We won't know until we try.
April 25, 2016 5:22 AM   Subscribe

 
If this did come to pass, and I'd love to see this happen, there would need to be some built in safeguard against right wing sabotage. If every, or even most, of the other welfare programs were replaced by this we could never let our guard down. Parties like the GOP would have a single target, year after year, and failure to stop them each and every single time would be catastrophic.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:36 AM on April 25, 2016 [37 favorites]


One of the benefits of the idea of the *universal* basic income is that if you, say, just hand everybody $20k a year? You're also giving the middle class $20k a year, and that's enough extra that they feel it. Voting to get rid of UBI after you have it would be like voting to get rid of public schools--only worse, because nobody in the population can say, "well, my kids don't go to that school".
posted by Sequence at 5:39 AM on April 25, 2016 [26 favorites]


I have zero moral qualms with this idea and have been a basic income supporter since I first read about it 2009. It makes a ton of sense to me in that if people feel secure, they are more likely to strive to be amazing. And what is the GDP of the world measuring, the lining of the pockets of the wealthiest owners of capital or does it measure the output of the world's amazing potential in action? I prefer the latter, I think when you look at "what kind of world do we want" that a no-strings attached basic income for all people is a pretty simple way to kickstart the next wave of innovation in a decentralized fashion that gives everyone better access to chasing their dreams and wild ideas.
posted by Annika Cicada at 5:40 AM on April 25, 2016 [21 favorites]


We tried this with not *taking* the money from the top income-earners (and called it trickle down), so what the hell, let's give trickle up a go?
posted by resurrexit at 5:41 AM on April 25, 2016 [20 favorites]


Annika C - I think that's the gist of the Finnish govt's thinking as they roll out their basic income pilot. At the other end of the socioeconomic scale, Kenya's experimenting with it too.
posted by infini at 5:48 AM on April 25, 2016


Whenever I read about this idea, it just seems so interesting to me. Like, morally, A+ yes, way to go. But also, just - in a future where this was the norm, what would people invent? what would they create? With all that brainpower and all those man-hours suddenly unleashed, where would we end up? I would be so, so curious to see the effects of something like this over the course of a hundred years.

It's funny to me that opponents seem to picture a world where everyone just sits on their butts all the time. The exact opposite seems true to me - my experience of wage labor is so much boredom and stultification and wasted, wasted time. Set people free and they'll do things. That's a core belief I have in the basic shape of human nature and it's strange to think that there are other people whose conception of human nature is just the opposite.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:51 AM on April 25, 2016 [130 favorites]


B...b...b...but what about those lazy poors?!
posted by snwod at 5:53 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


employers would immediately cut wages.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:54 AM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


... thereby giving their employees more incentive to say "screw this, I'm going home"?
posted by brokkr at 5:56 AM on April 25, 2016 [73 favorites]


It's interesting that they don't include part of the annual military budget in their chart comparing US social spending to the rest of the OECD. We don't actually need a dozen aircraft carriers, but where I live would not exist without these tremendous government jobs programs.
posted by indubitable at 5:57 AM on April 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


cut wages? wouldn't they be forced to raise wages as people dropped out of their bullshit second jobs that are making them sick / killing them?
posted by eustatic at 5:57 AM on April 25, 2016 [84 favorites]


Having been living on bone-crushing poverty for the last decade or so but really feeling it the last two years and coming into an inheritance that wasn't a lot by most standards (but is worth two years of what the government gives me for disability) I can attest first hand what money does for the poor. I feel like I can breathe again and in the short week of having it find myself thinking about investing in my future and maybe schooling that could lead somewhere where I get "off the system". The relief of now being able to buy bread and milk whenever I want (for a short while until the money runs out) is like this giant boulder that was all my world and focus being gone. With the weight lifted I can finally start to think of something besides basic survival (besides the worry that the government will take it away because on disability you have to maintain your complete poverty at all costs to qualify) and that is something that I really wish everyone could feel. Especially when you have (at least here where I am) tons of people where 20,000 a year would double their income. I wish I could make everyone who is against this try to live on 926.42 a month for at least a year and then see how incredibly hard it is to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
posted by kanata at 5:58 AM on April 25, 2016 [113 favorites]


mostly i think of the multi-generational impact this could have; parents would be able to see their kids through school, would be able to be with their children during developmental stages; in the us I think you would sell this mostly as a 'family values' proposition

or, you know we could also support unions
posted by eustatic at 6:00 AM on April 25, 2016 [12 favorites]


And the idea that it would lead to no one working is amusing because the number one complaint I hear from friends and at centres for the poor is how incredibly utterly boring and meaningless their lives are and if only they could get a job that wouldn't wreck their benefits everything would be so much better.
posted by kanata at 6:00 AM on April 25, 2016 [33 favorites]


Even just a universal health care system would free up so many Americans to try to strike out on their own and make a go of it. Right now that's something that business holds over so many of our heads. "Nice body you got there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it."

Right now, what the "entrepreneurial spirit" means in America is people who are either crazy enough to literally risk their lives and the current and future financial security of themselves and their families, or people who already have so much money, those points are moot.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:01 AM on April 25, 2016 [33 favorites]


Yeah, not seeing how wages would be cut. The middle class has entertainment options that they've presumably won't lose access to (computer, tv, etc). So they can tell that shitty start up promising "options" and naptimes to choke on them.

For the poor? Franchise X needs to tempt them into working with, I dunno, some sort of living wage maybe? Sounds crazy, maybe those places will fully automate or just die off in droves from lack of manpower.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:03 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I know I would try and write full time even if I was getting only 10k a year in UBI.
posted by Caduceus at 6:03 AM on April 25, 2016 [14 favorites]


I like the idea of replacing current welfare programs with an UBI but I worry about the implications for immigrants. They're abused enough as it is.

Since this would just be for citizens, would it create even more inequality between citizens and noncitizen immigrants since the latter would still be desperate enough to do the shit jobs for low pay?
posted by Jacqueline at 6:07 AM on April 25, 2016 [14 favorites]


The American government and society at large really doesn't care about all of the people suffering and dying due to our economic and social climate. What chance is there of a Universal Basic Income happening? The most extreme scenarios elicit not even sympathy, but contempt and negligence, and we have an entire system built to ensure this contempt keeps rolling.

Like, at most dead children get a shrug, at worst their bodies are kicked around for political points and fun. It's a nice idea, but I don't see how this would ever become a reality in our lifetimes.
posted by gehenna_lion at 6:07 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have never worked harder than when I worked for myself. My business went under, and I have had, through necessity, to go back to working for others, in jobs I don't care for, doing things I profoundly have no interest in. I try to put on a happy face, but it's not working, and aside from worrying that my lack of enthusiasm and gleeful dedication to rules without meaning and work without purpose will get me fired, I feel like shit because the people I work with and for deserve someone who's more into the job than I am.

I am only doing the work I am because it is a paycheck, and it pays far better than I could otherwise make doing things I not only love to do, but am genuinely skilled at. A guaranteed minimum income would allow me, and the millions of people in the same situation, to step out of the misery of a grind it out and smile so you don't get fired existence. To think of not only the things that could be invented, the art that would otherwise never come to be, just imagine the sudden explosion of people feeling stability in their lives. The massive uplift of millions suddenly free from anxiety over the next bill due, of the terror of needing to keep a hateful job just to stay afloat? It would be palpable, the sudden feeling of safety, of comfort, of knowing that things just might be all right.

Misery and endurance of misery doesn't have to be the default experience of human existence. That's why I support a guaranteed minimum income.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:07 AM on April 25, 2016 [35 favorites]


This along with a personal wealth cap are both going to be necessary to save democracy.
posted by Beholder at 6:10 AM on April 25, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'd recommend clicking through to this article as well.
posted by amcevil at 6:11 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


B...b...b...but what about those lazy poors?!
When the government of Kenya began giving cash instead of food aid to poor people in Kenya’s drought-stricken North Eastern region, the aim was to help them buy food more efficiently and conveniently.

But the cash-transfer program has had an unexpected effect: Most of the recipients of the cash have used it to start small businesses, which they see as the best way of adapting to increasingly tough climatic conditions.

“We expected them to buy food, given the emergency situation. But investing the money into businesses shows how very little resources can be used to build resilience among very poor communities,” said Evelyn Nadio, manager of the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP), which provides the cash aid under Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority. source
posted by infini at 6:12 AM on April 25, 2016 [35 favorites]


And we already have a really easy way to implement this in the US.

On our taxes, instead of getting a "standard deduction", everyone just gets a $20,000 "standard tax credit". If your taxable income for the year was $0, you file your taxes and get a check for $20,000. If you have a reasonable expectation that you'll be receiving the full $20k, you can fill out a little form and sign it (there is a similar question on the W-4 already) and get your tax credit in the form of a monthly check instead.

If we live in a world where we can pass universal income like that, we'd probably also live in a world where we re-designed out tax code so that most people's taxes are filed automatically for them.

It would probably make sense for the $20k to start when you turn 18, be tied to citizenship in some way that makes sense, and maybe ramps up from a lower amount when you're younger just so that people don't go from getting nothing straight to getting $20k/year. I'm sure there are a lot of other details that would have to be worked out but the basic idea of a basic income distributed by the IRS is solid.
posted by VTX at 6:15 AM on April 25, 2016 [24 favorites]


B...b...b...but what about those lazy poors?!

In reading yesterday's artical about ancient water engineering, I came across this bit about holes dug without machinery:

"the Woodingdean Well near Brighton in the UK is the deepest scar that the human hand has cut into the world’s surface. Reaching 390m (1,285ft) underground, it is as deep as the Empire State Building is tall, yet little more than a metre wide – a hairline fracture rather than a crater.
Its origins sound like the material of a Charles Dickens novel. Built to provide water to an industrial school, the workforce comprised members of the local workhouse; the “guardians” apparently believing that the hard labour would be a deterrent to anyone considering the workhouse as the easy way out of their poverty.
If the “paupers” really did have any hopes of malingering beforehand, the backbreaking work must have soon quashed them. Work on the well continued 24 hours of the day, illuminated by candlelight. Squashed in the four-foot-wide shaft, winchmen stood on platforms down the shaft to pass the soil and rock upwards, and bricks downward to their co-workers at the bottom – who cemented them in place to support the crushing weight from above. Eventually, one of these builders apparently felt the earth move beneath his feet. They had finally struck water, and the labourers quickly scaled the shaft before it rose around them."
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:17 AM on April 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


I think the UBI is a great idea, but it would need to be introduced in conjunction with measures on housing to stop the money going straight into the pockets of private landlords via rent increases. This would imply some combination of increased social housing and meaningful rent controls. Together the UBI and housing measures would go a long way to alleviating many of the symptoms of inequality
posted by Jakey at 6:18 AM on April 25, 2016 [75 favorites]


The posted article cites a number of worthies who suggested this arrangement. But Tom Paine? Sure. But there was also slavery when he wrote. Free labor then could subsidize the "program."
posted by Postroad at 6:19 AM on April 25, 2016


I still remember seeing, hey, Jonathan Rhys Kesselman has an analysis of Guaranteed Annual Income! Why doesn't he think it'll work? Walked through his argument. I still remember the sense of crushing disappointment. I did a MetaFilter post on it.
posted by russilwvong at 6:22 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


One danger point that I see even if you like the program - they are looking to make up the shortfall by including 73 billion of "income security for veterans." What the ever loving fuck does that mean? Because I suspect it's "the blood money the government gives for breaking us in their bullshit wars", which is a very different animal.
posted by corb at 6:23 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, one of the problems that needs to be overcome is the fact that a large amount of what passes for "good business" is a cover for separating people from as much of their money as possible, as ruthlessly as possible. There would be people who prey, there would be scammers who aren't satisfied with equality, and want to get over on others, just as the loudest objections will come from those who have, and who feel that inequality exists because of a moral failure on the part of the have nots.

As always, one of the largest obstacles to any sort of altruistic utopia is humanity itself. Yay, us.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:23 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


if you wanted to give every adult in the US 20K, it would cost about 5 trillion dollars a year. The federal budget is about 4 trillion
dollars a year so, to raise the money, you would have to double everyone's taxes. This means that a single person making around 40K would be no better off, as their tax bill would equal the UBI payoff. Politically, this puts everyone making more than 40K into the same boat with respect the the UBI tax. I have no idea why anyone would think this wouldn't shift politics profoundly to the right...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:29 AM on April 25, 2016 [15 favorites]


Kevin Milligan is a leading Canadian economist. Everyone talks about basic income. Here’s why they don’t implement it.

I think it's a dead end. I think the EITC, together with social insurance programs like public health insurance and public pensions, is a much better way to tackle poverty,
posted by russilwvong at 6:29 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah as e.biz points out the numbers don't work, and if you means test it then it becomes an even more impossible political football.

There is a reason it sounds so awesome.
posted by JPD at 6:32 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've always figured it at 1-3 k per year.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:36 AM on April 25, 2016


Well, didn't we already try giving people money with the stupendous transfer of wealth known as the 'bank bailout'?

All evidence shows it worked very, very well for the bankers. Bankers, allegedly, are 'people'. Therefore, based on this test of a sufficiently robust sample size, it should follow that the universal basic income is an excellent idea.
posted by grounded at 6:41 AM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think it would make several kinds of sense, especially considering two factors, namely the exploitation of natural resources and the steady march towards ever more automation. The first is an ethical question of who really benefits from the resources all around us. The second is both ethical and pragmatic, as a proportionally smaller workforce will create more and more value as time goes on. Now that extra wealth benefits only the owner class, but we will soon have to face the question of "what does the rest of the population do with themselves".
posted by Harald74 at 6:42 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Economics: Here's why they don't implement it™

How much have we spent on space exploration? On bombs? On health insurance? What kind of money are we willing to invest in luxury goods and services, building mansions, professional sports, iOS apps?

But UBI would only change the lives of a hundred million low income Americans, so that's what's too expensive.

Funny how numbers "work"
posted by an animate objects at 6:42 AM on April 25, 2016 [26 favorites]


How much have we spent on space exploration? On bombs? On health insurance?

that's a good question - perhaps you'd be so kind to give us the numbers - something tells me that if UBI is going to double our taxes, then the government has spent less money on everything else

Funny how numbers "work"

they work a lot better than rhetoric does
posted by pyramid termite at 6:47 AM on April 25, 2016 [25 favorites]


You are aware that a it would cost more than all of those things right? That's what it means when we say the cost of it is greater than the total federal budget.

Discretionary spending is 1 trillion or so, about half of that is the military. Lets be optimistic and say 50% of that military spending is bullshit and the rest is about right (arguably low) - so we get an incremental 250 Bil from there at best.

2.5 trillion of the budget is Mandatory spending and 80% of that is health care and social security/labor transfers.

The remainder is interest.

So then tell me how we fund an incremental 5 trillion without massive tax increases on everyone?
posted by JPD at 6:49 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


posted by anotherpanacea

Eponyhysterical
posted by Jacqueline at 6:50 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


That's also figuring things with our current tax policies. I think it ought to be fairly explicit, out of the gate, that this is an intentional transfer of wealth down to alleviate suffering.

Eliminate tax loopholes, come up with a maximum wage, pare down the military budget, there are ways of doing this.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:50 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'd assume that UBI would replace Social Security?
posted by Jacqueline at 6:51 AM on April 25, 2016


How much have we spent on space exploration? On bombs?

"(adjusted for inflation), the figure is $790.0 billion [in total], or an average of $15.818 billion per year over [NASA's] fifty-year history."

We actually haven't spent all that much on space exploration.
posted by cjelli at 6:51 AM on April 25, 2016 [10 favorites]


I worry that it will be used to replace already scant funding for disabilities. That's my only concern.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:52 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


But surely the experiment is still well worth trying. If it's truly economically & politically infeasible, then fine, it'll never happen on the scale that GiveDirectly advocates (basic, universal, long-term). That, I think, is bad for us societally but that's ok, we do second-best things constantly. I love the idea of shifting the needle on the best option to basic income instead of the free market, holy crap! That’d have tons of very positive implications for EITC, for less dehumanizing aid, for reducing welfare bureaucracy, for small municipal basic income programs, for raising the minimum wage, for increased socialization of other programs… Man, a world in which this is a hefty part of the conversation is a better world than the one we’re in even when it’s not the world in which we can actually make UBI happen, because as of like last year the conversation was still primarily “if you equalize access to resources people will stop working and that’s a bad thing,” and now it’s starting to be “oh hey— maybe we don’t care.” That’s completely wild!

Basic income wouldn’t come close to solving everything anyway— income inequality has to do with inequitable access to resources even if you can pay for it too, of course— but GiveDirectly’s study seems like such a good move even if the result ten years on is just “these thousands of people had free money for a decade and it worked well.”
posted by peppercorn at 6:52 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'd assume that UBI would replace Social Security?

maybe - but you'd still need to pay off the existing obligation somehow. But still a few trillion away from making it work.
posted by JPD at 6:53 AM on April 25, 2016


The money given doesn't disappear.

It doesn't diminish GDP, it increases it.

It fuels the economy.
posted by yesster at 6:54 AM on April 25, 2016 [14 favorites]


and meaningless their lives are and if only they could get a job that wouldn't wreck their benefits everything would be so much better.

Except, if they're talking about provincial disability (BC's PWD2), they can earn $800 a month above what they receive on disability without portions of it being clawed back a month later. Which I realize doesn't really help when some of the barriers people are trying to overcome have nothing to do with money, but they're finally doing some rejigging making parts of their system a little less punitive. The sad part about a plan like this is the province would decide you didn't "earn it" then claw it all back like they do when someone qualifies for CPP disability.
posted by squeak at 6:55 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel very bourgeois and paternalistic when I say this, but I still have a preference for universal healthcare, universal education, universal parental leave, universal childcare, universal infant and preschool supports, universal pensions, and maybe even universal housing and universal healthy food.

Even the Scandinavian model of wage compression, which comes close to being a universal wage, sounds interesting.

The libertarian idea behind a universal income is that the market is so smart it will solve all our problems. People will get the money, and they'll spend it on what they actually need, and the market will provide. The market is pretty smart, yes, but it's not so smart that we can throw away all of our painstakingly gained knowledge about the things that governments have to do outside of markets to make lives better.
posted by clawsoon at 6:55 AM on April 25, 2016 [30 favorites]


Everything is going to look very different in this country after the inevitable crash happens, that's what I'm thinking. For serious social reform to happen, there has to be massive destruction of capital, massive reduction in the power of the wealthy. (Consider how most major social reform in the West was enacted either during the Great Depression or right after WWII.) When the very wealthy are fewer and the sorta-wealthy can kind of envision ending up broke, they'll come around at least a little bit, but that's going to require disaster. Which is depressing.

On the other hand, there's going to be some kind of massively destructive string of events due to global warming, mass inequality and automation in the next twenty or thirty years.

We're not going to get any real inequality-reducing measure until external circumstances smash the power of the wealthy, but that does happen every so often.
posted by Frowner at 6:55 AM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


Sold! Sign me up.
posted by Bob Regular at 6:55 AM on April 25, 2016


The 5 trillion number would also be cut almost in half if we just gave people the current federal poverty guideline for a single person of $11,000 rather than the $20,000 people are talking about here. I'm not saying I'm sure that is doable either, but shooting down a proposal that's clearly at the upper end of what we'd be talking about (in the US at least) and then claiming that means it's unaffordable isn't very persuasive.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:57 AM on April 25, 2016 [21 favorites]


Here's my unworkable utopian vision. We start with the disenfranchised and work our way up. Native Americans and impoverished black Americans first. Rural people, starting with women. Kids in foster care. Veterans. The elderly. The disabled. Homeless. Anyone who doesn't own their home. Anyone supporting other people.
posted by amanda at 6:58 AM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


if you wanted to give every adult in the US 20K, it would cost about 5 trillion dollars a year. The federal budget is about 4 trillion
dollars a year so, to raise the money, you would have to double everyone's taxes.
I don't think you've really though this through...

First off "double everyone's taxes" is kind of a funny way to do it, but let's actually try that!

Say that somebody making 40k pays 10k in taxes (that's income tax, Medicare, etc.). After doubling, they pay 20k in taxes, but get 20k back. Net effect, they are now 10k better off per year!!

Again, this is an extremely crude policy of doubling tax rates, but the break even point for the two is probably $80k or so in annual income, which is right about the level where money starts not greatly increasing happiness. So, sounds about right.

Remember, the entire point Of basic income is to make it so that the increasingly unequal wealth distribution is more fair. Taxes will go up! Zounds!!!!!!!! That is the point. Wealth redistribution. And you'll find that an awful lot of people in Silicon Valley support this. I than those in financial services will be shocked and dismayed. Those are the two areas where the wealth inequality seems biggest these days.

But I find it very funny that supposedly numbers guys don't even bother to look at the numbers but just throw up their hands and say "impossible!" It it not. The numbers aren't that insane, particularly if phased in over a decade.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2016 [44 favorites]


not that i think we should be indebted to old dead economists for every idea but I do think it's interesting how this is an idea being pushed (mostly) by people on the political left, when it was originally pushed by libertarian dreamboat Hayek.

The money given doesn't disappear.
It doesn't diminish GDP, it increases it.


Ex ante, it's not obvious what it does to GDP! (That doesn't mean it's a bad idea, or not welfare increasing.) But (roughly) if you and I were making the same purchases with some amount of money you have, but your money is taxed and given to me, then there would be no net effect on GDP (like, you don't buy a candy bar now, but I do buy it, net number of candy bars sold is the same). Depending on what people you tax and people you give the money to, overall economic activity could increase or decrease, and the short-run and long-run effects might move in different directions.
posted by dismas at 7:01 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


It would be like a state pension for everybody, and there's a reason why they keep raising the state pension age. Even though the amount of Basic Income could be set low, it needs to be enough for somebody--anybody--to live on if you're getting rid of all other welfare benefits. State pensions are often below the dignity threshold and need to be supplemented with other means tested benefits.

It really is best to keep raising the minimum wage. Hold up the bottom of the labour market while (hopefully) driving productivity gains. It's also something which the government can easily control and enforce, unlike jam-tomorrow crackdowns on tax evasion.
posted by Emma May Smith at 7:02 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


The two Koch Brothers have an estimated $41 billion each. Tax just them 2% a year on capital, and you can hand $20,000 checks to 82,000 people, and the two of them will STILL grow their capital simply from returns on it.

I'm not saying there are enough billionaires for that to get most Americans who are in poverty out of it, but it's a start.


It really is best to keep raising the minimum wage.

Eventually we are going to have to deal with systematically declining employment, due to lower growth and increased automation. The minimum wage doesn't help there.
posted by Foosnark at 7:07 AM on April 25, 2016 [36 favorites]


But I find it very funny that supposedly numbers guys don't even bother to look at the numbers but just throw up their hands and say "impossible!" It it not. The numbers aren't that insane, particularly if phased in over a decade.

Look, up here in Canada, people have run the numbers, and it doesn't work: either it's mind-bogglingly expensive, or you get very high marginal tax rates. Hope may be stronger than fear, but math is stronger than hope.

Kevin Milligan's put up a spreadsheet.
posted by russilwvong at 7:09 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


The folks over that Freakonomics recently dealt with the same issue. http://freakonomics.com/podcast/mincome/
posted by brolloks at 7:11 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


It really is best to keep raising the minimum wage.

That doesn't help the 20% of families in which no one has a job.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:11 AM on April 25, 2016 [29 favorites]


William Julius Wilson proposed back in the 1990s that the government be the employer of last resort (e.g. through a WPA-style jobs program). See When Work Disappears, which also describes the negative social effects of concentrated unemployment.
posted by russilwvong at 7:14 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm for for it for lots of reasons, but I think that it's enough that it would mean that we as a society would be actually valuing the people (almost exclusively women) that do all the unpaid labor of care-taking and household running right now.

Or hey, think about the effect this might have on the "which one of us puts their career on hold to take care of the kids?" discussions. I hate to say it, but I bet a lot of guys would probably be way more willing to stay home and take care of the kids, if there wasn't the sting of not being a bread winner attached.
posted by Gygesringtone at 7:16 AM on April 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


It's funny to me that opponents seem to picture a world where everyone just sits on their butts all the time.

It's all about control and greed. The Man is afraid that when he can't control you he is nothing.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:16 AM on April 25, 2016 [12 favorites]


Remember, the entire point Of basic income is to make it so that the increasingly unequal wealth distribution is more fair. Taxes will go up! Zounds!!!!!!!! That is the point. Wealth redistribution. And you'll find that an awful lot of people in Silicon Valley support this. I than those in financial services will be shocked and dismayed. Those are the two areas where the wealth inequality seems biggest these days.

But I find it very funny that supposedly numbers guys don't even bother to look at the numbers but just throw up their hands and say "impossible!" It it not. The numbers aren't that insane, particularly if phased in over a decade.


The US has consistently voted against wealth redistribution since about 1950. Doubling the tax burden makes the US highest tax/% of GDP in the works by a huge chunk. I suspect the Silicon Valley folks haven't run the math on what would need to happen to tax rates for this to work.
posted by JPD at 7:16 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I worry that it will be used to replace already scant funding for disabilities. That's my only concern.

And Medicaid, and Medicare...
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:18 AM on April 25, 2016


An idea like this needs another 4 or 5 major revisions to the idea before it's remotely workable. I have a "grand idea" of what UBI means, but how it's implemented or what its final form is, well, that's completely beyond me to articulate. I do believe though, that down the line something like the end goal above *could* be in action, but it would require a commitment of multiple generations to tinker with and refine it in order for the idea to not just become another medicare prescription drug "benefit".
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:21 AM on April 25, 2016


One thing that worries me a bit: concentrated UK unemployment during the 80s. And I'd be interested to hear from someone with more understanding of it.

As I know it, the welfare benefits in the UK used to be all right - generous by US standards. In the eighties, a lot of shipping, mining, manufacturing and related jobs disappeared, especially in the north of England. All those people got, basically, welfare. And you'd read about towns where almost no one had any work and everyone just drew the dole. And it sounded awful - people were depressed and drank and there were health problems associated with depression and drinking, etc. Certainly better than not having the dole, but definitely not optimal. Would this be what happens in areas of the US with concentrated unemployment?

If the choice is "mincome or nothing" I would definitely pick mincome, but would job creation/full employment be a better method, backed with some kind of strong mincome program for people who were disabled, were raising kids, etc? It's not like there's a shortage of actual work that needs doing in this country, what with the infrastructure the way it is, and disabled people who need assistance, and kids who could use mentors and tutors, and public parks that could use a caretaker, etc.
posted by Frowner at 7:22 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've got a plan: let's try it out by doing a pilot program. I volunteer to be a test case. I'd rather be doing some productive work, but it gets harder and harder the worse off you are because your options narrow and the opportunity costs of mere survival get to be so high. It's basically a full-time job being broke, especially if you have kids and a lot of structural debt and no partner.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:24 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


Without rhetoric we wouldn't even be talking about this. People don't vote for the wonk with the best math, they vote based on intuition the cultural rhetoric has given them.

Mathematical problems can be solved by geniuses alone in rooms. Economic problems cannot; they require participation and consensus. Good luck getting a progressive consensus on something as bold as basic income without rhetoric!

The difference between "well, look at the numbers" and "how can this be done?" is not to be ignored.
posted by an animate objects at 7:25 AM on April 25, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm at least excited to see the results of the experiments. I'm not completely sold on UBI yet - I see some good things and bad things, but everything is still so theoretical. Once we start seeing what happens in the real world, it'll be interesting. I'm glad someone's at least trying it.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:25 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I worry that it will be used to replace already scant funding for disabilities. That's my only concern.

UBI should definitely be done in tandem with a national healthcare system. Disabled (and non-) people should be able to get the care they need outside of any connection to income or work.

As to whether "the money is there" I think you can make a good case that the money wasted on maintaining our current system is being incredibly underestimated. Corporate tax breaks, giveaways to wealth, inefficient and inadequate poverty/welfare programs, police surveillance and incarceration of oppressed populations, and yes, wars and more wars divert our wealth in a hundred leechlike ways, not all of them obvious. Meanwhile the human capital/potential locked up on the lowest rungs of the ladder is immense. Free those folks to get educations and live better lives and we might find ourselves in a new age of human invention and innovation, which would be handy because between climate change, pollution and other problems, we could really use some more problem-solvers.
posted by emjaybee at 7:26 AM on April 25, 2016 [21 favorites]


I think the UBI is a great idea, but it would need to be introduced in conjunction with measures on housing to stop the money going straight into the pockets of private landlords via rent increases. This would imply some combination of increased social housing and meaningful rent controls. Together the UBI and housing measures would go a long way to alleviating many of the symptoms of inequality

Twenty thousand and a lot of people will move way out of the city into rural communities where you can buy really cheap homes and live on that. It would be a massive boost to small towns and rural communities and possibly even reduce some urban demand.
posted by srboisvert at 7:39 AM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


There's no reason to tie survival needs to working if we don't need everybody to work. But this is a separate question from "what do people do with themselves when we don't need them to work anymore". There's lots that people could be doing, but we can't effectively encourage people to go do that until we stop treating work, by itself, as a primary requirement for entry to civilized society. You can't give people a basic income and then tell them they're failures if they don't have jobs. Give them a basic income and then say--go learn to paint, go write a novel, go volunteer at the animal shelter, go play cards with people in the nursing home, go start a business, go spend time with your kids, go help your aging parents, go travel.

There's not a shortage of stuff to do. People on welfare have just historically not had social permission to do those things, because we keep attaching a lot of shame to lack of employment. The difference between your ability to figure out what to do with your time while on vacation and your ability to figure out what to do with your time while unemployed is not 100% financial.
posted by Sequence at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2016 [27 favorites]


Frowner: Would this be what happens in areas of the US with concentrated unemployment?

William Julius Wilson talks about social problems in the US during the 1980s and 1990s, in inner-city ghettos, and how they can be traced to concentrated unemployment. A 1998 paper:
By the ‘new urban poverty’, I mean poor, segregated neighbourhoods in which a majority of individual adults are either unemployed or have dropped out or never been a part of the labour force. This jobless poverty today stands in sharp contrast to previous periods. In 1950, a substantial portion of the urban black population in the United States was poor but they were working. Urban poverty was quite extensive but people held jobs. However, as we entered the 1990s most poor adults were not working in a typical week in the ghetto neighbourhoods of America’s
larger cities. ...

Using the employment to population ratio we find, for example, that in 1990 only one in three adults ages 16 and older held a job in the ghetto poverty areas of Chicago, areas with poverty rates of at least 40 percent and that represent roughly 425,000 men, women and children. And in the ghetto census tracts of the nation’s 100 largest cities for every 10 adults who did not hold a job in a typical week in 1990 there were only 6 employed persons (Kasarda 1993).

The disappearance of work has adversely affected not only individuals and families, but the social life of neighbourhoods as well. Inner-city joblessness in America is a severe problem that is often overlooked or obscured when the focus is mainly on poverty and its consequences. Despite increases in the concentration of poverty since 1970, inner cities in the United States have always featured high levels of poverty, but the levels of inner-city joblessness reached during the first half of the 1990s was unprecedented. ...

The consequences of high neighbourhood joblessness are more devastating than those of high neighbourhood poverty. A neighbourhood in which people are poor, but employed, is much different from a neighbourhood in which people are poor and jobless. In When Work Disappears (1996) I attempt to show that many of today’s problems in America’s inner-city ghetto neighbourhoods — crime, family dissolution, welfare, low levels of social organisation and so on — are in major measures related to the disappearance of work.

... In the absence of regular employment, a person lacks not only a place in which to work and the receipt of regular income but also a coherent organisation of the present — that is, a system of concrete expectations and goals. Regular employment provides the anchor for the spatial and temporal aspects of daily life. It determines where you are going to be and when you are going to be there. In the absence of regular employment, life, including family life, becomes less coherent. Persistent unemployment and irregular employment hinder rational planning in daily life, a necessary condition of adaptation to an industrial economy (Bourdieu 1965).

Thus, a youngster who grows up in a family with a steady breadwinner and in a neighbourhood in which most of the adults are employed will tend to develop some of the disciplined habits associated with stable or steady employment — habits that are reflected in the behaviour of his or her parents and of other neighbourhood adults. These might include attachment to a routine, a recognition of the hierarchy found in most work situations, a sense of personal efficacy attained through the routine management of financial affairs, endorsement of a system of personal and material rewards associated with dependability and responsibility, and so on. Accordingly, when this youngster enters the labour market, he or she has a distinct advantage over the youngsters who grow up in households without a steady breadwinner and in neighbourhoods that are not organised around work — in other words, a milieu in which one is more exposed to the less disciplined habits associated with casual or infrequent work.
Wilson's work received a lot of attention -- before that, people tended to attribute the problems of inner-city ghettoes to "ghetto culture" (of course this is still true on the right).
posted by russilwvong at 7:42 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Basic income proponents are the economic equivalent of the people who believe we'll all do amazing things when FEMA stops giving everyone lyme disease. I know y'all want to quit your jobs and write, but, come on.

IIRC, the current UBI fad started as as a proposed way to handle a theoretical, enormous inflow of wealth from robotic astroid mining, fusion energy, and robotic manufacturing. Now we just want the income without the extra quadrillion dollars that would make it possible.

It's pretty hard to get a UBI proponent to commit to backing one policy/strategy that can be scrutinized. Costs too much? We'll only give everyone a few thousand. A few thousand isn't enough to live on? We'll give them more money. We'd need to create a gigantic new agency? Just replace the budgets for existing social services. People will continue to need existing social services, and social services aren't currently spending enough? That's why everyone needs a check on top of existing programs. People won't want to work. No, they'll continue to want enough money to work full-time. Then the program doesn't free up anyone's time. No, people will quit all the stupid jobs and do what they want. It's so silly.
posted by michaelh at 7:43 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Except, if they're talking about provincial disability (BC's PWD2), they can earn $800 a month above what they receive on disability without portions of it being clawed back a month later. Which I realize doesn't really help when some of the barriers people are trying to overcome have nothing to do with money, but they're finally doing some rejigging making parts of their system a little less punitive

Yeah, that part and the fact that you can make up to 9600 at once in a year (to factor in seasonal workers) has been a mild betterment by the BC government. Unfortunately I know many people who once started working got their file flagged "mysteriously" and were kicked off PWD because since they worked it meant they no longer had their permanent disability. But that may be due to just how the local social service office works.

The BC government is now claiming that they are raising disability rates $77 (election year next year) and claiming that it will give people on disability more options when in fact what they are doing is giving the subsidy for the those of us who can't take the bus in our monthly cheques thus it equals a $11 dollar raise (and the prorated + "new" extra money doesn't equal what the subsidy was) and we lose out on the cheaper insurance rates we got for the year. As well as taking away the year long bus pass that cost $45 and making it a monthly pass of $52 + a $45 administration fee which will effectively make people more housebound and have to chose between food and transportation every month.

I'm not sure how basic income would work out but it has got to be better than expecting disadvantaged people to exist on scraps every month as rents increase and food costs go up. And then as a society shaming them for not going out there and finding work. (Not even counting that there are a whole lot of "able" bodied people out there looking for work who have easy access to transportation and don't have to spend 3 hrs on the bus to drop off two resumes)

*Disability always is the view I look at this through since being declared that has opened my eyes to how the rest of the world basically has written me and others like me off and sometimes when I allow myself to lapse into conspiracy theories think it is just all part of a big plan to make poor people and disabled people off themselves so we won't be seen anymore.
posted by kanata at 7:50 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


IIRC, the current UBI fad started as as a proposed way to handle a theoretical, enormous inflow of wealth from robotic astroid mining, fusion energy, and robotic manufacturing. Now we just want the income without the extra quadrillion dollars that would make it possible.

YDNRC.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:54 AM on April 25, 2016 [14 favorites]


Perhaps I am jaundiced by long years in a fairly conservative nation, but if we can hardly raise minimum wage for those already working, how are we to pass this sort of program for those not working?
posted by Postroad at 7:54 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just give everyone food stamps. Make SNAP opt-out. If you prove your income is lower than the threshold of your state, you can have more. If you choose not to fill out forms or you don't meet the income standard, you get some standard amount, maybe $100/month.

--If you don't want it, spend it on food for your local food bank/church food program
--It goes directly back into the economy when people spend it, which creates jobs in supermarkets, shipping, farms, food corps, quick-service restaurants that take EBT
--People who don't really need it will buy fancier food, which benefits food corps and farmers
--People who could really use it will buy more food and probably healthier food, which is good for them, might save money on public health outcomes, and benefits food corps and farmers
--Fewer children will go hungry
--It's hard to argue that nobody should get food stamps when everyone gets food stamps
--Charities will be able to offer a bunch more free meals and food pantries
--The EBT infrastructure and method already exist, and it wouldn't be that hard to expand for added demand, and it would create (not that expensive, but still professional) jobs at the food stamp office for added services

It's not a lot of money ($1200 per person plus what we're spending now-- just add, don't remove) and it's a huge impact. Everyone wins! That's why nobody will ever do it.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


I do recall correctly! I was just being polite.
posted by michaelh at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2016


You are welcome to be even more polite.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:57 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I do recall correctly! I was just being polite.

Then by all means link to all these many articles on UBI that discuss asteroid mining, fusion power, etc.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:02 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Thomas Paine's pamphlet A Common Sense Approach to Asteroid Mining was very influential.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:03 AM on April 25, 2016 [28 favorites]


Voting to get rid of UBI after you have it would be like voting to get rid of public schools

or even like getting rid of, say, the mortgage interest deduction, or non-wage income tax breaks (e.g. capital gains).
posted by j_curiouser at 8:05 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's an interesting idea but I see two problems that may be difficult to resolve: (a) wouldn't an UBI result in significant and enduring inflation? and (b) a UBI might provide a minimum living standard for the average person. It won't for anyone with a substance abuse problem (beyond alcohol, I suppose). If we cut other social services, then what happens?

Actually, a third problem, which is simply that these payments will attract financial predation like never before. The whole program would have to be very carefully structured to make sure the money didn't just end up in the pockets of various shady financial intermediaries. On the one hand, having an assured form of income might reduce the desperation that drives many people into the hands of the predators. On the other, you would still have a lot of people who are financially unsophisticated having money in their hands to motivate the predators to try anyway. You would have to make them not only unreachable in judgments, like SSI today, you would have to make any kind of assignment or use of future payments as collateral voidable. It would be very complicated.
posted by praemunire at 8:13 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


if you wanted to give every adult in the US 20K, it would cost about 5 trillion dollars a year. The federal budget is about 4 trillion dollars a year so, to raise the money, you would have to double everyone's taxes.

You're missing a "assuming all else remains equal" but it won't. More people will be able to work and more people will be able to start businesses. Fewer people will be forced to live in poverty in order to maintain their assisted income. So it's entirely possible that tax revenues would increase by more than the value of the payouts.

You also assume that the tax increases would be distributed the same way they are now rather than only increasing taxes on, say, the top 1%.

That, or the problem is with the amount. I think $20k/yr gets tossed around because it feels like a number that's low enough that no one will want to live on just that income but it's still generous enough that, if a person had to, they would still have a decent standard of living. But even $5,000/yr would be a drastic improvement for a TON of people.
posted by VTX at 8:20 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Setting aside whether the numbers can work or not, for the US this a non-starter for the simple reason that Americans love misery. What's the point of having something, if someone else doesn't have it? A big chunk of US politics can be reasonably understood as a series of arguments about who it's OK to look down upon and whether you should step on their face or throat.
posted by aramaic at 8:24 AM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


It really is best to keep raising the minimum wage.

In NYC, they're raising it $15/hr. And, you know what, I don't begrudge the workers for fighting for that, they have hard jobs and this area is insanely expensive. However, I work at a more skilled, unionized job and after 9 years of both union and merit raises, and make just about a buck an hour more than that and I don't see anything that'll change that coming down the pike. I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence and say that dosen't irk me a bit and I doubt I'm the only one.
posted by jonmc at 8:25 AM on April 25, 2016


We already have the extra income to make basic income possible, michaelh. It's called modern technology. It's why hunting, sewing, gardening, carpentry, etc. are now hobbies rather than survival skills.

We mostly spend all that extra time on wasteful chest thumping, like management hierarchies, meetings, etc., and on trying to out spend one another, but enough leaks through that really many people do quit their jobs and write.

I prefer basic income in conjunction with shortening the work week though. We need companies to spread the existing work around more evenly, not a world where hoards fight for a few jobs that give them higher social status.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:32 AM on April 25, 2016 [19 favorites]


Set people free and they'll do things. That's a core belief I have in the basic shape of human nature and it's strange to think that there are other people whose conception of human nature is just the opposite.

Not that strange. Plenty of trust fund layabouts out there. I've known a few. I've also known trust fund creatives. Human nature is multifaceted.

It really is best to keep raising the minimum wage.

Some jobs simply do not provide ROI at minimum wage. Price labor too high and it doesn't get hired.

The fact is that the shift from the tech age like the industrial age is a great destroyer of jobs, especially (but not exclusively) for the left end of the IQ scale. The average member of the blue is probably capable, with application, of getting up to a reasonable proficiency in most things (though they will always fall short of the truly talented and passionate). A huge number of people, even with the best teachers in the world cannot. If there is any benefit at all to this kind of plan, it is to keep such people clothed housed and fed and (we hope) out of trouble.

Learn to paint, go write a novel, go volunteer at the animal shelter, go play cards with people in the nursing home, go start a business, go spend time with your kids, go help your aging parents, go travel. People on welfare have just historically not had social permission to do those things,

Permission? I'm sorry, except maybe for "start a business" (and that's more a market thing than a social thing, and even that has exceptions) that list is just absurd.

You're missing a "assuming all else remains equal" but it won't. More people will be able to work and more people will be able to start businesses. Fewer people will be forced to live in poverty in order to maintain their assisted income. So it's entirely possible that tax revenues would increase by more than the value of the payouts.

It's also possible that it won't, and the initial outlay of serious trillions remains, at least at the outset. True enough about disincentives, though. Question then arises, how much time would we allow to this experiment? What markers would need to be hit for us to call it a success or a boondoggle? Because bureaucracies once started have a habit of being with us forever. Or at least until blood runs in the street. Which we may get either way, for reasons given above.

Americans love misery.

Cite?
posted by IndigoJones at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2016


In NYC, they're raising it $15/hr. And, you know what, I don't begrudge the workers for fighting for that, they have hard jobs and this area is insanely expensive. However, I work at a more skilled, unionized job and after 9 years of both union and merit raises, and make just about a buck an hour more than that and I don't see anything that'll change that coming down the pike. I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence and say that dosen't irk me a bit and I doubt I'm the only one.

The money minimum-wage workers are earning will almost all be spent, rather than saved, thus stimulating demand, thus increasing the demand for the products and services your union provides. Your union will then need to fight it out with management to get your piece of that, but that's the basic idea. Low consumer demand has been the elephant sitting on the US economy for quite a while now.
posted by praemunire at 8:34 AM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


cut wages? wouldn't they be forced to raise wages as people dropped out of their bullshit second jobs that are making them sick / killing them?

Truthfully, I think that low-skilled jobs would go two separate ways: increased pay or increased work conditions. If everyone can make it and therefore do not absolutely need a job at McDonald's, McDonald's either has to pay enough that the work is worthwhile or make the work conditions so great that someone doesn't mind working for the wages.

I think this is a good thing as there's a lot of jobs that aren't really financially viable by themselves but provide meaning and good to the person doing the work. Farming cooperative can only afford to pay you $6 an hour, but it's what you want and you can afford to work for that wage? Power to you. If work conditions ever become exploitative, you now have the true freedom to quit.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:36 AM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


What happens when native Americans pay themselves unconditional cash from casino profits?

The profits — amounting to $150 million in 2004 and growing to nearly $400 million in 2010 — enabled the tribe to build a new school, hospital, and fire station. However, the lion’s share of the takings went directly into the pockets of the 8,000 men, women, and children of the Eastern Band Cherokee tribe. From $500 a year at the outset, their earnings from the casino quickly mounted to $6,000 in 2001, constituting a quarter to a third of the average family income.

As coincidence would have it, a Duke University professor by the name of Jane Costello had been researching the mental health of youngsters south of the Great Smoky Mountains since 1993.

…Soon after the casino opened, Costello was already noting huge improvements for her subjects. Behavioral problems among children who had been lifted out of poverty went down 40%, putting them in the same range as their peers who had never known privation. Juvenile crime rates among the Cherokee also declined, along with drug and alcohol use, while their school scores improved markedly. At school, the Cherokee kids were now on a par with the study’s non-tribal participants.

posted by infini at 8:36 AM on April 25, 2016 [53 favorites]


Plus, ideologically, there must come a greater divorce between labor and standards of living. Unions are great, but they deal with people who work there. By definition, the unemployed have no union.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:38 AM on April 25, 2016


Honestly, UBI seems like a bailout of landlords and lenders. In markets with very few vacancies, this seems like where the vast majority of the money will go.
posted by pwnguin at 8:42 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Some jobs simply do not provide ROI at minimum wage. Price labor too high and it doesn't get hired.

Well I'm definitely going to trust an investors.com article ranting about liberal elites. Case closed.

Conservatives like to talk about the minimum wage reducing employment as Economics 101, but it's only as Economics 101 that that argument is that cut and dried. There are plenty of economists who can point to actual real world data that says differently.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:46 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


In markets with very few vacancies, this seems like where the vast majority of the money will go.

A lot of the tight markets are so because people feel they have to live in a certain area to make a living despite the costs. I expect that UBI would liberate a number of these people to move elsewhere. Probably the effect would vary across income levels. If you have to live in Brooklyn to be able to commute into your job cleaning towers in Midtown, you might be able to give that up altogether and go live closer to your aging mother in rural Pennsylvania or whatever. On the other hand, if you're an ambitious young lawyer, you're probably not going to give up your Manhattan life (until burnout time comes), so there might be upward pressure on that kind of housing.
posted by praemunire at 8:47 AM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


Some jobs simply do not provide ROI at minimum wage. Price labor too high and it doesn't get hired.

If you need a job done but minimum wage doesn't provide a good ROI, I would say that you need to reevaluate either a) whether or not you actually need the job done or b) how severely you're undervaluing that work.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:48 AM on April 25, 2016 [21 favorites]


Frowner: As I know it, the welfare benefits in the UK used to be all right - generous by US standards. In the eighties, a lot of shipping, mining, manufacturing and related jobs disappeared, especially in the north of England. All those people got, basically, welfare. And you'd read about towns where almost no one had any work and everyone just drew the dole. And it sounded awful - people were depressed and drank and there were health problems associated with depression and drinking, etc.

Until recently, I lived in one of the areas you are talking about - Barnsley. I still live and work close by. There still aren't many jobs - the UK economic recovery is very much skewed to London and a small number of other urban centres while smaller towns and former industrial areas are struggling. Barnsley has higher unemployment than many areas and a higher proportion of people working in the public sector eg. NHS, schools etc. What's happening in Barnsley now is interesting - people aren't sitting on the dole, they are starting their own businesses. The area has more small, independent shops and businesses than most, and there's a lot of help available in terms of courses and small grants for business startups. It's certainly not a place filled with depressed people drinking their dole away - it's a friendly, pleasant place to live.

It helps that the area is a considerably cheaper place to live than the urban centres and the south of England. Lower rents mean people can do different things with their lives, and basic income would mean the same. Very few people would see a basic income as a passport to just laze around all day - unemployment with nothing to fill the time is boring. The vast majority of people would stay in work, some would reduce their hours so they could fit in childcare or studying or some other non-work responsibility, some would start up their own business in the knowledge that business failure wouldn't mean poverty.

It would mean that people weren't living their lives entirely motivated by the fear of losing whatever job it is they happen to be doing at that particular time. A life where fear of poverty is what gets you out of bed every morning is a life survived, rather than lived. If 'they' are worried about people quitting crap jobs because of basic income, then perhaps it's time to look at improving working conditions and/or automating away those crap jobs. If someone doesn't have to work as a car park attendant because there's a robot doing it, that person is free to do something that benefits humanity as a whole far more, and that's the future I want to live in.
posted by winterhill at 8:49 AM on April 25, 2016 [13 favorites]


Paul Krugman: Libertarian Fantasies.
More to the point, however, the libertarian vision of the society we actually have bears little resemblance to reality.

Mike Konczal takes on a specific example: the currently trendy idea among libertarians that we can make things much better by replacing the welfare state with a basic guaranteed income. As Mike says, this notion rests on the belief that the welfare state is a crazily complicated mess of inefficient programs, and that simplification would save enough money to pay for universal grants that are neither means-tested nor conditional on misfortune. But the reality is nothing like that. The great bulk of welfare-state spending comes from a handful of major programs, and these programs are fairly efficient, with low administrative costs.
posted by russilwvong at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


and the initial outlay of serious trillions remains

Who says we have to just flick a switch and turn on UBI? Maybe it starts as $1k a year and then gets phased in. That's the way they usually handle every other major change in government spending.

And yes, it's simply not politically possible in the US right now. You know how that gets overcome? By a slow and gradual shift in public opinion until suddenly, one day, you have legal same-sex marriage across the whole country UBI.

"The logistics, bureaucracy is hard" is not an argument against UBI. Just assume that we'll build the bureaucracy and solve all the logistical problems (maybe with all the people that we no longer need to run all the defunct social safety nets like SSI and unemployment).

It's only politically impossible because enough people think it's a bad idea and enough people believe it's politically impossible to keep it from getting traction. All we need is for people to keep from making themselves part of the latter group and to convince the former that it's a good idea. These are both things that we, as a society, have done before.

I mean, YOU are a private citizen, there is nothing that YOU can personally do to get this implemented. All YOU need to do is speak out in support of the thing if it comes up. You don't have to overcome lobbyists, voters, lawyers, or any of that. So none of the "lack of political will" things actually apply to you and you're not going to be in charge of building out the logistics and bureaucracy either.

So the things that you, as a private citizen can do to support basic income are the same for you whether the political will exists or not and whether the logistics/bureaucracy are hard or easy. It's not like you have a finite number of things you can support. So why not support this? Until there is a opportunity to do more than just talk about it, you're doing the same thing either way so why not just support it. It wouldn't be the first time something went from "something I fully support and hope to see happen in my lifetime" to "reality" in a surprisingly short amount of time.
posted by VTX at 9:00 AM on April 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


A whole article and discussion about UBI and the minimum wage and jobs and workers - will no one think of the robots?

(Because like it or not, the robots are coming, and sooner than most of us think.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2016


Thomas Paine's pamphlet A Common Sense Approach to Asteroid Mining was very influential.

I see. I'm saying that the current fad is based on recent techno-futurism, not that UBI has only been conceived in the last few years. Obviously there have been a variety of proposals going pretty far back, but those old sources aren't the reason every other issue of a business/economic magazine is doing a longform article right now. I would give more credit to /r/futurology-type writing than to Paine or Mill for half the people in this thread knowing about UBI.

I think this is worth mentioning because the legitimate-ish enthusiasm about spending asteroid money has permanently imprinted itself on the campaign for UBI even though the asteroids have been dropped. Sustained enthusiasm can prompt uninformed people to assume that UBI has been thought through. This could turn into mistaken votes for something that doesn't work (and by doesn't work, I mean it will badly hurt people who don't have much money.)
posted by michaelh at 9:10 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


A good way to start phasing this in would be to make the personal exemption a refundable credit instead of a nonrefundable deduction.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:15 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


Certainly seems like an idea worth studying. So many questions come up about it that are entirely unanswerable until you do the experiment.

What would happen to the profoundly disabled who require more than 20K a year for care? Presumably the welfare bureaucracy that administers aid to these people would need to be maintained, and would that expand as bureaucracies do? Would we see a slew of people trying to argue that they are disabled enough to qualify for their own bigger slice of the pie?

And what about basic health care, which conservatively would eat up a quarter of your 20K in the current US system?

And runaway inflation? Everyone's got more money but everything that's produced in the country with basic income just got more expensive to produce, at least every product that is human labor intensive.

And people taking money out of the country? If the only requirement is citizenship, what stops me from taking my 20K to Mexico and living like a king and not spending or producing anything useful for the US?

None of these questions are answerable without data, but they carry enormous rhetorical and political weight.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:17 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's also worth noting thatl if those numbers are going to be replacing all other forms, including veterans assistance, they would need to be much higher. Currently for a 100% disabled veteran with a spouse and child, they receive $38,000 a year. 20,000 wouldn't cut it.and we've already established that even 20,000 a year would be more than the entire federal spending. $40,000 per citizen went bankrupt us completely and totally for an eternity.
posted by corb at 9:24 AM on April 25, 2016


A lot of the tight markets are so because people feel they have to live in a certain area to make a living despite the costs. I expect that UBI would liberate a number of these people to move elsewhere. Probably the effect would vary across income levels.

This doesn't sound like "liberation" so much as accelerated class stratification by uprooting and forcing out lower-income populations.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2016


For those interested in a debate about Basic Income and the Job Guarantee: here's video of a fantastic panel discussion, hosted by Dissent Magazine.
posted by wuwei at 9:28 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


While I love the upsides of these "basic income" policies, it worries me in one particular comparison to the bread dole of Roman vintage: demagogic opportunity. Perhaps we're looking at a new welfare that is even more racially [or otherwise demographically] prescriptive. It could just become a tool for making a specific, more-likely-to-be-democratically-empowered subsection of the poor beholden to the whims of upper classes. This could become a tool for further entrenching the association between poor whites and political retrogrades.

How can we trust that it won't have special conditions attached that curiously prevent it from being distributed specifically to people of colour? Republicans, and the reactionaries of America, would not let it pass through Congress and the Senate alike without butchering it with enough amendments to make it beneficial to their cause. At best, they would hobble it such that it would suffer inefficiencies like Obama-care, and at worst, they would turn it into the aforementioned tool of white-supremist solidarity.
posted by constantinescharity at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think it's telling that sanders won't come out in support of the idea. Hell praise the intention but generally avoid any conversation on UBI specifically.

I think it's financially doable in the sense that enough money exists to pay everyone in America an UBI. (I think it's also important to consider if this would only work in wealthy countries. The pilots in Africa are very interesting to me.) I also think it's important to consider not just the efficiency but the complexity of our current welfare state. Sure it runs on very low overhead, but for people using it, I think it could be sinplified, like our tax code. I also UBI can also support health care and other needs based systems, financially.

Unfortunately, it might also be the least politically viable idea I've heard in a very long time. Maybe if the libertarian wing had made additional gains in the Republican party this election cycle I could see it, but I highly doubt a Trump or Cruz led party would even consider the idea. I don't want to tell people to stop dreaming, but there are certainly more viable ways to rebuild our welfare system than this in the short term.
posted by lownote at 9:32 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because like it or not, the robots are coming, and sooner than most of us think

Isn't that kind of the whole reason why we really need a way to distribute resources beyond working for them?
posted by Naberius at 9:36 AM on April 25, 2016 [10 favorites]


This doesn't sound like "liberation" so much as accelerated class stratification by uprooting and forcing out lower-income populations.

Approximately doubling a poor person's income, funded in significant part by increased taxes on the rich, equals accelerated class stratification? I don't think you've really thought that through. I mean, you do grasp that under the present regime, many of those cleaners living in the remote reaches of Brooklyn and Queens have already been forced out of living somewhere genuinely convenient to their work (Manhattan) and are stuck taking the subway an hour each way a day because they don't think they can find work elsewhere? If they don't have to have that job, they don't have to stay in NYC if they don't want to. I love NYC, but there are tons of people who wouldn't be here if they genuinely thought they had alternatives.
posted by praemunire at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Currently for a 100% disabled veteran with a spouse and child, they receive $38,000 a year.

They would get $20,000 and their spouse would get $20,000 so their combined basic income would be $40,000. Higher if we also have some amount of basic income per child.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:42 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


If the only requirement is citizenship, what stops me from taking my 20K to Mexico and living like a king and not spending or producing anything useful for the US?

Most people who aren't from Mexico won't want to do this, because they have family, friends and cultural ties here.

And runaway inflation? Everyone's got more money but everything that's produced in the country with basic income just got more expensive to produce, at least every product that is human labor intensive.

We're not talking about raised wages but a UBI. Production costs would not go up, though taxes might, depending on the business. If you mean "people won't work at shitty jobs to make these products/services" well then, time to raise wages, automate or consider another way to do business.

However, if more people can afford your goods, your sales go up. You could possibly even lower your prices and still come out ahead. People at the bottom (and middle) are currently going without things they want (furniture, vacations, appliances, new houses, cars) because they can't afford them. Change that, and you juice the economy up.
posted by emjaybee at 9:42 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Currently for a 100% disabled veteran with a spouse and child, they receive $38,000 a year. 20,000 wouldn't cut it.

Disabled non-veterans receive substantially less than that, with no accounting for a spouse or child. I understand the desire to make sure that veterans are taken care of, and they should be, but to present the much larger payments veterans get as a reason why we can't provide for everyone just seems like arguing for the benefits of a smaller group at the expense of people generally.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:43 AM on April 25, 2016 [14 favorites]


I think it's also important to consider if this would only work in wealthy countries. The pilots in Africa are very interesting to me

Basic income paid to the poor can transform lives
Contrary to what sceptics predicted the basic incomes model created more economic activity and work

How Cash Transfers Promote the Case for Basic Income
There has long been a minority view that providing people with cash is an effective way of combating poverty and economic insecurity while promoting livelihoods and work. The mainstream view has nevertheless been that giving people money, without conditions or obligations, promotes idleness and dependency, while being unnecessarily costly. This paper reviews recent evidence on various types of schemes implemented in developing countries, including several pilot cash transfer schemes, assessing them by reference to principles of social justice. It concludes that experience with cash transfers is strengthening the case for a universal basic income.

I also like the NREGA in India.
posted by infini at 9:52 AM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


Reading this thread, I think I was wrong earlier. Hope is stronger than math.

I think not enough people know about the Earned Income Tax Credit and how it works. It's a subsidy for low-wage work, a negative income tax which already exists. Unlike the minimum wage, it increases demand for low-wage labor rather than decreasing it. There's no economic reason not to expand it.
posted by russilwvong at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Even in the hypothetical where we redirect all of our other social spending to a UBI, we would need to increase revenues and government spending to provide anything approaching an income one can live on. Until that happens, and given that the actual choices under consideration in the United States are less government or almost no government at all, talk of a UBI is at best a distraction, and at worse a Trojan horse for savage cuts to our current patchwork of programs that are vital to the well-being of so many people.

Make government social spending large enough to support a UBI first, then we can talk about how that spending is allocated.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:58 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


talk of a UBI is at best a distraction--

But it's such an attractive vision! It's like a mirage in the desert.
posted by russilwvong at 10:02 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


The UBI makes taking government money neither a stigma or something that you need to be qualified for (thus it's universality). It means labor, for the first time, is much more fluid, especially if we can package it with universal (non-employment related) healthcare.

We can still look at edge cases where people need beyond the UBI to function, but the general idea is that everyone gets a government pension starting at a certain age (though making young children payouts to parents would help ameliorate the costs of raising children).

I think this is a win for most of the US: single people and those with children, the employed and the unemployed, the virtuous and the villainous, the rural and the urban, the lower class and the middle class, the job creators and the job doers. Overall, society profits from this. It is not a distraction and it's worth making happen.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:07 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


ifnini: That's interesting. I think I was unclear originally, and I will read the paper to see if its addressed. Can India's government afford to scale up direct cash transfers to its entire nation? I wonder if a developing nation can support a UBI across its entire population, or if it would need support from outside organizations like the World Bank.
posted by lownote at 10:07 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lord Chancellor: UBI is not going to work.

What's the best way to help the working poor? The EITC, a negative income tax for families with children.

Policy Basics: The Earned Income Tax Credit.
During the 2013 tax year, the average EITC was $3,074 for a family with children (boosting wages by about $256 a month)....

The EITC is designed to encourage and reward work. As noted, a worker’s EITC grows with each additional dollar of earnings until reaching the maximum value. This creates an incentive for people to leave welfare for work and for low-wage workers to increase their work hours.

This incentive feature has made the EITC highly successful. Studies show that the EITC encourages large numbers of single parents to leave welfare for work, especially when the labor market is strong.

In 2013, the EITC lifted about 6.2 million people out of poverty, including about 3.2 million children. The number of poor children would have been one-quarter higher without the EITC. The credit reduced the severity of poverty for another 21.6 million people, including 7.8 million children. In combination with the Child Tax Credit (CTC), the EITC lifts even more families with children out of poverty (see figure).
America's best program for the poor may be even better than we thought.

Obama, Senator Patty Murray, and even Paul Ryan (!) have put forward proposals to expand the EITC. Vox.
posted by russilwvong at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I wonder if a developing nation can support a UBI across its entire population, or if it would need support from outside organizations like the World Bank.

If the payment was low enough, it could. Standards/cost of living in India are much lower than, say, Germany.

All governments are an arrangement to distribute resources and justice. UBI is just a particular arrangement, but is no more unfeasible than anything that has come before. Getting people on board is the difficult part.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:13 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how this wouldn't increase inflation. Let's say McDonald's has to raise wages to compete for people who would otherwise just stay at home rather than work a shitty job. I mean, they'd have to raise their prices, right? Otherwise how would they stay in business? I suppose the loss of fast food restaurants would probably be a net good to society, but the same thing would happen to other businesses.

And how would this be dealt with in areas with already high prices? Would people living in NYC get a higher UBI than people in BFE, Nebraska?
posted by AFABulous at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Lord Chancellor: UBI is just a particular arrangement, but is no more unfeasible than anything that has come before.

What's your counter-argument to this analysis, which says that it's not feasible?
posted by russilwvong at 10:22 AM on April 25, 2016


Kesselman concludes:
An all-cash strategy such as a guaranteed income is touted as a simple solution to the complex problem of poverty. In this context, we should all heed H.L. Mencken's famous aphorism: "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong."
posted by russilwvong at 10:23 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


I dream of a massive Federal Works Program in the mold of the New Deal with an aim toward improving and replacing our crumbling infrastructure. Also things like maintenance and cleanup of urban centers, national parks, highways, and focusing efforts toward extending clean energy and making cheap WiFi available everywhere as a national utility.

Then I remember the actual human beings that make up our Congress, and I awake in a cold sweat with the sound of wolves howling all around me.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


I think something like UBI is needed (in the U.S.) because the jobs aren't coming back no matter what the politicians say. However there are just SO MANY moving parts to consider, so many things that probably can't be definitively answered in terms of how they would effect us. I feel like it would require some next-level Hari Seldon shit to pull off successfully but I'll still listen and hope.
posted by charred husk at 10:30 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


"...I highly doubt a Trump or Cruz led party would even consider the idea. I don't want to tell people to stop dreaming, but there are certainly more viable ways to rebuild our welfare system than this in the short term."

Wait, but a Trump or Cruz led party would consider rebuilding our welfare system? That sounds similarly unlikely.
posted by el io at 10:33 AM on April 25, 2016


el io: Paul Ryan has proposed expanding the EITC.
posted by russilwvong at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Approximately doubling a poor person's income, funded in significant part by increased taxes on the rich, equals accelerated class stratification?

Accelerated class stratification of the cities that lower-income folks are driven out of? Yes.

I live in one of the most expensive cities in North America, and the cost of housing has been getting increasingly bad over the past few years. I am already seeing friends move away because they can no longer afford to live here. There's a good chance I'll be forced out soon, too. It is hard on people to be uprooted like this -- even with a basic income, you lose your social support network -- and it is very destructive on the communities people have been a part of. Other folks choose to stay because of that community, despite the fact that they can't really afford it -- like my wife, who was making less than $2,000/month and still lived here because this is where all her family and friends are, even though she could have gotten a similar job somewhere cheaper. Half her income went to rent. It seems like UBI would drive rents up, making these problems worse, even if people would be better off in other ways.

I am not against UBI. I don't think anybody should have to sell their labor for a chance at a decent life. But I would like to see UBI advocates actually address this issue -- even by acknowledging that it's a downside that would need to be dealt with by other means -- rather than assuming that people can and will just move somewhere cheaper, and waving away the negative effects of that, instead of putting half their money in their landlords' pockets like they're doing now.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 10:37 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


el io: Sorry those thoughts weren't related. My allergies are killing me, and I think my Benadryl is rotting my brain.
posted by lownote at 10:38 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wonder if a developing nation can support a UBI across its entire population, or if it would need support from outside organizations like the World Bank.

If the payment was low enough, it could. Standards/cost of living in India are much lower than, say, Germany.

All governments are an arrangement to distribute resources and justice. UBI is just a particular arrangement, but is no more unfeasible than anything that has come before. Getting people on board is the difficult part.


In the Kenyan example from last year, they're being paid 4500 shilllings which is ~ 40ish euros or 45 dollar, every two months, AND have built up thriving buisinesses

Every indian doesn't need UBI and I know enough to hazard a guess that there's a swathe who would forgo it so that those without could have a bit more
posted by infini at 10:41 AM on April 25, 2016


zombieflanders: Then by all means link to all these many articles on UBI that discuss asteroid mining, fusion power, etc.

Check this out!

More seriously, see "post-scarcity economics." Hacker News. Tom Streithorst.
posted by russilwvong at 10:42 AM on April 25, 2016


The impact of another 1000 rupees in remote rural Bihar or Orissa would be as life changing as the similarly remote and challenged Turkana in northern Kenya.
posted by infini at 10:43 AM on April 25, 2016


What's your counter-argument to this analysis, which says that it's not feasible?

Here is my response to John Quiggin's very similar concerns.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:49 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


anotherpanacea: Thanks. Comparing your analysis to Kesselman's third option ("Basic income: Gargantuan costs, unacceptable tax hikes"): 30% of median Canadian household income is a little over $22,000, and average household size is 2.5, so that would be about $10,000 per capita, or $350 billion. Your proposal is to fund this from a value-added tax. We already have a VAT in Canada. Each percentage point raises about $5 billion in revenue. So an additional $350 billion would require raising the VAT from 5% to 75%.
posted by russilwvong at 11:07 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think the reason UBI is so attractive to the right/wealthy that are now advocating for it is because it matches their world view - problems can be solved with money and the market will balance itself. If you are rich a lot of your problems CAN be solved with money - friends can be bought(therapists), housing is always available, health can be bought too (certainly more than $20,000/year for a good wellness programme of good food, exercise, and access to diagnostics). And making it universal fits into the whole "just world" fallacy - if you can't make it on UBI, then clearly the problem was always with you and NO programme would help you.

In reality, if you are living in poverty, resources are not just money (but of course that would be lovely to have more of), it is access to childcare - free from friends you trade with or subsidised so you can go to work/school through many different programmes; or public transportation (because at $20,000/year you aren't running a *reliable* vehicle; it is having a non-judgemental support network you have built up; access to rent-controlled or subsidised housing (there is zero chance landlords will lower rents because of UBI). If you are especially vulnerable you may currently have access to supports like a group home, a social worker, a case worker looking after your bills. To pay for UBI all of those supports would be removed and replaced with a monthly cheque and the assertion "you'll be just fine now you are on equal footing with everyone else".

It kinda reminds me of the argument that all public libraries can be replaced with an amazon, comcast/Rogers, and netflix account - instead of "making" people pay the $25/year in taxes that supports their local library they can get an annual credit of $25 split between at amazon/comcast/Rogers/netflix and be made whole. There is efficiently in government for providing services and goods that the market can not replicate, no matter how the libertarians spin it.
posted by saucysault at 11:20 AM on April 25, 2016 [10 favorites]


VAT is a regressive tax, using that to fund BI is ridiculous! Are we really supposed to take such arguments any more seriously than asteroid mining or other sloppy thinking?

Kesselman's spreadsheet you linked above isn't mind boggling large, it's slightly more than a doubling of the budget. With that increase getting put right back directly into people's bank accounts, to be spent as they decide. It's not like that money disappears from the economy, and it's not like that money is allocated by politicians to their programs.

Argument from incredulity is unconvincing unless your audience already agrees with you. It's also trivial to knock holes in by actually paying attention to the steps along the way.

I don't know if BI is a good idea, but I do know that the arguments against it that I've seen do not hold up to a bit of critical thinking.
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:20 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


To pay for UBI all of those supports would be removed and replaced with a monthly cheque and the assertion "you'll be just fine now you are on equal footing with everyone else".
Those other supports are a tiny tiny tiny fraction of what it would take to support a BI. So, perhaps those could go away, but I certainly wouldn't want them to! And though it may be a tenet of the right wing support for BI there's no need to accede that bad idea to them a priori.
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:28 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


Those supports are a major part of Canada's current social services budget - especially the housing. Keeping them in the budget, and then adding the cost of BI simply exceeds the revenue the government receives.
posted by saucysault at 11:34 AM on April 25, 2016


So an additional $350 billion would require raising the VAT from 5% to 75%.

These are identities: a VAT of X% will supply a BIG of X% of consumer spending in the local currency.

Canada's consumer spending was CAN$ 1,004,848 in 2015. So you'd only need a 35% VAT increase to pay for a BIG that costs CAN$350 billion.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2016


anotherpanacea: I'll dig into the $5-billion-revenue-per-percentage-point figure to find what it's based on.
posted by russilwvong at 11:38 AM on April 25, 2016


Llama-Lime: the proposal to fund basic income through VAT is from anotherpanacea. Kesselman looks at funding it through income tax.
posted by russilwvong at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2016


The other thing I say in that piece that I'd like to emphasize here: we don't need to do it all at once.

Start with a 1-5% VAT increase or carbon tax administered in VAT-like ways. Rebate the tax per capita. See what happens. See how poor people respond. See how spending and investment responds. Don't touch any social supports yet!

The experimental evidence here is pretty universal, but it's all just small-scale experimentation. We won't know what's going to happen until we actually try it out, and I'm sympathetic with those who are worried this is an excuse to gut the welfare state, because nobody knows what the future holds. So let's try it slowly.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:45 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: I'll dig into the $5-billion-revenue-per-percentage-point figure to find what it's based on.

Huh. Looks like there's something called an efficiency ratio which needs to be considered. Tuan Minh Le, Value Added Taxation: Mechanism, Design, and Policy Issues, 2003:
Efficiency ratio (E) is defined as the share of the VAT in GDP divided by the standard VAT rate. An efficiency ratio of, say, 30 percent, implies that if the standard VAT rate is increased by one percentage point, the shares of the VAT revenues in GDP is expected to increase by 0.3 percentage point. In general, the higher the ratio E, the better the performance of the VAT. The IMF survey shows that small islands and members of the European Union (EU) have the most effective VAT systems: their estimated efficiency ratios attained at 48 and 38 percent respectively, while the worldwide average was 34 percent.
So the identity between the VAT rate and % of GDP only applies with an efficiency ratio of 1.

Canada's efficiency ratio is about 0.5. Reference.
posted by russilwvong at 11:48 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


So you'd only need a 35% VAT increase

That would put VAT at between 47%-50%. I do not believe any country in the world pays that. It is also generally regressive, with a greater financial impact on people with lower incomes. As heating and climate control is on of the major costs of housing for Canadians, it would lead to people freezing to death. At 50% VAT, would it not be giving people $20,000 in BI, then immediately taking away $10,000 just in VAT as they would be spending all their money on necessities?
posted by saucysault at 11:50 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Right, that's why I use consumer spending, not GDP. Canada's consumer spending is about 56% of its GDP. If you redo the figuring based on GDP and the efficiency ratio, you get almost exactly the same result.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:51 AM on April 25, 2016


Kevin Milligan suggests that the basic-income idea is workable on a small scale:
... we can still learn something from the basic income debate while taking a more incremental and realistic approach. Rather than a universal basic income to replace all existing programs, we could provide a modest, targeted transfer that is means-tested through a gradual phase-out as income rises. This way, those who find work don’t immediately lose all their benefits, and so we can balance the desire to help with efficient work incentives. We also can target the benefits where they will do the most good, instead of including high earners in the plan.

In fact, the federal Liberal government’s proposed new child benefit does just that. It will pay about $500 a month for each child and be phased out as income rises. Moreover, economists Wayne Simpson and Harvey Stevens have a similar proposal for the personal exemption and other non-refundable tax credits in our income tax system. They would transform the existing credits into a basic income for everyone, phased out for higher earners. The cost would be an extra $6-billion to $7-billion over the existing system, but we’re not talking Finnish-sized payments here. The transfer would be at most $1,300 a year – a 10th the size of the Finnish proposal.
posted by russilwvong at 11:51 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Let's say McDonald's has to raise wages to compete for people who would otherwise just stay at home rather than work a shitty job. I mean, they'd have to raise their prices, right?

More robots. And that's a GOOD thing for tedious, body-destroying jobs.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:55 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


Canada's GDP is 2 Trillion. Half of that (for the .5 efficiency ratio) is 1 T. So you need a... 35% VAT increase to get CAN$350 B.

Which is what I said. Please stop frantically googling counter-arguments and posting them unreflectively.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:57 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


So let's try it slowly.

To be fair, Canada has been giving BI to targeted groups for a while; over 65 you get OAS and GIC, which aren't a lot and sorta assume you are living in subsidised housing or with relatives to get by (CPP tops it up if you or your spouse(s) worked in Canada and I thnk it is means tested to $75,000/year); and CCTB which is means-tested (up to household income of $150,00 when it is eliminated) but available to all parents - a single mother earning $20,000/year would get almost $10,000 through monthly cheques for example.
posted by saucysault at 12:01 PM on April 25, 2016


anotherpanacea: Please stop frantically googling counter-arguments and posting them unreflectively.

There's still a problem here. You're estimating revenue of $10 billion per percentage point. Actual figures from the Canadian Department of Finance show that VAT revenue was $31 billion in 2014-2015, at a rate of 5%, or about $6 billion per percentage point. That's a big gap: it's the difference between a VAT increase of 35% and a VAT increase of 58%.
posted by russilwvong at 12:04 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Again, why even consider using a regressive tax like VAT to fund this?
posted by Foosnark at 12:06 PM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


At 50% VAT, would it not be giving people $20,000 in BI, then immediately taking away $10,000 just in VAT as they would be spending all their money on necessities?

In the examply you cite, the person has $10k extra.

It's funny how basic income discussions turn progressives into conservative so suddenly. Poor people suddenly become lazy and irresponsible. Marginal tax rates suddenly matter a lot. Every incremental policy is heralded as a revolutionary act of expropriation.

In the US, many middle class and rich people are more than happy to continue working while facing a 45-50% effective marginal tax rate. This has not made those people stop working; in fact they work much more than the average in places with high marginal tax rates. The way you tax matters, and the disincentives are often over-estimated.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


foosnark: Again, why even consider using a regressive tax like VAT to fund this?

Efficiency, using cash rebates to compensate for the regressiveness. Stephen Gordon tries to explain.
posted by russilwvong at 12:10 PM on April 25, 2016


I think it's been mentioned, but a lot of the possibilities of UBI come from the fact that it's not means-tested and not restricted; while this seems wasteful (some people will get something they don't need) we are already constantly in pitched battles with conservatives who try to pit us against each other for benefits that are means-tested and based on other qualifiers. And that wastes resources and causes people in genuine need to go without. It also inflames and fuels racist populism and other issues.

The concept of UBI lessens the number of attack vectors by not differentiating between recipients. It's not that "we don't want to look at the numbers" but that for a lot of us, there is a well-founded suspicion that a. there is no way to have a comprehensive "look at the numbers" in a system as complex (and subject to loopholes, and in some ways, hidden from scrutiny) as an entire nation's economy and b. there is a cost to doing nothing. That is what drives me, in fact. Doing nothing, by continuing with what we do now, has costs, big ones, probably bigger than we can ever estimate for sure (how do you value the higher death rate of poverty and figure out what the impact really is on our economy? How can you begin to know what potential was lost when someone dies because of homelessness or untreated disease?) Thanks to automation, doing nothing also threatens to lead to higher and higher rates of joblessness, and all the economic and political disruption (and plain human suffering) that this causes. That's not sci-fi; it's happening now.

I agree it's critical not to let conservatives hijack this idea as a backdoor way of burning down the remains of the safety net. I am all for incremental moves, raising wages, increasing jobs, but it's not Silicon Valley faux-disruptor-speak to face the possibility that more jobs and better wages just can't solve these issues long-term.

We need to do the thing we're bad at, and think long-term. Where are our societies headed, in terms of resource distribution? What future do we want and what steps should we start taking to get there? It's scary and risky and almost impossible to consider a society where work is not linked to survival, but we don't really have a choice, if we want that future to be worth anything.
posted by emjaybee at 12:11 PM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


If you are rich a lot of your problems CAN be solved with money

If you're poor, too. I mean, I take your point, but...money goes a long way. For many of the working or would-be-working poor, UBI would be a blessing. The problem will be caring for people for whom the money can never be enough. Like all societies, we have a significant proportion of "broken" people, people who've been stepped on too hard by life at some point or another and are just not over the short term, and maybe not even the long term, going to get it together and be productive. On the one hand, UBI would seem to put a floor under their misery. On the other hand...maybe not? How long is a hard-core addict going to make that monthly check last, and, when it's gone, if other services have been cut, where is he going to turn for help? Do we give a big boost to the working poor at the same time we cut off the most marginal?

rather than assuming that people can and will just move somewhere cheaper, and waving away the negative effects of that, instead of putting half their money in their landlords' pockets like they're doing now

Right now our population distribution is driven by the location of job opportunities. Our "winner" cities are all significantly, disproportionately larger than they used to be. This is just not the inevitable state of things. A lot of poor people understandably don't move to places with cheaper costs of living because of their financial fragility, which makes them particularly dependent on informal social supports that they might have to leave behind. Solve (or greatly ameliorate) the financial fragility, and it becomes a lot easier for people whose earning potential means they'd be better off in a cheaper COL place to move there. Some people will still prefer to remain in their city for whatever reason, but this will mean that those who would like to go elsewhere have a shot at it. You can't tell me that if you went up and down a NYCHA project you wouldn't find a healthy percentage of people who would like to leave behind those crappy conditions and try somewhere else of their own choosing.

You have to remember that the current situation already involves people who haven't managed to get some form of non-market housing being driven steadily further out. That's happening now. The question is what alternatives people have. One day gentrification will consume even East New York, and then where are these people going to go?
posted by praemunire at 12:13 PM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


You're estimating revenue of $10 billion per percentage point. Actual figures from the Canadian Department of Finance show that VAT revenue was $31 billion in 2014-2015, at a rate of 5%, or about $6 billion per percentage point.

Canada currently excludes most basic goods from the VAT, which accounts for most of that. The rest is avoidance (tax evasion costs about $81B total in Canada across all taxes, but more is lost from tax havens than VAT, which is hard to evade.) As I've written above and repeatedly, it is likely a mistake to focus too much on tax rates except at the implementation phase; better to start small and unconditional and grow it as needed.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:14 PM on April 25, 2016


Llama-Lime: Kesselman's spreadsheet you linked above isn't mind boggling large, it's slightly more than a doubling of the budget.

The spreadsheet is from Kevin Milligan, not Jonathan Rhys Kesselman. I would suggest that trying to double Canadian federal tax revenue is indeed mind-bogglingly large.

anotherpanacea: As I've written above and repeatedly, it is likely a mistake to focus too much on tax rates except at the implementation phase; better to start small and unconditional and grow it as needed.

Maybe we've beaten this to death. But I would suggest that a large part of the attractiveness of basic income is the idea that it would, in fact, be enough to live on. So the analyses from Kesselman and Milligan, arguing that raising it to this level is infeasible (assuming we're not living in a post-scarcity world), are worth taking seriously. Again, I would argue that we should be paying more attention to the EITC, which exists today and lifts 6.2 million people out of poverty, and looking for ways to expand it, instead of getting distracted by the utopian vision of basic income. In Canada, the equivalent is the Working Income Tax Benefit, which is quite small.
posted by russilwvong at 12:25 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the examply you cite, the person has $10k extra.

Not really, because it would be replacing current welfare rates (about $10,000/year) and other supports (much more than $10,000/year) that the vulnerable already get. So it would be kind of a wash (or, more likely, a regression) for them rather than an "extra" $10,000". In the US, with a much holier social support net it would probably give people at the bottom a very small boost. A boost to the middle too. But I would rather more money went to the most needy rather than "equitably" across the board.
posted by saucysault at 12:27 PM on April 25, 2016


In one of my business classes in college we talked about a guy at some insurance company who figured out that it was cheaper for his company to simply pay every claim than it was to spend the money and resources they were currently spending making sure only paid the claims they had to.

It was more efficient to get rid of all the qualifiers and just pay everyone. UBI is the same way, get rid of all the qualifiers and all the spending we're already doing is a lot more efficient which means less money spent on bureaucracy and more in the hands of the people who need it.

I found some hand charts here that break down Federal, state, and local spending per capita.

Start adding up the things that you don't need if you have UBI to replace it and that's how much your UBI can be without having to change anything else. Head over to the revenue charts and you can probably figure out what a few shifts in the tax code to something more progressive will get you and add that to your tax savings.

Just getting rid of retirement, health care, and welfare get you close to $10k per person per year. Even if 25% of it ends up being spent on the infrastructure to run it and you've still got a solid $7,500/yr that you can pay out in UBI. And that's without changing taxes and without any of the feedback effects.

I've made some big assumptions about the ability of UBI to totally replace things like social security and unemployment insurance but if those assumptions are correct, we could afford a $7,500 UBI right now without changing anything else.
posted by VTX at 12:29 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's funny to me that opponents seem to picture a world where everyone just sits on their butts all the time.

I don't think they think this. I've gotten in many arguments about this one, online and off.

What they do seem to think, is that someone sitting around and painting all day is a waste of everyones money. They should sell that artwork if it's good enough, or Get A Real Job.

The idea of someone getting to sit around and practice guitar hours every day and get paid for it bugs the shit out of them. They never even seem to make it as far as realizing they get to do it too.

I could throw in some bit about how the most ardent opponents of this are also, in my eyes, boring as fuck people who don't contribute fuckall to society... but that's not really the point either, and is honestly unfair. What i will say is that there is an honest streak of "i don't create anything, and i think people who want to or do dedicate a lot of their time to creative pursuits are lazy fucks who don't really do anything" in this.

Some people just hate artists.
posted by emptythought at 12:37 PM on April 25, 2016 [13 favorites]


But I would suggest that a large part of the attractiveness of basic income is the idea that it would, in fact, be enough to live on.

Sure, eventually. But the EITC isn't enough to live on, either. It's weird to think that we can't support both, or that support for one requires hatred of the other: while we wait for public support for the BIG, I'm totally in favor of expanding the EITC. The major alternative to EITC expansion is actually major increases in the minimum wage, which are currently winning.

If you see why EITC increases are superior to a similar increase in the minimum wage, I think you're already beginning to support cash transfers in ways that will eventually indicate the superiority of the BIG to both.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:39 PM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


russilwvong: What's the best way to help the working poor? The EITC, a negative income tax for families with children.

UBI isn't intended to help the working poor, it's intended to help everyone, regardless of employment status. EITC is fine, but it being "better" depends on whether you think incentivizing people to do the activities defined as generating "earned income" is a good thing. One of the things many people like about UBI is that it doesn't carry with it biased notions of what constitutes "work." A woman who is not in paid employment but is raising her children or caring for an elderly relative is "working" but is not "earning income." A person who is starting their own business may be working nonstop, but is not yet earning any income. A lawyer who takes a case pro bono may log thousands of hours of unpaid "billable" work in a year.

Also, don't get too excited about GOP support for the EITC. It's not benevolent. It's based on a theory that is uncomfortably close to "work will set you free":
It has been said that “work gives people something welfare never can.” Work is not a punishment. Work instills a sense of purpose, self-worth, self-sufficiency, and dignity that cannot be duplicated. The happiness that work provides is not due to money earned, but instead from the “value created in our lives and the lives of others – value that is acknowledged and rewarded.” - House GOP group Republican Study Committee [pdf]
(they also want to have the IRS crack down on EITC fraud but simultaneously proposed abolishing the IRS, so.....yeah, I don't think the GOP really knows which way is up at this point)
posted by melissasaurus at 12:46 PM on April 25, 2016 [10 favorites]


But the EITC isn't enough to live on, either.

It doesn't have to be. The EITC can meet its goals (supplementing wages for the working poor to bring them above the poverty line) without having to be enough to live on, which makes it far more cost-effective than basic income.

It's not a question of hatred, it's a question of attention.

In a post-scarcity economy, a basic income makes perfect sense. Until then, I think what we want is a government guarantee of employment, not income, along with support for people who can't work (children, elderly, disabled).
posted by russilwvong at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's funny how basic income discussions turn progressives into conservative so suddenly. Poor people suddenly become lazy and irresponsible. Marginal tax rates suddenly matter a lot. Every incremental policy is heralded as a revolutionary act of expropriation.

This statement is really offensive, I do not see any arguing that "poor people" are lazy or irresponsible; the majority of the "anti" arguments in this thread seem to be based on economics - like just the necessary doubling of GDP is magically waved away or the actual true benefit of the re-distribution of our collective wealth away from the "poor people" that need it towards the middle-class is not actually achieving BI's goals.

Creating a BI for caregivers (mostly women - minding their children or elders, or performing the majority of the housework) would be one of the better ways to implement it. Right now maternal/parental payments in Canada to eligible parents top out at almost $28,000/year. Expanding that to all parents/caregivers, as well as making it multi-year, would be a good start.
posted by saucysault at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


You could also point out that, for an artist, practice IS work. Eric Clapton got to be good at playing guitar by practicing the shit out of playing guitar.

If you paint something and don't like the way it came out, it's because your taste exceeds your skill. The only way to increase your skill is to practice, practice, practice.

The reason I'm NOT that good playing my guitar is because I don't like playing it well enough to do it for eight hours a day and I have to spend most of my energy on my "real" job.

It's not even that big a leap to make. When you get right down to it, MOST of an NFL player's job is to practice playing football with the actual performance of their "art" for a couple of hours once a week, usually on Sundays. Even then they're doing it for, at most, 20 weeks.
posted by VTX at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


Not really, because it would be replacing current welfare rates (about $10,000/year) and other supports (much more than $10,000/year) that the vulnerable already get. So it would be kind of a wash (or, more likely, a regression) for them rather than an "extra" $10,000".

So, I've done most of this math for the US, and I'm going to use US figures here.

If the starting VAT was 5% of consumer spending, then in 2008 it would have raised about $2500 per household, which is a little more than the Alaska Permanent Dividend. (The median household would pay exactly what it receives, and there would be no cap for luxury expenditures like there is for payroll taxes.) But part of what makes poverty is household size: the median US household is 2.6, but the lowest decile household is smaller, and has fewer wage earners. In general, then, poverty is not caused by spending more, but by earning less. We do prioritarian ethics a disservice when we pretend otherwise.

So, on a 5% VAT+BIG, a family of 2 living in the bottom decile would have $2500 more a year, no matter how much they earn. (I haven’t said this, but I imagine that this would be paid on a per-person basis, not per-household.) You can’t do much with that, but it’s a start: it’s about what foodstamps are worth (for a family of 2 living on less than $19,128) and about twice what low-income heating/cooling assistance pays, or roughly equal to LIHEAP plus Medicaid. At 10% VAT+BIG, you could start to phase those out, plus foodstamps, or (the incredibly restrictive) TANF completely. At 15% you can eliminate all of the above. At 25%, you’ve basically replaced the value of the federal means-tested benefits, which in the US right now is equal to about $12,000-$13,000.

I think that a truly just BIG would require about 30%-35% VAT+BIG, and in that case you could eliminate Social Security, as well. (Social Security is not actually a redistributive form of social insurance: it’s based on your income so rich people receive more and poor less. Phasing out the Social Security payroll tax would be great for workers of all incomes, but especially the least-advantaged!) Notice you can reduce payroll taxes by 12.4% by getting rid of Social Security, and you could likely reduce income taxes a bit if you eliminated a lot of the current tax expenditures aimed at the middle class, so the 35% VAT isn't a pure tax increase.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:49 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


melissasaurus: I'm sure UBI would be great, but to me, arguing for the superiority of the UBI over existing programs (like the EITC) is like arguing for the advantages of flying carpets over cars. Cars are terrible: they're expensive, they pollute, they break down, they kill people. But they exist, while flying carpets don't. If Kesselman is right, the UBI is similar to a flying carpet in that it's impossible.

I totally agree that the GOP isn't likely to do anything that actually requires raising taxes. Not even with Trump's nomination staring them in the face.
posted by russilwvong at 12:54 PM on April 25, 2016


A good example of why unconditional benefits are cheaper than means-tested benefits is single-payer health care. The government would have to increase taxes significantly to pay for single-payer, but all the countries with single-payer spend a lot less of their GDP on health care than we do, so overall it's cheaper. Just by reducing red tape and means-testing, you can get a lot more efficiency out of a system, and the same thing goes for poverty-alleviation.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:54 PM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


You could also point out that, for an artist, practice IS work. Eric Clapton got to be good at playing guitar by practicing the shit out of playing guitar.

Yes, sunk costs and maintenance. It's a huge investment of time and effort.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:54 PM on April 25, 2016


I think "[they] hate artists" is overly generous, emptythought. It's true the right wing dislikes artists, and defended the NEA as soon as the Cold War ended, but they do like plays, music, etc. too.

In fact, we could address "artist hate" with a simple policy like High School graduates get +10%, Bachelors degree holders get +10%, and STEM degree holders get +10%.

No. I think they actually fear that poor people might jump off the survival hamster wheel en mass, educate themselves, and become politically active.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:55 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


anotherpanacea: I'm dubious about the efficiency argument.
posted by russilwvong at 12:57 PM on April 25, 2016


In a post-scarcity economy, a basic income makes perfect sense. Until then, I think what we want is a government guarantee of employment, not income, along with support for people who can't work (children, elderly, disabled).

This assumes that a basic income is inferior to the EITC for encouraging work. In fact, the opposite is true, both theoretically and in practice. Means-testing is way worse of employment than universality.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:58 PM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


anotherpanacea: I'm dubious about the efficiency argument.

This is totally unresponsive, because I am not Matt Zwolinski or a libertarian. Please stop frantically googling counter-arguments and posting them unreflectively.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:00 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


You get big efficiency gains from public health insurance (and public pensions), no question. But I don't see how you get the same kind of gains from universal basic income (which is no longer a risk-pooling form of social insurance).

anotherpanacea: This assumes that a basic income is inferior to the EITC for encouraging work.

No. I'm assuming that a basic income (at a high enough level to live on) is impossible to implement, not that it would have negative incentive effects.
posted by russilwvong at 1:00 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Please stop frantically googling counter-arguments and posting them unreflectively.

I like to back up my arguments with specifics.

The link to the Mike Konczal article isn't ad hominem ("anotherpanacea is a libertarian!!") -- the point is that if admin costs for existing programs were high, that would indeed be a source of funding that could be freed up to support UBI. But it doesn't look like they are.
posted by russilwvong at 1:04 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ugh, this is so reductionist. No, conservatives don't hate art. They just generally think of it as a hobby, something only children and people who can make it pay do full time. People quilt, paint, sing, play, all sorts of things to enhance their lives. They just find the idea of paying someone to fuck around with leisure time not a good one. The idea is that art is good for you personally rather than others - and to be honest, for most people it's true. 75% of the poetry people write is shit. 75% of the paintings as well.
posted by corb at 1:05 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's curious that professional sports isn't also regarded as a hobby - it's not like they "produce" anything.
posted by AFABulous at 1:14 PM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


But I don't see how you get the same kind of gains from universal basic income (which is no longer a risk-pooling form of social insurance).

Only some of the benefit of public provision comes from risk-pooling. A lot of it come of it comes from economies of scale and monopsony pricing. And still more comes from the effect on consumers and workers, who can take additional risks.

The issue is that you're misreading the efficiency argument: it's not that public provision saves a TON on administrative costs from the state's cost side, although it does. (Means-tested benefits cost about 10x as much to administer as universal ones; compare the cost of Social Security administration to something like food stamps or disability insurance.)

It's that public provision saves a TON on administrative costs from the citizen's side. With universality, it stops being a full time job to prove that you're poor enough to qualify for the benefits, you don't have to stay idle, you can find useful things to do. Treating this just like a balance sheet question is a mistake: you have to get revenues and costs to balance, but that's not the same thing as raising effective taxes a lot. We need to evaluate the dead-weight costs of VAT+BIG, and those looks quite small or even positive (that is, dead-weight benefits, not costs.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:16 PM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


If people think UBI is a replacement for government health care, well, they probably have employer-provided health care and have no incentive to think out how health care works.

Our ACA health plan, for two people, costs about $15,000 a year, without the subsidy and with the out-of-pocket limit (which we always get to, because of a pre-existing condition). That's 3/4 of the 'reasonable' $10K/year for UBI, and that's before paying rent, food, etc.

And, the vast bulk of the ACA is about various plans for cost reduction, rules on pre-existing conditions, and other stuff to make sure the premium can go that low. If you want to get rid of universal health care, you want to get rid of all that too, and the price of health insurance will skyrocket— pretty much destroying the whole point of UBI.

UBI could get rid of some foolish regulations, like the restrictions on what poor people can spend SNAP benefits on. But there are a lot of reasons why providing health care is not like providing rice and rent.
posted by zompist at 1:26 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


The idea is that art is good for you personally rather than others - and to be honest, for most people it's true. 75% of the poetry people write is shit. 75% of the paintings as well.

Don't you think if people could freely choose to do whatever, most of them would choose to do things they're actually good at? The vast majority of mid-talent hobby musicians have no ambitions outside of art as a Hobby. Most of the truly gifted I know would drop everything to do the professional thing if they could.

I mean, I'm sure we'd end up paying for some people to do something they're not very good at, but we do that now.
posted by Gygesringtone at 1:27 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


If people think UBI is a replacement for government health care, well, they probably have employer-provided health care and have no incentive to think out how health care works.

Most non-libertarian fans of the basic income believe that you probably need a basic income, public provision of health care, and public education in order to do this non-regressively, plus a lot of infrastructure, law enforcement, and military. The idea here isn't to get rid of government, but to get rid of poverty.

As we've discussed, public provision of health care and education tends to be cheaper than private provision. Public provision of justice and security tend to be fairer and more legitimate than private systems. So while there are libertarian fans of the basic income guarantee, that's not really the only approach.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:32 PM on April 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


Don't you think if people could freely choose to do whatever, most of them would choose to do things they're actually good at?

No because Dunning-Kruger Effect.

corb's estimate of 75% is way low, too. More like 99% of art, poetry, etc. is shitty.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:52 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


The idea is that art is good for you personally rather than others

It might be, but part of what I don't see brought up about basic income often enough at this point is that we are quickly passing the point where we need everybody to do labor for others in order for society to function. A huge portion of the population is just not going to be capable of being doctors and engineers, which are the sorts of things we will continue to need. A good friend of mine, we grow up in a very working/lower class sort of neighborhood, and his mom's whole career was working at grocery stores and the like. I think about her every time I go to the grocery store and there's only one actual cashier and the rest of the open lanes are self-check. Her younger compatriots are not going to retire as grocery store cashiers. So, what will they do instead? What will a person who is 21 today and not capable academically of doing college-level work be doing 44 years from now when they turn 65? We just won't need this much unskilled labor forever. We will need plumbers and such, but how many?

If the economy does not require you to be doing something economically productive in order to keep plugging along quite happily, at some point, it shouldn't matter if you're writing Supernatural fanfiction or writing the next great American novel, you should be able to do what you like. I don't know what people who insist that we all need to be doing productive labor forever expect the bulk of the population to be doing in 40 years or 400. If we don't need all these people to be doing unskilled labor 40+ hours a week, 40+ hours a week of labor should not be required to obtain housing and food and health care.

The writing novels isn't necessarily a thing people need to do for the good of society, except insofar as it will keep people feeling good about what they're doing with their days, and that will reduce costs of things like health care and crime. We don't need everybody to be writing good novels any more than we need them to be making widgets 40 hours a week.
posted by Sequence at 1:58 PM on April 25, 2016 [18 favorites]


corb's estimate of 75% is way low, too. More like 99% of art, poetry, etc. is shitty.

And yet the entertainment industry is enormous.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:01 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think the 99% shit point still stands.
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:05 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


You all need to see/hear/experience more art. Sheesh. No way is 99% shit possibly accurate unless you just hate art.
posted by agregoli at 2:07 PM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


Currently for a 100% disabled veteran with a spouse and child, they receive $38,000 a year. 20,000 wouldn't cut it.

I would assume that the spouse is an adult citizen. In that case they get $40,000 per year -- more than they get now. You have a problem with that?
posted by JackFlash at 2:08 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]



You all need to see/hear/experience more art. Sheesh. No way is 99% shit possibly accurate unless you just hate art.


You need to spend more time on Tumblr.

There are a LOT of pretentious people out there who fancy themselves artists and thus are prolific posters of embarrassingly bad shit in the tags I track.

The things I've seen...
posted by Jacqueline at 2:10 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


If the spouse is also a veteran, they get 35,000$, for a combined 72000$, so the 40,000$ would still be about 32K short. And that's not counting healthcare.

My point on that is essentially that some people would be taking a huge paycut if the "UBI" were to replace all money that some people view as being poverty aiding.
posted by corb at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Because like it or not, the robots are coming, and sooner than most of us think

This. So much this.

At some point "value of all human labor" will be a small blip next to "value of robot output." It's pretty clear we will want a ubi of some sort anyway.

I think even starting with a relatively small amount would still do wonders, because it works on the margins -- the ubi helps that person who can quit their job and be okay, whose unemployment won't wind up with them going on to hit some other part of the welfare system. Or the person who can then pay for that medical test, saving a bunch of money somewhere else in the system.

Basically, as stuff gets cheaper, it gets easier to simply give things to people rather than fix the problems resulting from the lack of them.

But this depends on the person. Some peoples problems you can't fix for any amount of money. But others could be fixed fairly easily, and wow was that a good deal.

So it's fine to just give people some stuff now. But we really should start giving people stuff, because we're going to need to know how.
posted by bjrubble at 2:26 PM on April 25, 2016 [11 favorites]


I think it's really, really unlikely that we're close to a post-scarcity world, so I daydream about tying universal income to fossil fuel use. Figure out how much CO2 we will risk emitting every year, cap fuel extraction, and charge by C extracted. Return all the monies to everyone in the world (it's everyone's atmosphere) per capita. C prices will rise. C use will drop. The rich world feels a lot poorer, the absolute poorest people in the world are much better off, and engineering and business have a novel and useful inspiration.

I don't know whether we can run anything like the society we have now on an even vaguely possibly stable amount of CO2 emissions, but if we *can't* we're heading for even more drastic disasters, and I'd like to get incentives lined up as early as possible.

(I wrote this up mostly for anyone who's merely despairing at the political impossibility of anti-poverty programs in rich countries. )
posted by clew at 2:27 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


Perhaps one of the best ideas I've heard for a BIG is as a way to make a carbon tax palatable. In that case it would replace absolutely no social program, because it would be designed to phase out over time. But perhaps eventually as carbon emissions fell, we would decide we liked it and find alternative Pigovian taxes to fund it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:31 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't think post scarcity is the right term at all, it's just different things that become scarce.

The real concern is the post-labor period, where there's no clear need for human labor in the work force. At that point, capital and land and luxuries will still be scarce. Also scarce will be the economic opportunities to grab more of the pie, or even worse, the chance to grab enough of the pie to match basic necessities
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think the 99% shit point still stands.

Say you have twenty 18-year-old kids, all of them want to be artists. One of them is going to create some important piece of art some day in the future. Even most of what that kid produces will be shit so we'll still hit the "99% of everything is shit" metric with just 20 "future artists".

There is no reliable way to predict which of them will make the important art or even which piece they produce will be the important one.

Right now, only one of those kids will actually get to be an artist so we need to get really lucky in order for them to produce important art. With universal income, all twenty get to be artists so we're much more likely to get the "important art" produced. It helps to assume that the "important piece of art" is something that you, personally, feel is important be it your favorite song, painting, movie, sculpture, play, etc.

Again, it lends itself well to sports a sports analogy. In order to get one Aaron Rodgers, you need 100 kids to play football in grade-school. One will be the next Superbowl MVP, the other 99 will have gone as far as their talent, genetics, luck, dedication, work, etc. will let them but fall short and move on to something else.

If everyone in the country is able to pursue the things that they love most, most of them will fall short of greatness but you can bet your bottom dollar that more of the things that you personally enjoy the most will get produced.
posted by VTX at 2:38 PM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]


clew: Welcome to geolibertarianism! There are dozens of us! Dozens! :D
posted by Jacqueline at 2:40 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm glad to know there are dozens of us, but I'm a little startled that a plan requiring one world market, money for everyone, and probably Skynet for enforcement is described as libertarian.
posted by clew at 2:44 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


to raise the money, you would have to double everyone's taxes.

So what? U.S. taxation is about half of many Scandinavian countries and they are doing just fine. You can't make the argument that it is mathematically impossible. It is only limited by political will, not some law of physics.

The U.S. is fabulously rich with a gross national income of $56,000 per person -- man, woman and child. To say we don't have enough money for a basic income is factually untrue. It is simply a matter of equitable distribution with plenty left over for the rich.
posted by JackFlash at 2:50 PM on April 25, 2016 [20 favorites]


I'm a little startled that a plan requiring one world market, money for everyone, and probably Skynet for enforcement is described as libertarian.

GEOlibertarian.

Our main difference from conventional libertarians is that while we agree that property rights and free markets tend to be the best way to organize things, we also believe that the Earth belongs to all of humankind.

The way we resolve that apparent conflict is we would allow people to "own" and sell land etc. so that markets can still do their thing, but those people must then compensate the rest of society via taxes on land, natural resource extraction, and pollution.

In an ideal geolibertarian world, these would actually be the ONLY taxes because a tax is a disincentive to do the taxed activity and we don't want to discourage people from working, starting businesses, hiring people, buying and selling things, etc. The incremental approach of striving to make all NEW taxes be on land, natural resource extraction, or pollution is a good start.

Combine that with a basic income as proposed by libertarian economists Hayek and Friedman and yeah, your plan is totally a geolibertarian policy proposal.

It's sad that so many "fuck you, got mine" assholes have called themselves libertarians and ruined the word for the rest of us. To me, libertarianism is about ensuring that all people have enough options and freedom that their life outcomes are determined more by their choices than by the circumstances of their birth or external forces.

There's a question I like to ask my fellow libertarians, stolen from one of my development economics professor:s If the only decision a subsistence-level farmer in rural sub-Saharan Africa gets to make most days is how much of their limited food supply to give to their hungry children vs. how much to eat themselves because they need energy to work, can you really call them "free" just because they don't pay taxes and aren't being hassled by government regulators?

Most of my fellow Libertarian Party hacks and other co-ideologues tend to respond to this question with suspicious looks and accusations that I'm starting to sound like a socialist and/or statist. But it does get some of them thinking.

(fffm and others have wondered why I continue to associate with the "fuck you, got mine" libertarians and conservatives. I do so because I feel a duty to try to bring them around on issues like the environment, trans* rights, etc. My libertarian creds are well established -- I've run for office, held numerous positions within the LP including as the full-time paid Executive Director of a state chapter, and volunteered literally thousands of hours for libertarian campaigns and causes -- so they are more inclined to listen to me than to an outsider.)

So yeah, that's the basics of geolibertarianism. It's libertarianism informed by environmental science and development economics, plus an extra helping of compassion.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:38 PM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


P.S. I also think we should abolish corporations but that's just a me thing -- it's not (yet?) a tenet of geolibertarianism or a platform position of the LP.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:41 PM on April 25, 2016


russilwvong: The great bulk of welfare-state spending comes from a handful of major programs, and these programs are fairly efficient, with low administrative costs.

When Konczal and Krugman argue against the efficiency argument for UBI, they're missing a potentially large form of inefficiency though. Administrative overhead isn't the only way a welfare system can be wasteful — the other problem is that in-kind benefits have an opportunity cost whenever what's provided differs from what people actually need. You can't fix the car you use to get to work with food stamps, for example. I don't really how significant these inefficiencies are, but any defense of the existing welfare system vs. equivalent cash transfers either has to make the argument that the government is providing things that can't be efficiently provided by the market, or that politicians know the needs of the poor better than they do themselves. "If we just give them money, they'll buy the wrong things..." Taken to an extreme, it starts to sound awfully similar to the conservative bugaboo of people buying steak with food stamps.
posted by Wemmick at 3:45 PM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


I don't think we're anywhere near where robots can replace service workers. Sure, they can replace transactional workers, but we are nowhere near "here's the robot nanny you entrust with your children". Or "here's the robot worker who can organize your files."
posted by corb at 3:49 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


My dad used to trade food stamps for cigarettes. He was in a new country, with no support network, working menial jobs under the table to survive. Sure, they weren't good for him, and there were better ways to spend the money, but they were a relatively small indulgence that was way cheaper than the therapy he should have had. You can't optimize everything, and sometimes people just need to make it through the day.

These are the kind of inefficiencies I think about. The loss of face value for the food stamps. The time spent waiting in line at social services organizations. The times I went hungry because I was embarrassed about getting free lunch. The times I want to school sick and probably infected a whole class because nobody could afford to stay home with me. Or when I stayed home myself to babysit a younger sibling because even at 8, I had to be responsible.

A lot of the concerns people are raising are being directly addressed in the GiveDirectly study. I'm curious to see how many economic "truths" it upends.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:56 PM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


Or "here's the robot worker who can organize your files."

Our communications are instantly searchable and mostly automatically archived. People used to get paid to do the same.
posted by peeedro at 3:57 PM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


It seems like UBI would drive rents up, making these problems worse, even if people would be better off in other ways.

People assuming UBI would drive up rents really need to show their work. Have rents risen in areas with increased minimum wages as much as double the federal wage? It doesn't seem so, in fact it seems that the only two real drivers of rent increases are demand outstripping supply, and waves of high income residents moving to the cities who can easily pay expensive rent in high demand areas.

This is a "build more low income housing" sort of problem, not a "UBI would decimate rental prices!".

Look at SF or Seattle and tell me increased low income spending power is what's driving rents up.
posted by emptythought at 4:03 PM on April 25, 2016 [7 favorites]


In recent years quantitative easing and other monetary policies have produced less inflation that desired, so I wonder of any even slight inflationary pressures of UBI and the long term expectation of more income later (spend it now, more comes next year) would serve as a firebreak against deflation which can cause a lot of problems.
posted by Gotanda at 5:09 PM on April 25, 2016


> People assuming UBI would drive up rents really need to show their work.

I admit that arguments like "Rent or Owner Rent Equivalent" is such a large portion of CPI that it would be more impressive if additional money supply didn't raise rents any", and "primary school education is a normal good pair for by property taxes on your primary residence" are theoretical and not experimental arguments. And my landlord's rental increases timed to union negotiations is a non-scientific sample size of one.

> Have rents risen in areas with increased minimum wages as much as double the federal wage?

Oregon just raised our minimum wages, and by one study, Portland rent increases are the fastest in the nation. The problem is that there's a variety of confounding factors. Portland's always had high minimum income; and there's no exemption for tipping wages. Even comparing between Portland and Vancouver WA is a problem, because even if the laws hold minimum wages a constant degree apart, you can't prevent migration.

The subprime credit bubble is another possible angle to get at this -- the increased financial availability seems to have increased prices, and decreased them when withdrawn. But again there's a variety of entangled features that make this particular event less informative. Most of the subprime bubble was refinancing, using potentially fraudulent appraisals, and that sort of bad data corrupts comparable sales analysis. And there's both a question of causality and the direction of causality.

> seems that the only two real drivers of rent increases are demand outstripping supply, and ..

> Look at SF or Seattle and tell me increased low income spending power is what's driving rents up.

It seems fair to assume UBI without a change in local housing policies. In which case, you definitely have more demand for things in general than will be short term supplied. And its possible for both of these to be true -- if Californians / Asians / Tech bros moving to your locality can increase rents, because they have more money than current tenants it seems logical the same can apply when everyone has more money.
posted by pwnguin at 6:15 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oregon just raised our minimum wages, and by one study, Portland rent increases are the fastest in the nation. The problem is that there's a variety of confounding factors.

Among those confounding factors is that the raise in the minimum wage doesn't go into effect until July.
posted by Etrigan at 6:32 PM on April 25, 2016 [9 favorites]


I am absolutely, unequivocally in support of a universal basic income in the two countries that I am most attached to, both countries that have universal (if imperfect) healthcare already -- Canada and Korea -- if the numbers could be made to make sense.

I also support it for every other country that could make it work.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:34 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


The article I read on this topic several months ago did a good job of arguing not that UBI is something we SHOULD do for moral reasons, but something we will HAVE to do because of advances in AI and automation:

Deep Learning is Going to Teach Us All The Lesson of Our Lives: Jobs are for Machines

"And now even the White House, in a stunning report to Congress, has put the probability at 83 percent that a worker making less than $20 an hour in 2010 will eventually lose their job to a machine. Even workers making as much as $40 an hour face odds of 31 percent. To ignore odds like these is tantamount to our now laughable “duck and cover” strategies for avoiding nuclear blasts during the Cold War."
posted by threeturtles at 6:36 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


You're also giving the middle class $20k a year, and that's enough extra that they feel it.

except that you'd also be taking that $20k back off them to fund the whole scheme. If the thing is to be economically sustainable, it must leave the bulk of the population in roughly the same economic position it is already in.

The UBI is one of many redistribution schemes, where the State lays claim to some of the money that economic activity naturally tends to concentrate in the hands of the already wealthy, and distributes it to those most in need.

For any given level of UBI, it is possible to devise a progressive income tax scheme including negative income taxes for low income earners that causes exactly the same net redistribution. Folks who are basically OK with redistribution but worry about the "incredible cost" of the UBI will generally advocate for the negative income tax option instead, because it looks like less of a hit on the budget; if you're not paying everybody then you obviously need to raise less to fund your scheme.

Personally I'm in the "fuck it, just let it look like it costs a lot" camp. If the net redistributive effect is indeed equivalent to some negative-income-tax scheme, then the only overall economic difference between NIT and UBI is that the NIT requires administrative work to do means-testing at the low end, while the UBI requires administrative work to churn vast sums of money unproductively back and forth within the middle class.

The work required by the UBI option is pure bookkeeping though - it requires no extra decision-making - and the simple, clear, easily-understood idea that everybody gets their UBI regardless would make it way, way easier for ordinary people to plan their economic lives around it.

The only people with any grounds for objecting to the resulting increase in the size of the State budget would be those who think that the "size of government" as measured by total government revenue and spending actually means something; and frankly, those people are idiots best ignored.

As for the idea that the UBI would properly replace existing welfare arrangements for low income earners, like unemployment and disability benefits: I don't think so. It would obviously affect the means tests applied to those things, and it would probably make it feasible to reduce the benefit amounts to some extent, but there will always be a need for targeted welfare simply because not everybody's circumstances are identical.

UBI and the taxation arrangements that fund it should be seen as part of the economic background conditions, like the rule of law and the right to own private property; it should not be used as an excuse to abolish targeted welfare.
posted by flabdablet at 8:57 PM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]


It would probably make sense for the $20k to start when you turn 18, be tied to citizenship in some way that makes sense

Yeah no. This will just create the situation Jacqueline mentioned, where non-citizens (which could be anywhere from Permanent Residents all the way down to undocumented people) are exploited into working for low pay without any recourse to advocate for themselves since they can't vote and could be kicked out of the country - which frankly is already happening anyway.

Non-citizens already have to pay taxes; I had to fill out tax forms ever since I was an international student. My only saving grace was that I never earned quite enough (yay restrictions on income and working hours!) so I ended up getting money back instead.
posted by divabat at 10:00 PM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]


(And that's if these people are allowed to work in the first place: as an international student, you can only really work min wage for a set number of hours a week unless you get permission from Immigration saying that job is absolutely necessary for your degree. But you're still liable for taxes, even though you don't get Social Security or much of anything else unless your city's a sanctuary city.)
posted by divabat at 10:02 PM on April 25, 2016


This article is a great and well-researched introduction to basic income, especially for people who are new to the concept.

There's a lot of talk in the basic income movement about 'robots taking our jobs,' which is fine as far as it goes. But as a feminist, I am keenly interested in helping to steer more of the conversation about basic income in the direction of the many benefits it would have for women. Women do a disproportionate share of unpaid work, for one thing, and it ends up robbing them of their potential.

See: All of the problems Universal Basic Income can solve that have nothing to do with unemployment.

My favorite quote:
"...women carry the burden of emotional labor—the childcare, support, and household work, which largely goes uncompensated. “Of course this unpaid work is valuable and I think UBI is recognition of that,” says Bregman."
posted by velvet winter at 10:25 PM on April 25, 2016 [18 favorites]


People assuming UBI would drive up rents really need to show their work

https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=4i2v

As for the inflation argument in general, I think this is relevant:

https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MCUMFN

These are flat-out 'good times', and yet our manufacturing output is at (what were) recessionary levels.

The point above that UBI doesn't disappear into the ether is an important point. Redistributive spending increases monetary velocity, and there's a helluva lot of slack in our system to meet the increased demands of our citizenry.

https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/MZMV

Missing thus far (?) in the discussion is how UBI goes with MMT. This is a very interesting combination, either peanut & chocolate or hydrogen and oxygen . . .

Me, I'd prefer MMT target "supply side" government programs -- public works, housing, medical infrastructure.

And the UBI come from the bottom to float all the boats that way.

What I see looking at our economic picture and prospect is that we need a whole shitload of capital development here. Our housing stock is crappy. Our railroads are crappy. Our subways are crappy. Our bus services are crappy. Our internet and cellular infrastructure is crappy.

Living in Tokyo in the 1990s opened my eyes to how crappy my own country was in so many ways.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 1:00 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


What gets me about economics is that so few people in the field make any sense to me.

Keen, Hudson, Gaffney, that's about it.

Conservatives fear becoming overrun by layabouts on the dole, and it's a fair cop IMO.

But they are too reactionary, defending this decrepit status quo -- and, more importantly, their present position within it -- of course.

At any rate, for a nation that prides itself at being #1 Best at Capitalism, ISTM we really suck at it.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 1:08 AM on April 26, 2016


https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=4i2O

consider the red line "full employment". It's not, but close enough for this argument.

The blue line is jobs, and we're still 10M short of "full employment" now, six years into the recovery.

FWIW, I expect a repeat of the 1990s job picture as Gen Y continues to flood into the workforce (the millennials are age 24 +/- 9 now) so it is possible by 2025 we'll be back to the happy full employment of 1999.

People treat economics like the weather, but it's not. The rules of the game determine the results, and it's just unfortunate contingency that has our rules still resembling that of Hasbro's Monopoly.

I read a biography of Upton Sinclair not too long ago, and its main take-away was this precious H L Mencken quote, circa 1919:

"To hell with socialism," he said. "The longer I live, the more I am convinced that the common people are doomed to be diddled forever. You are fighting a vain fight. But you must be having lots of fun."
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 1:27 AM on April 26, 2016


It would probably make sense for the $20k to start when you turn 18, be tied to citizenship in some way that makes sense

You focused on the wrong part. There are a TON of details and issues that would need to be worked through but since this thread is about an idea and not an actual piece of proposed legislation, I'm not going to worry about them.

Yes, UBI being tied to citizen shit is an issue that would need to be worked though. Big whoop, there are a bunch of others too. We could solve it by making changes to our immigration policies and a series of visas that would phase UBI in for immigrants. There's one solution, I'm sure there are others, but until there is actual legislation on the table it doesn't really make sense to worry about it in detail.
posted by VTX at 5:37 AM on April 26, 2016


until there is actual legislation on the table it doesn't really make sense to worry about it in detail.

I'm not sure -- I tend to think that the more arguments and counter-arguments UBI proponents have worked out in advance, the better. Think of it as war-planning in the Joint Chiefs sense; they'll need to have prepared responses (*immediate* responses) to every possible variant of "theys takin' our monies!".

Legislation on the table comes second, after an enormous amount of lobbying and public argumentation to get the legislation written in the first place. Also, not to be crass, but folks should probably expect one or more mass shootings at UBI-related public events in the US once things really get going, so that should be part of the planning as well.
posted by aramaic at 6:14 AM on April 26, 2016


That's a fair point. I think maybe my issue is that someone was presenting the issue like it's impossible to overcome.

You're right, it helps to identify the issue and have worked out possible solutions in advance. But there is a difference between saying, "Hey, there is an issue that would have to be overcome." "Oh, there is a problem with your idea, therefore we should not do it."

It's like going on a road trip and someone saying, "Uh guys, we have to cancel the trip, the car is out of gas" while passing a gas station.

They'd be correct in that running out of gas is a problem on a road trip but let's not cancel the whole thing because you identified one, easily solvable, issue and just couldn't be bothered to think past that to a possible solution.

Just don't present issue like they're unsolvable, most of this stuff can and will get figured out.
posted by VTX at 6:27 AM on April 26, 2016


I don't think we're anywhere near where robots can replace service workers. Sure, they can replace transactional workers, but we are nowhere near "here's the robot nanny you entrust with your children". Or "here's the robot worker who can organize your files."

This is correct. However, what automation often does is not give you a 1:1 robot-worker to replace your human worker, but render whole classes of workers unnecessary.

For example, I work in the marketing side of the architecture/engineering industry. Were greater automation/higher-tech materials to become a thing in my industry, it could reduce the need for companies like mine. Maybe not to zero, but less. And it might fundamentally change the process of how my company acquires work, as well. So I might be out of a job not because a robot was doing what I do, but because automation in my industry had ripple effects that made keeping me employed too expensive or unnecessary.

Work done by humans requires a supporting bureaucracy of other humans doing quality-checking, HR, and so on that work done by machines does not, or not to the same extent.

The jobs won't all vanish tomorrow, but in the next 50 years, I wouldn't lay bets on them all still being here.
posted by emjaybee at 7:28 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


The cynic in me thinks that as classes of workers become unnecessary they will simply be culled instead of getting a UBI. If that sounds unimaginable to you consider the possibility that it has already started given the statistics with police shootings/prison incarceration.
posted by koolkat at 8:39 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


That'll be how the UBI takes hold in the US -- prison. Everyone in prison gets a certain minimal level of care. Mass incarceration = UBI. We give you food, shelter, basic medical care, and you get to stay where we put you until you die.
posted by aramaic at 8:47 AM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


VTX: If you mean me, I never said UBI was impossible. I said that people need to be wary about tying things to citizenship because of the drawbacks towards people who aren't 100% citizens. If UBI is to work it needs to include analysis of immigration in its process.
posted by divabat at 9:15 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is correct. However, what automation often does is not give you a 1:1 robot-worker to replace your human worker, but render whole classes of workers unnecessary.

Honestly, this portion of the thread just seems like Singularity, Episode 5: The Singularity Strikes Back, the dark, gritty sequel to Singularity, Episode 4: A New Hope.

A certain amount of job churn is inevitable. But even robotics is subject to diminishing returns on investment. Robotic labor is a substitute for high cost labor. When companies outsource to China, the common refrain is to sell off automated machinery, to better optimize the labor:machine tradeoff. While wages in China are rising, a lot of that can be undone overnight by liberalizing economic migration.

It's also an open question regarding how society takes advantage of higher productivity. Do we work less, or consume more? Probably a mix of both. For example, if robots make high efficiency windows cheap to produce, competition will lower the price of said windows, and demand for them is expect to go up; it's possible that jobs in the big window factories goes down while home renovation jobs go up.
posted by pwnguin at 9:56 AM on April 26, 2016


I said that people need to be wary about tying things to citizenship because of the drawbacks towards people who aren't 100% citizens. If UBI is to work it needs to include analysis of immigration in its process.

Mistreatement of immigrants is a major concern with a basic income. On the one hand, it's the last remaining "condition," and so literally at odds with the universality provision. On the other hand, it's hard to see how you can have a basic income sustainably available to anyone who shows up, which is also why this is difficult to do sub-nationally: you'd have lots of people moving to a city or state that tried to do a smaller basic income just for residents, and they'd go bankrupt.

I'm not sure where I first heard this argument, but it's stuck with me: consider two countries with large natural resource reserves, Norway and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has what amounts to a basic income for citizens, paid for with oil wealth, that hinges on enslaving immigrant labor and unproductive sinecures for the few citizens interested in work. Norway invests its oil wealth in a sovereign wealth fund that pays for a robust welfare state that encourages everyone to work at least a little.

Since Norway is clearly the superior society, there's at least some evidence against a basic income guarantee. But it's a small sample size and there are a bunch of other differences between the countries and their methods, so it's maybe worth running a few more experiments just to be sure.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:01 AM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


The blue line is jobs, and we're still 10M short of "full employment" now, six years into the recovery.

The powers that be don't want full employment, as it shifts the power from the buyers of labor to the sellers of labor. Remember how badly Washington was freaking out during that brief period in the 90's?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:02 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


One of the arguments in favor of the Basic Income is that

....two Oxford economists estimated that 47 percent of all U.S. jobs were at risk of computerization. Increasingly, technologists envision basic income as a “hack,” or fix, to the system — it offers a way of coping with an economic future dominated by automation, a fallback plan for when most human labor isn’t valued or needed... “We think there could be a possibility where 95 percent — or a vast majority — of people won’t be able to contribute to the workforce,” said Matt Krisiloff, the manager of Y Combinator’s basic income project. “We need to start preparing for that transformation.”....


This idea seems intuitively correct. I believe that most people would use this novel idea to improve the quality of their lives, and our nation would be better off as a result. Anyhow I've always wanted to live in the Star Trek universe. I say "believe" but some little demon keeps whispering sour things in my ear.

Flowers' essay posits that typical objections to the Basic Income model may not hold much water. But can we come up with an economic model that transcends capitalism? I'm not sure that the BI model can be overlaid onto capitalism as we all know and love it. Doesn't capitalism work best if a gap exists between the upper 1%-ers and the poor? I envision a sort of capillary process, by which the pennies are sucked upward, the larger the lower class (and the more vast the disparity in wealth), the more vigorous the suck. I can carry the analogy on to the arteries and veins that service the upper classes, but you get the idea. If some flavor of capitalism won't work, then what? Labels have magic. They can make smart people stupid and stupid people powerful.

Anyhow, if everyone gets a raise, what limits the inflationary adjustment made by the upper-middle class running dogs?--rent, real estate, medicine. It seems to me that avarice trumps all. I'm not sure it's possible to legislate against avarice any more than it's possible to legislate against hubris or racism. There. That little demon has had his say.
posted by mule98J at 11:57 AM on April 26, 2016


VTX: If you mean me, I never said UBI was impossible. I said that people need to be wary about tying things to citizenship because of the drawbacks towards people who aren't 100% citizens. If UBI is to work it needs to include analysis of immigration in its process.

If that's what you meant, that's not how I read your comment.

You said, "Yeah no. This will just create the situation Jacqueline mentioned, where non-citizens (which could be anywhere from Permanent Residents all the way down to undocumented people) are exploited into working for low pay without any recourse to advocate for themselves since they can't vote and could be kicked out of the country - which frankly is already happening anyway.

Non-citizens already have to pay taxes; I had to fill out tax forms ever since I was an international student. My only saving grace was that I never earned quite enough (yay restrictions on income and working hours!) so I ended up getting money back instead."

I don't see any other way to interpret that than, "UBI cannot be tied to citizenship." That is a very different message than, "We'd need to be wary of tying it to citizenship."
posted by VTX at 12:23 PM on April 26, 2016


You presented my idea as "someone was presenting the issue like it's impossible to overcome". Were you assuming that I said UBI in and of itself was impossible to overcome?

My point is that UBI shouldn't be tied to citizenship, but that's a very different thing than "therefore UBI will never work".
posted by divabat at 5:34 PM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


what limits the inflationary adjustment made by the upper-middle class running dogs?--rent, real estate, medicine

Mostly, competition from other upper-middle-class running dogs entering the newly expanded markets to service the increase in demand.
posted by flabdablet at 8:57 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, a UBI does not mean everybody gets a raise. Any system with a fully implemented UBI has to increase State revenue enough to meet the UBI expenditure. People making four fifths of fuck-all under the present system would be better off under a UBI; people making millions under the present system would net somewhat fewer millions under a UBI; and in between there would be a layer of people netting pretty much what they do already.

Because the poor vastly outnumber the wealthy, the overall effect of this kind of redistribution would be a substantial increase in economic demand, leading to a substantial increase in economic activity. It's not at all clear that anything even vaguely resembling permanent structural inflation would result. It's not even clear that you'd even see a one-time inflationary spike (especially if the UBI were phased in over time).
posted by flabdablet at 9:04 PM on April 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Non-citizens already have to pay taxes

NO TAXATION WITHOUT COMPENSATION

dump the fucking tea in the harbor
posted by flabdablet at 9:05 PM on April 26, 2016


i know i'm coming at this late, but one thing i'd like to point out (and not to conflate the two) is that money, like race, is a social construction. so when talking about economic (or political!) 'reality' when discussing the practical implementation of a basic income or similar i think it's helpful to keep in mind.

so if money is a specific kind of social construction -- a system of values or obligations -- what kind of values does it codify? namely in the textbooks money is often described as a unit of account, store of 'value' and means of exchange. these can be further unpacked (and i'd like to elaborate ;) but the point is that in economics (and politics) the things that tend to get measured -- and valued -- tend to be transactional in 'nature'.

what does this mean then? as mentioned upthread, unpaid labor primarily by women is literally devalued, but also environmental 'services' -- clean air and water, a hospitable climate -- and moral values as well, for example. this is stuff GDP ignores, so again when talking about the feasibility or infeasibility of a basic income (or similar) know that the current system is itself inadequate by privileging transactional activity.

another thing i think worth pointing out is that if you think 'software is eating the world', it's also eating money and finance. even if you think that the current system and institutional arrangements are still the best way to organize and coordinate social production -- better than a 'revolution' anyway -- i think it's hard to argue that they aren't also being shaped by technology. i would posit that the same way written language changed social structures during the neolithic transition, code is having a similarly transformative effect (unevenly distributed; new 'priesthoods', etc.) so to the degree that money codifies certain social relations, and money becomes even more abstracted by increasingly ubiquitous 'information systems' then i think new forms of social relations are possible, of which basic income could be one manifestation.

i hope this isn't too broad or abstract, but like elon musk -- a shining example of capitalist production :P -- says, it's by reasoning from 'first principles' where we can better explore what's possible!
posted by kliuless at 10:49 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


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