Evenly distribute the future: Issuing more bio-survival tickets
April 18, 2014 9:54 AM   Subscribe

VC for the people - "It's just that people who have options are much more likely to actually find success than people who don't."

also btw... -The Economic Case for a Universal Basic Income
-Could We Afford a Universal Basic Income?
-A Universal Basic Income: Conservative, Progressive, and Libertarian Perspectives
posted by kliuless (20 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
"It's just that people who have options are much more likely to actually find success than people who don't."

also, people with a few dollars are magnitudes more likely to spend them in their immediate neighborhoods than those with a pile, who can't help but take them out of town, offshore, who knows where?
posted by philip-random at 10:05 AM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll skip the ironically lazy joke about my own laziness being okay.

Tracked down from some Freakonomics episode because I thought it was a great sentiment:
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce, and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine. - John Adams
But, really, isn't this what all that 50's future prediction stuff was promising us? Machines and American Efficiency would do everything so we'd all have ample pipe smoking and pie baking time. If that's not the point of all of this capitalism and mechanization, then what is?
posted by cmoj at 10:39 AM on April 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

The top households increased spending by about $2,300 from 2008-2012, notably on health care, transportation and education. The 20% of households with the lowest incomes cut spending by about $150.
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on April 18, 2014

I have been really thinking about universal basic income lately and how it would work. Lots of reading for this Friday. Thanks for this!
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:47 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Great roundup! Thank you!

I'm in favor of a universal basic income. If technology is making it so that there won't be enough jobs to go around, people are still going to need to support themselves. And better to have some sort of basic guaranteed income than have people turn to crime to support themselves. Or starve.

I can't remember where I read this, but a band of Cherokee in Oklahoma (IIRC) each received an annual dividend check from (again IIRC) tribal-owned oil fields. The income was small, but it acted as a basic safety net, and apparently saved a ton of money on prisons, police, and psychiatric care; everyone could support themselves at a basic level, so the incentive for property crime dropped, and people who were less stressed about where the food and rent would come from were mentally healthier.

It costs $31,000 to keep one man in prison for one year. That makes a GBI of, say, $25,000 a bargain by comparison!

I believe that giving everyone a GBI would help start a new renaissance in the arts. Sure, there are people who would use it to sit around and eat Cheetos and watch YouTube all day, but I bet most people would rather paint, write, garden, and volunteer in their communities. (And even the unrepentant Cheeto-eaters wouldn't be harming anyone!)

Of course, a GBI would allow people to quit soul-sucking jobs or toxic workplaces, or at least cut back on their hours. It would absolutely put terrible employers on the spot, if people could quit abusive workplaces and still have that safety net...I can see so many in the business community (and the prison industry!) opposing it for this very reason. But I would love to see a GBI implemented.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:58 AM on April 18, 2014 [15 favorites]

Interestingly there was an article I was reading about today on slate that's relevant. Link
posted by Carillon at 12:04 PM on April 18, 2014

Sure, there are people who would use it to sit around and eat Cheetos and watch YouTube all day

I remember listening to a discussion on Cracked about how our economy's main driver has changed from producing things to consuming things. So really the best thing you can do to support the economy is not working but consuming.

When you look at it like that, it becomes much less important to make sure people aren't being lazy and more important to make sure they have some kind of disposable income to spend on stuff like Cheetos to eat and chairs to sit in and computers to watch YouTube. If the idea of making sure everyone can consume can be spelled out and accepted, the arguments against laziness lose some of their teeth.

I'm not an economist and don't know how accurate the podcast was, but it seemed to make sense to me.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:23 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

but holy crucified Jesus, if we just give people money to do whatever, what will they do with themselves?
posted by philip-random at 2:53 PM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

If ordinary citizens had a small but reliable annuity, too modest to live comfortably but enough to prevent destitution, then at the margin, we’d expect people who currently seek or accept unfulfilling, underpaid work to opt for entrepreneurship, or education, or art, or child-rearing, or just hold out for a better gig.

This is so true.

And this may be covered in one of the many links, but a related effect would be that the labor market for shit jobs would dry up & you'd see their compensation levels begin to reflect the actual value of the work.

"You want me to clean toilets and empty trash cans? Hell no. Not for less than $150k, and that's not including benefits. And you supply the rubber gloves."

Great post! Can't wait to read all the links.
posted by univac at 5:14 PM on April 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you had told me when I was working for a grocery store mopping floors and stocking shelves, that I could have a job sitting on the Internet all day, I'd have done it for HALF the money I was making then, but the way this economy works, I'm making four times as much. The way we compensate people for unskilled jobs that are way more unsatisfying and physically demanding than 'knowledge work' in this country is obscene.
posted by empath at 7:29 PM on April 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Businesses pay exactly as little as they can to keep the employees that they need. It has nothing at all to do with a subjective view of how abstractly valuable the job is or how hard the job is.

If more people exist who are able do the job compared to available jobs, those wages are going to be low. When there are fewer people who can do a job than the available jobs, the wages will be high.

That's why you see these pushes for teaching everyone to code or changing immigration laws for tech workers. It's not altruism. Businesses want to increase the labor pool to drive down wages wherever they can.
posted by the jam at 1:16 PM on April 19, 2014

Businesses pay exactly as little as they can to keep the employees that they need. It has nothing at all to do with a subjective view of how abstractly valuable the job is or how hard the job is.

Yes and no. On the one hand, the labor supply actually is too small for certain jobs/skills, and workers who can do those jobs or have those skills can demand higher pay (because there are fewer of them). On the other hand, the labor supply is kept artificially low in some fields in order to keep wages relatively high (for example, certain professions create that artificial lack of supply through licensing programs or guilds -- doctors, lawyers, hair stylists, etc). Also, some jobs are undervalued in the market for other reasons (they're connected to low social status, for example) and so we (as in society in general) accept having relatively little and relatively poor quality amounts of those services/goods because we don't think it's "right"* to pay more for them (for example, child care, elder care -- honestly, a lot of the work that is traditionally done by women and/or by minority groups within a given culture, etc).
posted by rue72 at 2:08 PM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd like to hear what could be done to stop basic universal income from becoming a basic universal landlord subsidy.
posted by 3mendo at 7:03 AM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

it could involve 'staying ahead' of rentiers, as jkh sez in the comments: "a positive nominal risk free level of income instead of a negative nominal risk free level of interest rates," that would be an 'inflation adjusted' income as measured by a 'consumer basket', currently constituted by CPI -- shelter, energy, transportation, food, health care, education, communication, clothing, recreation -- which is the 'purchasing power' concept of money -- it is what it buys -- or the idea of 'biosurvival tickets' (in amusement park theory of the economy ;) illustrating 'demand shortfalls', 'labor slack' and 'output gaps' -- population + productivity or unused productive capacity + un(der)employment -- from full employment/maximizing 'production possibilities' BUT in and of itself does not address the capital/labor divide as you allude to, only to redress it! recall:

Trade-offs between inequality, productivity, and employment - "The poor do not employ one another, because the necessities they require are produced and sold so cheaply by the rich. The rich are glad to sell to the poor, as long as the poor can come up with property or debt claims or other forms of insurance to offer as payment..."

Physiocracy and Robots - "The techno-pessimists will be right if people foolishly choose to go in for basic income schemes and other ruses to buy people off, jettison them from the productive part of the economy and gradually turn them into permanently unemployed and underemployed dependents (flunkies). The flunkies will never possess political power in the state. Nor, as history shows, do the aristocrats maintain political power in the long term, once they stop performing their previous useful functions as the military and managerial muscle. Those who are involved in the capital development of the country and control shares of that capital will always have the real, ultimate decision-making power, which they can then convert into formal political power. This includes being a possessor of useful and applied labor skills."

Upgrade the humans or redistribute the robots - "[S]uppose [as a factory owner] I replace all my workers with machines... This squeeze has many implications, one of them being that here is an important sector of the economy in which more or less all the gains accrue to the owners of capital and more or less none to the working class..."

If You Can't Fix It, You Don't Own It - "Who owns our stuff? The answer used to be obvious. Now, with electronics integrated into just about everything we buy, the answer has changed. We live in a digital age, and even the physical goods we buy are complex. Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred. The issue goes beyond cellphone unlocking, because once we buy an object — any object — we should own it. We should be able to lift the hood, unlock it, modify it, repair it... without asking for permission from the manufacturer. But we really don't own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. Because modifying modern objects requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools."

which is really a political question of taxation and inflation -- fiscal and monetary policy -- over organizational control of the means of production/distribution ('ownership'/access/regulation) wrt claims of 'efficiency' and our 'moral sentiments', re: what we 'value' and what we consider 'fair' along with our ability to understand such and reconcile them...
posted by kliuless at 8:53 AM on April 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I love the idea of a UBI. As long as it's combined with tax reform to both ensure financial incentives remain in place to work and to make it sustainable, I can't really see any downside. I don't see it ever happening in any but the most socially enlightened communities, though, simply because those who hold all the power to make changes are vested in continuing to pile all the money on their side of the playing board.

The only serious niggling concern I have is something that 3mendo alludes to - how does the UBI not just end up dramatically increasing the cost of necessities like food and housing when these are more or less totally controlled by those who would both be appalled by the idea of a UBI and both willing and able to destroy any chance of it succeeding by simply pricing existence out of people's reach?
posted by dg at 4:09 PM on April 20, 2014

One thing I don't think proponents of the UBI make clear, though (to me, anyway) is whether this is something that is best applied at an individual or 'household' level. On the one hand, there seems a lot of merit on every individual adult holding the power to survive independently at a basic level. On the other hand, does this give an unfair advantage to the 'coupled'? I keep coming back to the idea of how empowering it would be to a lot of individuals to know that, no matter what, they aren't going to starve or be homeless. I'm very attracted to the idea that every single adult has the financial ability to be independent.
posted by dg at 4:17 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd like to hear what could be done to stop basic universal income from becoming a basic universal landlord subsidy.

Curious about this too. Well, maybe the Swiss will go through with it and run the experiment and we can come back in a few years and see how it's worked out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:12 AM on April 21, 2014

I'd like to hear what could be done to stop basic universal income from becoming a basic universal landlord subsidy

Make all rent count as investment in the real estate, certainly once a lease gets signed. If you live someplace for long enough (twenty years?), you own it. The landlord has long since made his/her tidy profit. And should you choose to move (or if your landlord wants you out), the equity you've acquired moves with you ...

This would no doubt bring on its own unique complications, but such is finance.
posted by philip-random at 10:32 AM on April 21, 2014

yea, it'd have to be about regulating rentiers or taxing inequality somehow; i like how SRW puts it, viz. "i'm for replacement of means-tested transfers, but not all programs, e.g. health care (precisely bc a domain i/w mkt don't work.)"

also btw, check out his new one: Should markets clear? "Our great grandchildren's wings and gills and immortality hang in the balance!" :P

oh and, oops: "a positive nominal risk free level of income" is of course not an 'inflation adjusted' income (that would be a positive _real_ risk free level of income ;) distinctions, distinctions! [cf. "RGDP is an artificial concept requiring that we estimate an index of the aggregate price level... NGDP is 'the real thing,' whereas P and Y are simply data points pulled out of the air by Washington bureaucrats."] 1/2 - "There *is* one mental model of UBI I like: treat humans like rain forests at risk of destruction; UBI as a natl park type enviro-cause... Analogy is to national parks (public) and nature conservancy (private)."
posted by kliuless at 4:19 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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