To become a reality, UBI needs to get detailed and stop being oversold
July 18, 2017 8:10 AM   Subscribe

In a little over a decade, basic income has gone from an idea about as fringe as #FullCommunism to something that could be benefiting 1.2 billion people imminently. It’s an astonishing rise. But the very speed with which basic income took off has led the debate over it to become confused in a deep way. And it’s particularly confused among its proponents, a group in which I include myself. [SLVox]
posted by Chrysostom (128 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
I used to think a UBI was a good basic idea, but began to get suspicious when I noticed how many libertarians love the idea. Now I'm fully convinced that any UBI would be used as an excuse to hack at the social safety net and would anyway be immediately eaten up by rentiers.

Now I'm convinced the only answer is free and universal provision of all life necessities, mandatory conversion of all businesses into worker co-ops, abolition of all private property, and sending all real estate speculators and mutual fund managers to the fucking gulags.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:24 AM on July 18 [75 favorites]


In the Chapo episode where they discussed the libertarian co-option of UBI Amber used the phrase 'matriarchal communism" to describe how society should work, which I love.

That said, UBI cash > means tested benefits almost always. The social safety net that isn't just giving people cash is awful and designed to make it as hard as possible to use and will kick you off at any turn.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:31 AM on July 18 [27 favorites]


There is a reasonable argument that any UBI that could be put in place in the present political context would do those things, yes. But there are potential UBI implementations that would essentially bring about the thanasia (eu or otherwise) of the rentier, and I think it's worth hashing out which are which, because the political context will be different in the future. Maybe even in a good way.

(The important things about a UBI are how it's paid for, how big it is [wealth tax, 30% of GDP/capital], and politically how you deal with children and naturalized citizens [phase in, I guess])
posted by PMdixon at 8:31 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


I appreciated a take on UBI that I heard elsewhere recently, in that our attitude toward it should be one of, "Yes, and...". If we also pursue large scale public housing that is nice enough for both the middle class and the poor, if we make free for everyone some kind of food allowance, if we make universal health care free — if we socialize and make free the basic necessities of life, then we drive out the rentiers who would otherwise absorb a UBI and people can spend it on what they please.

UBI by itself would probably not turn out well.
posted by indubitable at 8:33 AM on July 18 [20 favorites]


Questions that come to mind in re basic income:

1. Is there political traction to establish one that won't just plunge the poor deeper into poverty?

2. How much do we trust Zuckerberg? Frankly, anything that a bunch of tech fascists advocate to salve their consciences and insure that the poors continue to be able to access the worst, cheapest tech and services gives me pause. And given that Zuckerberg apparently thinks that he should combine enormous personal wealth, control over a giant surveillance corporation and the presidency, I tend to be comfortable calling him a fascist.

3. Neal Stephenson predicted this in Diamond Age, taking quite a lot glee in depicting the lazy, ugly woman who takes advantage of the UBI, living her disgusting life upon tube food. Stephenson is a huge misogynist and classist and I really hate his work, but he's good at figuring out what fresh hell is coming. I think he's promoting the kind of UBI Zuckerberg et al want to dish out, and describing the people they feel would use it.

4. I guess there's some possibility that even a shit UBI could be leveraged into a better one, rather than forestalling it. In this respect, I think that we need to see if Obamacare can weather the political storm, ditto Medicare and Medicaid.
posted by Frowner at 8:38 AM on July 18 [18 favorites]


That said, UBI cash > means tested benefits almost always.

The big advantage to starting the UBI conversation -- even though it's true that a naive UBI would simply be eaten up by rentiers as the economy is structured now -- is that having the discussion can help talk people through the arguments against means-testing. It's pointless and inefficient at best, but more often just plain cruel. It's one thing to frame that discussion around "welfare", which sounds like charity, and of course we don't want to give charity to millionaires, but another entirely to frame it around the idea of a basic income, which fits more nicely into the language of human rights.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:41 AM on July 18 [11 favorites]


I keep seeing that this could "end poverty," but the Powers that Be? They don't want to end poverty. Poverty is useful to them, if not essential.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:43 AM on July 18 [8 favorites]


Christ, just reading Murray's ideas about UBI makes me grind my teeth. The sheer cruelty that exists on the right -- and, let's be honest, those shitty ideas are fully mainstream in the US -- is mind-boggling. That UBI has been co-opted by libertarians and other fuck-you-got-mine types shouldn't be surprising, though, when it can be packaged as a cost-effective alternative to a comprehensive social safety net that, conveniently, would funnel money into private companies who provide essential services.

It's really hard for me to go down the rabbit hole of UBI thought experiments, taking into account likely corporate exploitation, immigration patterns, the funding, etc. without coming to the conclusion that completely borderless global communism is the only solution.

Workers of the world, etc. etc.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:45 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


The problem with UBI is that is has to be part of a comprehensive welfare system or it'll be an excuse to dismantle the state.

Something like no means testing UBI pinned to some rate so you can't just jack uo rents WITH like universal SNAPP and Healthcare and education is a little closer to the goal, for me.


Also I don't trust Zuckerberg as far as I could punt him cause motherfucker has eyes that are seamless black from lid to lid so if he likes something I assume it's evil and wrong.
posted by The Whelk at 8:45 AM on July 18 [22 favorites]


Skip to the end of the article, to the section "Basic income’s greatest promise is in the developing world". Then give some money through Givedirectly.

Also, from yesterday's Scientific American: Is Guaranteed Income for All the Answer to Joblessness and Poverty?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:49 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I know that many people who discuss this are American and much of the thought ends up being American-centric for that reason but, ultimately, it seems like the US is an absolutely horrible testing ground for policies like UBI. Policy supporters would do well to focus thier energy elsewhere for now.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:50 AM on July 18 [20 favorites]


I know that a lot of the discussion already looks elsewhere - just saying that these articles still seem impractically US-centric.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:52 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I used to think a UBI was a good basic idea, but began to get suspicious when I noticed how many libertarians love the idea. Now I'm fully convinced that any UBI would be used as an excuse to hack at the social safety net and would anyway be immediately eaten up by rentiers.

Yeah, if I see someone who has characterized taxation as slavery, and actual slavery as "just" a property rights issue, you bet I'm going to look askance at their support for UBI. This suspicion hasn't failed my yet when they're pressed on the details.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:57 AM on July 18 [19 favorites]


UBI doesn't mean dick unless private ownership of capital is abolished ok thx byeeeeeeeeee
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:58 AM on July 18 [12 favorites]


Human desires have kept evolving. It'd be relatively cheap to give everyone in the world a smartphone if that smartphone were a used Handspring Treo from 2002. But people don't want Treos. They want iPhones.

This is kind of a really important aspect to bring up - not specifically the 'lol, everyone wants new tech' aspect, but the 'human desires evolve' problem of poverty. Because that's absolutely, absolutely real even for the necessities of life.

When my mother talked to me about her childhood, she said she had, essentially, two bottoms and three shirts for most of her childhood. All of these were not washed until the weekend, and were simply re-used. Her responsibility was to "keep them clean". And she was, by no means, poor. That was simply how things were.

Now, if I were to see or hear about a kid having only two bottoms and three shirts, I would feel like that was living in poverty - because our expectation of having clothes washed is "daily, clean clothes",and because doing laundry every two days is an enormous amount of work, and because that's simply not how things are done now.

Similarly, living space and food quality are both worlds above what they were fifty years ago. Everyone has more things, and needs places to put them - and we have become accustomed to a more meat-heavy diet, with more fresh vegetables and spices and all sorts of things.

Poverty, at least as defined within the United States, is largely a relative rather than an absolute matter. Do I think UBI can help make people happier or alleviate the misery that comes with much of US poverty? I don't know. It really depends on whether the cost of goods and services likewise goes up, and how people interact with it. But either way, I don't think you really can end "poverty", and it's not even useful as a goal to think of it, rather than "are people housed and fed" metrics.
posted by corb at 9:19 AM on July 18 [24 favorites]


The thing is, poverty is more about uncertainty. The things that can wipe someone out who's living month to month: big rent increase, hours cut, expensive car repair, minor to major medical emergency. Those things are equal a lot of good meals out, or pairs of jeans, or at least a fancy iPhone or a big television. At least in America, the marginal cost of luxuries is pretty darn small compared to the costs of living.

Which I suppose is an argument for a stronger social safety net here rather than UBI, because what people need is insurance against catastrophe, and UBI would end up mostly being little luxuries for people who didn't get unlucky. Though I suppose it's hardly a bad thing if your everyday not rich person got to afford a few more nice things.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:33 AM on July 18 [46 favorites]


I still fear UBI will basically be "negative taxation with negative representation" especially the Silicon Valleyian techno-dystopian strand thereof.

I always dream of killer bot national police predicting my every move and thought. Add UBI and you have the Google audit and extermination service (beta). Or Amazon realtime high-frequency microwelfare responding lighting-fast to your desires, correlated with everything the state knows about you (and you're not supposed to know; you're not one of the Prince Electors).

Another bolt in the feedback-control machinery.
posted by runcifex at 9:36 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


poverty is more about uncertainty

This is very true, but in ways that it's hard to fix without reworking the entire system, as someone mentioned above and you kind of hint at.

Like, one thing that increases costs hugely for the poor? Credit scores, and the ability companies have to alter how they treat people based on them. In many ways, it's the new redlining. The fact that everywhere they've ever rented or contracted with can essentially leave black marks on someone's record with no real oversight, and those black marks can prevent people, regardless of their ability to pay, from renting an apartment at normal prices, or getting utilities. Credit agencies are not transparent about their processes or the scores that they are giving out to other people that massively affect their lives.

When I was doing social work, I'd frequently find clients paying higher rent than I did - because they weren't able to get a real lease, so were constantly paying "month to month fees" or fees for having extra people in the apartment, or what have you - because the places that would accept "bad credit" had no shame about being utterly unscrupulous in gouging the poor for every nickel they could squeeze out. Or people that had income, but couldn't get into a place based on it because they were asked to pay a much higher deposit based on their credit score.
posted by corb at 10:03 AM on July 18 [29 favorites]


This is very true, but in ways that it's hard to fix without reworking the entire system, as someone mentioned above and you kind of hint at.

I would claim that a sufficiently large UBI funded in the correct fashion would amount to a "reworking [of] the entire system."

Imagine what power dynamics look like when you can quit your job at a quick service restaurant and still make rent.
posted by PMdixon at 10:24 AM on July 18 [18 favorites]


poverty is more about uncertainty

So any US UBI has to be aimed at reducing/removing that uncertainty-- which probably means making a whole lot of other currently-politically-impossible changes to the way our social safety net/housing market/finance system etc all work.

The thing that makes me think it's still worth aiming for, though, is what happens once that uncertainty and stress are gone. Think about how much time and energy and brainpower people in poverty must spend on navigating the minefield of precarity. Think about how much shit they could get done if they didn't have to.
posted by nonasuch at 10:25 AM on July 18 [10 favorites]


I know that a lot of the discussion already looks elsewhere - just saying that these articles still seem impractically US-centric.

For a counter, this UK paper produced by anti-poverty types that did more than anything else to convince me UBI could work: Universal Basic Income: an idea whose time has come? (pdf) A big part of that is the way that their model is specifically focussed on reducing inequality and keeps some means-tested benefits (disability, housing, childcare) over and above UBI to do that. More complex than flat-rate UBI, but does mean that the already-disadvantaged aren't just dropped in the deep end.
posted by Catseye at 10:27 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


It would be wonderful to see Democrats make renters' rights a national campaign issue.
posted by Beholder at 10:33 AM on July 18 [13 favorites]


About poverty. Poverty is a symptom of inequality. And inequality is never just about material wealth and its flow. It's about power and liberty and what kind of obligations and regards we have for one another.

Inequality can't be written away with a cheque for the poor and the children. The disadvantaged need a cheque to live but also a value to live for. If the society is built on the undermining of such values, there's nothing to live for.

In the United States a black man with a $4000 UBI cheque will not suddenly be exempt from hunting by police. In Iran a lesbian woman cannot buy a fate of not being killed with the UBI issued from the coffers of her oppressor. In China a student living on ¥4000 UBI cannot pursue the line of thought expresse like in this post with like-minded young friends without the risk of torture.

Those are inequalities in extreme forms. Other palatable, benign, cupcake forms permeate this world. Now after reaping unimaginable benefits from the inequalities, my overlords prescribe a UBI for my ills. Am I supposed to be thankful?
posted by runcifex at 10:39 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


I'm neither a leftist nor a libertarian, but I support UBI for the same reason I supported socialized healthcare: I'm anti-capitalist and anti-business. (Yes, that's an oversimplification - I'm actually pro-capitalist, just not as the term is usually interpreted.) Basically, I think tying things to employment, whether it's income, health care, retirement, family leave, or whatever, is a terrible way to organize society. It makes the employee dependent on the employer in a way that negatively affects the employee's power in the relationship. Theoretically, in a free society, if you don't like where you work, you can get another job. But in reality, that's not how it works. Most people can't quit their jobs and look for new ones. They have bills to pay, children who need healthcare, etc. So unless they can find a new job while still employed (and that new job offers benefits on day 1), they're stuck. And of course, if the employee doesn't want to find a new job, but rather wants to start his own business, he's on his own for income, benefits, etc. Under a UBI/socialized medicine society, there's a lot less risk to changing jobs or starting businesses. That's good for society, unless you're someone who has a stake in seeing most of society yoked under wage slavery.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:40 AM on July 18 [19 favorites]


The Vox piece has it backwards. Libertarians didn't co-opt UBI. Libertarian, or at least free market, economists developed the concept. It gained interest among people on the left looking for an alternative after Marxism was shown to be a failure.
posted by riruro at 10:53 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


Inequality can't be written away with a cheque for the poor and the children.

Certainly not, but it's a start. Money means white kids and kids of color participate in the same programs, and cross-pollinate cultures. Money means minorities are markets to be tapped and have to be taken seriously. Money means politicians have reasons to listen to minorities.

Money definitely doesn't get rid of all the shit our culture has wrong, but it definitely helps people get by, and people can spend more time on making things more equitable, and spend less time wondering if their kids will even get to eat tomorrow.

Neither poverty nor bigotry will go away overnight with UBI, but if UBI means someone doesn't have to put up with harassment from a bigoted manager because quitting won't mean instant disaster, it helps move toward a better world.

Yes, money can only solve the problems that are solvable by money, but that's still a fairly large segment of problems.
posted by explosion at 11:09 AM on July 18 [26 favorites]


Inequality can't be written away with a cheque for the poor and the children.

Rejecting a solution because it doesn't solve every problem doesn't write anything away either.
posted by Etrigan at 11:13 AM on July 18 [13 favorites]


In the United States a black man with a $4000 UBI cheque will not suddenly be exempt from hunting by police.

This sounds a lot like when Hillary Clinton said that breaking up the big banks won't end racism. Not wrong, but, like, do it anyway.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:23 AM on July 18 [35 favorites]


I think of UBI with regard to several principles:

1. The "economy" is a proxy for managing human endeavor.

2. Economic activity is cognitive labor that answers the question, "What should we do now?"

3. Giving more people more opportunities to make meaningful choices increases the cognitive capacity of the economy. (and thus the possible extent of human endeavor)

4. It is possible to regulate an economy. (The intractability of the rentier problem under capitalism from a socialist perspective is the dual of the libertarian critique of statist planning.)

5. Means testing for services is generally bad because it incentivizes the creation of two systems: one that is prescribed to people who need it and one provides choices to people who have means.

6. Progressive taxation is a useful way to control income inequality.

7. It is not efficient to fully plan an economy or to leave its activity to markets. (Plans and Markets are two mechanisms among many to distribute cognitive work.)

8. Different endeavors benefit from different decision-making structures. (Markets don't work everywhere. Sometimes plans are better than loans.)

9. Forcing people to make meaningless decisions with too little information, to few resources, or with only bad options is wasteful.

10. The possible extent of human endeavor is greater than the cognitive capacity of the economy. In other words, if people were given a reason to do they would, and in the absence of purpose they do less.
posted by ethansr at 11:38 AM on July 18 [15 favorites]


Like, one thing that increases costs hugely for the poor? Credit scores, and the ability companies have to alter how they treat people based on them.

At the same time, terrible credit scores often result from poverty. My credit card bill would be a hell of a lot smaller if there was a UBI equivalent to a living wage--or even current minimum wage--or even the current definition of the poverty level.

This sounds a lot like when Hillary Clinton said that breaking up the big banks won't end racism. Not wrong, but, like, do it anyway.

Well, yes, but given the finite nature of time, resources, and political capital, one has to set priorities in which policies they advocate for first. And part of setting those priorities is seeing how one's order of priorities affects the difficulty or ease of advocating for further priorities down the line. For example, there is a ton of evidence indicating white support for social support/welfare systems drops as soon as they realize POC and/or immigrants may benefit. This was the case for support programs in the USA starting in the 60s, and the article itself mentions this study from Norway:
For instance, in a 2006 paper the researchers Ann-Helén Bay and Axel West Pedersen polled Norwegian voters on the idea of a basic income; most expressed broadly positive opinions. But they also find that support and opposition to the idea are immensely sensitive to whether immigrants are benefiting. A third of supporters switched to opposition when the proposal was modified to have non-Norwegians receive the benefit. This fits into a broader literature showing that increasing racial and ethnic diversity can prompt backlash by native white voters, who resent the newcomers and vote for right-wing parties in response. The right-wing governments they elect then enact welfare cutbacks, both to punish the immigrants whom their voters fear and because right-wing parties love welfare cuts in general.
In light of that research, one could argue addressing anti-immigrant/racist sentiment would smooth out the process of implementing social welfare programs down the line.

Anyway, I am cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of UBI. A lot like the article, I would like to see more research done about how it affects developed countries. But damn I hope more non-profits servicing developing countries start switching out in-kind types of programs for this sort of thing, or at least testing it. Vox's The Weeds podcast did a little segment on UBI in Kenya that was a really interesting exploration of the niceties of its real-world implementation in test case villages in Kenya.
posted by schroedinger at 11:54 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


The Vox piece has it backwards. Libertarians didn't co-opt UBI. Libertarian, or at least free market, economists developed the concept.

All the more reason to view it with heavy amounts of skepticism when combined with stripping away of safety net.

It gained interest among people on the left looking for an alternative after Marxism was shown to be a failure.

It's only a "successful" alternative in that devotion to free market principles has made negative outcomes take longer to reach while also maximizing the cruelty towards the vast majority for whom the effects are at best never felt and at worst disproportionately horrible.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:58 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Imagine what power dynamics look like when you can quit your job at a quick service restaurant and still make rent.

"HI. We've raised your rent by $500.00. Pay by the first of the month, or eviction proceedings will begin. "

This is not theoretical. It happened to the people in the apartment next door, and we just got our rent raised by $300.00. Given that the people who favor UBI tend to be vehemently against rent control, I don't see UBI as doing anything but raising costs.

I support UBI for the same reason I supported socialized healthcare: I'm anti-capitalist and anti-business.

UBI is the opposite of anticapitalist. It's what you get instead of socialized healthcare, subsidized education, and the like. This is the classic "let the market solve it" scenario and the outcome will be prices for necessary services stabilizing at a higher level.

I do agree with riruro: this is an admission of defeat on the part of the Left. Leftists may still mouth Marxist platitudes about Capitalism, but on a practical level they're just trying to get more people to participate in the system.
posted by happyroach at 12:09 PM on July 18 [13 favorites]


Universal programs like Medicare and Social Security seem to be less hated by typical white conservatives than things like food stamps, though, so I think something that everyone gets and benefits from is going to be less susceptible to racist attitudes about minorities getting something.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:11 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Imagine what power dynamics look like when you can quit your job at a quick service restaurant and still make rent.

"HI. We've raised your rent by $500.00. Pay by the first of the month, or eviction proceedings will begin. "


This is still a better scenario than the alternative. I've seen this same argument used against raising the minimum wage to something like $15 / hour. it's true that it could happen, but lots of things could happen, it's still better that everyone has more money than if the top tax brackets keep hold of all of it.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:14 PM on July 18 [8 favorites]


This is not theoretical. It happened to the people in the apartment next door, and we just got our rent raised by $300.00. Given that the people who favor UBI tend to be vehemently against rent control, I don't see UBI as doing anything but raising costs.

This is the same argument as "if we raise the minimum wage, stores will increase prices, and it won't actually change anything."

It completely ignores market effects. If your landlord increases rent by 50% in response to UBI existing, you may just decide to find a new place that is equivalent to your current place and costs only 10% more. In fact, your landlord's going to have a hard time finding someone who wants to pay 50% more, if all of the other landlords are only raising their prices by 10%.

Car manufacturers are going to extend new financing to people who suddenly find themselves able to afford a car, and renting in the suburbs instead of the city becomes more appealing. Suddenly demand spreads out, and your price-jacking landlord really can't find the demand for that apartment.

As long as we have competition in our markets, the price is where supply meets demand. Yeah, more people having money may increase demand a bit, but sellers don't get to just raise the price "just because," without a cartel.
posted by explosion at 12:18 PM on July 18 [19 favorites]


If you could get help when you need it without all the taking days off from work and lines and forms to fill out and the drug tests and all the other hoops to jump through, and society doesn't have to pay for all that bureaucracy? I'm for it.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:19 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


sellers don't get to just raise the price "just because," without a cartel.

Look, this really reads like someone whose knowledge is just "hey! laws of supply and demand!" without any actual knowledge of how the actual markets in question actually operate. There's no doubt in my mind that if everyone was awarded a $500 monthly check today, every landlord with free-market units in NYC would raise the rent for their next leases $500 tomorrow. (Maybe not the very top-of-market, because of anchoring.) Demand is that intense. You don't need to be an actual, formalized cartel to cooperate to keep prices up (perhaps you have noticed how little price competition there actually has been in the cell phone and cable markets?), especially when the money coming into your customers' pockets is so clearly identifiable.

Car manufacturers are going to extend new financing to people who suddenly find themselves able to afford a car, and renting in the suburbs instead of the city becomes more appealing.

The reason most people living in the biggest cities don't own cars isn't (or isn't just) that they can't afford them. Nor do they only live in the city because they can't afford a car and so can't live in the suburbs. And if these things were true...given any thought to what the effect would be of dumping thousands of new cars on the roads in and out of the city?
posted by praemunire at 12:41 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


It's worth remembering that free market principles organize most of the work, planning, maintenance, resource extraction and so on that hold up our modern world. They're FAR from perfect, but they're the best we've got right now.

The problem is how we humans fit in to it all. Having to earn a wage to participate means we need to fit ourselves into the market to survive. We end up working in service of money—corporate profits, investment money, grant money. UBI is a way of making money serve us instead.

Childcare, for example, may become more expensive. But more childcare means paying more childcare workers, and paying them closer to their real worth. It means more childcare centers can be built. It means someone who cares about children being able to do what they love instead of having to fit themselves into the office job our current system would rather pay them to do. Our economy starts to be driven a little more by our collective needs—rather than just the needs of those who already have money.
posted by panic at 12:46 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


It completely ignores market effects

if everyone was awarded a $500 monthly check today, every landlord with free-market units in NYC would raise the rent for their next leases $500 tomorrow


The reality is that neither vision of the UBI impacts has a good approximation of the underlying dynamics because that task is fucking hard. A short list:

- the locational monopoly nature of 'rent'
- the potential sprawling response by those receiving a UBI
- the changing transportation needs of sprawling income
- the changing utility costs of sprawling locations
- the changing tax bases of gaining/losing geographies
- the changing education funds of gaining/losing geographies
- the next generation's labor force
- the changing gap between 'UBI labor force' and those that 'opt up'

...and this doesn't even touch stuff like 2nd order effects of other taxing bodies and regulatory monopolies and technology changes and, etc. The task of understanding what UBI would do to a place like NYC is actually really complicated and people shouldn't act like it isn't.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:55 PM on July 18 [25 favorites]


I mean, I get it. I moved out of the over-crowded Cambridge, MA market because rents got insane, and I moved to Roslindale, which is technically City of Boston, but only just.

The markets are already going nuts because supply is outstripped by demand. The unit I moved out of, the rent went from $1600 (for me) to $2100 (for the new tenants). But those are in the "desirable" parts of town. UBI doesn't create a brand new swarm of wealthy techies who'll pay literally any price. Most people remain price-sensitive.

Using NYC as an example is ridiculous, as aside from San Francisco, it's quite possibly one of the most insane real estate markets out there. There are plenty of economic models and concepts that might as well require an asterisk to denote that it breaks down or requires modification for places like that. Even in Boston, we've got some under-developed areas like Mattapan and Dorchester which can help absorb the rise in rent prices.
posted by explosion at 12:57 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


There's also going to be a housing demand boom because people who currently double up or couch surf or stay in unhealthy relationships because they have no choice might be able to afford to move out finally. The moral aspect of giving people money so far outweighs the potential drawbacks that finding reasons to shoot the idea down just feels gross to me.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:04 PM on July 18 [13 favorites]


The moral aspect of giving people money so far outweighs the potential drawbacks that finding reasons to shoot the idea down just feels gross to me.

The moral aspect of letting unregulated rapacious "market forces" and rent-seeking absorb all of the money handed out far outweighs the potential gains.

If you hand everybody $500 per month in the current economy, all rents go up by $500. Or your apartment goes up by $300 and your utilities go up by $100 and your insurance goes up by $100.

All attempted redistributions will be absorbed by rentiers and funneled upwards, unless you work very very hard to prevent it.

Which is why the USA is the worst place to try to prove UBI can work.
posted by yesster at 1:17 PM on July 18 [7 favorites]


The debate is less about "potential drawbacks" and more about "does this actually let people afford to move out?" I don't like this attempt to reframe reasonable objections about efficacy as "SO DO YOU HATE BATTERED WOMEN, THEN???"
posted by tobascodagama at 1:18 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


The only thing sort of interesting about UBI was the weird trans-partisan draw. If it's just another redistributive program, it's even less tenable than it originally seemed (and it never seemed very tenable in the first place).
posted by jpe at 1:27 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


If you hand everybody $500 per month in the current economy, all rents go up by $500.

As opposed to now, where they hand everyone $0 and rents still go up by $500.
posted by melissasaurus at 1:30 PM on July 18 [32 favorites]


Everything sounds self-evident when you just declare that it's going to happen that way. There could be alternatives to rentiers just straight-up absorbing every dollar.

Perhaps when median rents are $1000, and your new housing project requires $1200 rents to be profitable, you don't do your project. When everyone has an extra $500, housing projects like this become tenable, and inject additional supply to offset the demand.

Perhaps putting money in the hands of poorer people injects money back into communities, creating new jobs, and generating a more robust economy, one that isn't measured just by megacorporations' profitability. So perhaps, that extra $500 is accompanied by better jobs for the working class, and stronger small businesses.

Or, y'know, maybe the rapacious large corporations are ready to pounce on this, and it'll just leave their coffers in the form of taxes, and then return in the form of revenue. Which I guess is basically status quo?

It certainly seems worth testing to see which of these hypotheses might be correct. At the very least, it seems the biggest "against" argument is "it won't really work," and not "it'll actively harm people," which alone seems like an argument for at least giving it a try.
posted by explosion at 1:53 PM on July 18 [10 favorites]


It would be wonderful to see Democrats make renters' rights a national campaign issue.

Much better than the current democratic platform: "Yes we agree the poor should be beaten with sticks, but we'd like to use smaller sticks and apologize after."
posted by evilDoug at 2:14 PM on July 18 [10 favorites]


At the very least, it seems the biggest "against" argument is "it won't really work," and not "it'll actively harm people," which alone seems like an argument for at least giving it a try.

The biggest "against" argument I'm seeing is that, in order to get enough political support for a UBI, we'd have to abandon important social services. That would be actively harmful.

But I think that's giving up too early. If UBI is a good idea, we should come up with a progressive proposal for UBI and promote it as part of a wider progressive platform. And if it's not a good idea, then let's argue against UBI itself, convince other people it's a bad idea on its own, and kill it for good. Either way, the defeatist attitude doesn't seem helpful to me.
posted by panic at 2:25 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


The moral aspect of letting unregulated rapacious "market forces" and rent-seeking absorb all of the money handed out far outweighs the potential gains.

If you hand everybody $500 per month in the current economy, all rents go up by $500. Or your apartment goes up by $300 and your utilities go up by $100 and your insurance goes up by $100.

All attempted redistributions will be absorbed by rentiers and funneled upwards, unless you work very very hard to prevent it.


Yes. Seriously. Imagine using all that political capital, engaging in the INEVITABLE (in the U.S.) compromises re: other social services that would be required...only to line the pockets of landlords like the private-equity companies currently buying up a significant chunk of the country's rental stock. This is not to say that UBI is inherently a bad idea, but that clearly in the U.S. it will require a lot of careful thinking and additional framework beyond the mere check-cutting to prevent all that money from being captured by entities for whose benefit it is not intended and who don't need it. (E.g., even Matthew Desmond, leftist sociologist who advocates strongly for some kind of rental vouchers for all people below a certain income level (so a sort of rent-specific mini-UBI), concedes that for such a system to work, you'd need some form of rent control.)

If it "feels gross" to you simply to think through potential problems and objections--if you're going to take bad faith as the assumed motive for every critical consideration of a radical and largely untested new idea--I'm not even really sure how to answer that. We live in a complex world where policy has to be determined by other than gut feelings. There are a lot of bad actors out there who are very capable of manipulating lower-income people and the systems which serve them, and policies that don't take that into account are childishly irresponsible.
posted by praemunire at 3:00 PM on July 18 [8 favorites]


we should come up with a progressive proposal for UBI and promote it as part of a wider progressive platform

I mean, yes and putting UBI as part of that is basically 'build a got damned social welfare state and make the richest pay their share for it "

Also avoid it being stripped away in the future with more democratic control of the state and recourses.
posted by The Whelk at 3:07 PM on July 18


The article is incorrect insofar as it talks about basic income plans as "New". The concept was discussed at length in the early 70s, for instance, when it was called "Guaranteed Annual Income". People who had been (or were) community organizers and had worked in anti-poverty fields were the main movers and shakers, but there was a general sense that this was the only logical way to proceed. When asked about the idea, Pierre Trudeau shrugged and said that this was the direction in which his government was moving, through an interlocking set of social benefits. Then came Oil Crisis, Great Inflation, and Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher/Brian Mulroney. The moral imperative of ending poverty gave over to the goodness of greed.
That moral imperative still exists. Whether or not Libertarians and Zuckerbergs favor the concept, UBI/GAI still is a way forward and should not be dismissed simply because amoral beings favor it for their own purposes. But, I do agree with posters above: this has to be part of an overall approach to the General Welfare.
posted by CCBC at 3:25 PM on July 18 [9 favorites]


There are a lot of bad actors out there who are very capable of manipulating lower-income people and the systems which serve them, and policies that don't take that into account are childishly irresponsible.

There are also a lot of bad actors who manipulate higher-income people and the systems which serve them. I think the narrative that portrays low-income people as stupid or incapable of handling money is a big part of why such inequality exists in the first place. Sure, sometimes poor people win the lottery and blow their money on stupid stuff, but there are plenty more rich kids with an inheritance who blow it on stuff that's even stupider.

In practice, people—especially people without much money—have immediate needs to spend money on, and not just rent: healthcare, childcare, food, bills, education, etc. (This is also why rent wouldn't rise as much as it would with a rent-only voucher: most UBI money will already be spent on other things before lease renewal rolls around.)

I mean, yes and putting UBI as part of that is basically 'build a got damned social welfare state and make the richest pay their share for it "

Also avoid it being stripped away in the future with more democratic control of the state and recourses.


Agreed!
posted by panic at 3:30 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


If you hand everybody $500 per month in the current economy, all rents go up by $500. Or your apartment goes up by $300 and your utilities go up by $100 and your insurance goes up by $100.

You just outlined why none of those things would happen: because all of the various industries wouldn't be able to collide efficiently enough and keep every actor within those industries from undercutting the UBI-Capturing Price Raising Scheme.
posted by Etrigan at 3:35 PM on July 18 [11 favorites]


sending all real estate speculators and mutual fund managers to the fucking gulags.

A million people died in the Gulag. If your answer to the problems of capitalism is nostalgia for Stalinism, this may be an indicator that you have not thought through your position as carefully as you think.

I'm as sceptical of UBIs as a panacea as the next person, but I'm baffled by the number of people trotting out plainly fallacious arguments against them, particularly the inane assertion of a 1:1 relationship between income and rent, as if the economic forces at work can be worked out on the back of an envelope.

Also...UBIs make sense as part of a regulated social democratic market economy. It's perfectly possible for such economies to deliver good results on prosperity, freedom and security, and UBIs will likely be a part of that. Imagining that you can test the utility of UBIs by conducting thought experiments about how they'd affect the US is like trying to work out the problems with city-centre pedestrianisation by considering how well it would work in downtown Aleppo. The US hasn't even managed to resolve the most basic and immediate crises that emerge from capitalism; it isn't the country we should be looking at when we consider long-term approaches.
posted by howfar at 3:44 PM on July 18 [23 favorites]


There are also a lot of bad actors who manipulate higher-income people and the systems which serve them.

Hmmm. I would like to invite you to consider whether low-income people might be particularly vulnerable to manipulation due to a lack of the resources, information, and networks necessary to protect their interests and seek redress if they are taken advantage of.

I think the narrative that portrays low-income people as stupid or incapable of handling money is a big part of why such inequality exists in the first place. Sure, sometimes poor people win the lottery and blow their money on stupid stuff, but there are plenty more rich kids with an inheritance who blow it on stuff that's even stupider.

We are literally discussing the example of people wanting to stay in the exact same apartment as before but being faced with rent increases designed to extract the entire value of their UBI, and you think that I am worried about imprudent spending, rather than extortion and hustle? From where in "What happens if all landlords raise the rents to reflect the new income" do you get "but what if the poor people spend it all on 40s and iPhones"?

Not every criticism of some progressive plan you like is automatically right-wing.
posted by praemunire at 3:50 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


What I don't understand is this:

There are countries in the world that pay their citizens a stipend. They immediately hire non-citizens (who do not get UBI) to do all the work. How does UBI avoid this trap? It can't just be borders; in a knowledge economy, there are none.

Genuine, non-rhetorical question.
posted by effugas at 3:55 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm having difficulty with the perfectly-increasing-rents critique. It seems to go:

Proposal: We give people enough income that they aren't chained to their job.
Critique: But then people will be forced to hand over all of that new income in order to get housing near their job!

Which seems to miss the whole point of UBI. If anything I could see property prices decreasing in some areas. One of the reasons for high property prices is because there are jobs in the area, and one of the reasons for extremely low property prices is because there are no jobs in the area. With a UBI, it places an absolute lower bound on the economic viability of any piece of land in the country. People could move to deserts, to barrens, to badlands, to dead mining towns, to Florida, to wherever, and there would still be a baseline economic viability to every acre of land since that is a place where you can live and receive a check and follow your bliss. Of course some people would want to stay in place and compete for the best jobs, but there would also be downward pressure on housing prices as other people use their new flexibility to leave for other opportunities elsewhere.
posted by Balna Watya at 4:13 PM on July 18 [12 favorites]


There are countries in the world that pay their citizens a stipend. They immediately hire non-citizens (who do not get UBI) to do all the work. How does UBI avoid this trap? It can't just be borders; in a knowledge economy, there are none.

Source? Genuine, non-rhetorical question. No, really- this the first I've heard of this.
posted by rodlymight at 4:22 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


How does UBI avoid this trap?

Make the UBI a benefit of legal residence, not citizenship? Most countries do it for taxation, and at some level UBI is the same with a sign change.

I'm a citizen of country A living in country B. My ability to live in B is contingent on my working for a particular employer, who (in principle) could only hire me because they could not find a person from B to do the same job. Such a system has its own problems, but they are orthogonal to UBI.

The second part of the immigration rule would in principle prevent the scenario you're describing regardless of whether the B-ians get a UBI, because you're not allowed to just hire an A-ian if there's a B-ian who could do the job. Similarly, giving me the UBI isn't a problem, because my immigration status is dependent on me doing the work (that theoretically no B-ian can do), so I have to work regardless of whether I get the UBI. (Okay, fine, so for immigrants on such visas, it's effectively a negative income tax predicated on working, not a UBI.)

Obviously the ideal answer is "UBI in conjunction with a robust welfare state or the equivalent in every country, together with open borders (for actual human people)", but then, like, maybe I can get my UBI payout in ponies, too.
posted by busted_crayons at 4:29 PM on July 18


>> All attempted redistributions will be absorbed by rentiers and funneled upwards, unless you work very very hard to prevent it.

> Yes. Seriously. Imagine using all that political capital, engaging in the INEVITABLE (in the U.S.) compromises re: other social services that would be required...only to line the pockets of landlords like the private-equity companies currently buying up a significant chunk of the country's rental stock.


Index the UBI to inflation.

BUT WAIT, you're about to say. Hold off on that for a second.

There is, as has been observed in the original post and in the thread, more than one school of thought about the UBI.

The right wing approach to a UBI ("it's more efficient to give people money instead of to social welfare state, so give people money and then kill the social welfare state") is risible. Their primary political commitment is dismantling any political institution that can override market preferences; they have thought through the effects of marketizing the welfare state, and they like them. They see that the cash reclaimed by the people through the UBI would get hoovered up into the pockets of landlords and other shitheels as quickly as possible. And they prefer this solution, because they are fundamentally on the side of the shitheels.

Then there is the "haven't given it much thought" approach to the UBI; this shows up in Internet comment threads. There's two branches of this school; first are people who are like "huh that's an interesting idea let's give it a shot!" and second are the people who are all "nuh-uh, landlords will reclaim the value, it's a bust."

The people in the first subgroup are thinking zero moves ahead. The people in the second subgroup are thinking one move ahead, observing that the disbursement of UBI checks would produce demand-side inflation, and then (under the assumption that inflation in general is a bad thing) throwing up their hands.

Let's get kinda inductive: let's start to look into what happens over time if we accept that the UBI will provoke demand-side inflation and, as stated above, index the UBI to inflation.

As you have been thinking since the first time you read "Index the UBI to inflation," this will result in a feedback loop. The UBI increases effective demand without touching supply; supply-side rentiers raise their rents to soak up that increased effective demand; the UBI increases based on that inflation; supply-side rentiers raise their rents to soak up that increased effective demand, and so on. Demand-side inflation becomes permanent.

As a result of this demand-side inflation:
  • The cost of debts and the value of credits are over time reduced, freeing the debtor classes and defanging the creditors
  • People will on average tend to have income (wages + UBI) that inflates a bit faster than prices, because income, rather than prices, is leading the inflationary spiral. Your money doesn't buy as much as it would without inflation, but it always buys a little bit more than what you expect.
  • As the UBI becomes a larger and larger part of most peoples' total income, income distributions become more and more flattened.
  • The presence of the continually expanding UBI reduces the supply of wage labor, since people receiving the UBI become more and more free to choose to perform wage labor or not. The decrease in labor supply results in an increase in wages, since workers have a progressively better and better bargaining position when former workers drop out of the market.
  • The relationship between capital-holders and work-doers dramatically changes, as the limiting factor on production becomes labor, rather than ownership over/access to over productive property.
Which brings us to the left approach to the UBI: as a tool for widespread societal change. Whereas the right wing approach to the UBI defines efficiency in terms of smallness ("the UBI is preferable to the social welfare state because it allows the government to spend less money"), the left approach to the UBI defines its efficiency in terms of how effectively it flattens the income distribution. A UBI that pulls more money from the rich and distributes more money to the poor is by these terms more efficient than a stingy UBI that comes with cuts to the welfare state.

Most people can see that a robust UBI would result in a fundamentally changed relationship between people and the means of production; this is why we can't expect any legislature anywhere to produce anything like a robust UBI.

The best (or really, least bad) term that I've seen to describe demands like a (real, not stingy) UBI is unfortunately derived from the Trotskyist context. (half the reason why I'm posting this is to see if there's better generally known terms for this sort of thing).

Anyway, so the Trots try to square the circle between the reformist position ("we'll make some changes through the legislative system and over time those changes will make things better") and the revolutionary position ("that reformist stuff is hella naïve; if your reforms start to change anything, capital will swoop back in and undo them. Found workers' councils! Arm the workers! Transfer all power to the councils!") by proposing something they call the "transitional program," full of "transitional demands."

Transitional demands are things like "living wage for all" or "hey how about we have a UBI" — things that could technically be accomplished through reformist rather than revolutionary means, but which capital will almost certainly prevent from happening, since the implementation of the demand would result in the radical reduction of capital's power to rule. The essence of a transitional demand is that it sounds reasonable to ordinary people, but is impossible for capitalism to deliver on without ending rule by capital-owners. It's an agitation toward revolutionary change that comes in the guise of a reformist proposal. The idea isn't necessarily to get the demand implemented through legislative means (though it'd be great if it were implemented through legislative means!). Instead, the idea is to help people come to the understanding that they want the things in the transitional program bad enough to get rid of any capitalists who try to stop them.

In discussions of the UBI, I've found I tend to side with people who think of it as a transitional demand in this sense (regardless of whether or not they use that language), and have no time for people who think it's just a way to do welfare better.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:29 PM on July 18 [31 favorites]


Yeah I don't think anyone can really make predictions about what a 15-30% of GDP/capita UBI would look like - in fact for me that's kinda the point: my reason for being in favor of a (LARGE) UBI boils down to a (hopefully justified) belief that it would massively shift power down the current social hierarchy, along pretty much whatever dimension you care to measure those. I don't know what happens after that, and in fact I believe it would be a sizable enough shift that we can't really reason about it - I just have a combination of assigning value to equalizing power a priori and believing that the second order effects would be more beneficial than not.
posted by PMdixon at 4:30 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I am officially poor.

That's not me being cute. I am literally, actually by the standards of both the state I live in and the Federal government, poor! I am poor enough to qualify for UI while still working, student loan deferment, SNAP that covers some of my food, and expanded Medicare. Pre-tax I'm at 100% of the annual Federal Poverty Level. My take home pay per year after taxes and union dues are taken out puts me even lower, closer to 115%.

I have a part-time job that's unionized. The place I work for employees irregular scheduling, putting me at the whims of an algorithm and corporate's shifting hours to allot each week, leaving me at the mercy of hour cutbacks, even with having 7 day a week availability. This is the best job I've been able to find,

I'm trying so hard to provide value to the world & be worth tangible can-pay-rent-with-it value. I freelance for pennies, answer surveys, apply for other,better jobs. I have a blog with google adwords. I use this blog to address issues in nerd/media fandom and boost diverse voices. I do several events for charity every year. All this on top of juggling a failing, aching body and fighting my own MI ISSUES. I am disqualified from selling plasma, which means that all this blood in my body isn't even making me money. I have been trying to figure out what sort of twitch niche I could compelling do, how I can monetize my free time too.

I put up a Patreon, reluctantly. I told myself I'm not begging, I'm promo-ing. I'm fighting! As Patreon takes its cut, and then paypal takes its cut, and the 5 artists I support at the $1 level I can afford, I make 50 cents an hour.

And those "free" services I qualify for? I constantly have to prove over and over to agencies, the support stuff and the world at large that I "deserve" the help in general and the help in specific. I've been off my SSRI medication twice (off right now) due to dr policy changes. I have to prove that I deserve refills on this medication even though it's not a controlled substance nor has any recreation street use. I now have to do the same justification for my BLOOD PRESSURE MEDS.

I am SO. FUCKING. tired. Literally tired. Mentally tired. Just, like, tired. tiredtiredtired.

So when I see people that pooh-pooh an idea of UBI because of how The Poors are mistaken about what would help themselves, or who thought of it first or the like?

I'd get angry. But I'm too tired.
posted by ShawnStruck at 4:33 PM on July 18 [25 favorites]


(also if you structure the UBI as a bond with coupon set by the Fed you have potentially the most equitable monetary policy instrument possible)
posted by PMdixon at 4:35 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Good god, the specious reasoning in this thread!

The argument that rentiers will simply capture all the money provided by a UBI program is an argument you could make against any program that gives people money (or goods that can be sold). Do people people here arguing against UBI on that basis also oppose unemployment insurance, SNAP, TANF, Social Security, minimum wage laws, etc.?

Likewise, the argument that UBI could serve as a pretext for eliminating other social safety net programs is an argument you could make against literally social program. Should we just not bother to implement any social programs at all because we believe we're being held captive by omnipotent libertarians who will ensure that any good we do is wiped out by an equal or greater amount of cruelty?

The argument that UBI won't solve racism, etc. is just stupid. You may as well argue against putting seatbelts in cars because doing so won't prevent motorists from hitting pedestrians.

The argument that UBI is bad because of its association with libertarians is just a straight up ad hominem argument. Shame on anyone who does this!

Too many people here are noting that a completely naive implementation of UBI could be problematic, then acting as if it's a forgone conclusion that the problems are insurmountable without even considering possible solutions to those problems.
posted by shponglespore at 4:38 PM on July 18 [28 favorites]


If you hand everybody $500 per month in the current economy, all rents go up by $500

Think beyond NY and SF... Let's say I'm in an area with actual rental vacancy, and trying to rent out a suite, with no takers. Do I bump my advertised rent (that nobody is paying) by $500? Do those other buildings that just raised rent by $500 want to lose their tenants to me?

If this sounds like a simplistic supply-and-demand argument, that's because it is. But those things do affect rental rates.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:40 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


I found this article confusing. I am not conservative but I think one of the benefits of UBI is getting rid of SNAP etc. both because it would be more efficient to get rid of the bureaucracy and because I dislike the ridiculous means testing and moralizing about welfare in the US. I think people should just get cash and be able to spend it on what they want. I am not quite sure where the money for UBI is coming from if not repurposing some welfare spending?

I also think universal programs have more political clout and are less subject to whims. Social security is very popular, as we know.

On preview, yes - what ShawnStruck said - all of that tiresome proving that you are worthy is bad for everyone.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:42 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


So when I see people that pooh-pooh an idea of UBI because of how The Poors are mistaken about what would help themselves, or who thought of it first or the like?

Citation needed? Who in this thread is actually saying that poor people don't know how to spend the hypothetical money they would get from UBI?
posted by tobascodagama at 5:22 PM on July 18


unrelatedly, a joke:

Q: What do you call a Trotskyist software developer?
A: A transitional programmer.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:23 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


So here's my plan

1. Create a UBI that's recalculated every month based on assorted economic indicators.
2. All money to pay for this is new money, added to the money supply the moment it's needed.
3. Hello, inflation. Hello, pre-existing massive piles of money having their value decrease.

I mean it's not like most of our money isn't just numbers in computers by now anyway. It's not a finite resource.
posted by egypturnash at 5:40 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


There are countries in the world that pay their citizens a stipend. They immediately hire non-citizens (who do not get UBI) to do all the work. How does UBI avoid this trap? It can't just be borders; in a knowledge economy, there are none.

Source? Genuine, non-rhetorical question. No, really- this the first I've heard of this.
Pretty common in the Middle East.
posted by effugas at 5:43 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]



Okay so how did you know that starting tomorrow I have write a 10 page paper this and I decided the topic would be something to do with UBI? I have it on my to do list starting tomorrow morning.
This thread is a gift. Thank you.

I picked this topic because I'm interested in looking at it more in depth. My Province is running pilot program this summer with 4,000 people so I figured it's time to learn more about it.
posted by Jalliah at 5:48 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


I don't trust any right-wingers touting UBI. As the original article explains, people like Murray use it as an excuse to reduce social spending. Right-wingers have a fantasy that government is full of inefficiencies. It's not. Sending money to people is something government does far more efficiently than charities or business.

The health care debacle in Congress right now should be informative in many ways about how you actually help people. E.g. a) half the country doesn't want to; the Senate's bill failed because many Senators didn't find it punitive enough. b) Health insurance is completely unlike buying hamburgers or even renting apartments. Costs are distributed unpredictably and unfairly. Distributing an equal amount of money to everyone doesn't work. You need a load of regulations to come up with a system that's good for people.

As for left-wingers, I have a better idea for you: a top marginal tax rate of 80%. Which is less than what we had in the 1950s. The point isn't even to raise government revenues, though it will, and that will allow you to implement UBI, Medicare for all, and who knows what else. The point is to keep corporations from paying insanely high salaries in the first place. UBI alone isn't going to fix inequality if the top marginal rate is still under 40%.
posted by zompist at 6:33 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


In general if you give everyone a minimum amount to spend, you have money (and thus power) transferred to people at the bottom relative to people at the top. It's true inflation will eat up some of the gains but by no means all of them. If you don't like UBI primarily because rich people will just collect the money one way or another you might as well oppose minimum wages as well. (IMHO this is the supply-side version of claiming you shouldn't help the poor because they'll spend it all on beer.)

Universal programs like Medicare and Social Security seem to be less hated by typical white conservatives than things like food stamps

"Benefits for poor people become poor benefits."

Look, this really reads like someone whose knowledge is just "hey! laws of supply and demand!" without any actual knowledge of how the actual markets in question actually operate. There's no doubt in my mind that if everyone was awarded a $500 monthly check today, every landlord with free-market units in NYC would raise the rent for their next leases $500 tomorrow. (Maybe not the very top-of-market, because of anchoring.) Demand is that intense.

There are relatively few areas of the country where supply is so inelastic and demand so intense though.

Obviously if way more people want to live in SF and NYC than there are housing units, and you aren't building significantly more housing units, there are going to be issues that are completely unavoidable. UBI doesn't solve the problem that not everyone gets to pick where they want to live, but neither does rent control nor literally any other proposal. One of the points of a true living-level UBI though is that you (as tenant) now have more power to walk away from these deals. Right now if the place you can afford to live is Tracy and the place you can get a crappy job is SF, you can now pass up on the crappy job and still have a place to live.

Real life is way more complicated than the idea, of course, but it's not like these things have no impact on the distribution of wealth.
posted by mark k at 6:47 PM on July 18 [10 favorites]


> UBI alone isn't going to fix inequality if the top marginal rate is still under 40%.

And the closer we get to 100% inheritance tax, the better.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:53 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


There are countries in the world that pay their citizens a stipend. They immediately hire non-citizens (who do not get UBI) to do all the work. How does UBI avoid this trap? It can't just be borders; in a knowledge economy, there are none.

Source? Genuine, non-rhetorical question. No, really- this the first I've heard of this.

Pretty common in the Middle East.


Approximately 12% of the population of Qatar consists of Qatari citizens.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:56 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


All money to pay for this is new money, added to the money supply the moment it's needed.

The US is probably the only country that could get away with this. The rest of us would need to worry about devaluing our currency to worthlessness
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:27 PM on July 18


well or else do it like like the GDR and use every available tactic to get hard currency from the capitalist world.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:33 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


(also if you structure the UBI as a bond with coupon set by the Fed you have potentially the most equitable monetary policy instrument possible)


So here's my plan

1. Create a UBI that's recalculated every month based on assorted economic indicators.
2. All money to pay for this is new money, added to the money supply the moment it's needed.
3. Hello, inflation. Hello, pre-existing massive piles of money having their value decrease.

I have a convert!
posted by PMdixon at 7:55 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


The rest of us would need to worry about devaluing our currency to worthlessness

Eh, so long as the rate of inflation is something like predictable/targeted, I don't see why the real interest rate on government debt (and correspondingly the whole interest rate structure) has to go up.
posted by PMdixon at 7:57 PM on July 18


UBI is a bad idea. So every adult gets something like $1000 each month and then there is no more welfare or food stamps or low income housing or medicaid or free school breakfasts, etc.

What happens when someone who is addicted to drugs or gambling or makes bad life decisions or is just plain bad with money spends their monthly $1000 on drugs or gambling or two $500 bags of Cheetos? (Or takes out a loan where the monthly payment is the $1000 and buys 400 $500 bags of Cheetos?) They get kicked out into the street, the end, too bad, they blew it?

I'm pretty sure whatever appeal UBI has for the right is based on that: no more social programs, just take your money and sink or swim.

At least now, people with bad life choices are given housing that they can't mismanage or trade away and then freeze to death or food stamps that are difficult to misuse and then end up starving.
posted by Blue Tsunami at 8:52 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


1. Create a UBI that's recalculated every month based on assorted economic indicators.
2. All money to pay for this is new money, added to the money supply the moment it's needed.
3. Hello, inflation. Hello, pre-existing massive piles of money having their value decrease.


Hello wage earners from jobs being massively screwed over. Yes the UBI will remain static with prices. The buying power for people like teachers, firefighters, nurses, etc.- everyone who does NOT rely on the UBI as a primary source of income- will decrease massively. You would have to enact laws requiring all incomes to be indexed to inflation.

Also, massive, permanent inflation? I'm almost certain whoever came up with that idea is a Bitcoin investor. This also seems like a scheme custom-designed for commodities like gold and real estate.
posted by happyroach at 9:08 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Having now read the whole article I thought it was worth my time. Certainly wasn't going to waste my time learning the details of Murray's proposal straight up. (Also, I remember that Dissent article he mentions! I think that was my first serious intro to the UBI too. I was significantly older than 15.) Bookmarked a couple more books on my to-read list.

I tend to be straight up utopian on this. If we could somehow make it generous enough to give a human the ability to "appear in public without shame" (per Adam Smith's formulation), and not have it be shameful that the UBI was your only source of income it'd great. Well, who knows because a lot could go wrong, but a fascinating experiment. $12,000/yr isn't enough for that, especially if you scale back other benefits. You'd also need to make it inalienable, in the sense that I can't take loan against future payments and get myself into poverty that way.

There is a subspecies of libertarian for whom I think this is a quite sincere and logical outgrowth of their other beliefs. They want coercion free choices for people without the government putting its fingers on the scale but they also recognize "avoiding starvation" is a kind of coercion. Those people are obviously not a meaningful factor today but I still think that the libertarian appeal is a feature, not a bug.

The worst version though is giving people $12k a year with the idea that it's compensation for crappy wages. Even if you don't cut other benefits it'd be horrible--you're basically subsidizing salaries for people who offer the *worst* jobs and expecting people who work them to be grateful.

The negative income versions are just other ways of funding benefits for poor people and lose the utopian aspect. More realistic for that reason but don't seem game changing.

For those interested John Quiggin did some back of the envelope calculations on cost a few years ago.
posted by mark k at 9:18 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


The buying power for people like teachers, firefighters, nurses, etc.- everyone who does NOT rely on the UBI as a primary source of income- will decrease massively.

Why wouldn't they rely on the UBI? Also, how many firefighters, nurses and teachers join their profession solely for the wage? A huge benefit of UBI is that wage earners in shit professions don't have as much of a financial incentive stay and wage earners in chronically underpaid professions get a boost.
posted by ethansr at 9:51 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


> At least now, people with bad life choices are given housing that they can't mismanage or trade away and then freeze to death or food stamps that are difficult to misuse and then end up starving.

In this current universe we're in? Given housing? Where?
posted by rtha at 10:30 PM on July 18 [12 favorites]


The article's stance on automation seems short-sighted, like saying "it is unlikely we will ever develop weapons capable of seriously threatening the entire human race" in 1940.
posted by Pyry at 10:31 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]



We're at a point in history which is going to need some innovative thinking.

My current interest in looking at in more in depth has been sparked by thinking about climate change and how in the heck we're all going to weather (pun intended) the type and breadth of economic disruption that's going to come with it. The challenge we're facing at this point in human history is two-fold. Not only do we have to go through some significant economic transition/evolution to get it somewhat in check we're going to have to deal with damage already done and that is gonna be messy. And messy is gonna mean bad, bad things for a good many people.

If we don't get it in check we're fucked as species. That's the number one priority. But pondering how in the heck we're gonna manage that in enough time for it to succeed AND deal with the consequences AND do it such a way that doesn't mean getting into a situation where we just relegate the already vulnerable and those that will be joining the vulnerable party is mind boggling.

So for me, looking at this sort of option has nothing to do with the rise of robots techno world where there aren't enough jobs or some right-wing fantasy about getting rid of social services.

I first heard about UBI, though as was said earlier in the thread Guarenteed Annual Income around 20 years ago. Was something being discussed in the socialist circles I was hanging around and brought up in couple of Econ classes by the leftie profs. It was not coming from the right back then. It's been troubling to see the idea getting written off as some new techno, right wing thing. The idea has been around in various forms since the 1800s. It's not new.

What I'm exploring is its potential (in some form) as a possible tool that could be implemented as we enter what is pretty much a new era in human history. 'The whole are we capable of doing what needs to be done so we can keep living on the planet' thing.

I don't really like talking like this because one it's terrifying and two I know it sounds hyperbolic. But it is important and it can't be ignored. If climate change isn't part of any discussion about the future economy and social issues then any solution is not going to work long term.

We are very much in a state of the unknown with this monster. It's going to affect the large scale systems that support life in our respective countries in a myriad of ways, some slow moving and some that could be very quick once system keystones change. We know so many things could happen but aren't clear on when or how long it's going to take.

What I am certain of is that one of the keys to dealing with this is ability to adapt on all sorts of fronts. And this is where I can see some of the major stumbling blocks. We're talking the need to adapt from the macro level all the way down to the micro level and back again. The macro economy will in one way or another, there is no choice. 'Markets' will adapt. However depending on how acute the issue they're adapting to it can be messy for the people involved.

My thinking is that one of the keys to people as individuals and group is to have both stability of income and freedom. People are more able and willing to deal with hard things and change if they don't have to worry about eating and having a place to sleep at night. People are also better able to take risks if they have some security. Best example of that is the difference in thought process that a Canadian entrepreneur goes through when deciding to leave a job then a US one regarding health care. It makes a difference.

One of the consequences we can be fairly certain of is sea level rising and that is going to be a massive economic and social problem in coastal areas. On one hand there could be lots of jobs and economic activity created by the attempts to hold back the sea but on the other we're talking wholesale local economies destroyed and historical large migrations.

One of the purported benefits of some sort of UBI system is that it increases people's security and economic stability. It also ensures that people have at least a minimum steady income no matter what happens.

"No matter what happens" That's the thought that I keep coming back to when pondering this big problem. We as a whole need to be thinking about ways beyond what our respective social systems support now. We're going to need more social support systems in order for things to not completely break down in all of our respective countries. More people then now are going to need something.

I do think that some sort of UBI system is worthwhile looking at as a tool to get us through this.
posted by Jalliah at 10:44 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


I'd like to propose a form of UBI whose main purpose is to ensure that economic gains on a whole are distributed more equally to all citizens. This would be intended to counterbalance rising inequality. Call it universal profit sharing. What people receive would usually not be enough to live on. And the monthly payout would be variable (could drop to almost nothing in a recession). But that's the point. It should not replace social spending.

Funding would work like this: businesses can pay a portion of their tax burden in stock. But the government is forbidden from reselling any stock it receives. This is not speculation, but rather partial public ownership. The goal would be to get to about 25% public ownership in average. The dividends from this stock (i.e. the profit) is then shared equally without means testing to all citizens.

Of course, you want to make sure the government actually recieves something. So you can make an IPO tax in the form of shares. And if public ownership in a company is below 5%, you could require they pay at least 1% of their taxes in stock.

But if you set it up correctly, you essentially move to a mix of public and private ownership of capital. The government is not running these businesses, but simply acting as a proxy for profit sharing and holding that capital in trust for citizens. You could end up with around 800$ per person per month in good years.
posted by molecicco at 11:11 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


It seems like most arguments about UBI are definitional arguments. Depending on who you talk to its a trojan horse to slash benefit payments, a massive transfer from rich to poor funded by wealth taxes, a giant sovereign wealth fund, or inflationary reimagining of a central bank. And this is just the proponents!
posted by hermanubis at 12:24 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


What about the proverb that "Idle hands do the devil's work?" What happens to a society where the vast majority of the population lives off a UBI check, with no work available, no vocational path. Do these idle hands turn to mischief out of boredom and frustration. Can we separate vocation and identity? Is it really that desirable?
posted by interogative mood at 4:34 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I support a UBI because I believe that an increasing number of jobs are economically non-viable due to automation and economies of scale. Paying wages for labor only makes sense if you can recoup the cost somehow. That cost includes the lost opportunity cost, like the return you could have gotten by investing in machinery/software/financial instruments. But it is difficult to get a better return on labor than on capital. This drives wages down while reducing the overall supply and quality of available jobs. Guaranteed employment doesn't solve this problem. But neither do benefits that imply one has fallen short of some productive ideal, because it is only a matter of time before we _all_ fall short of that productive ideal.

So rather than exploit labor and its diminishing returns, the system of capital needs to exploit creative potential, and it needs to do so by making sure people are not trapped in meaningless, soul-crushing jobs.
posted by dmh at 4:40 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Why wouldn't they rely on the UBI? Also, how many firefighters, nurses and teachers join their profession solely for the wage? A huge benefit of UBI is that wage earners in shit professions don't have as much of a financial incentive stay and wage earners in chronically underpaid professions get a boost.

I am for a UBI in theory but one of the things that needs to be prevented somehow is the bosses reducing wages by the amount of the UBI - because it's a perfect recipe for breeding resentment towards non-working UBI recipients as a tool of political manipulation.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:43 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


At least now, people with bad life choices are given housing that they can't mismanage or trade away and then freeze to death or food stamps that are difficult to misuse and then end up starving.

This is false. Publicly provided housing is rare to non-existent in the US - depending on the area Section 8 may be more or less meaningful. And there are a variety of avenues people take to convert SNAP benefits into cash.

Here's a crazy thought - what if we don't assume the representative recipient of in-kind benefits in the US is an incompetent of whatever kind? Especially maybe let's not say that SNAP is designed to help people with substance abuse problems survive? Because that's certainly a thing it does, but that's not what it's designed for. It's designed to make sure that people below the poverty line have access to some minimum level of nutritional intake. Most of those people - the vast majority - are perfectly competent adults, at least as much as anyone is.

For the rest? If someone can't manage their own affairs, SNAP + Section 8 aren't gonna cut it. So either way you need to pay for intense behavioral health support, sometimes to the extent of live-in care. I want to repeat this - if someone is so unable to make decisions about their life that don't leave them dead that switching SNAP benefits from in-kind to cash would imperil them, that person is already fucked in the status quo.

It's very ugly and paternalizing to say "if we give the poor cash they'll just blow it." At this point GiveDirectly has a long enough track record we can say that's false. And if it's right then we're clearly not going far enough - bring back workhouses! Bring us Magdalen Laundries!

It seems like most arguments about UBI are definitional arguments. Depending on who you talk to its a trojan horse to slash benefit payments, a massive transfer from rich to poor funded by wealth taxes, a giant sovereign wealth fund, or inflationary reimagining of a central bank. And this is just the proponents!

God, it's almost like the effects of a policy like "give everyone some money on a regular basis" depend on the answers to questions like "how much money? Where is it coming from? How is it being distributed? Who decides how much?" This is the same thinking that leads to the argument that the ACA and the bullshit stalking horse Heritage plan from the 90s are the same because they both have a mandate - despite key differences like the latter slashing Medicaid and the former massively expanding it.
posted by PMdixon at 5:39 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


In rich countries, there are three particularly viable pathways:
  1. Negative income taxes
  2. Child benefits
  3. Carbon dividends
some others! :P
posted by kliuless at 5:55 AM on July 19


> What about the proverb that "Idle hands do the devil's work?" What happens to a society where the vast majority of the population lives off a UBI check, with no work available, no vocational path. Do these idle hands turn to mischief out of boredom and frustration. Can we separate vocation and identity? Is it really that desirable?

To answer your questions in order:

> What about the proverb that "Idle hands do the devil's work?"

People in relatively higher positions in social hierarchies define "the devil's work" as anything that people below them in those hierarchies do for themselves rather than to satisfy the desires of people higher up than them. If you have time to join a union, attend public meetings for civic groups, start your own business, whatever, from the perspective of your boss that time is time that you are "idle" and the satisfying work you're doing is "the devil's work."

> What happens to a society where the vast majority of the population lives off a UBI check, with no work available, no vocational path.

Heavens! I suppose people in that society could cook food, eat food, make music, build houses, listen to music, build machines, brew beer, distill liquor, grow weed, tinker with computers, dance, drink, smoke, fuck, get together, break up, get back together, fuck more, have kids, raise kids, fish, hunt, play sports, row boats, sail ships, make web videos, and read comic books. (this is a non-exhaustive list).

have you met jobs? Do you realize how much work involves giving all your time to help your company win competitive advantage over other companies while not producing anything directly useful to anyone? How did people get this sense that "meaningful work" can only be work that someone with capital is directing you to do?

> Do these idle hands turn to mischief out of boredom and frustration.

I'd hope so! If there's anything good about us, it's what we get up to when we're up to no good.

if you think not working leads to boredom and frustration, you'll be shocked when you realize what working is like.

> Can we separate vocation and identity?

Yes.

> Is it really that desirable?

Yes.

For people tempted to romanticize what it's like to work for wages, I point you toward ShawnStruck's comment upthread as an antidote.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:56 AM on July 19 [25 favorites]


Approximately 12% of the population of Qatar consists of Qatari citizens.

That could be said for the USA about 200 years ago, when "citizen" was defined as a white, male landowner.

I'm not sure this is an argument against UBI so much as an argument that Qatar has a lot of progress to make with regard to human rights.
posted by explosion at 6:31 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


I am for a UBI in theory but one of the things that needs to be prevented somehow is the bosses reducing wages by the amount of the UBI

If you hand everybody $500 per month in the current economy, all rents go up by $500.

Also Amazon prime will raise its price by the UBI, as will cellular plans. So actually, people will end up losing something like 10x the UBI!
posted by Pyry at 7:09 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Also Amazon prime will raise its price by the UBI, as will cellular plans. So actually, people will end up losing something like 10x the UBI!

Nice snark but that's not what I said or meant about wages being reduced, I'm just voicing a concern with an idea I like that capital will see an opportunity to do what they've always done and it should be headed off. Of course businesses are going to try to pull the "we can pay you less because you've got a UBI" thing and use that to pit workers against nonworkers, it's a win-win for those pricks and an old standby in their playbook. I mean look at how many businesses right now rely on food stamps to keep their workers alive while paying them starvation wages.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:23 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


One thing in re capital capturing all the gains: OTOH, this is a real risk - you see a lot of stuff that is priced and sold to take advantage of, eg, food stamps and other benefits with the goal of recapturing those, and I know from a friend who was in the welfare system that a lot of landlords really do calibrate their rent and charges to eat up the entire rent benefit from anyone who gets one. This isn't a joke - capital is wily. You don't need to assume that landlords would get all of it - you can just assume that everyone gets a slice.

However! This is also the argument that is advanced against $15, and it appears to be only partially true. I don't have time to look it up, but I went into some research on Fifteen and on minimum wage increases generally, and while a percentage of the benefit is captured by capital, it does still make workers better off than they were before, presumably because of things like "If all landlords raise the rent $500 and all grocers raise prices and all cell phone companies raise prices, no one can actually afford anything at all and everything crashes, but there is no way for all these people to coordinate in order to both remain competitive and perfectly rob everyone of every last penny." So it seems like there's some limits on how capital can coordinate in actual practice.

I think that a UBI should absolutely not replace SSI, SNAP, Medicaid or any other existing benefit, for several reasons. First, the UBI amounts proposed are small. What if you're out of work and relying on UBI and also need medical care or have kids to feed? What if you're disabled? How much medical care can you buy for $12,000 a year? Not a fucking lot.

One thing that worries me - when everything comes by and through the state, and by and through one state program, people are super vulnerable. Consider a Zuckerberg UBI, for instance - consider how desperately dependent everyone would be not just on the state but on one single program that could be cut or manipulated all kinds of ways. Consider what someone like Zuckerberg, who is totally okay with blatent, elite-directed social engineering, would do with a UBI program.

I guess that if we're going to have fully automated gay space communism, I'd like it to be 1. Full space communism, not the toy of some future President Facebook and Vice President Tesla; and full communism, ie administered through the soviets, not the party. A Kronstadt stomping on a human face forever is not how I want social change.
posted by Frowner at 7:40 AM on July 19 [11 favorites]


> Can we separate vocation and identity? Is it really that desirable?

If you stop conflating "vocation" with "what one does for money," then there's no need to separate them. My mental health improved immeasurably when I was able to stop believing that what I do for money is who I am as a person. My identity does not evaporate when I lose my job because my job is not my vocation. It's just what I do for money.

Also, I feel like you're forgetting that for something like 98% of human history, humans did not work for wages in order to survive. "Idle hands are the Devil's play-things" is an edict handed down by institutions who want to control you, and it's not required to either believe it or obey it.
posted by rtha at 8:27 AM on July 19 [16 favorites]


I guess that if we're going to have fully automated gay space communism, I'd like it to be 1. Full space communism, not the toy of some future President Facebook and Vice President Tesla; and full communism, ie administered through the soviets, not the party. A Kronstadt stomping on a human face forever is not how I want social change.

I might be misreading you in a stronger sense than you are intending - I certainly agree that a state-administered company store is no good - but it sounds like your "success condition," if that's a useful term, is that everyone has something like "equal levels of autonomy" [put in quotes because that's an imperfect approximation of my takeaway that I would be strained to provide rigor to], and it's unclear to me that that's possible. It seems close to a fact that some individuals will always be more dependent on other individuals/social structures than others, and I don't know how the automated part of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism works without some sort of centralized intermediary/ies.

Or should I have stopped the analysis at "state run company store"?
posted by PMdixon at 8:35 AM on July 19


>> I guess that if we're going to have fully automated gay space communism, I'd like it to be 1. Full space communism, not the toy of some future President Facebook and Vice President Tesla; and full communism, ie administered through the soviets, not the party. A Kronstadt stomping on a human face forever is not how I want social change.

> I might be misreading you in a stronger sense than you are intending - I certainly agree that a state-administered company store is no good - but it sounds like your "success condition," if that's a useful term, is that everyone has something like "equal levels of autonomy" [put in quotes because that's an imperfect approximation of my takeaway that I would be strained to provide rigor to], and it's unclear to me that that's possible.


So on the one hand the question you're pulling at was like the question of the Russian Revolution, but on the other hand going on for hours about the Russian Revolution doesn't really do people much good.

but: the distinction in play here is between top-down administration (i.e. with decisionmaking power coming from a centralized party leadership) vs. bottom-up administration (with soviets/workers' councils being actual decisionmaking bodies rather than just rubberstamping the decisions of the party leadership). Like every dispute between anarchists and socialists since the Paris Commune has been a dispute over this question: the closer you are to the Leninist side, the more likely you are to argue that some measure of centralized control is necessary to mount a defense against counterrevolutionaries, the closer you are to the anarchist side, the more likely you are to point out that the leadership of centralized parties has a pronounced tendency to murder everyone to their left (see: Trotsky sending in the Red Army to slaughter the sailors of Kronstadt when they tried to replace their Bolshevik delegates to the soviets with anarchist ones, see also the Bolsheviks using Game of Thrones tactics to murder most of the leaders of the anarchist army that defended the Ukrainian Free Territory).

Everyone (for values of "everyone" equal to "everyone whose eyes didn't glaze over somewhere in that last paragraph") agrees that decentralized bottom-up democracy is preferable to top-down party control, everyone agrees that some measure of top-down control is necessary when the capitalist nations are sending infinite money and guns to people who are trying to kill you and everyone you know, everyone understands that the top-down administration running security for the revolution can easily turn all Kronstadt, kill everyone to their left, and then hijack the revolution for its own ends.

The thing about the UBI is that, properly done, it changes the relationship between people and capital so much that questions like this become active again. But if it's not properly done, it's just a way for the Zuckerbergs of the world to make us entirely dependent on them for our survival; a way to seize the liberatory potential of the UBI, neutralize it, and rechannel it toward President Facebook's ends. Maybe a real UBI is the sort of thing that really can't be done by legislative means.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:47 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


going on for hours about the Russian Revolution doesn't really do people much good.

Probably false.

Maybe a real UBI is the sort of thing that really can't be done by legislative means.

Probably true.
posted by PMdixon at 9:55 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Especially maybe let's not say that SNAP is designed to help people with substance abuse problems survive? Because that's certainly a thing it does, but that's not what it's designed for. It's designed to make sure that people below the poverty line have access to some minimum level of nutritional intake. Most of those people - the vast majority - are perfectly competent adults, at least as much as anyone is

Yes, any public service is going to be used by people you don't like and ...who cares? Its not going to be a majority of the users and the good outweighs any potential bad, SNAP in particular is my bugabear cause that kept me alive as a child and we subsidize so much of agriculture I don't know why produce isn't just free. (State run CSAs in cities think about it) It's the rare product that rots the shelf so better it gets into the hands of people who need it then thrown out in the garbage , it's not even a hand out the stuff is sold it's just someone else paying for it.

My radical out there loony position: people shouldn't starve.
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on July 19 [15 favorites]


interogative mood: " Do these idle hands turn to mischief out of boredom and frustration."

Why would they turn to mischief instead of painting, composing, building, playing sports, volunteering, walking their dogs or any of the myriad things people do now with their time off.
posted by Mitheral at 10:30 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


Can we separate vocation and identity? Is it really that desirable?

There are a lot of places in the world where "So, what do you do for a living?" is a personal question that you wouldn't ask of someone on first meeting.
posted by Etrigan at 10:47 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


I've been thinking about this, and I realized at least part of my objection is because I have personal experience with well-intentioned programs and regulations designed to help people getting utterly destroyed by people who simply do not care about those serviced. So I may even have objections to UBI in a world which is not this one, but I can't even access those objections because the louder "it will become a pit of ruin because people are monsters" is outweighing it.

For a tangible example, I present the subprime mortgage crisis. The prevailing opinion often seems to be "no one should have given those people loans, it was stupid to do so", but that opinion fails to take into account that the products people stopped paying on were predatory as fuck, pushed often by real estate agents who wanted high commissions and banks who wanted exorbitant interest rates on as much money as possible. It was not "poor people can't pay their bills, lol" but rather "poor people are being charged twice and sometimes three times as much in interest as those who have never had blips on their credit from shitty life circumstances."

And so you have good intentions - banks being told "stop discriminating against people who may not seem like ideal borrowers" and them saying "okay, we'll take those people, but we will fuck them over really hard."

I guess a shorter version of this is: how do we have anything nice when people are monsters who will fuck each other over for the tiniest of margins?
posted by corb at 11:50 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


> For a tangible example, I present the subprime mortgage crisis. The prevailing opinion often seems to be "no one should have given those people loans, it was stupid to do so", but that opinion fails to take into account that the products people stopped paying on were predatory as fuck, pushed often by real estate agents who wanted high commissions and banks who wanted exorbitant interest rates on as much money as possible.

I mean that might be prevailing opinion in your bubble, but prevailing opinion in my bubble was that the government should have responded to the subprime mortgage crisis by nationalizing a whole bunch of financial institutions. No one around here takes a "blame the poor" line in public... at least, not if they know what's good for them.

I think maybe one way to figure out whether someone pushing the UBI (or any other potentially transitional-demandy scheme) is whether they're presenting it as a solution for politics. If they're presenting it as a way to solve political disputes by making politics less political (it's efficient! it's a way to let the market decide!), they're trying to pull a fast one. If, on the other hand, they're arguing that it's a way to introduce more politics — something to organize around, something that we'll have to continually fight to keep and to expand in order to defeat the market forces trying to neutralize its effects — then they're probably worth talking with.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:11 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


I think what I bitterly meant is "financial institutions tightened up lending and most people seem cool with this and I don't see a lot of political momentum around getting people into homes rather than paying well more than a home would cost into someone else's pockets in rent." But I also come from a position of "the politicians are all fuckers" that I know other people aren't coming from, and was talking more about centrists without qualifying that I was, which you've (rightly) chided me for before.

I think the problem with transitional demands as you define them is that by design it is impossible to know whether something is a transitional demand or a real demand, which makes it impossible for me to know how to engage. If it's a transitional demand, I want to know what your plan for revolution is and who's going to be lined up against the wall when you get going and what books you're going to declare as too counter-revolutionary for the proletariat and what the new Kronstadt is going to be. I don't want to help you to revolution unless I know the cure isn't going to be worse than the cause, you know? And with no clear revolutionary leaders, it's difficult to know those answers.

And if it's a real regular demand within regular current politics, then I want to know you understand there are forces which will act to destroy any gains, rather than This One Policy being a panacea.
posted by corb at 12:29 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


who's going to be lined up against the wall when you get going

The Marketing Department of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, obviously.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:42 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


One way I personally try to solve that is through accepting that the choice between reform and revolution is ultimately not ours to make; maybe the schematized version of history and politics presented by the Trotskyists and their ilk is in fact wrong, and maybe if we push legislatively for the most thoroughgoing reforms possible, maybe capital might yield. The choice of methodology needed to dislodge capital is up to capital, not us.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:44 PM on July 19 [9 favorites]


or I guess another way of saying that is "transitional demands are real demands."

(If there's folks here who do nonprofit/electoral-political work and have a term that's analogous to "transitional demand" without having all the Marxist-Leninist baggage associated with it, I'd love to switch over to that term for this sort of thing. Basically every time I use language taken from Trotskyists I have a small nightmare about selling socialist newspapers.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:49 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


The choice of methodology needed to dislodge capital is up to capital, not us.
(Emphasis added.)
This is a very useful formulation that I will be stealing - it is a good midpoint between "we just need to mobilize democratic voters in 2018!" and my usual counsel of despair.
posted by PMdixon at 1:14 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


> and who's going to be lined up against the wall when you get going and what books you're going to declare as too counter-revolutionary for the proletariat and what the new Kronstadt is going to be.

to answer your questions in order: landlords, Infinite Jest, and Alameda I guess.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:21 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Approximately 12% of the population of Qatar consists of Qatari citizens.

That could be said for the USA about 200 years ago, when "citizen" was defined as a white, male landowner.

I'm not sure this is an argument against UBI so much as an argument that Qatar has a lot of progress to make with regard to human rights.


To be clear, I wasn't arguing against the UBI, I was just providing an asked for example of a country that pays its citizens a stipend and imports foreign non-citizen workers. The population of Qatar is 2.6 million with about 300,000 Qataris. If it takes 2.6 million people to make Qatari society function then they should all be sharing in that oil wealth.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:08 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]



There are a lot of places in the world where "So, what do you do for a living?" is a personal question that you wouldn't ask of someone on first meeting


But is that because it plays no role in the social and individual identity, or is it perhaps just a consequence of differing levels of formality and probity across cultures?

My identity does not evaporate when I lose my job because my job is not my vocation. It's just what I do for money.

Is this an individual realization made after struggling against the cultural norm or an articulation of the cultural norm?
posted by interogative mood at 3:24 PM on July 19


Is this an individual realization made after struggling against the cultural norm or an articulation of the cultural norm?

The only context I can come up with in which this question is remotely pertinent is one in which it is taken for granted that existing cultural norms are good or at least should not be challenged.
posted by PMdixon at 4:00 PM on July 19


What about as a barrier to establishing any universal basic income scheme?
posted by interogative mood at 4:50 PM on July 19


Cultural norms are endogenous. It used to be a (stronger than the residual version remaining) cultural norm that if you were a married man, your wife should not have a job. It used to be a cultural norm that one at least pretended not to have sex before marriage, let alone cohabitate. It used to be a cultural norm that if you were a man who had sex with men you stayed in the closet. It used to be a cultural norm that a high school diploma was sufficient qualification for many jobs. It used to be a cultural norm to behave punitively towards anyone in an interracial relationship. It used to be a cultural norm for office workers to plan to stay at one company their entire careers.

Cultural norms change. They are especially prone to change when the underlying economic structure changes.
posted by PMdixon at 5:22 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


You want to identify a barrier to a (worthwhile) UBI scheme? How about the fact that it would greatly degrade the relative power of those at the top of the current hierarchy, they are aware of that, and more or less by definition have control of basically all of the relevant levers? You don't need to bother with culture as an impediment to a (worthwhile) UBI scheme - the guns, influence and money under the control of those who would lose out are quite sufficient.
posted by PMdixon at 5:28 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


> Is this an individual realization made after struggling against the cultural norm or an articulation of the cultural norm?

Which cultural norm? I'm having trouble parsing what it is you're asking. Is your initial comment, stating that people who don't have to work for wages would necessarily get up to no good, not a cultural norm? Is the acceptance that you are what you are paid to do not a cultural norm? Because you seemed to be saying that, as well. So what cultural norm is it I'm supposedly articulating?
posted by rtha at 6:31 PM on July 19


I think you have mixed up two distinct points. First consider if absent direction and purpose of career/job/vocation individuals never/always/sometimes become destructive to themselves and others. Second to what extent does what we are paid to do affect social standing and our identity? Do your personal views align or conflict with the dominant views of society around you? If there is a conflict how does that impact the notion of UBI and how/if it might be implemented.
posted by interogative mood at 7:30 PM on July 19


I've been thinking about this, and I realized at least part of my objection is because I have personal experience with well-intentioned programs and regulations designed to help people getting utterly destroyed by people who simply do not care about those serviced. So I may even have objections to UBI in a world which is not this one, but I can't even access those objections because the louder "it will become a pit of ruin because people are monsters" is outweighing it.

I can certainly think of ways the UBI can go wrong, even horribly wrong, but one thing I do agree with the libertarians on is the virtue of simplicity here. Money goes to everyone. So you don't have bureaucrats making increasingly byzantine rules to try and make sure only the right people get benefits, and hucksters sprouting up to take advantage of the loopholes. You're not trying to get for-profit companies to do the work for you and giving them all sorts of perverse incentives, or giving vouchers only good for certain goods or imposing restrictions on what recipients can do with their lives.
posted by mark k at 8:30 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


PMdixon: "You want to identify a barrier to a (worthwhile) UBI scheme? How about the fact that it would greatly degrade the relative power of those at the top of the current hierarchy, they are aware of that, and more or less by definition have control of basically all of the relevant levers? You don't need to bother with culture as an impediment to a (worthwhile) UBI scheme - the guns, influence and money under the control of those who would lose out are quite sufficient."

Some of the people with the levers though can see the forest for the trees where ongoing increases in inequality are eventually bad for the people at the top. Also some of the people with the levers are actually decent human beings (though having that kind of power/money does seem to select for the worst humans). EG: Henry Ford famously saw the advantage in paying his employees enough for them to buy his product.
posted by Mitheral at 10:26 PM on July 19


(That's not why Ford raised wages)

But I hear your point and all I can say is I hope you're right and I'm wrong.
posted by PMdixon at 11:43 PM on July 19


> First consider if absent direction and purpose of career/job/vocation individuals never/always/sometimes become destructive to themselves and others.

I have considered this, and I call bullshit on it. Many people with jobs also sometimes become destructive to themselves and others.

> Second to what extent does what we are paid to do affect social standing and our identity?

There's no doubt that it does, and that is a problem to be challenged and dismantled. That the people who clean offices at night are generally held to be socially worth less than the people who sit behind the desks in the clean offices is not something to be held as a shining example of how well the current system works.
posted by rtha at 8:33 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]


You don't need to bother with culture as an impediment to a (worthwhile) UBI scheme - the guns, influence and money under the control of those who would lose out are quite sufficient."

Remember kids, if you have any ideas for reform or change at all, give up. It's hopeless. Just go back to playing Halo, because we have no power- or responsibility- to change things.

I mean hell, I'm more than willng to poke holes in the UBI idea, but this? This is just trying to shut debate down in the name of futilitarianism.
posted by happyroach at 12:10 PM on July 20 [6 favorites]


[A couple comments removed. interogative mood, we've talked before about you not digging in in odd stubborn ways on threads and that is something that needs to improve.]
posted by cortex at 12:53 PM on July 20 [3 favorites]


First consider if absent direction and purpose of career/job/vocation individuals never/always/sometimes become destructive to themselves and others

I think this is basically cultural. Obviously, there are going to be some people that will be self destructive regardless and some who won't ever. So we're talking about the folks in the middle for whom having a job generally keeps them from being self destructive. At least in the U.S. your job is your identity to a lot of people so someone without a job and without the resources to create their own job for themselves (like starting a foundation or something) might feel directionless.

But I what I would like to see is that automation becomes increasingly sophisticated UBI starts getting phased in slowly to deal with it. As more and more of the population becomes permanently jobless the culture starts to change and there start to be some accepted ways for jobless people to spend their time. The ways to live that life the happiest will be the most common.

Firstly, if you accept that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master some activity, all those jobless people will now have an opportunity to make whatever hobby they might be passionate about and make it their full time job.

Some people could probably take up their dream job but do it for free and maybe only part-time. Though I would hope that at some point the definition of "full-time" drops from 40 hours a week. I asked my father-in-law what he would do if didn't have to work and could otherwise keep his same lifestyle and he said he'd probably teach. He likes teaching enough that he would do it for free.

I have fun modeling things with spreadsheets which I do for my job and also for the benefit of others I play video games with. So I guess some people would end up doing some work in support of other's hobbies. For every hundred people who decide that playing guitar is their jam it's what they spend all their time doing, there might be one who ALSO really likes doing luthier work for those other people. And one that like writing music or teaching, or making guitars, etc. Some that just like organizing stuff.

I think a culture needs to develop where everyone is encouraged to figure out what they like and do that. Some people are just never going to be great and that's okay. The goal is for everyone to be the best version of themselves they can be. Besides, plenty great bands include musicians of middling skill. And there are plenty of productive and/or worthwhile hobbies people have that don't take a great deal of skill.

If no one has a job, that's the kind of culture you'd need for everyone to be healthy and happy.
posted by VTX at 10:25 AM on July 23


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