. Or at the very least, the people paid by the State to do it for them would be able to treat their wages as a top-up for their UBI rather than a pittance required so that they can pay the rent.

Our society is being increasingly changed by technology. Research is being undertaken to replace service jobs with AI or manual work by robots. This could make millions of workers redundant and reduce disposable income so that the consumer economy becomes unsustainable. UBI provides a mechanism to maintain that disposable income, and also a way of redistributing the profits of the tech companies to the people who inflate their profits with their purchases.

Changes to our society will need a different workforce. UBI enables people to take a break from paid work in order to retrain or educate themselves because they still have that money coming in. They can still be a useful component in the workforce because they aren’t forced to rely on outdated skills.

UBI can change people’s lives because it allows there to be more to life than working to stay solvent. The creative economy is becoming more and more important. Perhaps it can be run by people with talent instead of people who are privileged enough to pursue the artist’s dream until it makes money, if ever. At the same time, UBI enables people to continue to work in a job they love, that happens to be low paid, like caring or teaching assistance, despite the low pay, because UBI doesn’t reduce as soon as someone passes some arbitrary income threshold and so it is possible to have a better life on the total income. UBI enables the gig economy to function fairly because it will no longer be at the expense of people who are desperate for more hours but can’t obtain them because their employer doesn’t need them. Everyone can have true economic freedom to work how they want to, which is after all what the advocates of zero-hour contracts say they want to enable.

Universal Basic Income isn’t a magic bullet. It can’t solve every problem under the sun. But there are a number of problems that are either all around us, or are coming over the horizon fast, and UBI can help. It can certainly help to solve some problems that our society tells lies about. We can solve the problems that politicians tell us are being solved, but which clearly are not.

It’s time that we stopped ruling UBI out as fantasy. It’s time we tried it out.

David R Thompson

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