When Workers Aren't Even Involved in the Means of Production
October 9, 2017 7:28 PM   Subscribe

"This is the real danger of a universal basic income – it makes the citizens unnecessary to the government." We have discussed unemployment, economic surpluses, and UBI here before, but I hadn't seen this thought-provoking concern. (A year or so of earlier, earlier, and earlier.
posted by twsf (57 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
More economic power equals more political power.

End of story.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 7:38 PM on October 9 [3 favorites]


This author doesn't seem to know the difference between UBI and fully automated luxury gay space communism.
posted by medusa at 7:43 PM on October 9 [60 favorites]


It is an interesting question, but not really about universal basic income - people as workers are going to become increasingly superfluous to the economy with or without UBI.
posted by rodlymight at 7:49 PM on October 9 [54 favorites]


UBI is only part of the solution to automating everyone's jobs out of existence. It fails to provide something to do, which is a problem for many, as structure is something people seek.
posted by MikeWarot at 7:50 PM on October 9 [5 favorites]


The author's argument seems persuasive, but I don't understand how he thinks workers should maintain economic power as the robots take over. You can say "tax them," but even in the US now, most people are net recipients of federal tax/spending. This is probably true for most states too. As long as that's the case, is it really so much worse to just institute UBI?

If, say, the US government really responded to the sort of logic that says "they just cost us money, so let's ignore/eliminate/stop spending money on them," you'd think we'd see less mass incarceration and more birth control. Prisons and unwanted children cost the state beaucoup bucks. So I'm not entirely convinced giving everyone say $1000/month would really make things worse.
posted by andrewpcone at 7:53 PM on October 9 [4 favorites]


Then the job loss predictions with regard to robotization and AI are accurate, and upon us. If they want to keep their heads, they better come up with something.
posted by Oyéah at 7:53 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


So far we’ve taken for granted that government lies in the hands of the working people.
Indeed- this is why retired people don't vote. Wait, Berenstain, you say?
posted by Jpfed at 7:59 PM on October 9 [44 favorites]


It has often been taken for granted that as societies advance, fertility drops, but this has only been happening for a short time and in societies where having children requires hard work to provide for them. Will the working minority agree to support non-workers with ten or twenty children per family?

what

I don't see how this concern troll article is worth serious consideration. He even makes the "why can't the moochers just vote to increase welfare to infinity" argument. The last three paragraphs are very revealing.
posted by allegedly at 8:01 PM on October 9 [48 favorites]


So far we’ve taken for granted that government lies in the hands of the working people. But when they truly become a minority, can democracy even still work?

Is democracy working especially well right now? Compared to the Spartans, sure. But it sure as fuck isn’t living up to my ideals.

The implication seems to be that people who don’t have to work will be a sponge on those that do work. But that begs the question: what do people who don’t have to work do? Why not ask someone who doesn’t require an income now? You could ask a one-percenter, but asking a retiree is probably easier. Generally though, the answer seems to be: they become more engaged. They vote more often. They support their local communities.

This feels like a pretty smart person who hasn’t actually done the research and read first-hand what the people who study this type of economics are saying.
posted by mfu at 8:11 PM on October 9 [21 favorites]


"How many children will people have when they don’t need to work to provide for them?"

Wow, this has to have been written by someone (a) who doesn't have children or (b) has never birthed children. Yes, children are only little machines you put money into. Time and energy are not magically expanded by a UBI, ask any stay at home parent they are still plenty busy. And 20-30 children? Ahem. Childbirth? Pregnancy? I'd say more but I'm too sleep deprived. Blech.
posted by wilky at 8:14 PM on October 9 [39 favorites]


In AI-robo-ubi-tyranny of the future La Marseillaise will be replaced by Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:24 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


This article is quite stupid. *Notices it's on Quillette.* Well yeah.
posted by fleacircus at 8:25 PM on October 9 [6 favorites]


I’m a dude and I feel like I’ve just been mansplained by that article.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:29 PM on October 9 [27 favorites]


In all seriousnes — the purpose of UBI isn’t to make it so people don’t work. The purpose is to make it so they don’t die if work isn’t available.

Also, a UBI (in theory) would open up jobs to more people because there would be less pressure to work multiple jobs to get by or work into your seventies because you don’t have any retirement savings. This would (again, in theory) make more people participants in the overall economy, giving the individual citizen more political leverage.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:34 PM on October 9 [48 favorites]


The author's thesis is so nebulous, it's hard to argue against, exactly. But part of what he seems to be saying is that people who participate in the labor force are more "needed" by the government because the government will feel obligated to keep them happy? But why? Did the US government feel compelled to keep slaves happy? And what about this one: "A person who does not pay taxes cannot threaten to stop paying them." But UBI recipients would still be taxpayers. Maybe in some cases they wouldn't pay federal income taxes or payroll taxes, but they would still pay sales taxes, gas taxes, utility taxes, real estate taxes, all those other little taxes that don't depend on income. Plus, the whole point of UBI is that it's universal. It's given to everyone, even people who work. It wouldn't be the source of low labor force participation, just a partial remediation of it.

I can't help but think the idea that the government wouldn't "need" UBI recipients kind of popped into the author's head and then he went in search of various random points to support it. I'm pretty gullible but in this case I'm not at all convinced.
posted by xigxag at 8:39 PM on October 9 [10 favorites]


This article seems to ignore the existence of, for example, rich rentiers who have a lot of money and political influence despite the fact that they do not actually contribute anything to the economy or the running of the state.
posted by dhens at 8:58 PM on October 9 [24 favorites]


Empty hand wringing. A UBI doesn't mean people will stop working. There will still be plenty of incentive to hold a job, even a minimum wage job.
posted by Beholder at 9:22 PM on October 9 [5 favorites]


This is ridiculous. He seems to be assuming that basic incomes stop people working but they don't:
All of these cases find reductions in work that are, at most, modest. In the Cherokee case (where members got about $4,000 to $6,000 a year) there was no effect on work; in the Alaska case, where checks are generally $800 to $2,000 per person (so up to $8,000 for a family of four), there's a small increase in the share of people working part time, but no overall effect on the share of the population working. Indeed, the part-time work boost could come from people entering the workforce anew. “Our fear that people will quit their jobs en masse if provided with cash for free is false and misguided,” Marinescu concludes.

The negative income tax experiments are more complicated. Most of the studies found no statistically significant reduction in work; only one, the Seattle/Denver experiment, found a reduction, and it saw the employment rate fall by 4 percentage points. But there’s a catch. The studies generally measured the policy’s effect on beneficiaries’ self-reported income, not their income as measured objectively by, say, the IRS or Social Security Administration. “Because NIT recipients underreported earnings in order to get a larger benefit payment, the impacts of NIT on employment are likely exaggerated,” Marinescu writes.

Moreover, at least some of the labor force participation decline that the NITs caused was socially desirable. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, evaluating the non-labor force effects of the NIT experiments, found that “for youth the reduction in labor supply brought about by the negative income tax is almost perfectly offset by increased school attendance.” Other than that, the bulk of the decline seems attributable to longer spells of unemployment, as people used money from the negative income tax to fund longer searches for jobs. That’s a good thing: Research from Stanford’s Raj Chetty has found that longer job searches
He also says "Will they be afraid of a popular uprising? The people have nothing to threaten them with. A person who does not pay taxes cannot threaten to stop paying them". This is one of those things that's so stupid I don't even know where to start. That basic incomes don't mean lots of non-taxpayers? That tax revolts are a tiny part of the spectrum of popular action? That we don't live in a world where we bribe our rulers with taxes to stop oppressing us? That this was kind of how the feudal system worked and that was incredibly oppressive even though everyone owed labour or taxes to their overlord?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:39 PM on October 9 [16 favorites]


UBI is only part of the solution to automating everyone's jobs out of existence. It fails to provide something to do, which is a problem for many, as structure is something people seek.

What's needed is a new type of social structure, a self-organizing reputation-based decision support system. I have ideas on such a thing.
posted by scalefree at 9:55 PM on October 9 [3 favorites]


Ugh, he even states outright that those who work are the engines of society and that nobody without a job is contributing, only taking. He calls the productive a "small minority". This is almost article length sea-lioning.
posted by asavage at 10:29 PM on October 9 [30 favorites]


As other people have commented, this author is very confused.

The major mistake he is making is in confusing UBI (one possible response to automation) with automation itself. It is not UBI that will cause people to be powerless, rather it is automation devaluing labor that will cause people to be powerless. It is like he is blaming rising sea levels and rising temperatures on all those new solar panels. In actuality, UBI would have the opposite effect of what he claims by giving normal people at least some economic and political power.

He's also not thinking very deeply about possible solutions to the problem. Like, go back and read Bertrand Russel from 80 years ago (http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html). We don't have to take a small part of the population and work them until death to support the rest of the population. We could have other models, e.g. everyone does 30 years of paid labor and then retires at 50 (with the # years worked decreasing as automation advances). Or everyone works for 6 months out of the year and has the other 6 months off. Or everyone works 20 hours a week and has the other 140 hours off. And under any of these schemes where you are only spending a fraction of your life on paid work, it will be more difficult to summon the standard Republican rage that some of your tax dollars are being used to keep poor children from starving.
posted by Balna Watya at 10:58 PM on October 9 [11 favorites]


damn, i was gonna say what i thought was a smart thing about how UBI is just supposed to be a safety net and the whole welfare/work disincentive stuff has been debunked, but all youse guys beat me to it!

i mean, cmon, why would the government feel less responsive to the poor who get a UBI than it currently does to the same poor cohort who DON'T get it? at least in the former, the people have an entitlement they can rely on. did social security make americans into second class citizens? did medicare? hardly.

and the example of resource extractive states is inapt. many of those countries (gulf states, russia, venezuela) have a prima facie policy of not allowing their people any economic or political freedom. it's not that their illiberalism stems from their economies; it's precisely the other way around. even if they had no natural resource wealth, they would still be autocratic.

i do think there's a grain of truth in his argument that some part of the democratic consent of the governed is based on broadly shared economic opportunity. but i've seen little evidence that expanding social welfare actually dimimishes economic opportunity for most people. quite the contrary.
posted by wibari at 11:04 PM on October 9


It's becoming odd how many people are continuing to write articles which don't have a good answer to, "What about Scandinavia?" It was pretty funny how he listed Norway along with all the other Gulf states and moved on like it wasn't an odd placement in the list.

Probably something to do with how one can't imagine how it would really work, because they've spent their life in a situation many Scandinavians would consider economic serfdom.

I wonder if most of us in countries that haven't learned how to govern like adults are forever doomed to lack imagination about real solutions to real problems. Not that one size fits all, but I'd imagine at some point people might be willing to try things that already worked, like Eisenhower era tax levels. If they mustered the necessary amount of imagination, anyway.
posted by Strudel at 11:30 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]


I've been enthusiastic about UBI for years now and I've seen all these arguments a hundred times before. The argument that people will just "give up work and do nothing" if UBI was introduced is particularly immature and shows a genuine lack of imagination as to what people want to do with their lives.

I mean, really? Do people genuinely think that 40 hours a week of full-time work is what people wanted to do with their lives on day one? Or is it a construct, put in place for the convenience of those with money and power? It's far, far more likely that people will keep working, but drop the hours where they sit in the office reading MetaFilter (if they're lucky enough to be allowed), making cups of tea, chatting about crap, making more cups of tea, moaning and flicking through Facebook. So much of life these days is just killing time in places we're told we have to be for X hours per week when we could be doing so much more.

It's very, very unlikely that given the introduction of a UBI, people would spend their days smoking pot and playing Football Manager. A few people might, for a short time, given the novelty of suddenly not having this obligation on the majority of their waking hours, but that's not a fulfilling life even if you have enough money to live. Far more likely is that people will get out of the house to somewhere other than work, organise, take classes, further their education and development, get involved in the local community. All the things you can do when you aren't pointlessly exhausted from 40 hours a week of sitting in a noisy, uncomfortable environment where you aren't allowed to be yourself, express your own views, have your own identity or do anything beyond the narrow "business needs" of whoever happens to be your current (usually temporary, these days) employer.

But do you know what's one of the biggest obstacles to UBI in my view? Working people. People have been conditioned over many, many decades by the media and establishment that full-time work is the only thing you can do with your life. If you find yourself out of work, the only thing you're supposed to do, the thing that is supposed to consume you, is the search for more work. It's gone beyond an economic necessity and people see your employment as your only value as a human being. It's going to need a big push to convince people that we have far, far more intrinsic value as humans than our simple, basic value as units of GDP.
posted by winterhill at 12:59 AM on October 10 [35 favorites]


actually, the article seems a lot more interesting if you realize that it's not a description of some future UBI world, but of today's america, according to the conservatives - with a little rewriting and the title of "why the 47% threaten our democratic values", you've almost got a romney speech

the real problem with the article is that it's got the causation ass backwards - the oil states aren't undemocratic because they're oil states - they're oil states because they're undemocratic; a more open society would have come up with more alternatives for production, which is why norway looks so out of place on that list
posted by pyramid termite at 2:10 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


TFA: "So far we’ve taken for granted that government lies in the hands of the working people."

Yeah, mate, I'm going to have to stop you here...
posted by pompomtom at 3:57 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


Okay, sure, but key point here.
Citizens aren't here to serve the government. The government is here to serve the people.
so.....
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:40 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]


This feels like a pretty smart person who hasn’t actually done the research and read first-hand what the people who study this type of economics are saying.

His bio says that he's a computer programmer who writes about politics and economics. So, yeah.
posted by octothorpe at 5:15 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]


The standard analysis is that UBI makes the government unnecessary to the citizens.
posted by No Robots at 8:12 AM on October 10


I'm skeptical of that as well. UBI would probably change the citizens' relationship to the government, but that's about as far as I would personally go.
posted by rhizome at 8:43 AM on October 10


Just a bit of quip. Withering of the state and all that.
posted by No Robots at 8:45 AM on October 10


"How many children will people have when they don’t need to work to provide for them?"

Hmm...let's check and see how many children rich people have compared to poor people. If his theory holds water it should be...Nope it doesn't.
posted by rocket88 at 9:17 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]


We need to shorten the legal work week, and eliminate most overtime exemptions, so that employers must spread around the remaining work more evenly. Any nations still lacking single payer should add it asap too obviously. Adding universal basic income should wait until after employment gets spread more equally.

Right now, the moochers aka bankers, defense contractors, etc. already vote to "increase welfare to nearly infinity". We do not want a world where the many subsist on basic income, while the few work 60 hour per week doing whatever dumb shit corporate lobbyists can negotiate among one another.

In other words, we want universal basic income to increase people's individual power, not just because that makes people's lives better but also because workers often know if their job makes any sense, sucks, etc. And employment regulation is real tool that makes companies beholden to their labor force.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:37 AM on October 10


Hmm...let's check and see how many children rich people have compared to poor people. If his theory holds water it should be...Nope it doesn't.

I really hate every time this thing is brought out, without acknowledging that rich people have different cultural factors that make them have less children, it's not about the money for them.

I especially hate it as someone who would absolutely make different fertility decisions if I didn't have to worry about how I was going to pay for them. I think genuinely I would be happiest with about five or six children. If I had a way I could afford to give six children the lifestyle that I could afford to give one child, I would've had them years ago.

Now, I don't think UBI even approaches that level of money it would take, given that shitty daycare alone for one child is about a grand a month. But I do wish people would stop implying that fertility decisions aren't driven by money, because in many cases they absolutely are.
posted by corb at 11:03 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


It's weird, I had never heard of Quillette before yesterday, when somebody linked to a terrible anti-trans article there called Misunderstanding a New Kind of Gender Dysphoria (that's an archive.is link to avoid giving them more clicks). Much as with this one, it was uninformed, misrepresented what it claimed to be discussing, and was rife with dogwhistles.

Is that Quillette's schtick?
posted by Lexica at 11:53 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]


Sorry if this has been discussed to death previously, but I'm really skeptical of the idea (which so many seem to take as granted) that automation will inevitably lead to chronic unemployment. There have been countless technological advances throughout human history that have drastically reduced the amount of labour required for production. The agricultural revolution may have put hunter-gatherers out of work, but the surplus of food allowed for specialization and new forms of socially useful work. Obviously, revolutionary changes in production can make certain jobs and skill sets obsolete, but this is an acute problem not a chronic problem.

Human beings are long past the point where we only produce the absolute necessities of survival - the vast majority of the work people do today, more or less, consists of various ways of using the surplus of time and resources we have that no longer have to be devoted to securing the necessities of survival. The idea that workers will become 'useless' because robots will produce everything we need to survive is demonstrably false - by this logic literally any human activity that is not directly related to survival is useless, which goes for most of the jobs that currently exist. As I see it, automation doesn't cause a new problem at all, it just intensifies a problem we already have; that is, what do we do with the surplus generated by increasing production efficiency, and who gets to decide?

As it stands, the de facto answer is clear: the bulk of the surplus goes to the non-labouring owners of the means of production, and a pittance is provided to those without capital - just enough to prevent large scale revolt; and what is UBI, but just such a pittance? It's worth remembering that most western developed countries already had fairly effective social welfare programs, which have been gradually dismantled or destroyed over the past 30 years or so. What reason is there to think that UBI would not follow the same trajectory?

The problem I see in the whole UBI/automation discourse, is that it casts long-standing contradictions in capitalist processes as some kind of new dystopian/utopian dialectical fantasy. On the one hand, there's the idea that we might be emancipated from the oppressive demands of our jobs, and on the other, the fear that without our shitty jobs, we will become completely worthless. The problem is that nobody wants to confront the fundamental issue, which is the private ownership of the means of production by a tiny minority of super-wealthy elites. The problem that already exists, and will intensify as automation progresses, is that these elites are taking just about the entire surplus generated by human labour, and using it for their own purposes. The harsh reality is that most of our jobs are already meaningless (except as a means of securing our survival, wages), and in the eyes of the capitalist class, workers are already worthless. The dystopian future is already upon us :(
posted by thedamnbees at 12:08 PM on October 10 [6 favorites]


I don't think you're saying anything terribly different from the normal discourse. The concern about losing jobs has always been somewhat of an evocative metaphor, in the same way that rising sea levels have stood in for climate change-- sea levels might rise 'only' three meters, and the market will always be able to invent increasingly marginal busywork jobs for people to occupy, like "independent contractor in the gig economy". A UBI is a possible mechanism for redistributing surplus production-- it does not have to be a "pittance".
posted by Pyry at 1:43 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]


winterhill: It's very, very unlikely that given the introduction of a UBI, people would spend their days smoking pot and playing Football Manager.

This made me smile, since I've been unemployed the last year or so. I'll have you know I absolutely do not spend my days smoking pot and playing Football Manager. It's smoking pot and playing OpenTTD right now, thank you very much.

If you find yourself out of work, the only thing you're supposed to do, the thing that is supposed to consume you, is the search for more work.

I want to quote everything you said but absolutely this. I have been arguing for UBI for years, and though I know MetaFilter is already converted, the world at large struggle with this so much. As I just tried to explain to my Dad on the phone a while ago, people are putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Work is supposed to be something that needs doing, not something you have to invent to keep busy. If I was able to remain unemployed indefinitely I wouldn't even think twice about it. I might be penniless, but I'm so much happier. I'll miss it when I'm back in work. I like to say I'm taking my retirement in instalments. Why is economic freedom only for the old?

Anyway, we'll get there eventually... or we'll all become serfs in some neo-feudal dystopia; one or the other. But enough time wasting, these trains aren't going to schedule themselves you know!
posted by Acey at 2:33 PM on October 10 [6 favorites]


Pyry, perhaps I didn't make my point clearly. The common discourse I was referring to tends to revolve around two ideas (among others): 1) that automation will cause mass unemployment, and 2) that UBI is the solution to mass unemployment.
My points were, 1) I don't think automation will cause mass unemployment 2) I don't think UBI is an effective solution to the actual problem we are facing, which is the concentration of private capital in the hands of a small, super-wealthy elite.

It doesn't have to be a pittance

Oh but it will be...
posted by thedamnbees at 3:12 PM on October 10


> UBI is only part of the solution to automating everyone's jobs out of existence. It fails to provide something to do, which is a problem for many, as structure is something people seek.

Sure, but structure isn't found only in paying jobs. I haven't held a regular paying job this century, but I'm a busy person with a small pile of presidential service award pins to show for it. Surely most of us can find ways to bring meaning to our lives even if we aren't being forced to go to work five days a week.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:31 PM on October 10 [3 favorites]


I tried to favorite winterhill's comment 1000 times and now my mouse is broken. Thanks for nothing, winterhill.
posted by snwod at 4:15 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know of a UBI for dummies article? I cannot wrap my mind around how something like this would work. Every article I read seems to start from the premise that it's been implemented, and deal with the questions of whether people would still choose to work, etc. But what is stage 1? How would it START? Who would pay for it?

As far as whether people would work - I think mefi is a really, really skewed sample. Outside of mefites, I know a lot of people who would just watch TV or read books or play games. If I had enough money not to starve? Fuck work, I'd just go around the country camping until I dropped dead.
posted by AFABulous at 6:45 PM on October 10 [4 favorites]


As far as whether people would work - I think mefi is a really, really skewed sample. Outside of mefites, I know a lot of people who would just watch TV or read books or play games.

I think that a lot of it is simply that people haven't had any reason to imagine what life would be like without being forced to work for a certain number of hours each week. When that's all you've ever known, and you've been told every day since you were tiny that it's how things are, and how things will always be, and your leisure activities consist of vegging out and watching TV because you're too knackered from work to do anything else with your evening - of course you're going to struggle to imagine how things could be different. We'd have an adjustment period where people might sit around and rest for a while, but it would be brief - once people don't have this demand on the majority of their time, they will likely find that TV/games/etc were just a placeholder activity, something to do because everything else was too damn tiring.

One of the major positive effects I think UBI will bring about is a boost to our collective health. Look around most offices and you can see enough lard to keep a truck stop café in business for a year. Sedentary lifestyles - sitting in front of a PC for 40 hours a week, going home and watching telly, driving everywhere because you don't have time to walk or cycle - are killing people. As soon as you take away that demand, people have the time to imagine and figure out new ways of living. I'm hopeful and optimistic regarding what people will do when they no longer have to work.
posted by winterhill at 12:00 AM on October 11 [4 favorites]


What's more, even if some people choose to sit around all day under a UBI-type system, why should I care? That's where artists and philosophers are born. Conversely, our current system undervalues people such as carers or stay-at-home mums and dads. Many couples with young kids both have to work to make ends meet, and pay for child care. Under UBI, if you want to work, you still can, and in fact there's likely to be more and better paid jobs as a result of others opting out. Meanwhile all the undervalued, historically "women's work" is supported, and young artists and philosophers aren't stifled.

I mean, history would suggest that it pays for itself in the longer term. How many of our musicians and other creative types lived on the dole for years before they made it? I'm willing to bet society more than got its money's worth there. Right now, unless you are rich, the arts are almost off limits. The potential cultural damage alone is enormous.

But if that doesn't sell it, how about all those labour cost savings? Surely we can tax some of that back. Not to mention the fact that more people with money will boost the economy all around. I don't see this as difficult any more - what's hard to accept is that we can carry on as we have been doing, with the rich hoarding the gains and the rest left to fend for themselves. It's that that's unrealistic.
posted by Acey at 5:44 AM on October 11 [3 favorites]


Related:
Mark Blyth's pitch for the welfare state. "I have paid more in taxes in one year than it cost to educate me for my whole time at school."

Stewart Lee: "...in the eighties things were a little bit different. If you wanted to make art you could get a shitty temp job and live in a cheap flat somewhere and still have access to cut price culture and libraries and things like that. Or you could go on the dole, the enterprise allowance, so there were all sorts of ways round it. Now, if you want to stop what you’re doing and create culture, even culture which may be financially valuable to society, it’s much more difficult to just do that because basic living costs have gone up so much since the eighties and also there isn’t the infrastructure of subsidised stuff that there used to be – in fact, what there is is being cut away. So I think it’s much more of a commitment now to do that. So on the one hand you’ve got a load of young people who broadly speaking, the more creative ones feel the government isn’t for them, but on the other hand I don’t think it’s as easy as it was thirty years ago to drop out and do stuff, because financially and socially the cards are all stacked against you."
posted by Acey at 6:01 AM on October 11 [1 favorite]


As far as whether people would work - I think mefi is a really, really skewed sample. Outside of mefites, I know a lot of people who would just watch TV or read books or play games. If I had enough money not to starve? Fuck work, I'd just go around the country camping until I dropped dead.

I used to think that too, and then I heard an argument once that changed how I thought about it. So thinking about how the economy works now, it requires people to buy things. Your work doesn't contribute to the economy except that it gives you money to buy things. People talk about the problem with the wealthy hoarding wealth, and that's a problem because the money isn't moving, they're not spending all that money. See also the terrible rates people get for saving and the fed incentivizing spending over saving.

All that to say, it doesn't matter if people just sit on the couch and veg out, as long as they are spending the money. The most useful way to contribute to society is by spending money on things/services. So yeah, feel free to go camping around the country: you have to buy a vehicle, pay for gas, pay for camping supplies, pay to use the campgrounds, etc.

(I personally don't think this is a healthy model for the economy. It requires people to continuously buy new things, which creates so much garbage and also wastes so many resources.)
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:15 AM on October 11 [2 favorites]


If we're going to have a lot of artists and philosophers and so forth - who's cleaning the toilets and picking up the garbage? (Someone will say "robots" so just think of another undesirable job.) Some people will still be teachers and nurses and so forth because they feel a calling to their profession but I daresay no one has a passion for cleaning out sewer pipes or whatever.
posted by AFABulous at 7:14 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


I don't know about that. One example: I know a guy who's a server at a high-end restaurant. He doesn't want to be a chef, he's not doing this to get by until his band/acting career/other takes off, he's a server who likes what he does and prides himself on doing well.

In additional examples, which most people would probably consider more substantive and valuable: I work in risk management and with people who do safety work. I feel confident in saying that many of my colleagues would be doing something like what they're doing now even if we had UBI. If it's not your area you may not get how visceral the "OMIGOD DON'T DO THAT, let me help you do what you're trying to do BUT SAFELY" urge is.

And anyway, this is supposed to be universal BASIC income, below which nobody would be allowed to sink, not maximum income. If it turns out that it's necessary to pay above the UBI rate to get plumbers/surgeons/air traffic controllers, great! UBI is supposed to be a floor, not a ceiling.

If it turns out to be necessary to pay people above UBI to do a necessary job, maybe we should've been paying them better all along.
posted by Lexica at 7:37 PM on October 11 [5 favorites]


Gawd, this is dumb.

Like, his lead examples in history are: 1) Greek states that needed mass military mobilization avoided tyranny; 2) Near East states that needed mass agricultural mobilization through irrigation projects became tyrannies.

Did an editor look at this at all?
posted by klangklangston at 9:28 PM on October 11


I still haven't read a good argument for UBI that takes immigration into account. Right now a lot of social services in many countries are being funded in part by people who are not of the right citizenship/permanent residency level to be getting access to those services despite being taxpayers. For instance, I still can't get Centrelink because the Australian Government thinks I haven't been a PR "long enough" despite being a taxpayer since I was an international student 11 years ago. Also, we tend to get higher fees on everything without access to loans or credit or scholarships.

Would UBI ever actually be "universal" or would it be "only to select residents, everyone else has to pick up the tab and we'll make it extremely onerous for anybody to get to the point where they qualify"?
posted by divabat at 4:15 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]


Did an editor look at this at all?

Go look at the rest of quillette.com. Publishing dumb stuff seems to be their business model. I mean there are two articles on the front page defending that idiot Google engineer.
posted by octothorpe at 4:31 AM on October 12 [2 favorites]


I believe the case for "universal" income is simplicity, divabat, but yes the high cost of universal basic income will make adding exceptions highly profitable and likely.

All these social services should be viewed as a hierarchy : (1) survival social services, like health care, (2) subsistence social services, like housing assistance, (3) reductions in the legal work week and eliminating overtime exemption, (4) unemployment benefits, (5) grants to citizens, ala free/paid education/retraining or grants to start businesses, and only lastly (6) universal tax relief or income.

We already have mild forms of all of these if you count the standard deduction under (5) and remember that unions got us saturdays off for (3). All could be made simpler and more effective with increased funding, or more time in the case of (3), so that they need not "sweat the small stuff". Imagine the nightmare our taxes would become if we removed the standard deduction and everyone itemized! Increasing it would save time for many people who itemize now.

We should not focus on only one solution like universal basic income that sounds overly idealistic and simplistic. As you say, any system can become unfair in practice. Instead, we should ask : How can we make each of (1-6) more efficient, more effective, and simpler with increased funding?

(1) We need single-payer healthcare for numerous reasons, including reduce total costs, provided you assume that we'll never manage to regulate private insurance the way the German speaking world does.

(3) We need to shorten the workweek to spread around the existing work more evenly. It should be progressive, first 35 hours like France, next 30 hours 5-10 years later, and next 25 another 5 years later.

(5) We need to provide free tuition for state universities that get their costs including fees down enough, probably requiring reduction in many student services and hopefully in the insane university bureaucracy. We should aim to eventually be paying students at qualifying universities a small salary.

(5-6) We should streamline and simplify the process by which citizens can qualify for aid in activities like starting businesses or going back to school.

I believe any real moves towards universal basic income (6) should wait until increased funding simplifies (1-5).

Is it more unfair to give a student salary or aid in starting a business only to citizens who meet some criteria, ala (5), or to give a small check only to citizens, ala (6)? Yes, both exclude people, and (5) excludes more than (6), but the big exclusions of (5) serve a clear social purpose, making it ultimately more fair.

In less extreme forms, increasing the standard deduction (6) would reduce the tax burden on the working poor, shift many home owners from itemizing to simpler tax returns, and would not exclude non-citizens.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:39 AM on October 12


Some people will still be teachers and nurses and so forth because they feel a calling to their profession but I daresay no one has a passion for cleaning out sewer pipes or whatever.

Yeah no one probably would want to do that for minimum wage once there's UBI, because why would you? So they would have to pay more. I think that's one of the better things about the UBI: the shit jobs that pay shit wages will actually have to increase wages to get people to do it. It gives people freedom from needing those super shitty/exploitative jobs to live.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:58 AM on October 12 [5 favorites]


It's like that saying "everyone has a price". It's just that if your basic needs are covered (housing, food, etc.) then your price can be a little higher.
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:34 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]


It's also wrong that people will demand more.

There are a surprising number of tenured faculty at research universities who spend their summer doing extra teaching for adjunct rates. In theory, they should be doing research to advance human knowledge, or doing lucrative contracting work to advance industry, but no they'd rather earn a few extra bucks teach their students who failed the same class once or twice already because that does not require any thinking.

All you need to do is convince enough basic income recipients that they can do the crap minimum wage job you offer. You'll have takers as people want to a few extra bucks but cannot think of anything else to do.

Afaik, there is no evidence that basic income produces better results than any number of other cheaper interventions, like say paying students a salary, including adult students who change field, and paying entrepreneurs whose companies are not yet profitable. It's just simpler so people who like to discuss simple solutions can rally behind it or against it.

We may need basic income eventually of course, especially if we automate or eliminate much of the bullshit work, but right now shortening the work week and paying for lower ticket price social services will do far more good.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:58 AM on October 13 [1 favorite]


Some people will still be teachers and nurses and so forth because they feel a calling to their profession but I daresay no one has a passion for cleaning out sewer pipes or whatever.

The point* of UBI is that it doesn't replace market-valued labour. Some of those teachers and nurses would still be doing it for the money. So those people who may be presently cleaning sewers** because that's all they could get would be replaced by those who clean sewers because of the (presumably) massive pay. There being an assumption that on an ongoing basis, this is one of those jobs that will be automated. Not automated out of existence, but still significantly automated. Whatever the job is that is awful and also hard to automate should attract the newest hugest wage.

It's just a way of fiddling with supply/demand curves so you're not just shafting those whos parents were shafted.

As I understand it.


*...as far as I understand it, and I'm quite ready to be corrected.
**...or whatever tannery/abbatoir/call centre hell is the latest awfulness.
posted by pompomtom at 7:27 AM on October 15


UBI is only part of the solution to automating everyone's jobs out of existence. It fails to provide something to do, which is a problem for many, as structure is something people seek.

That's what Starfleet is for.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:50 PM on October 15 [1 favorite]


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