A Millennial Writer Shares Some Thoughts On Universal Basic Income (From A Holistic Perspective)

Source: Artem Bali, via Pexels (Pexels License)

It seems like everyone these days has a side hustle. Due to rising costs of living, student loan debt, consumer debt, unfulfilling work environments, and the threat of automation taking over jobs, it’s no wonder why many people, especially Millennials and now Gen Z, are tackling a side hustle or two (or even three or four) out of passion, yes, but mostly out of necessity. An average entry-level position straight out of college is not sufficient enough for a decent living anymore (other than a very miserable and arduous lifestyle in survival mode), and while many people’s needs are different, in general, decent living means having access to quality healthcare, having enough food to eat besides ramen, and not having rent eat up 90% of your wages.

It’s quite common for financial article writers to blame everything on the daily latte. And clothes. And makeup. And Netflix. Basically anything that is considered a frivolous, ephemeral pleasure. Although small financial purchases can add up to $1,000 saved over the course of a year, it is not enough to make a huge difference because of external factors that are out of many ordinary people’s control — health emergencies, low wages, scarcity of jobs on the market for people with little experience, underemployment, skyrocketing costs of rent. These are more than just problematic issues afflicting Millennials. Rather, they reveal a larger problem with the economy as a whole: people cannot live as well as they used to in the decades prior. This is not because Millennials are materialistic. Rather, they are living poorly and they are more likely to forego medical care, even when they need it.

While many self-help and success gurus are quick to scold any young person for pointing out larger-than-life problems in this current bleak reality, Millennials do have a right to complain. Why should they be pressured to attend college and have a 50/50 chance of securing a bland office job and a 50/50 chance of just making minimum wage serving coffees or waiting tables?

You’re not working hard enough, so it’s your own fault you are struggling to get by. At least that’s what they all say.

Here’s the cold hard truth

The people who can get ahead in life are the privileged ones. They can afford to skip out on the average underemployment gig (or the typical MLM staffing agency scheme) and take a year-long sabbatical to figure out what they want to do in life for the long-term future, while their less-privileged peers are barely scraping by and burdened by debt and rent (and ill health from eating ramen every day). The privileged ones probably graduated from college debt-free or have very low debt, so they can focus on securing a career that’s a best fit for them instead of waiting in a long line for a job they can’t see themselves in after six months. While there are exceptions to the rule, the majority people have a very hard time getting out of a debt trap and wage slave trap and nobody should blame them for “not working hard enough.”

Even though there are numerous opportunities to work online, it is still highly competitive. People are starting to wake up to how harsh life can be and attempt to do something to get out of whatever circumstances are holding them down and preventing them from securing good health care and safety for themselves. However, the market is starting to become oversaturated and with over-saturation of anything, as the highly inflated college degree has shown, there’s less to go around for everyone.

I personally do not like how this world operates with a scarcity mentality, but as a skeptic before an idealist, I have to say that those with innate talent plus a strong and consistent work ethic will generally be more successful and prosperous than those who have little talent in anything — that’s how the world works and it’s only fair for those who are most qualified to reap the rewards. As for myself, if I don’t get what I want, I would take it as a sign that I need to work harder, be more consistent, and prove that I have what it takes to stand out from everyone vying for the same thing.

Would Universal Basic Income Incentivize Laziness?

In a nutshell, it is very difficult to gauge human behavior, especially when it comes to personal spending and lifestyle choices.

People who argue against Universal Income pose a common argument — that Universal Basic Income would allow lazy people without any aim in life to spend more money on frivolous things and not work to take care of themselves. When presented with $1,000 a month, let’s say, the people who once laid in bed all day eating pizza and tacos while playing video games would probably buy more pizza, tacos, and video games.

In that case, I would have to agree. People are quite complacent creatures, driven by hedonism and impulse. Giving $1,000 to someone who’s already a bad spender will only incentivize that person to go out and spend more. People who are shortsighted won’t change their ways even when presented with a basic income from the state. Generally speaking.

On the flip side, people who think that Universal Basic Income would work generally believe that when people are not deprived, they will do more good with what they’re given. Universal Basic Income would allow underprivileged people to pursue opportunities and finally put their long-term goals over their shortsighted goals for daily survival.

I would also have to agree with this. People are generally more creative and think of long-term solutions to society’s problems when they aren’t faced with the burden of medical bills, keeping a roof over their heads, and struggling to make ends meet. However, I believe that this would only apply to those who are more shrewd, strategic, and self-aware than everyone else.

These thoughts and the general patterns I’ve observed would only apply to able-bodied people. Lazy and shortsighted able-bodied people would most likely spend on pleasures that do more harm than good. Smart and entrepreneurial able-bodied people would most likely make an exit strategy by saving their monthly basic income, until they saved enough to cover living expenses to start their own businesses. Those with families would be able to set aside money for college or give their children some sort of safety net, if they wanted to pursue something other than a college education and/or a typical “safe” career. But the same cannot be said for those who are not able-bodied. Those who are suffering from rare diseases and complications would benefit from Universal Basic Income and need every dollar they can get.

In that case, a Universal Basic Income would help those who find insurance unaffordable and it is indeed a worthy cause.

People are evil vs. people are good vs. people do good and bad things depending on their circumstances

The fundamental question from those who generally believe that people are evil would be: “Do people deserve monetary rewards and a good life if they are evil, lazy, and greedy?” People who believe this are more likely to say that Universal Basic Income would not work at all, especially when the money is put into “the wrong hands” or given to those who were unwilling to work hard and get a higher-paying job. One weakness in this argument would be the lack of acknowledgment of privilege. An impoverished person who has a dream of owning a business to help people is less likely to start that business because of immediate priorities — survival, working in exploitative environments, keeping up with bills, helping out the family — than someone who was born in a middle class family, attained a good education, and didn’t have to work at a young age to support their already struggling parents. The people who want to do more with their lives, even when they started out with less, are the ones who would benefit from UBI the most.

Those who believe that people are inherently good would argue that all humans have potential to do wonderful things and wisely use their money if they had enough of it to survive. Drug dealers would suddenly be motivated to turn their lives around. Misbehaving children would suddenly be more motivated to do well in school. College graduates would quit being underemployed and start their own businesses and be able to live in nicer apartments. However, one flaw in this argument is the assumption that people will do good things and change their lives for the greater good if money fell into their hands. This is not a guarantee. This is a judgment formed with rose-colored glasses. People aren’t saintly and never will be.

Those who believe that people can do good and evil depending on what happens to them generally have mixed feelings on UBI, but if they think of themselves as good, productive citizens with some goal in life, they would support UBI as long as it serves them, while they would not really have time to judge the spending habits of other people, since those are out of their control.

There is no straight answer to whether Universal Basic Income would work or not

As someone who is mainly into the arts (and with no political background, whatsoever), I cannot speak definitives about whether Universal Basic Income would work or not because only time would tell if it were to be implemented in 2020 (my prediction is that it will be highly unlikely). I am also someone in relatively good health and ambitious goals that have nothing to do with climbing the corporate ladder or fulfilling the Baby Boomers’ American Dream. I can only speak for able-bodied entrepreneurial and artistic Millennials like myself — and as for us, I believe that Universal Basic Income would benefit us largely so that we are able to eat healthier, afford health insurance, not resort to drastic measures like being sleazy with advertisements in our side hustles, and minimize tedious obligations that drain our energy levels.

Here’s What I’d Spend $1,000 On

  • Health insurance $500
  • Web hosting — paid annually, but I’d set aside $11.67 per month
  • Personal Hygiene items — $20
  • Groceries — $170
  • Books and music (to support my favorite creators) — capped at $120
  • The rest will be put into savings

Ultimately, Universal Basic Income is just an idea, not a guarantee. As much as I’d like to hope for it (and as much as I’d like for it to be implemented), I think my time is better spent thinking of ways to make $1,000 for myself instead of waiting for it to arrive in the far distant future.