The Case for Basic Income
When I was young, I thought poor people were bad. I thought people who didn’t have jobs were lazy, and people who ate unhealthy food were stupid, and people who had ugly clothes just lacked self respect.
Then I got poor.
I quit a toxic job that made me want to kill myself, and spent the next eight months applying everywhere. Despite multiple college degrees, and tons of applicable experience, I couldn’t get hired.
When I complained, people nodded knowingly. “Bad job market” they’d say, and shrug.
I started buying food at the dollar store. Ramen noodles. Frozen Banquet meals. Canned “chicken” that was definitely not.
I sold my shoes, and then my dresses, and then my coats and jeans. I even sold my panties online to men.
I took the first job I could get, even though it didn’t even pay minimum wage. I racked up credit card debt. I stopped paying bills. I stopped eating regularly.
I couldn’t afford the dentist, or the doctor. I got sick, and just had to deal with it.
Eventually, I ended up homeless. I was so frustrated. I had done everything right! I’d gone to school, gotten a degree, worked hard, been frugal — but here I was, homeless.
It wasn’t fair!
After the anger, came self-loathing. I must be a bad person, since I was poor. This was shameful. I was an embarrassment. My clothes weren’t nice, so I was trashy. I had to steal food from my work to eat. I must be a bad person.
By teaching me to view poverty as a moral failure of the individual, society kept me from realizing that poverty is actually an ethical failure of society itself.
My country GDP is such that, if we all shared it equally, I would make close to $60,000 a year. To me, that’s a lot of money. It’s more than three times what I make now, at a better job. It’s more than my Mate and I make together.
And it is more than most married couples in my country earn.
My planet produces five times the amount of food it would need to feed everyone. But every day thousands of people die of starvation. In my country alone — a “first world” nation — one sixth of the population goes hungry.
This is wrong.
This is evil.
No one should starve to death when a 400% surplus of food is being thrown away and buried in landfills.
The solution is very simple.
President Roosevelt enacted minimum wage to ensure that workers were paid a fair, living wage. Little by little, businesses and corporations have chipped away at that idea, so that minimum wage today is below the poverty line.
There is no state where a person working a minimum wage job can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment.
So, people have begun to call for a Universal Basic Income.
The difference between UBI and minimum wage is small but significant. UBI applies to all adults, not just those working.
The idea behind Universal Basic Income is that all humans deserve to live. Regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, disability status, etc — human lives have value.
This shouldn’t be a controversial statement.
UBI would ensure that all people had food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. Not “mad money” for motorbikes and big screen TVs. Survival money. Needs met.
Now, here come the arguments against.
“But I want more than the bare minimum survival needs met” — cool. You can earn more by working.
“But I don’t want freeloaders taking my money" — haha well, I have some news for you regarding the government…
“People should earn-” stop. People have the right to live. Period. Regardless of their ability to earn money. Life has intrinsic value.
“But without the threat of poverty no one would work and society would collapse!” — not so.
Let me ask you something. Do you pay for your groceries because you believe there is a cop in the store watching you?
If you see a dog run into the road, do you look for witnesses before deciding if you should hit it or not?
These are the things our society is built on. Not fear. By eliminating fear of starvation, we actually allow people to be more productive, and more creative.
Studies have shown employees work harder when they don’t have to worry about whether or not they will eat that night. People invest more in their work when they feel like they are contributing to society than they do when they feel like they are barely scraping by.
Universal Basic Income would be a universal good, and we need to enact it as quickly as possible.