Basic Income and the Video Game Myth

Basic Income — a regular payment of money for every resident citizen, regardless of their circumstances, sufficient to pay for essentials.

It sounds like a wonderful idea, but not everyone’s convinced. And one of the main objections people raise is the claim that if you pay everyone a Basic Income, millions upon millions of people will decide to give up work entirely and play video games all day instead. They envisage so many people doing this that the economy will be seriously depressed and might even collapse altogether.

But I suggest this claim is not just overblown — it stands in complete contradiction to what we know about human nature, based on a huge amount of available evidence.

Will some people give up work and play video games all day? Yes, some people will. But are we talking about millions of people? Are we talking about so many people that it will seriously depress the economy? No, we’re not, because all but a few people just aren’t like that.

For a start, Basic Income, when introduced, will most likely only be sufficient to pay for essentials and little else. It won’t provide anything like what most gamers would consider sufficient funds to support their hobby. It won’t cover the cost of buying a console or a TV. It won’t cover the cost of buying the latest games. It won’t cover the cost of the unlimited Internet access most gamers rely upon.

Perhaps some gamers have aunts or other relatives generous enough to gift them new games as presents on a regular basis. But even if there are millions of people with such generous relatives, we’ve still got very little to worry about.

The idea that our societies are populated by millions of lazy, work-shy people is popular in certain sections of the press, perhaps amongst the people who regularly read their nonsense and within certain groups on social media, but it has little basis in reality.

For each person who avoids all forms of work whenever they can, there are many people who work hard and work long hours, year after year, often in unpleasant or unrewarding jobs, often for bosses and corporations who treat them like dirt.

They work, not just for essentials, but so they can scrape together the money they need to be able to fully participate in our modern consumer societies.

They work to be able to afford their iPhone, to be able to go on vacations, to be able to afford a nice car, to be able to enjoy a night or two on the town each week, to be able to afford restaurant meals, takeaways and nice coffees from Starbucks or Costa Coffee. They work so they can buy nice clothes and be able to afford treats for their kids.

Many people work hard and may have rather limited leisure time, but when they get the chance of overtime, they take it and work even harder.

That’s the real norm and if you don’t see it, perhaps you haven’t been paying attention.

The deadbeat dropout; the ‘welfare dependent and proud of it’ sort of person, is a bogeyman character — not quite created by the media, because they do exist, albeit in limited numbers, but exaggerated out of all proportion to reality.

If Basic Income is only sufficient to pay for essentials, people are going to have to work to pay for all those little luxuries they’re used to and can hardly even imagine doing without. And how many people do you know who would genuinely be prepared to go without all those luxuries and get by on only the essentials? Hardly anyone, is the likely answer, and very possibly no-one at all.

If Basic Income payments were increased to much more generous levels, then there may well come a point where we ought to be more concerned about people dropping out of work. But Basic Income at or near subsistence levels is extremely unlikely to lead to the ‘millions of dropouts’ situation that some people seem to be so terribly paranoid about.

And even to the extent that there are some people who will avoid all forms of work whenever they can, most of those people are probably already doing that, under our existing welfare systems — so having a Basic Income system isn’t going to make them work any less than they do now.

Indeed, worklessness may even reduce under a Basic Income system, because our existing welfare systems often discourage people from working, by reducing people’s welfare payments when they do find work.

And once you have a Basic Income system that gives people the freedom to start considering what they can contribute to society, instead of pushing them to be constantly concerned about how they’ll get by, all sorts of positive things could happen. Given a chance to take a longer-term view of their careers, given the chance to be able to take up training opportunities and given the chance to pursue work they really enjoy doing, there is a good chance that productivity levels could rise significantly, alongside happiness levels.

Understanding Economics is largely about understanding human psychology. Markets are made up of people, most of whom will, at times, make some rather odd or unusual decisions. However, taken on aggregate, a lot of the extreme results either cancel each other out or make little difference to the economy as a whole.

And the overall picture is clear: The vast majority of people aren’t work-shy.

Indeed, it’s actually quite remarkable how many people still work hard and work long hours, often for little reward, often when they are treated badly by their employer, just so they can afford the little luxuries that help get them through the week.

So no, there is next to no chance of millions of people dropping out of work just because they’ll be receiving a Basic Income.