What is UBI?
Is UBI Socialism?
Why do we need a UBI?
Think of a single mother in the US who needs to stay home to take care of children and maybe ailing parents, what is she supposed to do to pay rent and buy food? She will beg, borrow or steal to keep her family alive, but how healthy will they be? How distressed will she be? People who are secure in knowing they can afford basic housing, food, and clothing are healthier and more productive. A UBI would define a floor, a basic level of income that no citizen should be able to go below.
Automation is taking over more and more jobs every year. Truck drivers will be replaced with autonomous vehicles, factory workers are replaced with robots, artificial intelligence is changing the medical and legal fields. The future is leaving a lot of people behind. Other jobs will be created, but that takes retraining. How do you retrain when you need to find a job that puts food on the table?
Side note: one of my heroes is Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome. He was a futurist and he declared that he would never work in exchange for money. He believed that it was nonsense to expect every person to work a job, even if it was meaningless and degrading, just to make money. Link to article about Buckminster Fuller's views on work.
Will UBI take away incentive to work?
Remember, the B in UBI means basic, people still need to work for a comfortable lifestyle. In any place where UBI has been tried, hours worked went down only slightly. The cases where people didn't work were when they stayed home to take care of other family members, or they went to school to improve themselves. A UBI is Basic, people are still motivated to improve their lot, they just aren't in fear of losing the ability to eat and sleep. Experiments around the world have found that UBI did not affect employment, but did increase mental and physical well-being, reduce poverty related crime, increase school attendance. Link to list of all UBI experiments
How much would UBI cost?
Obviously, paying every person hundreds or thousands of dollars a month will cost a LOT of money - trillions. But, maybe not as much as you think. First of all, a UBI would replace much of the current welfare programs. Also, even though rich people will get the payments, they will repay it in their taxes. And, when you consider the economic returns of giving everyone a basic income, you see that it probably more than pays for itself in the long run. People who aren't worried about food and shelter are free to be creative - they start small businesses and create jobs, they can care for themselves and stay healthy rather than get sick and need expensive healthcare. Link to cost discussion
A path to the future
What would happen if a $1,000 check showed up in each and every American’s bank account each and every month for the rest of their lives? For the rich, not much would change. But for the poor, it would be transformative, with America’s impoverished families starting to look far more middle class. Bills would get paid, houses would get fixed up, more and better food would get eaten. Those families in deep poverty, without any cash income, would disappear.
We have a sense from studies of programs like the EITC and food stamps how the more wide-ranging effects would play out. Infants and toddlers in low-income families would be less likely to be hospitalized. They would eat more. They would literally grow more. As they got older, they would enjoy better health and better grades in reading and math. That would translate into higher earnings and better educational attainment years and decades out. As adults, they might have a lower incidence of metabolic disease. They would likely live longer.
The basic income would help the chronically poor, but it would also help the tens of millions of people who find themselves intermittently in need of support. In any given year, one in three workers leave a job. Millions of others experience a family illness, an eviction, a car breaking down. Self-employment and contract work, falling benefits and rising costs—driven by worker disempowerment, wage stagnation, and high inequality—have together created a kind of precariat that overlaps and exists just below the middle class, itself shrinking. One in three families has no savings, and half would have to borrow or sell something to come up with $400 in an emergency. A safety net is a tool to prevent deprivation among some. Universal cash benefits are a tool of insurance and self-determination for all. (from the book Give People Money)