Universal SOMETHING Income
The amount doesn’t matter. What matters is that you reach the most people you possibly can, in the fastest and cheapest way you can, with lifetime guaranteed payments.
Let’s think of people who have nothing.
Actually, scratch that. There are no such people. Well, there are (Palestine, Yemen). But even people who have nothing, have something. They have their humanity and human bonds. They have solidarity and generosity — usually far more of that than what those who have “everything” have in themselves. They have each other; they just don’t have social power. They don’t have any money, and they are oppressed by the “class” of people which money seeks and prefers instead. They are invisible to our trade/industrial/growth society. They live at “the margins” of this game of “value” we are playing.
We want a world-wide, Universal Basic Income of money to be paid to every citizen of Nation Earth. Because we are patriots — of Homeland Earth. Because we are ashamed when we let our citizens be miserable in a bountiful planet, just because we are so incompetent that we apparently can’t run a decent planetary society of peace.
We have all the knowledge, all the science, all the technology we’d ever need to implement a Basic Income of money for all, but we have a long way to go in becoming the better people, as a whole, that would actually prioritize socially empowering all humans, worldwide, out of poverty. We are still far away from a society where we would actually “pay,” grant everyone an actual share of the planet’s wealth, unconditionally.
What is a “Basic” income? Some say $10/month — that’s Brazil’s “revolutionary” Bolsa Família program, which the Right-wing government wants to destroy at all costs because it poisons the entrepreneurial spirit of the country, apparently. Some say $100/month, while others say $1,000/month, some say $10,000/month, and some say why the hell limit it at all? (That last one is me).
To me, the moonshot of humanity should be to grant every single Homo Sapiens (so Neanderthals included, if you can find one) the highest amount that the monetary systems and the systems of trade can actually handle — neoliberal FUD/dishonesty dressed as “economics science” aside.
Right now, we are unconditionally granting every single citizen of earth $0/month of unconditional cash. Our first challenge is a fruit so low-hanging you need expensive instruments to determine whether it is really not touching the ground: to pay a non-zero amount of money to every single citizen of Earth.
Yes, because the “Basic” part of UBI is on its way. It won’t be long before the first country full of white people that runs a trade surplus by importing resources on the cheap and exporting very expensive 0‘s and 1‘s realizes they can kick the shit out of competing 0’s and 1‘s manufacturers by running the UBI optimization within their locked-down, fortified borders with a proper “Basic” amount that their Legal Citizens will consider enough to cover for their first-world lifestyle.
“Basic” is going to happen; it’s covered. Now let’s work on the “Universal” part — the part that is going to tackle the bulk of poverty. Whereas “Basicness” of income is a depth-first search in the problem space of poverty, “Universality” is a breadth- first search. The Universal approach to UBI says we have to reach the most people with whatever money we can muster. It says that what matters is how many people we can reach with this.
A few tens of people in Quatinga Velho, Brazil — the first poor community in South America to benefit from an actual UBI payment system — are currently receiving 14 reais per month, guaranteed for life (through interest rates), by a private fund run by the tireless work of ReCivitas.
ReCivitas has designed that epicenter of universality at Quatinga Velho in such a way that it can expand indefinitely, to any number of people, at the price of, say, about a thousand dollars invested in a fund, per person. Those ~1,000 dollars, in Brazil’s high interest rates can guarantee the 14 reais (4.5 dollars) a month for a person, for life (that is, for as long as the Brazilian state and/or banking system manage to not blow up).
The Quatinga Velho UBI experiments have been running for years. It is now on its second phase, where the focus is now on guaranteeing the payments for life, and expanding gradually as donations allow. The Quatinga Velho experiment has produced reams of data and a ton of books, but I think the most impressive finding — for privileged people like you and me — is that a lifetime guarantee of 4.5 dollars per month make a tremendous amount of difference to people that are actually poor and have no money really.
If every person on Earth could have 4.5 dollars per month guaranteed for life, no matter what, we would already be living on a very, very different planet. The Fascists know this, and that’s why they will fight with everything they’ve got to ensure this amount stays at zero forever. They will, however, never succeed. The social evolution towards UBI — both truly Basic and truly Universal — is inexorable. We will either do it, or we will perish in a cesspool of competition-driven natural depredation, pollution (physical, mental and spiritual), wars and “wars” (systemic and high-tech genocides of civilians lazily painted as “enemy terrorist combatants”).
So, if you really want to upset the rising Fascist tide sweeping the globe — if you really want to see them Fascists with bloodshot eyes, steaming with rage over their defeat — then create a systemic guarantee of something to everyone. Perhaps we cannot reach the level of luxury of Quatinga Velho for everyone on the planet just yet. Because if we could — if we could pay everyone on Earth 4.5 dollars a month — we know we would have the worst of poverty covered. We know that is not a rounding error for those who really really need some money. We know by now that a guaranteed lifetime 4.5 dollars a month for every single person on Earth would be a fucking massive actual revolution, compared to where we are now.
This is 2017, and in the next, say, five to ten years, we can do this. We can cover the globe with a lifetime, unconditional payment of something to all. We can develop all the technology — computer, legal, social, political, organizational, logistical — and get it done. We can have Quatinga Velho’s lifetime guaranteed 4.5 dollars a month for every single person on Earth as our moonshot, our ideal. We can try to reach the most people we possibly can —tens of millions, hundreds of millions, a billion, two billion — and we can try to give them a lifetime guarantee of something every month. That something may trade at prices such as $0.05 a month, $0.10 a month, and perhaps some day it may trade at $4.5 dollars a month. And what will that something be backed by?
The backbone of the breadth-first path to the Universal Basic Income is solidarity. Developing the technologies and organizing around their deployment is certainly not trivial: we will have to register billions of people in some sort of system! But we can do it. And we will do it, because this exercise in Universality is necessary to strengthen the “Basicness-obsessed” UBI movement as a whole. We must attack Fascism, Scarcity, Genocide… this high-tech, world-wide exercise in Eugenics we call “globalization”… from all sides: by simultaneously empowering as many people as we can, and as hard as we can. That, my friends, is what actual democracy looks like!
The core realization of the Universality-focused approach to UBI is this: the amount doesn’t matter when it’s 2017 and we still have very little to show for it. The monthly amount doesn’t matter before you have collected the first fruit from that UBI bush. To pay very, very little to everyone is a politically transformative tactic. Mindshare is everything, and if this UBI thing isn’t actually happening around you, or to you, then it doesn’t exist!
What we are going to do is take the whole world’s solidarity supply — the whole human world’s amount of respect and love for itself… whatever that amount may be at the present — and split it among everyone we can possibly reach, democratically. This is a positive feedback loop of solidarity. Humanity’s love and respect for itself, manifest in trace quantities, feeds back on itself, until that amount is no longer a trace amount.
Once the mechanism is in place, then the only thing stopping the amount from being a “Basic” (or beyond!) amount is, really, humans’ self-respect and self-love. Solidarity.
And how can we implement this world-wide solidarity shower, that takes solidarity in one end and spreads it to seven billion people equally? I have implemented a prototype of it as a simulated digital currency, dubbed Democratic Money. You can open that link and play with it right away.
However, at the time of finishing that prototype, the road to the universality of UBI and how it would actually work was not that clear to me. From hearing about Quatinga Velho’s 4.5 dollars/month since about six months ago, to now, I was still processing that information. It is really difficult for a “middle class” person to understand, in their bones, that 4.5 dollars per month matters. I read about it. I even wrote about it. But it doesn’t matter. You don’t really get it. You can’t. It’s almost impossible. It’s like watching a war movie where lots people get killed. You cannot not abstract it away. It is too gruesome and if you did not have a filter, it would probably damage you and send you to the shrink for mental repairs.
Quatinga Velho’s 4.5 dollars a month have reached me, and the result is this essay. I am not damaged, and I am not outraged (OK, I am, a little… some): I am mobilized. If I am alive to do any kind of work, that work has to be that.
And so I can see now that the task of providing a technology of identity for all IS the task of providing an Universal Basic Income. To provide 1,000 poor people with a lifetime guaranteed income of something, limited only by humanity’s own level of respect and love for itself at any given month — and also its current capacity to see the world as it is, and let it sink into its bones — we only need to provide those 1,000 people with new identities that can connect to a digital money system that implements the Democratic Money protocol: it is a monetary system that is built to issue money to people regularly and unconditionally. So the lifetime guaranteed part is covered!
Quatinga Velho expands its payment of 4.5 dollars a month for a new person every time they can raise more money to establish a personal lifetime fund of interest income. The system I want to build, based on crypto-currencies as efficient, cheap distributors of human solidarity, expands every time a new person can be counted, identified. My system seems to be even cheaper.
The final technical step is the following. The (very poor, usually) people who receive the crypto-currency payments will probably not transact with it. That’s not the goal. Not right now, at least. (I mean, they can if they want to.) What they really do is they sell their crypto-currency payments for dollars — or just accumulate them until they deem them worthy of the effort of being liquidated. The buyers of these crypto-currencies are us: those who are in a position to implement the privileged end of this act of love, respect and witnessing of humanity by itself.
It is really simple. If we can get the most people to be paid monthly (or daily!) tokens, then the only thing separating that technical implementation of “Universality” to a true “Basicness” of payments — the final Universal Basic Income that is the ultimate goal of the UBI movement as a whole — is the money to buy these tokens. And if we ever get to a high-enough level of solidarity, then we are sure to politically pressure our “banks” and “governments” to do so. For when we already have everyone mapped out and receiving tokens, the only thing left is to get our existing economic systems to buy them. (And if they won’t, well, we should already be looking into new ones to replace them anyway).
(I could also get into what another 50 years of technological developments could bring to human-computer interfaces, mobile computing and wireless computer networking, and how that would mean the most illiterate person at the deep bottom of the social hierarchy could get to use a crypto-currency for zero cost and with greater ease than even paper money. But I will leave the possibilities of these token payments “becoming actual money” largely as an exercise to the reader…)