Many people like me have called for things like a Universal Basic Income, a Guaranteed Minimum Income or a Negative Income Tax. All of these are essentially variations on a theme. But I would argue that the above shows that we’re halfway there already! We just give these benefits to certain people – disabled people, children with disabilities, people over 65, and certain people with low incomes, including those who already have jobs. We give money to the unemployed, but make it conditional on them searching for nonexistent jobs, and arbitrarily cut them off after a certain point. And, of course, we are sure to humiliate such people and make it as difficult as possible to lessen the sting of giving undeserving people “free” money which they did not work for (as opposed to “earning” interest by the banks and charges from the rentier class). We also somehow convince ourselves that government jobs are not “real” jobs.
I would argue that waiting for the jobs to come back is like waiting for Godot. We’re living in denial, and it’s time to face reality. Our real problem is inequality, the environment and government corruption, not debt. We can solve this, but it through making the right choices.The reason people are not receiving adequate medical care and potholes are filling with water is due to lack of money, not lack of resources, labor, or know-how. Here’s Australian economist John Quiggin calculating the numbers on one such proposal:
Now think about a closely related alternative, a guaranteed minimum income. This could be achieved by raising existing income support benefits to the target level, then making access to the basic income unconditional for those with no other source of income. I calculate here that this could be done for around 6 per cent of national income.
The guaranteed minimum income obviously lends itself to an incremental approach, based on gradual increases in rates and relaxation of conditions. To quote myself:
We can imagine a few steps towards this goal. One would be to allow recipients of the minimum income to choose voluntary work as an alternative to job search. In many countries, a lot of the required structures are in placed under ‘workfare’ or ‘work for the dole’ schemes. All that would be needed is to replace the punitive and coercive aspects of these schemes with positive inducements. A further step would be to allow a focus on cultural or sporting endeavours, whether or not those endeavours involve achieving the levels of performance that currently attract (sometimes lavish) public and market support.
An Australian example might help to illustrate the point. Under our current economic structures, someone who makes and sells surfboards can earn a good income, as can someone good enough to join the professional surfing circuit. But a person who just wants to surf is condemned, rightly enough under our current social relations, as a parasitic drain on society. With less need for anyone to work long hours at unpleasant jobs, we might be more willing to support surfers in return for non-market contributions to society such as membership of a surf life-saving club. Ultimately, people would be free to choose how best to contribute ‘according to their abilities’ and receive from society enough to meet at least their basic needs.
Compared to a universal basic income, then, a guaranteed minimum income seems a lot more feasible. On the other hand, while a guaranteed minimum income would certainly represent a radical challenge to social values, it certainly seems a less utopian. It’s easy to imagine a capitalist system similar to the one we have today, or at least to the one that prevailed during the postwar ‘social democratic moment’ coexisting with a guaranteed minimum income – much less so with a universal basic income.
And here are some other similar ideas:
Want to Help People? Just Give Them Money (Harvard Business Review)
Guaranteed Income & Auction The Unemployed (As It Should & Ought To be)
And David Graeber writes:
Submitting oneself to labor discipline—supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed—does not make one a better person. In most really important ways, it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it’s only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others. A renegotiated definition of productivity should make it easier to reimagine the very nature of what work is, since, among other things, it will mean that technological development will be redirected less toward creating ever more consumer products and ever more disciplined labor, and more toward eliminating those forms of labor entirely.
A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse (The Baffler)
I submit that if we implement such a system, we will save money, and preserve human dignity and well-being, and preserve the social fabric, in the age of automation. And we must do it soon, while we still have a functioning government and economy.
There are lot of options, but I know what we’re doing isn’t working. Do I seriously expect this to happen? I wish I could say yes, but I don’t. I just want to point out that we do have other options, just not ones we’re willing to implement. I fear our Calvinist desire to punish those how we deem as lazy will prevent us from this course and set us on a path to 40+ percent unemployment. Too see what that is like, see this: Afghanistan, the drug addiction capital (BBC):
Afghanistan produces 90% of all opiate drugs in the world, but until recently was not a major consumer. Now, out of a population of 35 million, more than a million are addicted to drugs – proportionately the highest figure in the world.
The reasons why so many Afghans are turning to drugs are complex. It’s clear that decades of violence have played a part.
Many of those who fled during the violence of the last 30 years took refuge in Iran and Pakistan, where addiction rates have long been high. They’re now returning and bringing their drug problems with them, officials say.
Unemployment – which currently stands at nearly 40% – is also taking its toll.
“If I had a job, I wouldn’t be here,” says Farooq, one of the addicts by the river, who has a degree in medicine and once worked as a hospital manager.
He says he takes drugs “to be calm and to relax” – but that he would prefer to be dead than a junkie, as he now is.
I’m not suggesting we pay people not to work. Paying people not to work is what we do now. I’m suggesting we pay people, full stop. Let them work if that’s what they want to do. I’m suggesting we stop punishing people who are redundant in this economy through no fault of there own. Because there’s no good reason for it. It’s true there is not much work anymore, but there is still plenty to do. The only limits (besides nature) are the ones we place on ourselves.