I want to write a few posts about the basic income over the next couple of months. This is part of an ongoing interest I have in the future of work and solutions to the problem of technological unemployment. I’ll start by looking at a debate between Philippe van Parijs and Elizabeth Anderson about the justice of an unconditional basic income (UBI).
This year’s International Basic Income Week is scheduled to run from September 15–21, 2014. Preparations are already under way in Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The organizers invite ...
There are all sorts of arguments against giving everyone an unconditional minimum income. But the only one that stands up to reality is, "I don't like it."
Khannea Suntzu's insight:
There are all sorts of arguments against an unconditional, universal basic income — that is, the idea of giving everyone a minimum income regardless of whether they work, whether they’re disabled, or whether they’re poor. The problem with these arguments is that the only one that actually stands up to reality is, “I don’t like it.”
Whether it’s in industrialized nations like Canada and the UK, or poorer countries like Indiaand Namibia, experiments with a basic income have challenged fears that it will lead to a culture of dependence, an unsustainable drop in employment, or do anything at all to destroy or kill an economy whatsoever. When given free money unconditionally, time and time again, the results have shown that the only people who quit their jobs are people like students, single mothers, or other people who have better uses of their time than being employed.
There is no catastrophic disincentive to work, or incentive to be lazy, like basic income opponents predict. Everyone does not start sitting around at home. People who are able to work and keep society running continue to do so. The economy does not collapse. The fears of doom-and-gloom just flat-out don’t happen.
Every day, the arguments against alleviating poverty and inequality by just giving everybody money sounds more and more like arguments used against same-sex marriage. It will lead to bestiality. It will be bad for the children. Heterosexual couples will stop getting married. Cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria. None of these things happen. They’re weak attempts to rationalize the argument that, “I just think it’s wrong.”
For opponents of basic income, there is no evidence on their side. Their arguments come entirely from the fact that they believe that giving people money for nothing is icky. They don’t want to live in a world where anybody can make a comfortable living without having to break their back doing work if they don’t want to. They’re not afraid of any real, existing consequences. They just think it’s wrong.
But they’re never going to admit that. When the debate is framed like that — is it right or wrong for everyone to have food, shelter, and security; is it right or wrong for everyone to be free to choose what work they do — it’s no longer a debate they can win.
This post is part of an ongoing series I’m doing on the unconditional basic income (UBI). The UBI is an income grant payable to a defined group of people (e.g. citizens, or adults, or everyone) within a defined geo-political space. The income grant could be set at various levels, with most proponents thinking it should be at or above subsistence level, or at least at the maximum that is affordable in a given society. In my most recent post, I looked at Van Parijs’s famous defence of the UBI. Today, I look at Widerquist’s critique of Parijs, as well as his own preferred justification for the UBI.
LIKE most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Every one knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. This traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.
Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people’s mouths, and is, therefore, wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread. What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income he puts just as much bread into people’s mouths in spending as he takes out of other people’s mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.
One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the expenditure of most civilized governments consists in payments for past wars and preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it on drink or gambling.
But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed and produce something useful this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labor, which might have been devoted to producing something which could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is, therefore, injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those on whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface cars in some place where surface cars turn out to be not wanted, he has diverted a mass of labor into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through the failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.
All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by the belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.
First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant
In a previous post, I focused on the growing danger of extreme income inequality in the world today. A complicating factor is that as more people are unemployed, this inequality can only increase.
In this post we examine the prospects of future full employment and of a higher minimum wage as means of reducing this huge disparity.
The current debate in the Western world reveals that we live in two parallel intellectual universes, as far as the causes of unemployment are concerned. In universe one, mainly populated by political leaders in electoral mode and many commentators, the assumption is that unemployment is a temporary accident which will be resolved when growth returns. To achieve this, the left favors more government action and the right, freer markets. But the underlying view, in both cases, is that more growth means more jobs. For this reason, unemployment compensation is seen as an insurance policy good for a fixed period until normal times return. What if this assumption were wrong and that unemployment, far from being the exception, could become the new normal?
In universe two, inhabited by innovators, computer scientists and entrepreneurs, the goal is to look for labor-saving devices, replace humans by machines and cut payroll to a minimum for better profits. This second universe is less vocal but works silently to introduce new technologies, whose purpose is definitely not to create jobs but to reduce them via automation. Which of the two universes is supported by the facts?
First, there has been a steady growth of long-term unemployment, in many countries, to about a third of the total. Jobless recoveries are now commonplace: more profits are now accompanied by fewer jobs. Second, many of the new jobs are part-time and poorly paid. The era of the 40-hour week, 48 weeks a year is coming to a close. We no longer need all these workers, full time. Part time will do, even though the salaries are obviously insufficient for full time living expenses.
Overall the economy as a whole is experiencing what happened to agriculture with mechanization which used to employ 80 percent of the labor force. Today it employs less than 3 percent and no amount of government or free market effort is likely to increase this number -- unless of course we were to drop the tractors and go back to shovels. Who really wants that? For good or for ill, humans are managing to subcontract more and more production to machines.
The evidence is unmistakable.
Have we heard this before ? Yes we have. It was false then and it is true now. When the Luddites attacked steam engines, during the First Industrial Revolution, they were misguided. Humans were never very efficient energy machines and could easily be supplanted. Today's machines are replacing humans in intelligence-intensive tasks. That is a sea change.
A much-quoted recent Oxford University study has claimed that up to 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be replaced by automation as soon as 2030. Present and future jobs, previously threatened solely by outsourcing are now challenged by what some have called "robo-sourcing." A robot has no vacation, no sick leave, will not strike and needs no job satisfaction at all.
The net result of all this, if true, is that full employment, as we know it may soon become an unattainable goal.
What to do? Lament? Not necessarily. If the fruits of automation are well-distributed, this could be a victory, not a defeat for Homo Sapiens as long we devise better distribution systems without killing entrepreneurship. Raising the minimum wage is a good idea for now, but, if the above analysis is correct it may not be a long-term solution, unless applied worldwide. The more sustainable one seems to be a GMI, a guaranteed minimum income.
The GMI explicitly recognizes, instead of ignoring, the now broken link between economic growth and jobs. If the link is indeed broken, or at least weakened, why not replace unemployment compensation with a guaranteed minimum income for all citizens, no questions asked? This GMI should be high enough to be above the poverty line yet low enough not to discourage entrepreneurs and innovators. The latter must be adequately remunerated but the displaced workers should not be forgotten either.
The most interesting aspect of a GMI is that it is one of the few policies which have been proposed by both the extreme left and the extreme right. The left has endorsed it on equity grounds, and the right (among others by Milton Friedman) on efficiency grounds. Interestingly, an unconditional guaranteed minimum income is likely to be less costly to administer than the myriad of social entitlement programs now present in many Western countries. These programs by the way, end up doing very little to alleviate unemployment, witness France with a very generous unemployment compensation and very high unemployment actually fed by this generosity.
For those who consider the idea too outlandish, consider that Switzerland, hardly a communist country, is envisioning a guaranteed minimum income of $2,800 a month for every adult citizen. The proposal will be submitted by referendum to the Swiss people in 2014.
Instituting a sustainable GMI should not be done lightly and may, initially have to be introduced in a closed socio-economic space. A worldwide introduction is not likely to be workable at the present time. The fine tuning will be complex but doable.
But whether we choose this solution over others, one thing is becoming clear: repeating the mantra that full employment is just around the corner is misleading and cruel because it is not going to happen. The direction of change is clearly towards labor-saving new technologies. We must accept that fact whether we consider it inconvenient or liberating, and devise new policies to meet this challenge for, as John Stuart Mill used to say, to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
Most readers expect better than silly cliches from the New York Times. That is why it was striking to see an article on Svalbard, a small town in northern Norway, tell readers: But it [Svalbard] shuns the leftist, leveling consensus that according to conservativ
I believe in the future of the United States, will come into many vast changes the two party system will become more progressive one party may become MARXIST and another may become SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC yes you may need a party to represent Corporate America that may be the Social Democrats who may say no to corporate welfare. Therefore I believe the GOP Republicans will become prehistoric thus the massive may move to a solidary economy that puts people first with the state and American Corporations