Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A different kind of post - Universal Basic Income

What do you do with a travel-log blog when you're not traveling? I got tired of a daily/weekly journal of pandemic living. During this time of staying home and watching politics in an election year, I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading, so I decided to write about that.

I've been reading a lot lately about Universal Basic Income - UBI. The first I heard of it was from presidential candidate Andrew Yang. On the debate stage, he said he was going to give everyone $1,000/mo. I didn't know what he was talking about - I thought he was really rich and this was basically a bribe he was giving to get people to vote for him. Turns out that it is a simple plan for the future to eliminate extreme poverty and promote the general welfare within a capitalist/democratic system. Link to Yang proposal.  

I kept listening, and reading. What I concluded is that UBI fits well in my world view:
Freedom within structure - Capitalism with a floor and a ceiling

What is UBI?

The idea is that the government gives everyone a direct payment of money with no strings attached. Not enough money to live comfortably but enough to keep everyone out of extreme poverty. That's the "Basic" part. The "Universal" part is that everyone gets it, regardless of their current income. Rich people would get the same $1,000/mo (for example) as the poor and homeless people. The "no strings attached" means that there is no bureaucracy involved, no paperwork. No need to prove your income, no need to prove that you have children, no need to prove how you would spend it. Are you a US citizen? Are you over 18 years old? If so, $1,000 would just show up in your bank account once a month. Link to explainer video on UBI

Is UBI Socialism?

No. As Andrew Yang says, UBI is capitalism where income does not start at $0. Think about it, even a monopoly game gives all players some starting $. Capitalism is driven by people buying things. They can't buy things if they don't have any money. A universal basic income supports capitalism thriving. Link to article Universal Basic Income is Capitalism 2.0

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

I'm a Star Trek fan and I've noticed that they simply don't have money in the future. People's basic needs are met because the future is "post-scarcity." Replicators simply create food whenever you want. People work because they seek fulfillment. I read a book called Trekonomics that goes into great detail. The missing link was any explanation of how society made the transition to eliminating money. By the end of the book, I decided that money would still be important as a means of exchange, but we need some means to stop the free-fall of poverty. So, I then read the book Give People Money, which is all about Universal Basic Income. In the conclusion of the book, the author writes:
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

Is Universal Basic Income politically feasible?

Probably not. The American work ethos is deeply ingrained. When hearing about UBI for the first time, most Americans think it means paying people to be lazy. They immediately discount any politician who proposes such an idea as a socialist or communist. However, with the current Pandemic, congress has already made universal payments and are debating about more. The door has opened. 
The best chance for political viability is if it is framed as a dividend. The United States is a very rich country, everyone in the country should share in that wealth. 
Take Alaska for example, the revenue received from its oil riches go to fund the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). The state constitution established the right of every Alaska resident to receive a dividend. Since 1982, every person has received from $400 - $2000 once each year depending on the revenues received. As you can imagine, this is a very popular program. Alaskans now consider it a right. Why shouldn't it be a right of every American to share in the profits of our corporations? Why should Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg get it all? Didn't the taxpayers who fund our highway systems, the workers who harvest our food, the truck drivers who deliver supplies, and the health workers who keep employees on the job get some credit for creating the environment for those companies to thrive? 
If it means that Bezos and Zuckerberg, Exxon and Walmart, have to pay more in taxes, I for one am fine with that. Capitalism and Democracy are the best systems ever devised for operating a country and a society except when they are left to run amok. No person should be left to free fall to homelessness, hunger and despair. There needs to be a floor. And, no person should be allowed to profit in the multiple billions of dollars without being required to contribute substantially to the rest of the people. There needs to be a ceiling. 



Thursday, October 15, 2020

Nothing like a Pandemic to bring out your inner Hypochondriac

 Our Roadtrek rally was small. No more than 25 people in the room. We have often given our seminars to groups of several hundred. But, still, that's 25 more people than we've seen in over 6 months!


Most people were good about wearing their masks, but then we had to take them off to eat and I took mine off when I was on stage and speaking.
After 3 days of this, we drove over to Gainesville to park in the yard of our good friend Alex for the weekend, then we had an appointment to take the RV in for service on Monday. Since we had "been around people" I felt extra cautious about visiting with Alex. We would not go in her house. We only talked while sitting in our camp chairs outside. Then:

I sneezed!

OMG - I'm getting sick. I might have Covid. I need to quarantine. yada yada yada The only way to calm fears is to get tested. Jim and I had already agreed that we would get tested when we got back home, but Alex told us about another friend that got tested right here in Gainesville, so I called and made an appointment. We went in to the Urgent Care facility, they stuck a swab up both nostrils for each of us, and told us we would get a text message with results in 2-3 days. They were very professional, clean, friendly. I didn't sneeze once - I was already feeling better.


We still didn't go in the house, but we enjoyed our time at Alex's visiting with her and her Donkeys. And, it was SO nice to have some pretty photo ops. We are usually traveling all the time with tons of photo ops. For the last 6 months we've been home. I'm starting to know each and every flower all around our neighborhood!



Tuesday morning we got the text message from CareSpot - both of us are Negative. Whew!


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Monday, October 05, 2020

September was Book Launch month

 I got 'er done.


We sold about 230 on our special, spiral bound deal, and they're also selling on Amazon. About 150 there so far. 
I think Jim actually likes doing the work. Here's a little video on how he does the spiral binding.

Our Book Launch special was a spiral-bound, autographed book AND a voucher for an online workshop with me over zoom. The books are all bound and mailed and I've given 2 workshops so far. I think they went pretty well. Got lots more to go.
Here's a screenshot of my class today

We're off to a small RV rally in N Florida tomorrow. This is a major adventure considering we've barely been out of the house since mid March - that's over 6 months.