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. 


Anonymous said...

Well after that large bit of pro socialist propaganda I have taken you off my feedly feed. Politics needs to stay off RV boards its already 24/7 on TV, Movies, Sports..... dont need more of it shoved at me.

Terry said...

I love Bucky too!
Thanks for your post. Although it's not about RVing or your sessions I enjoyed the break from the us vs them diatribe. I love the Possibility of reducing the daily stress so many people and family deal with.
This post reminds me of somewhere in one of my past lives hearing the promise of a "Leisure Society".
Thanks for that.

Robb said...

Thank you for this very informative piece. I've been intrigued by the idea of UBI, but haven't taken the time to research how it might be implemented, the far-reaching effects, or how we might fund it. While the other commenters are right that it's not directly about RVing, this issue does effect every person in this country, RVers included.

Dave Davis said...

I've read extensively on this subject. The only flaw in the logic is people operate under the delusion that all "men" are created equal. Believe me, people are NOT created equal. Most people work so they can live. People like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett and many like them. I believe there are
Over 500 Billionaires in the US alone. Yes, I'm sure inherited wealth is a factor in some of them, but most of them have extraordinary intellect or drive, and some have both.
All the people who do the everyday jobs are not making an environment for Billionaires to grow rich. They are making a living. They are doing the job they need to earn a living. I made a decent living, but I never deluded myself that the rich got more breaks than me.
Jobs are where it's at. Everyone needs one. The more jobs there are, the happier everyone will be. Putting aside real disabilities, A job is the best remedy for societal ills.

I'm a full-time RVer traveling constantly. I'm severely handicapped with COPD, wearing oxygen 24/7. I've been disabled for over 20 years.
I have a great family, and in the end, that's most important.

I'm a fan of your blog, and what you do.

Fred W. H. said...

I'll keep my comment short.
I love the idea! Don't think it will ever come about in my lifetime, but I wish it would.
Thanks for this article.

DenisM said...

Don't be discouraged by fools, Chris, this is a very important topic, that needs to be discussed. I lived in America for about 17 years traveling a lot as a Captain and Marine Engineer. I eventually married an American woman and became a US Citizen. When I was young fit and strong I made money as a Marine Engineer and a Captain on Yachts. But I always lived by the principle of only taking what I needed, and helping others where ever I could. Many times over the years, I ended up being in desperate situations, and in need of help, and time to recover. So I understand what it is to be out on the streets. In the last two years of living in America, I was sick to the core, by the inhumanity, and harshness of American Society, and what the corporation's government and the military were doing to people around the world. I drove my car as an Uber Car, earning very little money. Eventually not being able to afford the escalating rents, I began living in my car,
and being harassed by the police very often. I drove until my car reached nearly 200 000 miles. Then I saw the writing on the wall: I knew if I kept on driving I would end up on the streets. Eventually unable to sustain my own life, I gave up and went back to South Africa. If I had UBI I would have been able to survive and continue. As an Empath, I felt the pain and suffering of so many people around me. So I spent much of my time protesting the injustices on the streets. There are so many harsh laws and requirements, that protect the rich and harm the poor in America. For example, I was a Qualified Teacher in South Africa but could not get a teaching job in the US. I could not work on American Commercial Ships as a Marine-engineer, because of the laws.

It is the worst, wealthy country on earth, in which to be poor. It also is the most destructive country on earth for other people around the world.

Eventually, sick to the stomach, and in fear of my life, I left. If I had UBI it would have transformed my life.

Capital and labor-based societies that are designed for the benefit of the few rich and powerful people (is welfare for the rich). They are not democracies, they are mass enslavement systems, designed for the absolute centralization of wealth and power, no matter what it does to people and nature around the world and in their own country.

The lies in politics in America is the most disgusting I have ever seen in my world wide travels.

And the nonsense that people believe, the selfishness, and ignorance of so many, blows my mind. Only worldly travelers can see what I see.

Chris Guld said...

Thank you Terry. Glad to find another Buckminster Fuller fan!

Chris Guld said...

Thanks Robb. I’m enjoying learning all about UBI. The devil is always in the details, but UBI gives me hope that there is a solution to the inequities in our society.

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