Universal Basic Income (UBI) – Is It Coming and Is That Good?

Finlands Universal Basic Income - UBI

Read this: The news abounds with stories about the problems in our economy. Those in power too often rush to curtail social programs in the name of austerity. Something’s not working. “Many jobs are now part-time, flexi-time, or “gigs” with no benefits and few protections. And, we spend a lot of money to subsidize” more and more of us and resenting them simultaneously. There are lots of people talking about expanding the welfare state while others try hard to eliminate as much of it as possible.

While inequality spreads like the plague, it is obvious that something has to change. New ideas need to be explored. The attached article “Welcome To The Post-Work Economy” found in co.exist, by Ben Schiller, takes a close look at Finland’s attempt to try something quite different. They are attempting to universally protect everyone from changes in technology, etc. that are beyond their control. The system is called a “universal basic income” (UBI)—where the state gives everyone enough to live on. This would put a floor under the class of people we’re calling the ‘precariat,’ people for whom work doesn’t lead to increased financial security. It would free us from the bullshit, allowing everyone to benefit from automation, not just the lucky few.” Yes this is a very different kind of protection. Of course critics are everywhere suggesting “it’s unaffordable, impractical, and liable to lead to millions of layabouts living off the government dime—and perhaps they’re right. These criticisms are reasonable. But before dismissing UBI too quickly, it’s important to consider the idea not in the context of our current economy, but of what the economy could become in the future.” After all technology continues to change and often does a poor job (at best) of preparing us for the consequences. What will the new economy look like and how will we become prepared?

Schiller says we “need to read Postcapitalism, a profound and important book by Paul Mason, a British economist and journalist. Mason makes the case for UBI, among a larger set of changes necessitated by the failure of the current system.” A couple key points:

  • “We need to move towards a “postcapitalist” economy, where working for money loses its centrality, where goods, information, and intellectual property are shared, and where economic actors collaborate in new ways,”
  • He “shows how current economic orthodoxy—based around “free markets,” globalization and an oversized role for the financial services industry—isn’t some historical end-state, perfecting everything that went before. Rather, it’s the result of a particular set of choices, starting in the 1980s, that advantage some people over others.”

The article continues citing many factors that make UBI something we need to consider, such as : “inherent instability of the current system”, “cheap money where the seeds of debt-derived disaster are being replanted”, “Western capitalism’s fantasy with the financialization of debt”, “intellectual goods (informational / software) are intrinsically different from physical goods (car)”, “In time, technology is likely to drive many things to ‘zero marginal cost'”, “belief by leaders today that the market must set the limits of climate action”.

Mason says “we should socialize aspects of the finance industry (to stop it from taking all the profits while leaving society with bail-out bills), socialize information (so Google and Facebook don’t enjoy information asymmetry), encourage collaborative work and nonprofits, and nationalize utilities.” A basic income is key in a non-market economy, and “it would stop people from having to do things that machines can do more easily and more safely.”

Open your mind. Read and consider something very different.


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