US Presidential Candidate for the Democrats, Andrew Yang, has been travelling through the US talking about a Freedom Dividend, or what amounts to a Universal Basic Income, but one of the key concerns people always have when it comes to a UBI is that people will become lazy or that no one will want to clean toilets.
I, personally, love when people bring up these points as it opens the door to having a discussion about what UBI is and isn’t. UBI isn’t an end-point. It is not a solution. It is a transitional tool as we move away from a strictly capitalist society to a post-capitalist society.
Yes, some people will forgo work and just take their UBI money and sit at home playing video games or whatever, but the labour market doesn’t have room for everyone to work anyways. We’ve had massive unemployment for a long time. Currently, almost six percent of Canadians are unemployed and it has been around that number for a long time. The US has almost a 4% unemployment, the UK is the same, and Germany is around 3%. So not everyone has a job currently and this number will grow due to automation. There is no way to get around that in my opinion. The technology we have today is being used to figure out how to build better technology tomorrow and this development cycle is only getting shorter and faster.
As for people doing jobs that most of society don’t want to do, I can only see one outcome: if they can’t be automated, then the rates to acquire people to do those jobs will have to rise. If you doubled the starting rate for a janitor, how likely would it be that people would apply? Or, if the only jobs available were janitorial and you wanted a better life, what choice would you have? These are the labour market decisions that come about due to UBI.
UBI is a safety net making sure that we all have money to fall back on to fill gaps, but as automation gets smarter, cheaper, and faster, the government will have to work with corporations to make sure that UBI payments either keeps up through taxation on those businesses, or those businesses will have to pass on their cost savings from automation to consumers so that the UBI funds can give enough that the products the companies are producing are purchasable.
Universal Basic Income is one of those things that will have a huge effect on the world market as it comes into existence, but I believe all people in all countries could benefit from it. It requires an immense amount of strength and commitment from our governments to see it through so that corporations don’t continue to concentrate wealth into smaller and smaller pockets of people.
I also believe that after four to six decades of UBI being part of the world economy, we might see another transition to a post-scarcity, post-capitalism society that may remind people more of Star Trek, which would be my ideal. Even today, I feel that no one should need to choose between medication for pain and glasses to see. No one should struggle for some small shelter from the elements. No one should want for food and nutrition.
As a society, we are smarter than this.
Our technology can make this all possible. It will all be about willpower, pushing back against the bastardized capitalism that exists today and making sure that we all work together to look out for each other. Our fear of losing the little we have often keeps us quiet, but the wealthiest in our society are realizing that once people have nothing to lose, people will speak up and push back and that’s not in the best interest of those wealthy people.
I am excited about the renewed interest in UBI, but I wish people were more willing to call it what it is… a transitional economic tool.