Three trends that will create demand for an Unconditional Basic Income

Three trends that will create demand for an Unconditional Basic Income

The digitization of our economy will bring with it a new generation of radical economic ideologies, of which Bitcoin is arguably the first.  For those with assets, technological savvy, and a sense of adventure, the state is the enemy and a cryptographic currency is the solution.  But for those more focused on the decline of the middle classes, the collapse of the entry-level jobs market, and the rise of free culture, the state is an ally, and the solution might look something like an unconditional basic income. Before I explain why this concept is going to be creeping into the political debate across the developed world, let me spell out how a system like this would look:

  • Every single adult member receives a weekly payment from the state, which is enough to live comfortably on.  The only condition is citizenship and/or residency.

  • You get the basic income whether or not you’re employed, any wages you earn are additional.

  • The welfare bureaucracy is largely dismantled.  No means testing, no signing on, no bullying young people into stacking shelves for free, no separate state pension.

  • Employment law is liberalised, as workers no longer need to fear dismissal.

  • People work for jobs that are available in order to increase their disposable income.

  • Large swathes of the economy are replaced by volunteerism, a continuation of the current trend.

  • The system would be harder to cheat when there’s only a single category of claimant, with no extraordinary allowances.

This may sound off-the-charts radical, but here’s why you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it:

1 – The Middle Classes Are In Freefall

As Jaron Lanier points out, Kodak once provided 140,000 middle class jobs, and in the smouldering ruins of that company’s bankruptcy we have Instagram, with 13 employees.  It’s an extreme example, in most cases the economic misery is largely confined to young people, with entry-level workers trapped in a cycle of internships, ever-lengthening education, and debt.  The result is that young people are not being allowed to grow up.  In the 1960s the average first-time house buyer was 24 years old, and as late as 2002 it was 28.  The average is now 37.  The path to economic selfhood is being stretched by market forces, too many people chasing too few jobs, and a continuation of the status quo is likely to push that lifeboat out even further.

In stripping out inefficiencies and pushing digital goods to near-free prices, the Internet kills middle-class jobs.  Digitization has already largely de-monetized academia, film, music, journalism, and lots more besides.  More industries will feel the pain, including the legal professions, real estate, insurance, accounting, and the civil service, all of which are built on inefficiency, and all of which will be stripped of jobs in the years to come.  As it becomes clear to those with established positions that there are no jobs for their children, they’ll push for a more radical solution.

To put this in econometric terms, wages as a share of the economy have been in long term decline and recently hit a new low in the United States.  Meanwhile corporate profit margins have hit an all time high.  The last few years of economic turmoil has allowed industry to reduce staff numbers and reduce entry-level pay, without reducing capacity.  If that trend continues, wealth creation will increasingly be confined to those with capital, and things start to follow a Marxist logic.  The middle classes (and their elected representatives) will not let that happen.

2 – Demand For Human Labour Is In Long Term Decline

Imagine a point in the future when robots do more of our physical labour, computers do more of our mental labour, and our mechanized-digitized economy is ten times more efficient.  We don’t need to agree on a date, this could be 2050 or it could be 2500, all we need to agree on is that current trends are likely to continue in the same direction.  Between now and then two things can happen, either we do 90% less work, or we demand ten times more goods and services, or a bit of both.  The first option requires that we drastically revise downwards our expectations of how much work people do, the second requires that we drastically redistribute purchasing power to consumers.

We’ve redefined work in the past, so there’s no reason we can’t do it again.  The concept of “a job” as something that happens outside the home and for someone else is a largely Victorian creation.  Even after it was formalized into an obligation to the market economy, we always accepted that certain people do not have to work.  We do not expect infants, the elderly, or the disabled to work, and these categories are relatively fluid.  The expectation that children work inside and outside the home has been in steady decline ever since the industrial revolution, while the default retirement age has crept ever later, pushed by governments avoiding a pension crisis and senior employees hanging on to their established social roles.  While men were forced out of the home to do paid work, women were kept in the family home to do unpaid work.  During the world wars, everyone was expected to work.  During a world cup final, almost nobody is expected to work.  We regularly change our expectations of who works and how.  Forcing the unemployed onto a jobless market on the basis that “everybody has to work” is at best misguided and at worst cruel.

In 2012 the average working year in South Korea was 2,226 hours, and in the Netherlands it was 1,381 hours, 38% less.  You can have a rich, developed economy on relatively little work.  If we stop stigmatizing the non-employed, we can stop pushing people into jobs that offer little collective benefit.  From telemarketers to chuggers to sign holders to beggars, huge numbers of people are forced to eek out an existence on the fringes of the economy in roles that have almost no marginal economic output.

3 – Cultural Production Is Detaching From The Market

We already have a society of volunteers and creators, and that’s a good thing.  That Wikipedia article you just read, the parkour YouTube video you just watched, that Russian electronica you’re listening to, the code that powers your browser, all were probably given away for free.  Everyone expected an information economy, and instead we got an information culture.

When people are locked out of the jobs market, some may sit at home all day on the couch, but many will go out into the world and produce cultural goods that they then give them away for free.  I don’t buy into the myth that unemployed people are lazy.  I’ve lived in a country that had a period of “full employment” and now has 14% unemployment, and I don’t see how anyone can be so misanthropic to claim that those 14% of people just got lazier.  Employment doesn’t just give people an income, it also gives them an identity, status, confidence, a sense of mission, and a network of peers.  Anyone given access to those rewards will work for them.  As the fantastic talk by Dan Pink puts it, we are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose, but not money.  As machines take over more of our work, we are going to have to find other ways of letting people fulfil these human needs.  Forcing them to send 500 CVs out every week is not a good start.

stakhanovite
Don’t dismiss this as socialism, it involves a complete rejection of the Stakhanovite work ethic and a full-throttle embrace of consumer culture.

How would we pay for it?

We could start by getting corporations to pay their taxes.  As I mentioned above, corporate profit margins have hit an all time high, and that money will circulate far faster if it’s placed in the hands of consumers.  For salaried workers a basic income would likely be a repackaging of tax free allowances, although they would likely need a net gain to buy into it.  The scheme would also yield savings elsewhere in the public sector, from a reduction in the size of the bureaucracy, to an increasing role for volunteers and charities.  The scheme would also stimulate economic activity, as shown by the PPI scandal in Britain which forced the transfer of £10 billion from banks to customers, and led to a GDP growth boost of 0.1% because consumers were so much quicker to spend it.

Frankly, in an era when communities can create their own currencies, capital can sneak across digital borders despite being legally frozen, and economic production is increasingly decentralized, finding ways of fairly collecting revenue for the public good is going to be one of the big questions of the century, regardless of whether or not we have an unconditional basic income.  Under the current set of rules, most developed world governments are bankrupt, but as the bank bailouts proved, the rules can be rewritten when needs be.  Money is a device we use to help us allocate resources, it is a symbol and an understanding, seemingly solid in the short term, but flexible and evolutionary in the long term.  If you burn all the notes in your wallet right now, you haven’t made the world any poorer, you’ve simply reduced your personal claim to available resources.  There is always more money.

As has become increasingly clear, austerity is not working, and should never have been expected to work.  An unconditional basic income would be the Keynesian response that should have been launched as soon as it became clear the financial sector had a rotten core.  In other words, it would be a bailout for consumers.

This piece has been translated into French.

199 Replies to “Three trends that will create demand for an Unconditional Basic Income”

  1. Forcing the unemployed onto a jobless market on the basis that >>“everybody has to work” is at best misguided and at worst masochistic.

    Its actually sadistic since they are being forced to do it, if they were doing it to themselves that would be masochistic

    1. You are 100% correct, there will always be a need for large-scale manual labor. Soon, robots will fill that position. Robots will make other robots and eventually the world will be filled with robots.

      Most companies will want robots for that manual labor you’re talking about because robots don’t bitch and moan like humans do. You can beat a robot when it makes a mistake and not get sued.

      After robots do everything, what will humans do?

  2. Money is an energy storage unit. If you burn your money you are converting it into heat energy, which is horrendously inefficient.

  3. People haven’t gotten lazier; they’ve gotten more ignorant. Go spend some time listening in a college-level classroom. The country doesn’t lack jobs–it lacks knowledgeable entrepreneurs and professionals that create jobs.

    1. Since time immemorial adults have complained that young people are ignorant and frivolous, “the youth of today”!

      *shakes stick*

    2. What happens when everyone is a knowledgeable entrepreneur that creates jobs? You can’t expect everyone to be the best and base your economic expectations on that

    3. Let me kill that myth. It’s entirely possible to be ignorant yet still be fantastically productive and add enormous value to the economy. Did Rockefeller know everything about oil? Carnegie about steel? Virtually every large firm over 150 years old was built by someone who wasn’t college educated — or had much education at all. Here’s a short story by W. Somerset Maugham that dramatizes this: http://www.sinden.org/verger.html

  4. I found this a fascinating summary of a lot of ideas I’ve been kicking around as one of the intermediary-destroying technical class. I’m also a father. Figuring out how to guide my kids into a productive career has proven daunting given the amount of economic, social and technical change that’s reworking the workforce.

    I really liked your characterization of the fluidity of “jobs”, and how that term has changed over time. Hadn’t thought that through before, and it does shine a light on how narrow our expectations have become.

    It seems to me that another advantage to a minimum basic income will be dismantling the minimum wage, which has always troubled me from an efficiency of economy standpoint – if everyone has enough to eat and live, all jobs become optional and we don’t need to prop up incomes artificially to ensure entry level work provides that living wage.

    1. Glad you liked it. The knock-on implications of a BI would be manifold, and the minimum wage would be one of the first things to go. For white collar jobs minimum wage is already largely ignored by employers offering internships, work placements, entry-level freelance contracts, and volunteer positions.

    2. A minimum wage doesn’t prop up incomes. It eliminates jobs below that wage, or moves them to the black market. It is, in short, lunacy.

  5. The trends you cite are real, and the remedy (unconditional basic income) plausible. But rather than the “state” as surrogate for ownership, which is riddled with the potential for corruption, why not direct ownership as a surrogate for the “state” ? With universal transparency a state overseer is no longer required.

    1. I’d love to hear more about what you have in mind, I’m not sure I fully catch your drift. Any kind of centralized authority is prone to corruption, but that corruption feeds on the nuanced decisions that need to be made (who gets the contract, what category is this person in, who is eligible for the rebate, what do we define as deductible etc etc). The more black and white the rules, the harder it is to milk the system. In this case the two fraud risks would be double claiming and non-eligible claiming. Once it’s established that someone is eligible and not already claiming, there are no more decisions to be made. I don’t want to play down the logistical challenge that would pose, but I think it would be no more challenging than the farming subsidy system, with far less scope for misspending.

  6. If you create a baseline income, then the Haves will simply raise prices on the Have Nots. Creating income equality does nothing about the problem of ownership inequality.

    Let’s say I have ten meals and 20 starving people with equal amounts of money. I’m going to charge exactly twice what each person has so I maximize income and they can work together and split the meals. Or the strong half robs the weak half. Or the strong quarter gang up on the rest and eat well while the others starve.

    You aren’t feeding 20 people any better this way. You are just increasing the amount the seller will charge.

    1. Food is only about 10% of the economy so not sure it’s a helpful example. What tends to happen is you have capacity for 100 goods and 20 people willing to buy them. Any scarcity is only the result of the uneven distribution of purchasing power.

      1. You may already be aware of the theory of “artificial scarcity”, which would be the way producers respond to falling prices.

        To simplify: there’s so much stuff in the world firms would collapse if it were all released into the market. So they keep it locked up in order to maintain prices.

        I don’t know if we’re experiencing it now, but I see some good arguments for it on FTAlphaville (see http://ftalphaville.ft.com/tag/beyond-scarcity/).

    2. Exactly, it’s called inflation. Thanks for introducing reality; something leftists have no response to. As a previous commenter wrote: LOL.

      1. Inflation has nothing to do with overall distribution of goods. Money is given power because the group gives it power, distributing it in a fairer fashion (while not totally equal) is the best way to go.

        1. Money has power because a group you are not a part of gave it power. Without leverage (economic or otherwise) you have no power to change this fact. Did you know the Russian Revolution was funded by western oligarchs? Same story.

          1. …actually, most of it was funded by the German Reich, in the hopes that the Bolsheviks would undermine the Russian war effort (WWI). It worked.

  7. If money is any object or record that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given socio-economic context or country,( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Money ) then what are persons who receive this money paying? What changes hands? The state gives Chad cash and he gives them what in return? Is a minimum income even money anymore?

    1. In theory s/he gives economic stimulus in return by “putting” that money back into the economy. The point you are making is only valid if they just constantly save… rather hoard the cash they now get free.

  8. Its horrible idea, known in history. First time something like ‘unconditional basic income’ emerged in Roman Empire. Citizens get from state free grain, later bred, wine. As a result more and more people leave countryside and travel to city of Rome. In the time of Octavian August (30BCE) there was 320000 citizens with the right to ‘roman unconditional income’ (only free man). In many soviet satellite states being unemployed was a crime, in this case ‘unconditional basic income’ was work and salary. In the end – work was worth nothing, and salary equal to that. But, that was history. Lets think what “unconditional basic income” will do in the future. First there is no need to work in the most biological sense. To survive you just must be a resident or citizen. After rest of the world – witch in fact lives in poverty – realise that “they give food for free” they will literary flood country with such ‘perk’. And more, I think that most of us are not lazy. We just calculate what is worth our work – and what not. Most of us will ‘preserve energy’, and if that ‘unconditional basic income’ will be enough to live at quite nice level – we will stay with that. Even now – most of people live from day of salary to another day of salary – they just want to survive till natural death. Nothing more. There is – in my opinion – less than 10% of population that actually want to “do something in life”. Finally – BUI (for short) will accelerate inflation, seed civil unrest as many people will have too much time to do – literary – nothing. They will think, and is clear to me that in the end of that thinking is somethink like “we want more for free! As much as those who do something have, we are no worse than them!” .
    In the end of this too long note, I must admit that emerge of BUI idea is really funny from historical point of view. Many historians think that Roman “breed and games” were responsible for the fall of Empire. Other things responsible for that event were decline rate of birth, religion, and climate change. It sounds familiar… And scary me.
    Sorry for my poor English, as it`s not a language witch I speak usually 😉

    1. Thanks for that, very interesting. The growing cost of “bread and circuses” and the decline of work ethic were only one part of a much wider malaise that contributed to the decline of Rome. I could argue that Rome also collapsed because it failed to adapt. It relied structurally on the fruits of military expansion, and failed to reform itself as it reached the limits of that expansion.

      1. The key is automation, radical automation. If the Romans had automated farming, then the decline of the rural population would have had no effect. Same goes for every industry/job now.

    2. why do you assume those who previously didnt have money before would just sit and think? By that logic when the rich get “rich” they do nothing too. The whole point is your supposed to continuously use it. If you honestly find yourself with “nothing to do” on a BASIC income then you probably don’t realize the incredible and impossible blessing that intelligent life (us) exists.

    3. This is of course assuming some of your basic assumptions about human nature are true facts, namely that people do not seek autonomy and mastery and are content with “doing nothing” (what in the world does that mean?). It takes a great deal of courage to look at someone and tell them that they add no value to society, and, the way I see it, a basic income is one way we can ameliorate that (managerial) attitude toward human affairs, opening up avenues of communal value creation that remain, currently by necessity, unanticipated.

  9. I didn’t know if this was a spoof or not at first. I’m pretty sure your trying to be serious, but you’re lack of experience on actually creating value via capital shows. Trying starting a small business and creating a job or two for someone else before you say everyone should get something for nothing.

    1. I think you and most others are massively missing the main point of this article. At some point, automation and robotics will be able to do EVERYTHING. As a small business owner, I’d probably want to rent or buy robots to act as slaves for me than to deal with troublesome humans. What would the world expect the working class to do then? My big fear is that the 1%’s answer to that question is: “die”, not free money to keep consuming the planet.

  10. Anyone who read that Donald Duck comic where a tornado redistributes Scrooge McDuck’s fortune to all the inhabitants of Duckburg know how this would pan out.

    1. I didn’t read the comic, so how does it pan out?

      It’s not the same concept anyway. It wouldn’t involve all of a fortune. Did the tornado redistribute the capital equipment, or just Scooge’s cash?

    2. There was also a Duck Tales episode wherein the money supply was multiplied by a contraption that Gizmo Duck created. It lead to a similarly disturbing catastrophe, one similar to Zimbabwe’s recent fate as a result of the same behavior.

  11. I first heard this concept in 1962, and it’s made more and more sense as time went on. We were mostly concerned about maintaining aggregate demand in the 60s, but now its main attraction would be to decentralize the welfare state.

    One conceptual difference is that our version would have given the basic stipend on condition the recipient stayed off the labor market. That system would keep wages high, especially for low paid workers.

  12. You’re a genius you invented socialism!

    I love that you’re idealistic but idealism requires that you understand the core structure of the system you’re dealing with.

    In this case… Humans and economics

    Unfortunately you understand both very poorly, despite this sites claim to focus on anthropology

    Burn a few calories reading about Austrian Economics and why this is a terrible idea that is economically unviable as well as illogical based on human nature.

    having people like this who support this idea is why an unenlightened electorate is such a dangerous thing

    The people can demand anything they want, even if it’s not good for them.

    This is why educating and teaching critical thinking skills is vital to democracy

    I’m sad to think that there’s more people who think like you…

    ugh

    1. No need for the ad hominem response. UBI is a far cry from socialism, it would essentially be a simplification of the welfare state, which I appreciate is anathema in your economic ideology of choice.

      1. Lui-

        I wish we could have debates on purely intellectual grounds, but it’s important to sometimes inject emotion into those debates.

        I feel that when writing an “opinion piece” you open yourself up to personal rebuttals.

        This article is obviously not well thought out in terms of unintended consequences.

        I do in fact respect the author’s goals, very much so

        As many others have pointed out though, this is based on some very DANGEROUS logical fallacies.

        regarding your point:
        Since there are obvious semantic differences that come up related to the term “Socialsim” the definition I’m referring to is that of webster’s…

        “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods”

        the semantic difference between “Welfare State” (in the sense of modern nordic countries for instance) is a fine line that I feel this proposed concept certainly crosses

        The trend of our global society moving towards a life where they no longer need take personal responsibility and somehow it is up to others to provide a solution to their problems will doom us forever.

        Unfortunately these ideas you espouse are leading to the destruction of places like Greece right before our eyes

        You can’t run a business where you are always losing money

        you can’t run a government that way either

        Guess what world…

        The credit card is nearly “maxed out”

      2. I’ve followed the arguments about basic income for several years, and watched how people change their minds. First stage denial, then anger and so on. You’re getting pushback because people have been raised to believe that work for its own sake is a Good Thing.

        Never mind that you correctly raised volunteerism, which is a different type of work and also adds the value that the more traditionally-minded demand.

        1. The pushback is not about how I was raised

          The pushback is from first hand experience running companies. Reading history. Understanding human psychology. Being a free man in my soul (not religious by the way)

          Volunteerism is beautiful

          Why do we all think that this should be state run?

          We NEED to stop looking to government for answers all the time

          Help a non-profit raise money and distribute it to those who need it

          Where has our individualism and strength gone?

          Why should we continue to give more and more power to the State.

          This is what has lead to the surveillance state that exists in the US and in Europe

          I want to live in a world where I’m free to succeed and fail and I have a loving family and local community to support me

          NOT a Top Down approach to solutions

          I want solutions to come from agile individuals and collections of humans who are free to think and create on their own

          1. anddddd there it is!! You believe you know how things work simply because you were able to succeed once or twice. Guess what Bryan, Its not that fucking hard for smart people. Whether you like it or not, and you know this, there are people who are simply screwed in this world because of where they are born, their parents, experiences and millions of other factors. The reason that you, bryan, don’t want a system like this is because (you have just proven this in your obnoxious comment) you want to be able to be better than others, and a government (a powerful body that was created to manage its people with a set of rules to follow (in a sense incentives for reason to live in your country)) that wants an equal people threatens your vision or perhaps even worse, threatens your ego you don’t deserve because you think you did life right. The truth is we live in a country where you are free to succeed and fail with a loving family in community but we live in a world where people like you only want that for yourself and your friends so you can look down upon others, at least this is what you imply with your previous comment. A government serves ALL its people, not just the agile individuals.

          2. You’re pushing back against things that aren’t part and parcel of a basic income. The volunteerism doesn’t have to be state run. Under a BI you can do things for free if you want, and not do them if you don’t want.

            BI isn’t some massive extension of state power. Indeed, in some countries it would just be a rationalisation of existing welfare, and arguably removing it from state discretion.

            There’s an argument to be made that if you don’t create value that the market validates, then you don’t deserve free money. I sympathise with this argument, but then I look at the steadily decreasing number of working hours, and the increase in automation, and conclude that we’re looking at inevitable changes.

            So in my view we have to face up to the problem.

  13. This is a really interesting and thought-provoking essay. I would just add one thing – we don’t really know that the internet and the so-called information economy are really going to annihilate so many jobs and “demonetize” so many industries. The past 15 years have been extraordinarily disruptive and it’s tempting to conclude that everything is getting wrecked, but we won’t have a full picture for a long time.

  14. This really makes no sense. This would just cause mass inflation where those on the Free Money plan would simply not work vs. working full-time jobs to have a little spending money. Then to fill these jobs employers would have to offer a huge amount of extra salary which would only widen the gap between rich and poor. You would then have the poor who do nothing, the slightly better than poor who basically service the needs of the poor, then the wealthy business owners who reap all the profits from the first two groups, and the politicians that run the state.

    Straight up Communism would work better than this where everything is owned by the state and everyone gets a stipend they can use to buy basic goods from state-ran providers.

  15. Your utopian dream sounds awesome, people work on something they’re passionate about so they’re happier & probably more productive without the fear of economic uncertainty forcing them into the career decisions which make them miserable. Free basic services as well I might add, like healthcare and such.

    However, I don’t think corporate taxes are the way to pay for this. As has been pointed out corporate taxes are still taxing people, pick one: consumers, employees, or shareholders.

    If it’s consumers, that’s going to lead to inflation.

    I suppose employees could take a cut, since we all have our basic security covered. I suppose we can handle a drop in pay for discretionary spending, but are people really going to do the less desirable and dirty jobs for *less* pay? And even though robots will be handling the bulk of it, those jobs never really 100% go away.

    I suspect what you’re really talking about is taking it from the shareholder. If so, why would they invest their hard earned money in the first place? They take on increased risk & usually work their asses off to add value to the world. Sure there are some who just wake up and have it sitting in their laps, but if they don’t add value, they quickly lose it. Don’t believe me? How much Rockerfeller or Vanderbuilt wealth do you think is still controlled by their family?

    As far as autonomy goes, again that sounds awesome, but how much automony do you really have when you’re dependent upon the government for your living essentials?

    Again, great idea, I just can’t see it working.

    1. Quite a bit of wealth is still controlled by the Rockerfellers and Vanderbilts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockefeller_family#Family_wealth and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanderbilt_family “Despite the family’s downfall and major loss of fortune, the Vanderbilts remain the seventh wealthiest family in history.”

      It sounds like you can wake up and find wealth sitting in your laps, and not lose it all that quickly. This is probably because, in a capitalist system, wealth (invested in anything productive) entitles the owner to more wealth (the production).

    2. I think the way we do work would be changed completely in such a way that your fears would go on unrealized. For instance, yeah, I think people would do work for less pay, because I think that un-automated jobs could be crowdsourced to a number of concurrent temporary workers. There wouldn’t be, in other words, a desire or need for a strict 40 hour work week or other types of restrictions. Compensation for work or services rendered would be made on a private, contractual basis supplementing the UBI. There wouldn’t really be any shortage of people looking to participate in that way, in my view. The exciting thing is its not mandated (like it implicitly is right now). People like me, who aren’t inclined toward mindless industry could focus instead on manifesting value for people that isn’t appreciated in the market of today’s insistence on tangible profit.

  16. The other trend that is doing the human race no favours is the rate of our population growth. In a world of finite resources and dwindling low/no skilled jobs, increasing our number is making us poorer.

  17. “You would then have the poor who do nothing, the slightly better than poor who basically service the needs of the poor, then the wealthy business owners who reap all the profits from the first two groups, and the politicians that run the state.” – you’ve just described what we have now. Except the poor go hungry and die early now.

    While history has already proven socialist systems don’t work out so well in practice, doing something like having a minimum wage that is actually a living wage will work in a capitalist system. In America we also have another defacto unconditional basic income system, it’s called disability. http://apps.npr.org/unfit-for-work/

    1. ” In America we also have another defacto unconditional basic income system, it’s called disability.”

      Disability is definitely NOT unconditional. The article you cite only reinforces the need FOR an unconditional basic income as a replacement for ALL conditional/means tested compensation systems.

  18. weren’t there communist societies that behave this way? (providing citizen ship with portion cut benefit regardless of income, status) and they didn’t last.

    1. The article makes a massive point that is very, very different from every other attempt like that in the past. ROBOTICS. Read the article again from the POV that we have intelligent robotics that can do EVERYTHING a working human can do. Imagine if big companies decided no more hiring humans because robots are much better to manage. What would happen to “the people” at that point?

  19. This is the economic equivalent of “the patient is dying, more leeches!” How about we get rid of the leeches- taxes, regulation– that are the cause of the problems in the first place?

    I’d love to get paid whether I worked or not…. but there’s an old saying: There aint no such thing as a free lunch.

    Figure out how this isn’t a free lunch and you’ll see the problem with the plan.

  20. I’m surprised no one has brought up Modern Monetary Theory here. It develops the economic framework for why your UBI idea might work, and should quiet those who are worried about inflation. In fact, some MMT economists have a similar idea called a Job Guarantee, which replaces guaranteed government money with guaranteed government provided jobs. I actually think that by incorporating the digital economy and the importance of personal autonomy in your thinking, you provide a more accurate portrait of the psychological factors that would lead to useful productivity in this imagined future economy.

    MMT Primer: http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2013/03/what-is-modern-monetary-theory-or-mmt.html

  21. Long ago Thomas Payne said that “Government at its best is but a necessary evil”
    So you assume that the devil himself is your ally. Good luck with that.

    1. Thomas PAINE said this in Agrarian Justice:

      “Civilization, therefore, or that which is so-called, has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state.”

      “It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.”

      “Having thus in a few words, opened the merits of the case, I shall now proceed to the plan I have to propose, which is,

      To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property:

      And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.”

  22. I’d like to know what planet the author of this article is from and whether he is human at all or maybe he’s something else. I laughed my ass off while reading the entire article, not because it’s not possible – clearly, people thought communism was possible as well, but mostly because the author is so far removed from being related to human beings in general, it’s scary…and laughable. There is a reason capitalism has survived in its current shape and form for this long – it is by far the best economic system ever designed to deal with the entire range of human behavior – from the mentally retarded, or just plain lazy and incompetent people…up to the kinds like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, etc – people who spend their lives thinking and solving actual problems with actualy, 3D-bound solutions……

    Is all of what the author said invalid? No -and some of it has been tried elsewhere, and might work to an extent…but having state supplied income whether one works or not…. hell will probably freeze over before that happens.

    1. capitalism (in this guise) really hasn’t been around for nearly so long as, say, monarchy, or feudalism even… correct me if i’m wrong

    2. You said this has been tried in the past, so I’m really curious where a society of robots did all the work for people in the past. The article is not about trying to give everyone a free wage in the world we live in today. The article is about trying to give everyone a free wage when jobs as we know them today are done by robots.

      So, as far as I can tell, there has NEVER been a society like the one we are about to enter into. Humans as works days are numbered.

      For example, I believe this is the last generation of humans to drive big rig trucks. Robotic controlled cars are here NOW. They can drive from LA to DC on their own on regular roads. So, today, truck drivers need to start learning how to be graphic designers and programmers or they can get welfare and sell drugs. However, what about when EVERY SINGLE JOB like that is done by robotics?

      I wish people would actually read the article.

  23. I think people are playing in their own thoughts far too much. No specific number was even mentioned. Everyone against this idea seems to assume everyone will now have enough money to not go out and do things and everyone for it assumes now you do! The point of the word basic is to imply essentials. If you choose to spend all your UBI on an ipad instead of food that is a choice the economy will respond to. For people who can already afford an ipad can now use their UBI for basics and feel far less afraid to spend their money on things like ipads, once again bringing more money into the economy. You simply CANNOT assume people will no longer want to work nor assume everybody can afford everything simply because of that.

  24. For this to work, it would have to be implemented across the planet at once, and for that to happen, a world government would be required. If it is implemented in one country/region and not in others, then you will most likely see huge waves of immigrants, and you’ll get the inevitable backlash against immigrants, and things will get ugly.

    I don’t see this idea being possible in today’s world.

    1. It could very well be in 2070 that the ultra rich build fortified edifices to house their favored employees and entourages while the rest starve in ultra-dense tenements. Oh wait, this is already the reality in India today.

  25. Regarding this quote: “I’ve lived in a country that had a period of ‘full employment’ and now has 14% unemployment, and I don’t see how anyone can be so misanthropic to claim that those 14% of people just got lazier.”

    I hesitate to take someone’s radical economic ideas too seriously if they either can’t do math or does not know the econ 101 definition of “full employment”.

  26. I must say for anyone who is in love with capitalism this is a terrifying REALITY that is not far in the horizon. I lean slightly conservative but I see this trend developing as a software engineer who’s job it has been to create the software that powers the machines who are replacing people. What will happen when no one has a job because even service jobs are being replaced NOW. if there is no one to buy the goods why would they be created?

    There are two out comes, Guaranteed income like suggested in this article, or the dark ages 2.0 and another period of technological and societal regression.

    I am hoping for the first personally.

  27. 0. Greatly expanding individuals dependency on government is unlikely to be worth it because malevolent individuals like GWB and Obama occasionally attain power. Many framers of the US constitution understood this point quite well from the other end of Colonial rule. Undoing hard-learned protections with the knowledge of the nature of people is incredibly naive. (The US executive branch has accreted far too much power.)

    1. Getting companies or the ultra rich to pay more taxes would encounter resistance, to put it nicely. It should be clear by now that both retain accoutants, lawyers and lobbyists that are quite adept at gaming the laws. They’d sooner pull a Gerpardue or a Woz instead.

    2. Given Greece, et. al., with debt and declining population, using future generations’ money is unlikely to be end game for any maturing economy. Funding this for say the US at a poverty level would be 250m * 15k USD/yr = 3.75 trillion USD/yr. This much currency being spent (authors’ assumption of high MPC) would directly cause prices to rise, just as surely as the tens of thousands of newly minted dotcom millionaires caused the localized prices of homes in Silicon Valley to inflate in the late 90’s.

    Either raise pitchforks and fires at “rich people” for being stingy, or for yourself unable to become so and set a better example of leadership.

  28. Good luck getting the leadership into power to implement that… alas, politicians require political campaigns funded… and they’re funded by large corporations who want to avoid paying taxes at all costs. So they’re only going to fund campaigns that suit their own agenda… which isn’t an agenda volunteering to pay more taxes.

    1. I agree with you, Anon. To quote the post:

      “If that trend continues, wealth creation will increasingly be confined to those with capital, and things start to follow a Marxist logic. The middle classes (and their elected representatives) will not let that happen.”

      Unfortunately the author is laboring under the impression that elected representatives are working for the middle classes. That has not been the case in the USA for at least the past 30 years.

  29. These are great points. We first need to myth-bust: 1) people who are successful worked hard and deserve their lot, people who are not successful are lazy and suck. 2) when we are frightened of losing everything we do are best work.

    We need to become a compassionate society.

  30. Raise tariffs and enforce borders. Ease of globalization in short…. Jobs would magically reappear.

  31. There has to be a global consensus about something like this.
    I dont know much about economy, but woudn’t give “free” money to everyone cause high inflation?

  32. We will never see this happen. The global population continues to rise, and as a result, so does competition for finite resources. This competition steadily inflates prices as people in free market economies compete for these finite resources. Money is simply a generic medium of productivity that vastly improves upon the barter system.

    No… what is already happening is a silent nod of content toward silently culling those too weak, dumb, and slow to be productive in the county they were born. We see this as a result of law enforcement becoming more strict; loss of privacy for the benefit of security (the availability of global resources is a matter of national security); big brother using big data to sniff out current or potential criminals – in the aggregate, for now.

    Sanctions on birth rates will become more strict with each passing decade – unless and until we have another global war to reset the game board; or, we somehow find a way to mine resources off-planet.

    Those who are productive, or born into productive families, will benefit from society – more so than what this article lays out as a base-line. All others will be on their own to either stand up and be productive or be the forgotten, shrugged-off undesirable member of their society.

  33. Fabulous post, thanks. I see this particular topic getting fleshed out and its subtleties being articulated beyond refutation very soon.

    “Ad hominem is the refuge of the scoundrel, without any decent arguments.”

  34. How is requiring volunteer hours for welfare ‘bullying’ someone to do something ‘for free?’ If the person receives assistance, they are not doing anything for free. This kind of entitlement rhetoric is dangerous. How will you get corporations to pay? With your free state-sponsored legal council? BitCoin is one step closer to a cashless society and embedded RFID. The middle class is slipping, and it is the one thing in the way of total oligarchic dominance. Instead of a robot paradise (I’ve heard this referred to as ‘life after work’) many people will simply not survive. That is the plan, and it’s working. Those demanding assistance from the government, and those with worthless degrees, will be a part of the ‘sustainable’ crews bringing about ‘smart’ development, population reduction, et al. They will do this believing they are a part of the solution… and they are.

    Don’t dismiss this as _______, instead look to the death of Socrates and the sophists. I fear a great number of well meaning people fail to grasp the impact of sophistry and hence fall victim to supposedly ‘democratic’ movements.

    “We are the riders of the Pale Horse: Death.” – Barbara Marx Hubbard

    1. if they’re working for the ‘assistance’ it’s a job. the employer is either paying at least the minimum wage and employment (social security, medicare) taxes, or is stealing.

      1. Right, so if a person works, they receive due compensation and potentially other benefits. If they can (yet don’t) work and receive compensation, they are stealing.

  35. I’m not exactly a fan of the man, or of the Austrian school of economics, but I really think Milton Friedman was onto something with the Negative Income Tax. It’d probably be the most efficient way to implement something like this.

    1. Actually, the NIT was proposed by Juliet Rhys-Williams, and Friedman just picked it up to suggest a “lesser evil” for the income tax, but both taxes MF perceived as contrary to the neo-libreral state model his teachings have brought upon us.

      1. I wasn’t aware of that, and thanks for the name. Friedman made a very public attempt to get NIT implemented, so it’s easy to lose track of where it came from.

        I do think that attaching his name to it is a great way to get everyone on board with the idea of a basic income considering he’s such a conservative icon. It’s Milton Friedman approved!

    2. Do you even know what the Austrian school of economics is? You’re clearly clueless if you think Friedman was an Austrian.

  36. Geolibertarianism was mentioned in the comments previously. I think this is key to understand basic income, and how to fund it, in terms of captialism and liberal/libertarian views.

    What it boils down to is the ethics surrounding individuals rights to resources and the what is expected in return. Is it right to have “free” money, so to speak?

    I suggest that there is no reason to think basic income as free. It can very well be implemented with a clear expectations of the recieving party, while at the same time provide a sound economic implementation. Heck, it could probably be restated as a “basic contract” rather than “basic income” to further afford this view.

    From a practical stand point it has been argued before that there should be no taxes on income or capital, but instead only a tax on land value (Henry George, 1879), not least for reasons of efficiency. A tax on land value would not disincentivize economic transactions in the same way as other taxes do.

    The jump from land value taxasion to basic income goes through a slight ethical reconsideration of the meaning of private property. First of all it should be argued that a land value taxasion is more ethical tax than other forms of taxes if property is described as a natural right stemming from the right to ones body, and its labour. Most taxes can be seen as being in direct conflict with ones right to ones labour. Land value taxation can be seen as a tax on the input to that labour, and thus no conflict there.

    Instead we need to ask, by what right can we tax land, and by what right can one appropriate land to mix ones labor with it? Locke started from the notion that all land was given by god as common property, others view it as completley unowned until first possession.

    I suggest a third view: land is uncontended, until two or more people see utility in it. That is, regardless of wether we see it as common property, or unowned, we use private property as a means to solve contention.

    The ethical reconsideration I propose is that we completly reject the first possession theory of property, and for whatever reasons, religious or pragmatic, view land as essentially common property before it is allocated as private property. Meaning for some land to become private property it has to first be removed from the commons.

    How do we, non-violently, remove something from the commons? A contract of course!

    “We, the commoners, herby grant you, the private owner, exclusive rights over this piece of land. We promise not claim posession over the land until, and as long as…”

    And this is where basic income enters the picture. As a commoner I expect to be compensated in full for the value of the land I am now waivering my rights to. I expect the best contract for both parties to be if the full rent of the land is paid by the proprietor to the commons in compensation for the exclusive riths to it.

    So the basic income would then be nothing else than the full compensasion for retaining exclusive rights to something which, without a contract, would belong to the commons.

  37. Lessee now. A century of voting for the party that promises the most Free Shit from the Gubmint has brought the West to its knees. I’ve a real hot idea for fixing it: what we really need is more, guaranteed, FSftG.

    Yeah, that ought to work.

    And, wow, here’s a really original thought. Let’s screw more out of the richbastards to pay for it. I mean, shit, everybody knows that they keep their money in a money-bunker like Scrooge McDuck. They’re fuckin’ capitalists, right? So they’re never going to invest their money, so they can employ people and produce stuff and make profits so they can actually pay some fuckin’ taxes, right?

    Jeez.

  38. | We do not expect infants, the elderly, or the disabled to work, and these categories are relatively fluid.

    Yes, yes, they do expect the disabled to work. My rent’s going up 6%, $85 next month, and the government isn’t giving me $85 more dollars nor is my wife going to earn $85 more dollars in her service industry job nor is my dad going to give me $85 more dollars of the $1000 he already gives me to pay rent because I don’t contribute enough to the household for us to support ourselves. No he expects me to work, the government does too, so does the apartment managers, owners, etc. My wife does too.

  39. A reblogué ceci sur PROF NUTON and commented:
    En anglais… Je conseille néanmoins sa lecture à ceux que la langue de Shakespeare ne rebute pas. Le revenu universel d’existence, c’est pour bientôt ?

  40. Basic Income is Communism ! Communism is absolute evil as we all know !

    The Bible says, “Who does not work, shall not eat”. It is a duty to work, so no communist free money for anyone !

    1. Oh, huh, interesting. The Bible also says to sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.

  41. Capitalism is made up of wealthy investors and cheap labor. A middle class is not an inherent feature of capitalism. In fact a middle class only exists out of collective bargaining and unionization, which are inherently socialist. Its no surprise that as the wealthy fight for continued deregulation of capitalism, these sorts of problems will always pop up in some shape or form.

    Capitalism never worked, and its silly to hold onto an economic system that is only designed to enable the wealthy to get wealthier. Entitling control of the economy to the people with the most wealth spells disaster for any civilization that is trying to look out for each and every person. Especially because that wealth is acquired by stealing the fruits of the working class’s labor. Prior to the civil war, the collective worth of slaves was something like 3.5 billion, more than every other asset in America combined! In a purely capitalist world, a wealthy individual/corporation CAN OWN PEOPLE. Or water. Or the food supply.

    Capitalism always has and always will require a greater class of people to work long hours for tiny wages. The more we embrace capitalism, the more we will go back to the days of the late 1800s where people worked 10+ hours a day, every day, for tiny pay and compromised health. In fact, this happens overseas because its ILLEGAL in America, but corporations still figure out how to effectively pay their cheapest employees less than minimum wage in America. Actually, the more we embrace capitalism, the closer we will get to the conditions that allowed capitalism to thrive in the first place – slavery.

    1. Hopefully, robots will become our new slaves. Robots will be the cheap labor. The question is, will the rich decide the rest of us die or do they let us get by on their allowance.

  42. A paleo-conservative think tanker, Charles Murray, wrote about a basic income guarantee with his “In Our Hands” several years ago. He looked at the numbers and said 10k/yr was the price point if kept transfer payments static. I suspect “comfortable living” is out of reach for the time being, and unfortunately, innovation is slowing (per Peter Thiel), so I’m not sure when it might become feasible, but I’d like to think it’s something to shoot for a generation or two down the road.

  43. I have been tryiong to push a Basic, or citizens’ Income for 40 years. Is it really about to happen? but unlike all other advocates, I also say it is one of the measures needed to keep the planet fit for future generations. The Christian who quotes the bible needs a better answer than to tell him he is antediluvian (even though he is). the point he and people like him ( there are a lot about) need to grasp is that means testing is the real evil.
    Please read my blog, or better still my book (link on the blog)
    http://www.clivelord.wordpress.com

  44. Excellent article. Most of the population think that the idea of robots performing all of our physical labor (and eventually, service jobs) is just sci-fi but the fact is it is already happening and has been for some time. This gradual trend is speeding up quickly and it is inevitable that it will continue. Foxcon, the company that makes the iphone and ipads, recently purchase 10,000 robots and is planning to purchase 20,000 more which will replace a huge number of human workers. This is just one example of what we can expect to continue in the future.

  45. Congratulations, if you combine your proposal with a simplified tax structure you basically get what opponents have called a flat tax. The idea is simple, that every person gets a fixed checked for a given amount simply by membership in a society (for example $20,000.) Then a single tax rate is applied to everyone’s income (say 20%) regardless of source (capital gains, payroll, Then you get a truly progressive tax rate that is both fair and provides for basic needs.

    The effect, using the numbers above, is that people making less than $100,000 would actually net money from the government and people making over that amount would pay higher and higher tax rate approaching 20%. Of course those are example number, they whatever we decide is fair (maybe $25,000 and a rate of 40%.) Regardless the results are the same, there is NO income disincentive (economically logical situations were people don’t want to work because of existing social benefit loss ), simplification of the tax code (which some estimates say causes the government to loose as much at 30% of its expected revenue due to evasion and administrative costs), and what is more the system would less adversely effect the supply-demand pressures in just giving people a direct payment (if you increase everyone’s income by 25,000 there will actually be no net increase in people’s income because of the inflationary nature of money.)

    1. Bob,

      I wish we could get the middle left and the middle right together on this. Although a flat tax is associated with the right, I agree with you that it, as you have laid it out, answers some of the most pressing concerns of the left as well. i think it would have to be more then $20,000 unless some other support were provided like government subsidized basic housing and education, (20K a year is less then the year’s rent for a minimal apartment in some parts of the country right now), but these are just details I believe honest and concerned people could hash out.

  46. Norway provides healthcare, housing, education and living support to its citizens. And has one of the highest per capita entrepreneur levels in the world.

    The “carrot and stick” notion that people have to be threatened to make them work was disproved a long time ago by psychologists.
    (See this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html)

    You are 100% right about the solution to an economy that is shedding need for workers at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, those that control our economy and our politics would rather keep all the benefits of our increased societal efficiency to themselves. And much of the rest of America can easily be bought off with the proverbial “plate of porridge” in the form of platitudes about the “evils of socialism.” And the divide and conquer strategy of getting the poor to blame other poor for their lack of employment prospects.

    1. Jeff is correct that people do not need to be forced in order for them to work, but it is clear from observation that some people will work less than others (perhaps not even enough to support themselves) and some will work hard but to little effect. Besides this, there are many hard-working people who will happily work on their own projects without regard to what other people want. This can produce results that are wonderful but also results that are useless. Some of the socialist nations in Europe purportedly had (perhaps still have) warehouses full of state-subsidized art that no one wants.

      It’s all very nice if society can afford to let everyone follow their own heart, but even in a technological future we will need people to actually supply the needs of others – and that is where the capitalist system fits in. That is what free markets do: they reward people for providing goods and services that other people want.

      This may not always be fair. Many innovators never benefit from their labors. In my own life, during a period of unemployment in the 1990s I contributed quite a bit of labor to Project Gutenberg. One of the books I put online had not been published since the original printing in 1914 and had been pretty much forgotten, but since I put it online it has been republished several times and has even been used in college courses. At the time it was difficult even to give copies away, but now several people have made money through my labor even though I have not – because at that time what I was “selling” had no buyers. But then the original Johannes Gutenberg never got rich off his invention either, even though it is the most important invention in human history. I can hardly complain – I have benefited greatly from the work of unpaid innovators. That’s just the way things go sometimes. In the meantime, we need food to eat and roofs over our heads – and to get people to do work like that – work that we all need done but which isn’t always fun – we need markets.

      The great thing about the basic income idea is that it preserves the functioning of markets while ensuring everyone has their basic needs met. By ridding ourselves of unnecessary administrative and compliance costs, we could even increase productivity by releasing many workers to find new and more fulfilling outlets for their creativity while removing barriers from entrepreneurs and avoiding the indignities and corruption inherent in means testing. For those concerned that $10,000 per year is too low, keep in mind that this would be *per person*. A family of four would get $40,000 plus whatever they could earn on the side.

      1. A quote from your article…

        “Let me summarize its [Norway’s] real keys to prosperity.
        * A tiny, non-diverse, predominantly white and Christian population.”

        Wow, convincing… and not at all racist.

        “* Drilling in its ocean for oil to become one of the biggest oil exporters on the planet, and the biggest by far on a per capita basis, all during a time when oil prices quintupled.”

        Presumably the point of this is to show that Norway has natural resources, but America has comparatively little. But that ignores America’s biggest natural asset, which is currently almost completely in private hands – the value of its land. The value of land is produced by the entire community surrounding that land. The owners of the land, as owners, contribute nothing to its value, yet they are the principal beneficiary. This causes massive distortions in the economy and robs people of their common right to the value of nature. A far better system would be to use the value of land to fund an unconditional basic income.

        1. The point was to show that Norway has more of the most valuable natural resource per capita than anyone else and that funds their welfare state. The fact that they also have basically no diversity in their population is used to illustrate their work ethic, which is obviously higher than most countries. It may not be politically correct, but Christian work ethic can be real.

          1. You have a good point if you want to say that resource-poor countries cannot use their natural resources to provide a basic income.

            You have a very poor point if you want to suggest that the USA does not have natural resources sufficient to provide a basic income. The USA may not have per capita resources equal to Norway, but the USA is an extraordinarily resource-rich nation nevertheless.

            Currently, resource-rich and resource-poor nations alike frequently use their resources to keep an elite in power — often, a foreign elite. You can’t get blood from a turnip but that does not mean you can’t share the turnip juice.

  47. To paraphrase Adam Smith: wealth = labor + natural resources. You can multiply each component by finding more efficient ways to employ them. The problem is that each human consumes some portion of this wealth, in the form of goods / services / food / etc (actually, most humans consume quite a bit more than the bare minimum). While you can skim quite a bit off the top to sustain non-producers, especially in the near-post-industrial age, there’s a limit to how many non-producers a society can sustain. [For the purposes of this discussion “producer” means “someone who contributes to the lowest 2 tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy, particularly the bottom tier”.]
    Throughout history, the ratio of non-producers / producers has been quite small, generally enough to support a Praetorian class (soldiers, police – i.e., providers of physical security). It’s the old Hobbes/Locke notion of the Social Contract: give up a portion of your property to pay for the protection of the rest.
    As society’s overall wealth increased, the ranks of non-producers eventually encompassed a growing Political class (originally kings and clergy; now politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists, media, and anyone who has a significant influence upon and benefit from law-making), and also artists, entertainers, teachers, etc. However, most of these people (and to some extent, even the politicians, paparazzi and bureaucrats) provided a service which people were willing to pay for.
    However, once you throw open the floodgates and make entry in to the ranks of non-producers available to everyone, you run into trouble.
    Once large numbers of people consume without contributing, you start to run out of enough surplus wealth to go around. Leaders are forced to confiscate more and more wealth from those who are still producing, which drives marginal producers to make the (perfectly logical) decision that it isn’t worth the effort of working for the paltry gains that are left after taxes. They go onto the dole, further increasing the consumers and decreasing producers, which drives more wealth-confiscation, which drives more people out of the workforce. It’s a vicious cycle.

    This would be feasible if the basic needs of life were essentially free. Science Fiction has produced at least one such utopia that makes economic sense: Earth in the StarTrek universe. However, in that world, manufacturing and even food production are completely automated and instantaneous, and energy is too-cheap-to-meter. StarTrek technology drives the basic amount wealth needed to live down to essentially zero.

    S/F author David Weber provides a more realistic view of the eventual effects of a UBI in a world where labor & energy consumption aren’t free. Scroll down to the section on the Republic of Haven.
    http://www.library.beau.org/lib/ebooks/baen/01/More%20Than%20Honor/More_Than_Honor.htm

    …or just trust Heinlein when he said “TANSTAAFL”.

    1. Right, it isn’t giving away free lunches, it’s investing in the market and reaping indirect benefits via wealth velocity. People are going to deposit that cheque back into the market whence it came, but the effect will be an increase in overall prosperity which actually significantly benefits efficiency for producers among other intangibles.

    2. The basic reality is that there are _lots_ of valuable things that nobody living has to pay for. This includes not just natural resources, but the capital and knowledge that has been accumulated by the human species over the last 1,000,000 years.

      (Railroads, refined steel, instruments of measure, high-precision tools, chemical plants, and so on, would not exist were it not for our inheritance. Given _only_ the labor of now-living humans, and _no_ inheritance from thousands of previous generations of humans, the lifestyle of the human species would _not_ differ from the lifestyle of the wild Chimpanzee.)

      Every year, the proportion of wealth inherited by humanity over the portion of wealth created by currently-living humans _increases_, because the previously-created currently-inherited knowledge-wealth continues to increase in value. (In economics this is named the Solow residual.)

      (Maxwell’s equations represent a higher proportion of economic production _today_ than they did at the time Maxwell formulated them; and, similarly, the value of the labor of nameless stone-age innovators, who invented the iron age, can validly claim to have provided a foundation for the later bronze age, and so on, up to Maxwell. The “debt” which living-humanity “owes” to these stone-age innovators continues to increase, ever-faster, owing to the rapid cumulative nature of “compound interest.”)

      Inevitably, it is the problem of humanity to decide on a mechanism for distributing the massive inherited knowledge- and resource-wealth which is _not_ produced by currently-living humans.

      Currently, humanity has chosen a polite social fiction as the basis of its economic ideology. We pretend that we, the living, produce all that there is. We apply the following heuristic to decide who is producing all of the things that, in fact, humanity inherits: whoever owns the inheritance pretends to have produced it.

      The article we have here raises the issue that the distribution of the Solow residual becomes an _increasingly_ pressing problem for the humans species, because our collective inheritance is approaching 100% of our useful consumable product. If the ever-increasing inherited portion of human wealth reaches 100% of economic production — and we should expect this to happen eventually — we _must_ abolish the polite social fiction that whoever owns a resource has produced it.

  48. Reblogged this on KnowledgEvolution and commented:
    THREE TRENDS THAT WILL CREATE DEMAND FOR AN UNCONDITIONAL BASIC INCOME

    The digitization of our economy will bring with it a new generation of radical economic ideologies, of which Bitcoin is arguably the first. For those with assets, technological savvy, and a sense of adventure, the state is the enemy and a cryptographic currency is the solution. But for those more focused on the decline of the middle classes, the collapse of the entry-level jobs market, and the rise of free culture, the state is an ally, and the solution might look something like an unconditional basic income. Before I explain why this concept is going to be creeping into the political debate across the developed world, let me spell out how a system like this would look:

    – Every single adult member receives a weekly payment from the state, which is enough to live comfortably on. The only condition is citizenship and/or residency.

    – You get the basic income whether or not you’re employed, any wages you earn are additional.

    – The welfare bureaucracy is largely dismantled. No means testing, no signing on, no bullying young people into stacking shelves for free, no separate state pension.

    – Employment law is liberalised, as workers no longer need to fear dismissal.

    – People work for jobs that are available in order to increase their disposable income.

    – Large swathes of the economy are replaced by volunteerism, a continuation of the current trend.

    – The system would be harder to cheat when there’s only a single category of claimant, with no extraordinary allowances.

    This may sound off-the-charts radical, but here’s why you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it:

    1 – The Middle Classes Are In Freefall
    2 – Demand For Human Labour Is In Long Term Decline
    3 – Cultural Production Is Detaching From The Market

    How would we pay for it?

    We could start by getting corporations to pay their taxes.
    In an era when communities can create their own currencies, capital can sneak across digital borders despite being legally frozen, and economic production is increasingly decentralized, finding ways of fairly collecting revenue for the public good is going to be one of the big questions of the century, regardless of whether or not we have an unconditional basic income. Under the current set of rules, most developed world governments are bankrupt, but as the bank bailouts proved, the rules can be rewritten when needs be. Money is a device we use to help us allocate resources, it is a symbol and an understanding, seemingly solid in the short term, but flexible and evolutionary in the long term. If you burn all the notes in your wallet right now, you haven’t made the world any poorer, you’ve simply reduced your personal claim to available resources. There is always more money.

    As has become increasingly clear, austerity is not working, and should never have been expected to work. An unconditional basic income would be the Keynesian response that should have been launched as soon as it became clear the financial sector had a rotten core. In other words, it would be a bailout for consumers.

  49. A problem with any such scheme is that it does not adress sufficiently the underlying problem of a diminishing need for employees of relatively lower competence (together with the modest success of increasing competence through e.g. more education). Cf. an earlier text of mine: http://www.aswedeingermany.de/60Misc/50Automatization.html

    As an aside: I recently read Ayn Rand “Atlas shrugged” and while there is a lot of exaggeration in it (presumably for rhetorical purposes) it does make a very compelling case against too much government intervention and too small a correlation between accomplishment and reward. (It can be added that this book appears to have often been misrepresented in public discourse.)

  50. Some of the ideas mentioned here are quite sound, and will indeed come to pass (very specifically point 2, regarding human labor). I assert that we’re already at a level of productive efficiency in all essential things.. ie, keeping people fed and sheltered, that unemployment numbers could actually be much, much higher than they are now with little actual impact. The ever increasing levels of global manufacturing, automation, etc, will simply continue magnifying this particular scenario.

    Greed is, of course, the giant limiter of progress in this direction however, and it will be interesting to see what eventually happens when the realities of efficiency end up directly challenging long held social beliefs such as the 40 hour work week, everyone earning their keep, land ownership, etc.

  51. Interesting thoughts, and well put, but I wonder: what will happen to the prices of consumer goods, rents, and energy? Will corporations raise them because they know that the money is out there and they know people can afford it? To work, a basic income needs to cover the basics of living. If it doesn’t because prices go above that level, we have the same situation as now only with more state involvement.

    1. Markets, for all their failings, do at least prevent this. Only monopolies can increase prices just because consumers have more to spend.

      1. This idea does not take into account the limits to growth. The reality in the ground and on the wind is that our resource quality is generally diminishing, and our accumulated wastes are uh accumulating.

        Even if theoretically it were to work for a generation, our mammalian tendencies would have us overpopulate and bring the onset of decline in short order, imo.

        This is not the garden of Eden. It is a long hard slog regardless of the method of distribution of wealth.

        1. How do you explain the correlation between quality and life and birth rate then? Populations tend to explode only in places where economic survival is uncertain.

  52. thank you for writing about this – we’ve all been thinking it, but it’s good to see it finally discussed properly.

    please join us in irc channel http://webchat.freenode.net/?channels=emergence where we work on what i think you are talking about in your digital movement post: the movement driven by concerns around learning, growth, empowerment, futurebuilding, love, networks, p2p, openness, growing and nurturing communities, collaborative production, coordinating our activities, emerging institutions, ending exploitation, creating safe and open spaces, social technologies for collaboration, cultures of participation, and bringing everyone along 🙂

  53. This is an extremely interesting idea, but your article is let down by the “how will we pay for it” section.

    Corporation tax makes up a small proportion of tax takings altogether, and I see many people make too much of corporation tax’s ability to raise substantive funds. This is not because most of corporation tax is evaded (though quite a lot is), it is because corporate profits are not very large when compared to the size of GDP altogether.

    For an idea like unconditional basic income to have enough intellectual merit to gain mainstream traction, it is crucial to demonstrate its practicality. Anything proposal short of that is just a pipe dream.

  54. So, some numbers on paying for this:

    Lets say we want to pay everyone a very basic, but live-able wage. I’ll set this according to a current 37 hour a week “living wage”, as defined by the the UK living wage organisation http://www.livingwage.org.uk/, would be around £13,000.

    UK population is around 63 million. Assuming benefits would only be paid to adults, the 20+ population in the UK was 48 million in 2011 (ONS). Paying 48 million people £13,000 a year would cost £624 billion.

    To be fair, not all of the £624 billion would be new spending. It would replace all pensions and benefit spending. This already amounts for £260 billion. So we would need to find an additional £364 billion to pay for the basic livable wage. This is not a small number. £364 billion would pay for all public sector services: health, education, defence, transport, police – all of it!

    It is interesting however, that £364 billion is not as far out as many might initially assume it is. If we were to raise the existing welfare budget by 20%, and then by 2% every year (so below the long term rate of GDP growth), you would hit £624 billion within 40 years.

    (Population would have risen by then however, so maybe you’d need to use a per capita GDP number. I don’t have time to work that out…)

    1. With an ethical foundation in the source of the income maybe the actual size of it isn’t important.

      As outlined in my previous comment I think land value rent in the form of a contract with fellow commoners is such a foundation. With a contract in place actual land value would dictate the size of the basic income instead of some arbitrary estimation of basic entitlement.

      In practice I think we’ll be surprised of how much that is though. My guess in the area of 90% of the economy as a whole.

  55. “Money is a device we use to help us allocate resources, it is a symbol and an understanding, seemingly solid in the short term, but flexible and evolutionary in the long term. If you burn all the notes in your wallet right now, you haven’t made the world any poorer, you’ve simply reduced your personal claim to available resources. There is always more money.”

    Awesome piece! if a little optimistic.

    You mention using corporate tax to pay for, it which makes perfect sense in the long term, and if you think about it, makes the whole corporatarian process kind of communist if implemented.

    Awesome movements on the global from are a good sign in that direction as well:

    “OECD tax proposals offer G20 ‘once in a century’ chance to fix creaking system”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jul/19/oecd-g20-tax-reform-proposals

    The critique I would add is that it ignores the entrenched elite (& their media control), resource scarcity and potential intellectual property rights as a push back.

    For that, one of my favorite articles on this topic, the Four futures outlined by Peter Frase from Jacobin covers it really well. Not sure if i mentioned this before. He outlines 4 potential outcomes of increasingly technological society, vis a vis political power and resource availability:

    Egalitarianism and abundance: communism
    Hierarchy and abundance: rentism
    Egalitarianism and scarcity: socialism
    Hierarchy and scarcity: exterminism

    Highly recommended.
    http://jacobinmag.com/2011/12/four-futures/

  56. It doesn’t have to be fully paid for with taxes. New capital could be created for the basic income purpose. Not all new capital needs to be routed through the banking system. In some ways this is a more pure capitalism, where new capital is not monopolized.

    1. A more in-depth discussion can be viewed on Youtube – see “Credit as a Public Utility” by Richard C. Cook.

  57. “An unconditional basic income would be the Keynesian response that should have been launched as soon as it became clear the financial sector had a rotten core. In other words, it would be a bailout for consumers.”

    I like to think of it as seed capital. A strong economic stimulant! Great article! I hope more people catch on.

  58. Why not link unemployment levels to a tax, where the tax gets turned out as a basic income? If we actually ARE slowly crawling up to higher unemployment levels this will HAVE to translate to a basic income So why not formally link unemployment to basic income? My suggestion would be about half. In other words – if we get 50% unemployment levels, levvy a 25% additional tax to generate a basic income from the people who have it. Probably we will have to do so everywhere, in every country.

    1. There are at least two reasons why your suggestion is a monumentally bad idea:

      Firstly, it would reduce incentives to work in a (yet hypothetical) situation where they must be increased. While there are many other factors than incentives involved, they remain one of the more important. In your scenario those who chose to work (when having the option) are punished, those who chose not to are rewarded.

      Secondly, the tax burden on those who do work would soon reach crippling proportions and ultimately not suffice to cover the cost of basic income (assuming that it is kept at a even semi-reasonable level).

      1. Nope, I am sorry but you are wrong.

        If I’d be forced to work two jobs at a McDonalds where I’d make about 40% of what I’d reasonably need to survive, then I might have the physical abiltiy to do so for a while, but you’d find a large percentage of the population would eventually buckle. We live in a race to the bottom when it comes to employment – mass employment is over. So what else do we have?

        Oddly enough for several decades we did have considerable economic increases in efficiency, over-all. That means someone out there is making more money even though most people don’t get enough reward out of a full time job (by objective measure) to survive in a dignified manner. There comes a point where this system stops working, and you’ll find angry protesters on the street who find they can’t feed their kids, no matter WHAT they try.

        Basic income would solve that. We tax big banks and corporate investors and financial traders and other people with more than enough money than these people could ever reasonably spend. There’s nothing wrong with that – by going back to a tax rate as was common in the 1950s, the US can easily generate enough income to afford a decent basic income.

        There are LOTS of sound arguments for this idea of a basic income.

        http://www.scoop.it/t/arguments-for-basic-income

        I invite you to open your mind and step out of the thinking in the context of a defunct economic order. It isn’t the old days any more. We need a new way to keep society together and ‘work’ and “wages” as it once existed, it’s simply an outdated idea.

        1. You merely demonstrate a lack of insight into the way humans and the economy works with your comment. (Even assuming that we let “There’s nothing wrong with that ” stand as an ethical judgement, which is by no means obvious.)

          There may very well be situations where a basic income is doable and/or the only choice. Your scenario, as a “solution” to a 50 % forced employment, is not one of them. There your suggestion would lead to complete disaster.

          On the contrary, the most realistic scenario would be when the overall wealth of society and advancement of technology grows to a degree that basic income can be handed out as a boon because work is no longer needed (in most capacities)—not as a last ditch measure to counter a raising unemployment. (And, no, we are not currently there.)

          As for your claims that I should open my mind, I caution you that I am one of the most open-minded and unconventional people you will ever interact with. I do, however, not just swallow ideas blindly—I actually think them through.

        2. More can be found at usbig.net and basicincome.org

          I really like Richard Cook’s proposal for basic income within his monetary reform treatise. It can be found on Youtube – “Credit as a Public Utility.”

      2. Well then, how about we increase incentives by say….. 1. rounding up all the women and food 2. paying the hardest working most contributing men in women and food. If you don’t work hard enough, you don’t get to breed and you don’t get fed. The men are super-incentivized to work hard, if only because they want to eat and have children! That’s kinda what it was like in the old days; would you like to go back to that? It’s true, we’re lazier now and this might make us even lazier, but we are also fabulously wealthy as a society and we might as well spend it on something.

        1. If a pinch of salt improves your soup, would you dump a whole pound in it?

          If running five kilometers a day improves your health, would you run for fifty kilometers a day?

          If a cup of coffee makes you more alert, would you drink a gallon?

          Of course not: Not only are there diminishing returns, but even the best of things turns negative when exaggerated. As a consequence, your example has no practical bearing on the risks involved with reducing incentives.

          Furthermore, your example involves women only as a reward, effectively cutting the potential work-force in half.

          Whether we are sufficiently “fabulously wealthy” is far from clear—and it is even less clear that we would remain so, should the incentives to work or accomplish be reduced.

  59. Reblogged this on Vibrant Bliss and commented:
    A most superlatively excellent post about the welfare/economic policy concept of ‘Unconditional Basic Income’ (UBI) (popularised in Anglophone philosophy by the non-Anglophone-sounding Philip Van Parijs), click through to the site to view properly.

    Just this evening I contributed to a friend’s discussion on Facebook over whether universal benefits were preferable to means tested ones because the latter lead to claimants being disrespected with stigma and suspicion. I wrote an essay on this for my degree which I plan to adapt for this blog some time, and my view tonight is the same as it was there: that the positives of means testing outweigh the negatives of the disrespect, since claimants are going to have to deal with that from other sources anyway, and they should just learn to put up with it as one of the less serious disadvantages of being poor. This position, however, is depended upon there being a welfare state similar to the one we have now, whereas my top preference is for a radically different establishment in which we have UBI instead.

    Funnily enough, I also mentioned this in the aforementioned university essay and the reason I haven’t posted it is that I want to split up the topics of progressive approaches to social justice from means testing’s disrespect. But I didn’t make the link that the author of the Simulacrum article I’m blogging does, that UBI solves the respect dilemma by apparently making means testing redundant. In congruence with my post on Working Less, he says: “If we stop stigmatizing the non-employed, we can stop pushing people into jobs that offer little collective benefit.”

    This is also apt because I am about to welcome a second guest blogger in the form of Joey Jones (like Toby Coe and myself a University of Reading graduate) to share his philosophical ruminations on work, and The Partially Examined Life are about to podcast on work too.

  60. Seems like a revival of socialism – now on steroids. What do you think will become of inflation if the scarcity factor is taken out of the economic equation? Where are your calculations proving that companies alone will be able to feed the insatiable state bureaucracy? How many companies will just decide its no longer feasible to continue production / providing services if nearly all profits go to the state? What will become of the financial services sector if people have no need to borrow or save? If all banks / insurers etc disappear, they will also no longer be able to pay taxes and yet more people will become unemployed. Interest rates will also no longer be an effective tool to control inflation. I see lots of holes in the economic rationale for such a system.

    1. Basic Income!!

      Seems like a revival of radical libertarianism – now on steroids. What do you think will become of inflation if the scarcity factor is taken out of the economic equation? Where are your calculations proving that companies alone will be able to feed the insatiable corporate power? How many smaller companies will just decide its no longer feasible to continue production / providing services if nearly all profits go to monopolist corporate power blocks ? What will become of the financial services sector if people have no need to borrow or save? If all banks / insurers etc disappear, they will also no longer be able to pay taxes and yet more people will become unemployed. Interest rates will also no longer be an effective tool to control inflation. I see lots of holes in the economic rationale for such a system.

  61. http://moggymilitant.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/nothing-for-something-more-like_6.html

    I wrote a blog along these lines:

    Nothing For Something, more like.

    Successive governments have used many a mantra to get the public onside regarding welfare reform but for me one of the most pernicious is the ‘something for nothing’ one. The language is designed to rubbish people and dismiss those who are unable to earn enough to live on. In reality, the reverse of ‘something for nothing’ can be found in every nook and cranny in society. There are untold numbers of people who receive nothing for something. That is, they give something and expect nothing or very little in return. This generosity of spirit is particularly prevalent in the creative arts. Think of all the e-pictures, e-books and music downloads that are given away daily on the internet. Think of all the wonderful photos, the satirical blogs and cartoons you enjoy on Facebook and other social media. The Big Society is alive and kicking on the internet. People give and share their creative endeavours for free or for little remuneration. A government that really cared about the creative talent of its people would invest in its artists, and would subsidise those unable to be economically self-sufficient. They would encourage the long term sick and disabled who spend their time creatively and beneficially, instead of seeing them as only economic units to be beaten, bullied, controlled, disempowered and erased.

    It might be an alien concept to politicians and those steeped in greed and corruption that there is a generous and giving community out there which they could be encouraging and valuing.

    But alas successive governments don’t value the arts unless they are economically productive. They only value people as economic units, hence all the ‘something for nothing’ rhetoric. People are worth nothing to them unless they are economically self-reliant and when governments refer to hard-working people, when did you last hear this in relation to artists? When did you last hear them mention the 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration that is the driving power of artists? In an aggressive Capitalist society, artists – and I use this in the widest sense of the word – are dispensable if they can’t be self-reliant. Governments talk about the creative industries and the creative talent of our society but they are withdrawing tax credits for self-employed disabled people.

    There are countless others those who give their time and expertise to others freely out of kindness and altruism, those who care for their fellow human beings, family members and animals, those who help others get legal or benefits advice, or help others get access to justice. Many of these people offering such expertise are unwell or disabled. Again, these are flourishing online in the form of blogs and websites. Surely it is time to value and celebrate that which is ‘given away’ for the benefit of all instead of devaluing people as economic units?

    Isn’t it high time we had a real and intelligent debate about work in the wider sense of ‘using one’s time valuably’ for the benefit of the whole community?

    If you are interested in sharing your creations or just hanging out with like-minded creatives, please join our Facebook group to find out more. Although it was set up for those with long term health problems and disabilities, all those who agree with this ethos will be very welcome.

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