There’s an idea that’s been picking up steam in the circles I run in, and that is the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) for everyone. Essentially, everyone would get paid the same amount of money every month, at a minimum. Patrick Kulp published a post on Mashable yesterday with more information about UBI called “Could 2017 be the year people take universal basic income seriously?” I recommend you check it out if you want the full scoop on what UBI is and who else is supporting the idea.
I think UBI is a good idea for several reasons. The first reason is one that I hadn’t considered before prominent UBI proponent Scott Santens mentioned it in an interview on my podcast, which is that UBI is a way of decentralizing capitalism. The argument goes that by giving everyone a UBI, you increase the odds that people will start or invest in businesses, or at the very least engage in more saving or consumption – all activities that keep the engines of capitalism running smoothly (here, I mean capitalism in the broadest sense – individual property rights, free trade, investment and accumulation of capital, wage labor, etc). The goal of decentralizing capitalism can be achieved in many ways, but UBI seems to be a relatively straightforward way and one that is gaining momentum.
Another reason I support UBI is because it is so simple. Many welfare programs come with lots of fine print about who can apply and what they can spend the money on. This leads many people to fall through the cracks or fail to have their actual needs met. Unconditional, universal basic income would solve this problem and empower the people receiving the money to make the decisions about what is most important to them – not a far-removed bureaucrat. If we rolled the money from most if not all existing welfare programs into a UBI program, we would be able to massively simplify and streamline their administration, cutting down on costs, eliminating waste, and accomplishing a whole lot more good in the process.
The last reason I’ll discuss here today about why I support UBI is because I believe that one day most material production of goods and services will be fully automated, and perhaps even immaterial production as well thanks to artificial intelligence. This will eliminate a lot of jobs. Without jobs, where will the money come from to buy the things that robots are producing? A UBI will provide people with the money needed to maintain a basic standard of living, to continue purchasing basic necessities from automated industries. A UBI might not even be needed at all eventually, if people come to own all of the robots through collective or capitalist ownership models. But a UBI could help smooth the transition.
So where does the money come from to pay for a UBI? In most implementations or theories I’ve seen of UBI, it is the government who is cutting the check. The money would come from existing welfare programs, or from newly raised taxes. I personally don’t think either of these approaches is the best way to implement UBI long-term (for reasons I might expound upon in a future blog post, or the comment section if prodded), but if it’s the quickest path to implementation then as a first step I would support rolling over tax revenues currently allocated towards inefficient welfare programs into a UBI program.
I’d personally like to see UBI come right from companies, since that’s ultimately where tax money comes from anyways. Why have the government as a middleman? We could use software like Group Income to ensure that everyone pays in fairly, and everyone gets paid out fairly. Then everyone could have an extra $XXXX per month to spend (or not spend!) on whatever they thought was important.
UBI is one of those ideas that seems so crazy it might just work, and I’m happy to lend my support in whatever small way I can.
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