Why we need a Basic Income
“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” -William Gibson
“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” -Jeff Hammerbacher
I believe that the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI) is the single most important policy decision that needs to be made right now. It’s the one issue I’ve been obsessed with over the last couple years, and here’s why it’s so important (unfortunate that Medium doesn’t support nested bullet points):
- Nobody in a wealthy first-world country should have to starve or go homeless.
- Superior to our welfare system. Eliminates welfare trap problem, ensures that everyone is covered, guts bloated bureaucracy, removes (humiliating) means-testing, more efficient allocation of resources due to free market approach
- Fixes asymmetric bargaining power between employers and employees by eliminating employees’ financial dependence on their employers, giving workers true autonomy and ending the exploitative relationship of wage slavery. No more need for inefficient bandaid patches like minimum wage and various labor laws that attempt to tackle the symptoms without addressing the root cause. Employees can now walk away at any time (without disqualifying themselves from unemployment insurance), meaning they can finally bargain for better conditions and reduced hours. Less interview dynamic of interviewee trying desperately to prove himself to smug interviewer. Unemployment rate would tank. Threat of starvation/homelessness should not be the backbone of our labor market, and this Feudalistic master/slave, indentured servant, father/son type dynamic between employers and employees needs to end.
- Promote entrepreneurship and greater risk-taking. Now anyone can be an entrepreneur without needing to either (1) have a lot of money, or (2) convince rich people to give you money. The safety net of the UBI means greater risk-taking, and more innovation. UBI (and welfare in general) is to citizens as bankruptcy law is to limited liability companies. You shouldn’t need a trust fund or an inheritance to safely start a business or pursue an unorthodox career path.
- More work for the greater good. We have a bullshit jobs phenomenon and most of our brightest graduates are brain drained into finance and consulting, yet most of these same people would rather be working on more meaningful problems. Giving workers autonomy would mean more MIT grads pursuing cancer research than algorithmic trading at hedge funds, computer science grads creating innovative open source software instead of proprietary software, political science grads working to fix and modernize our political system, volunteering, education, etc. We could all be tenured professors. When the threat of starvation and homelessness is removed, we can start focusing less on money and more on the greater good and investing for the long-term (eg. more efficient batteries, renewable energy).
- More political representation of the non-wealthy. The interests of the non-wealthy masses are underrepresented because they don’t have the time or mental capacity (working 40+ hours/week drains most of it) to dedicate towards political activism. UBI would allow more people to focus on fixing and upgrading our broken political system, arguably the biggest obstacle to our progress
- Make people happier. There’s a crisis going on right now in our society in that far too many people are working jobs they don’t enjoy, yet are unable to walk away due to financial dependence and a culture that shames “job-hoppers”. Pundits put an extraordinary amount of emphasis on faulty metrics like GDP while totally ignoring happiness, but if we’re not working towards happiness then what are we working for?
- Prevents society from collapsing due to technological automation. Technology is automating away human labor, creating mass shortages of (quality) jobs. Without a UBI or an alternative solution, we’ll see mass unemployment/underemployment and chaos.
- Promotes technological automation. Our fear of eliminating jobs is actually holding back technological advancement. We should be encouraging automation rather than fearing it, and UBI allows us to do that in good conscious because job elimination would no longer mean starvation/homelessness. Furthermore, the resulting increase in the cost of labor for less enjoyable lines of work (due to the normalizing of the negotiation imbalance between employers and employees) would increase the ROI of automation, further incentivizing it.
As you can see, this one simple policy change would have massive societal repercussions, causing a fundamental paradigm shift in the nature of work.
Without a UBI, our labor force is a perpetual arms race of increasing competition for a scarcer set of jobs, meaning increased concentration of power among the 1%. With a UBI, technological advancement becomes something to be celebrated rather than feared — self-driving cars means 3.5 million people are now free to spend more time with their kids and work on whatever they want, rather than starve or go homeless.
UBI means workers would have the freedom to work on whatever they want rather than what the people with money dictate. Work would no longer necessitate monetary profits, meaning that more work would be done for the greater good of humanity, and we could start eliminating bullshit jobs and parasitic rent-seeking.
We’d see a cultural and intellectual renaissance greater than anything we’ve ever seen before in history.
And perhaps most importantly, we’d all finally have freedom over our time — our most valuable (non-renewable) resource — and be happier.
In future articles, I’ll go more in depth and respond to common counterarguments