Basic Income — Part One: Introduction
What does our future hold?
There are a number of basic income programs that are beginning this year, or have recently begun. From the Netherlands to Canada, in both Oakland and San Francisco. A number of countries in Latin America and Africa have had some sort of cash transfer program, whether to counter a specific problem, like the drought in Namibia, or to explore the general effects, such as Prospera in Mexico or the CT-OVT project in Kenya. Switzerland put the idea to a vote last year, and while it didn’t pass, supporters were just excited it did as well as it did. Momentum is growing, and new articles for or against UBI seem to come out every week. Indeed, I was initially wary of writing anything — what do I have to contribute that hasn’t been said before? — but I hope my perspective will offer something new to the conversation.
This doesn’t come from a tech perspective, a sort of Entrepreneurial Guilt that automation will take away a huge number of jobs in the name of efficiency. But if the future does mean fewer jobs, we will need to be prepared.
This isn’t screed against social welfare programs or redistribution. Advocates have worked tirelessly for the gains we have achieved, but we need to be open to the possibility that alternative solutions might have more to offer.
This is about the future of policy. This is about what we need to do in order to support future generations so that they can achieve more than we have. I have a background in research psychology, and my current focus is on public policy. I’ve been amazed by how much one can inform the other.
In the next three essays, I want to tell you a few things.
I want to tell you that being poor sucks, and having to worry about food or resources can contribute to physical pain and a decreased cognitive function. Making bad decisions isn’t the reason most people are poor, but being poor encourages people to make bad decisions.
On the flip side, helping people achieve economic security will allow them to make better decisions. And giving people the freedom to make choices for themselves will have better results than if outsiders made these choices for them.
I want to argue for true universality. Although it means that we will be giving money to people who may not need it, it also means that we will decrease the risk that people who do need the money won’t get it. Instead of adding one more incomplete program to our piecemeal welfare system, we can use basic income to fill in the gaps.
We can learn a lot from the programs in place or soon to start, but only to a point. If people know that the program is only temporary, they won’t make all of the changes they otherwise would. Why quit your job if you’ll need it again in a short time? Even geographical constraints will dampen some of the impact. People can’t move closer to family or to a more affordable town if it means they’ll be beyond the borders of the program. We won’t know the full benefits of basic income until we have a program without an expiration date that covers whole countries. But we need to start talking about it now.
Part One: Introduction