After Universal Basic Income, the Flood

What if we implement UBI and it makes everything worse?

Simon Sarris

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Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Wait, scratch that — he won’t eat for a lifetime. Automation took over and fished the metaphorical seas dry.

Meanwhile, some bold tech leaders pipe up: “I have a brilliant idea. What if we just give everybody fish?

California Optimistic

When 20,000 people move to L.A. every year to become famous actors and only five of them really make it, it suggests a special kind of optimism on the part of those people and that place, an outlook so extreme that it actually becomes gloomy. California Optimism is an admixture of this hope and desperation. L.A. weather fits the ethos; sunshine every day, as they say, makes a desert.

Imagine falling asleep in the 1990s and waking up today. You nodded off watching the news explain the looming pension crises, making a case for raising the retirement age by letting some really old guy talk about “cost disease.” You wake up in 2017 to discover that all of that actually happened, and now we really are out of money, Baumol is dead, and many “millenials” aren’t sure what the definition of a “pension” is, exactly. Then you read about Universal Basic Income (UBI). Many articles explain the potential positives of implementing such a system, but none explain quite how we’ve made the leap from “we can’t pay for people’s retirement anymore” to “let’s give everyone money and see what happens.”

If you really were asleep for 25 years you might suppose we entered a new age of plenty, or at least solved some political problems with an era of robust cooperation. I just checked Twitter; these things did not happen. That’s how you know that UBI qualifies as California Optimistic. The future speak is forcefully positive, but it’s desperation doing the talking. Most advocates propose UBI not because we have solved mankind’s big money problems and the next stepping stones clearly lead us to Star Trek. Rather, they advocate for UBI because they foresee even more problems if we do not try something new in the near future to stave off real pain.

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Simon Sarris

Sacred things and making things. Literature, Food, Web Development. — In labouring to be concise, I become obscure.