• David R Thompson

What’s So Great About Universal Basic Income? Well It Might Just Change What It Means to be Human

Money, money, money. One thing’s for sure – we can’t live without it. We need it to keep us and our family warm, clothed and fed. As well as all the other things that we rely on that make life worth living. Almost all of us depend on work and salary to get the money to keep us alive and happy, and we’d rather not think about what might happen if someone took it away.

We’re so dependent on work that most of our lives and energy are expended retaining that job, developing that career, gunning for that promotion. And I wouldn’t want to criticise that. There’s nothing wrong with personal ambition or wanting a better life for yourself. Unfortunately, all kinds of jobs, right across the income spectrum, have a nasty habit of disappearing. Without the fault of the employee. Which can tend to make personal ambition, er, redundant in such cases. And, amazing though it may seem, there are some of us who would rather have other priorities. Maybe a successful career, or money, isn’t enough sometimes.

Imagine then if you were already paid for the basics; enough to rent a place, put food on the table and make sure that the kids have clothes to wear. Okay, so it wouldn’t be the kind of life that most people would want, but imagine that your job looks like it might disappear in the next round of investment in technology because you are a truck driver, or a factory worker. Or a radiographer who’s not as good at interpreting data as a computer. Or a lawyer at a personal injury firm which has just decided that those questionnaires about accidents can just as well be dealt with by artificial intelligence.

I’m talking about a world where technology is taking away jobs; but let’s not kid ourselves that this is just a worry for the future. A job for life has been a quaint notion for years. And if you can’t depend on your monthly salary, then surely anything could happen?

Universal Basic Income takes care of those fears. You will always have enough money to never need to worry about losing everything on the throw of someone else’s dice.

And if you don’t need to work to live, imagine what else you could be thinking about? You have an income that you can rely on. Why not take a career break, or a sabbatical? Take up a course. Improve your earning power with education. Start a business, safe in the knowledge that, even if it should fail, you’ll never put everything you have into it. Because there will always be a cheque at the end of the month. Take a career break for childcare. Stay with elderly relatives. Volunteer in the community.

You could downsize. The closer your outgoings are to the basic income, the less you will need salaried work at all. Unless you want to, of course. Everyone is different. But that’s the point. Universal Basic Income increases economic freedom. There must be something that you want, something that is difficult right now because, well, you can’t be seen to be having other priorities from work. Your boss will cotton on. It could have a serious effect on promotion prospects. They might even decide to let you go if you’re not prioritising the firm over your own life.

The entire world of work could change. Once people don’t really need to work for someone else because they have other priorities, a conventional job really would be competing for attention. Maybe they’d really have to put the customer first, just to keep the employees fulfilled and contented. Maybe they’d have to follow through on their promises, because, well, there’s only so much you can take. Maybe they’d have to change the working environment to suit the employees instead of the board of directors. Maybe there would have to be employees on the board of directors.

Once you have the work in your life that you want instead of the work in your life that pays enough, or that you’re stuck with, or that you managed to secure when no one else was interested; that’s when life becomes different. You could take up music, form a band, be an artist. If you’re that way inclined. Devote yourself to your family. Become a Universal Basic Income evangelist. Anything you want.

What is it to be human at the end of the day? What does it mean? And what’s it supposed to mean? Didn’t someone once say something about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

David R Thompson

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