...and maybe some entrepreneurial expenses...
March 5, 2018 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I wish the whole BI argument would die. It is a right wing model that they have convinced leftists is fair wealth re-distribution. BI IS wealth redistribution, but from the lower-income groups to middle income and above, from disabled to abled, from old to young adults. It is a win for young, able men who can supplant the BI with earned income but a loss of income to mothers, the elderly, and the disabled. Ontario is trying a few pilot sites now, and one un-intended side effect is that people with poor credit history/past due amounts in collections were getting their $15,000/year income garnished to pay those debts (Ontario Works/Welfare/ODSP cannot be garnished). So some partipants were worse off and living in worse poverty. But, as the proponents insist, the market will provide and the money will trickle down to those that really need it.

Canada does already have BI for children, disabled, some unemployed, and the elderly and it has positively impacted those groups - but it should be higher. The right wing argument is to throw out all government programs because government can't be trusted to do what is efficent, instead of working to reform the existing supports as most leftists want.
posted by saucysault at 10:09 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]

Yes, our current system is very cruel.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:14 AM on March 5

There isn't one basic income system or one method of designing or implementing one. The removal of protections from creditors is a major flaw of Ontario's pilot project, but the Basic Income/Guaranteed Income concept is sound.

The current overlapping and competing systems of social services are bloated, inefficient, and horribly managed. We spend far more on bureaucracy than on actual recipients, and we're losing people in the cracks. And that's one of the reasons the right is on board with the concept. We can do more with less. Admittedly they're only on board for the "with less" part of that but we progressives should focus on the "do more" part and ignore the fact that our enemies are happy. Couple it with a better progressive tax system and direct housing solutions and we can really make a difference.
posted by rocket88 at 10:28 AM on March 5 [7 favorites]

I think a lot of people wouldn't be seeking out other options if more leftists could speak more truthfully about how conservatives aren't wrong that our modern options for helping people are a series of cliffs that trap you into being in a negative position. Most of those would be removed by removing means testing. Almost all the "welfare traps" we have are simply because conservatives demand means testing to "prove" people actually need help. (Seriously, the majority of the faults with our current systems were added by the conservative wing.) While I agree that UBI has a lot of problems, the two main underlying reasons I see people on the left supporting it is because:

1. It removes the serpentine and extremely invasive means-testing which involves dissecting every last aspect of a persons life to "ensure" they need the help they are receiving, because if they don't, they are obviously defrauding the government and need to be jailed (/s).

2. It removes "welfare traps" or "cliffs." My SO is disallowed from saving any money from her disability checks, because if she has "saved money" she has funds she can live off of, so they will deny her any disability. It's dumb, it's backwards, and it forces people to make terrible financial decisions and never gives them a chance to learn to make good financial decisions. Myself, while I am jobless, can get full medical care from the ACA. Once I have a job, the deductibles from insurance become simply unaffordable (I don't have an extra $2000+ a year to spend on a deductible.), and so technically being jobless is better for my health.

Our current system treats the people who use the system as mere children, always assuming they should not be trusted to figure out how to spend money on their own, slowly becoming a self fulfilling prophecy, because after living on disability for a decade or more, how to do expect people to learn how to manage money when they haven't had to manage money for a decade. (I mean, not in the same way, obviously, they still have to manage their tiny pittance from month to month.) The point being is if you treat everyone who needs help like a child, how are you going to ever get them to grow past needing help?

There are a mountain of problems with UBI, but people are seeking out alternatives because our "social safety net" basically doesn't exist and has heaps of negative social associations with it thanks to decades of Republican messaging about "welfare queens" and the like.

Is it a perfect solution? No. Is it good to be talking about alternatives in general? Yes.

And although it's still produced by a malignant right-winger, I would personally prefer the Negative Income Tax proposed by Milton Friedman, on which our Earned Income Tax Credit is loosely based. NIT is similar to UBI, except that it doesn't give money to people who are not in poverty, and only pays out a "difference" in income to bring people above poverty levels. So, if you work a little bit, you can get help, and if you make enough money to not be in poverty, instead your taxes go to help give people money to rise them out of poverty. Once again removing cliffs and adding personal responsibility, both things that would help make a positive impact by removing fear of moving forward and adding a level of autonomy that current recipients of government assistance do not get.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:37 AM on March 5 [13 favorites]

We spend far more on bureaucracy than on actual recipients

Citation needed.

And is it accounting for the money spent on social workers who teach how to budget appropriately, lawyers to counsel tenants on their legal rights, construction workers who build the subsidized homes? Because I personally have no problem with that.

Can the system be improved? Absolutely. There is almost no beaucracy involved in several of the on-going BI programs in Canada. For the elderly and children there is a simple application (for the children I think it is literally a checkbox when applying for the birth certificate), the other programs can be improved, but certainly don't need to be thrown out with the bathwater.
posted by saucysault at 10:53 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]

We spend far more on bureaucracy than on actual recipients

Citation needed.

I want proof of that too, but I think most people who actually live in and experience the current system see endless bureaucracy that doesn't seem to help them much. People who get less access to social workers and more access to the people asking them endless questions about their private lives. The sheer amount of paper and man-hours wasted on means testing isn't insignificant, even if we don't know the exact number.

I'm with you, I think having funds for social workers, laywers, and other people to help those in need is paramount, and something that would be surely lost with a UBI, and it would indeed be a huge loss. However, I think it's hard to argue that paying for all that means testing simply so we can deny people access is likely a waste of fucking money.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:57 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]

The right wing argument is to throw out all government programs because government can't be trusted to do what is efficent, instead of working to reform the existing supports as most leftists want.

Leftism and statism are not identical. Targeted government programmes and a basic income are not mutually exclusive.

I spend the vast majority of my day working for people who live on state benefits that are sufficient for subsistence. What I see, in their lives, is a huge disincentive to work. Not only because there is a financial incentive to remain unemployed, but also because getting into work for a period of time frequently results in chaos and confusion as their whole financial model is thrown into disarray. And then, when the work disappears, it can take months to get back onto appropriate benefits. The impact of this bureaucratic and organisational chaos is felt disproportionately, massively so, by the most vulnerable of my clients, because they are least able to negotiate the hurdles of applications and means testing thrown at then.

The benefit that tends to provide the greatest stability and safety to the very poor is the non-means tested Personal Independence Payment, because it is conditional only on establishing certain levels of disability, rather than income. Of course, the disability testing is, in itself, frequently appallingly unfair, but at least it doesn't tend to hit people just at the point their lives are falling apart, in the way that means testing does.

There are good reasons to think that means testing is a really bad idea, which have nothing to do with believing that markets address all needs. And while I think that those who imagine that a UBI is a panacea are utterly deluded, I think that there are very good reasons to think it's likely to be a significant part of our long term approach to wealth redistribution and the alleviation of poverty.
posted by howfar at 11:00 AM on March 5 [9 favorites]

lawyers to counsel tenants on their legal rights... Because I personally have no problem with that.

You're literally describing me, and I have a massive problem with it. Why on earth is it good for me to bill the Legal Aid Agency thousands of pounds to advise on and litigate problems that would never have arisen in a sane system? That money could actually be helping people...
posted by howfar at 11:04 AM on March 5 [8 favorites]

One of the potential outcomes of UBI I wonder about is services and consumables inflation.

The specific examples of the sort of inflation I wonder about have plainly occurred in the segments of the US economy in which there is a mechanism in place to provide essentially unlimited funding to pay for certain things: housing (via mortgage), higher education (via student loans), medical care (via insurance), and military technology (via poorly-overseen limited-visibility budgets). Of those four areas, three also employ highly-obfuscated pricing strategies that prevent easy predictive analysis of either the billed cost or the paid amount for a given good or service.

I wonder if, absent certain unlikely structural changes in the US economy, UBI might reset the minimum cost of housing to just above the maximum amount that UBI recipients could pay, for example, and thereby also drive up the overall cost of housing by approximately the same amount.

That said, catchy song! Reminded me of a tune or two from Hedwig, if my ears and mind are right.
posted by mwhybark at 11:57 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

Targeted government programmes and a basic income are not mutually exclusive.

I agree, but due to the cost of BI the argument is made that so much money can be freed from eliminating the government programs. Otherwise, there is literally not enough money in General Revenues for BI unless there are severe cuts elsewhere such as defence, health care, or education.
posted by saucysault at 1:05 PM on March 5

However, I think it's hard to argue that paying for all that means testing simply so we can deny people access is likely a waste of fucking money.

I'm only quoting myself to fix a sentence that should have read "I think it's NOT hard to argue." For clarification purposes, otherwise I'm arguing the opposite point darn it.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:10 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]

Here’s some sources on the claim that most money does not go directly to recipients anymore. USA only, sorry.

(I am a legal aid lawyer and I too would love for us to be put out of work.)
posted by peppercorn at 1:18 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]

Thanks for the link, peppercorn, confirming that administration costs have been trending downwards. However the most shocking thing from that article was that in 2012, a single mother of two children in Mississippi only got $170 a month. WTF??

In Ontario, of the budget for social assistance 90% goes directly in the pockets of the recipients (2012 Commission), with 8% covering administration costs.
posted by saucysault at 1:53 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

I'm supportive of UBI for the same reasons above, namely it's by definition not able to be manipulated by means-testers and lets people buy what they need with no strings attached.

I don't think the conversation of how we deal with technological unemployment should end with UBI. We still need jobs to supplement UBI of course, or else the 98% that will actually rely on UBI will become even more definitively a permanent underclass.

It's a good starting point because it shows we are facing the reality that our welfare systems have problems (welfare version of Blue Apron, anyone?). And it can be implemented within our economy without majorly rethinking how the economy works or should work.

What I imagine we will only address too late is the almost innate marriage of labor to resources (Want resources? Work.). UBI works as a bandage but could anchor the conversation too far to the right in my opinion.
posted by hexaflexagon at 2:21 PM on March 5

I agree, but due to the cost of BI the argument is made that so much money can be freed from eliminating the government programs.

But I don't think that's what the leftwing supporters of UBIs are arguing. I think most (the vast majority of, in fact) people on the left favour UBIs as a means of significantly redistributing wealth, rather than a way of maintaining the current distribution under a different system. Global productivity has increased enormously over the last century, with the vast majority of the gains being captured by a relatively small proportion of the population. I'd personally be very happy to see an overall decrease in my income (due to income tax increases outweighing my UBI dividend) in exchange for a fairer society and a genuinely reliable safety net for myself and those around me.

It feels like you're opposed to particular forms or implementations of UBI, which is something I agree with. I even agree that the popular fascination with UBIs is detrimental to more pressing needs (in particular investment in our housing, energy/energy efficiency and transport infrastructure in order to make these necessities truly affordable to all). But I don't think any of those concerns are an argument against UBIs in principle. They are, I believe, likely to be a piece of the puzzle, but never the whole solution. I think it's useful to be discussing such a radical means of wealth distribution, because we're going to need something to do that, simply in order to maintain social stability and economic viability.
posted by howfar at 3:38 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]

We had a nice left wing conversation on UBI here and the essay linked is pretty in depth

The elimination of personal debt as part of a UBI will keep the whole “kicking the can of a massive crash down the road” thing from being a thing - eliminating medical debt via Medicare for all, eliminating student debt via a debt jubilee and the creation of a truly free national university system, the elimination of payday and checkcashing debt/loan sharking with a public, postal bank that’s set up for small, short term loans with low interest rates, and moving toward more public housing and regulation to get housing out of the investment bubble machine and into a Human Right.

The expansion of cheap credit as a ploy to avoid raising wages in line with inflation got us into this mess, and the massive debt loans the average American carries mean the net wealth of families under 35 is basically zero and keeps works immiserate, alienated, and beholden to predatory bosses. A properly implemented UBI would allow people to leave toxic situations and create what is basically a permenant strike fund.
posted by The Whelk at 4:21 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]

As someone who has never earned a lot and deals with a lot of health problems I really hope for a UBI personally because the current system has a goal of weeding people out and putting requirements and catches on things designed to guilt people out of using them or making them do a lot of things they aren't really able to do.

The hoops are oppressive and often against the needs of people coping with the very conditions that are limiting their income to begin with. If I struggle with daily life obligations in the workplace doesn't it make sense I would struggle with the obligations of getting to various meetings on time, filling out arduous and intimidating paperwork with lots of reminders that if you do it wrong you're going to jail and fined for thousands of dollars?

Not to mention in a social work setting the majority of the issues I see is that so many people are dealing with the mental health and physical health problems of POVERTY then social workers tell them to a set of overwhelming steps to "help themselves" watch the people continue to struggle and fail and then tell themselves (and me) that they "won't help people who won't meet them 50/50" or that these people aren't even trying or don't care. Meanwhile the life path from getting a masters degree in counselling straight out of school vs working service industry as your entire life path (highest hopes maybe getting a technical degree that still won't even lift you out of poverty) is statistically a completely different level of poverty, developmental obstacles and limitations to functioning that have been handed to the person over and over and over throughout their lives.

The classism I saw working in social work was astounding and YES of course there are exceptions, people willing to challenge the fact that current social work is a function OF a capitalistic system trying to justify itself with it's practitioners trying to justify income inequality and imbalances of life circumstances and why it's ok they get more and others get less... but that was not was I saw happening to a lot of people coming through homeless services or in talks educators were giving about homelessness and poverty as the norm.

This is also what I have experienced trying to get "help" from these bureaucratic systems that literally would make me having panic attacks trying to go through their processes and trying to find doctors willing to say I have a limitation with work, all of these things are so overwhelming and I frequently wasn't even able to get aid even though I was too sick to work after having shingles for over a year because shingles neuralgia isn't counted as a "real disability" unless you already have the money to pay for a lawyer who will help you understand the system and prove that it is, which if you can't even work, how is that supposed to happen?
posted by xarnop at 5:47 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]

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