Response to Andrew on UBI

Hi Andrew,

In response to #1, I think you both underestimate how responsible poor people would be with a UBI, and for the most part attribute poverty to the wrong causes.

People on low incomes economize because they have to — they have very little disposable income, so they value every bit. The abuses you allude to obviously exist, but their prevalence is exaggerated mostly due to the very sort of stigmatic myth that you appear to believe. I grant that it’s easier to blame poor people for being poor, because then we don’t have to ask hard questions about how society is structured and about what sacrifices a restructuring would entail upon the rest of us. We need to find the courage as a society to take on these challenges together.

The causality of poverty is often the reverse of what you believe: activities of despondency like substance abuse and addictions frequently arise because of poverty at least as often as they are the cause of poverty. I also think that being impoverished makes a person less likely to escape poverty, and there are lots of social factors for that, i.e. lack of family structure or guidance, poor examples set by parents and peers, fewer opportunities for higher education, etc. In addition to all the other benefits I explored, UBI would provide more opportunities for higher education. Furthermore, those benefits would be passed down through generations — socioeconomic status is hereditary.

#2: The government would devise and distribute the UBI, using taxes funded by a much more progressive taxation regime. This would be necessary because, as you correctly observe, with fewer people employed the tax base would shrink, and all the income would be concentrated in far fewer hands. The only reason firms would replace human labour with automation is to be more productive and cut costs, so by definition they’d be making more money . . . as long as they can find someone to sell to. It would be in a corporation’s interest to contribute to a UBI through their taxes, because otherwise there are only two alternatives: A) go bankrupt because nobody can afford to purchase what you’re selling; or B) the super-wealthy elites trade goods and services among themselves, effectively leading to a neo-feudal society. This option is unthinkable because it would be unsustainable (revolution, civil war, etc).

#3: For the record, what I mentioned about a feminist perspective is no mere platitude. My personal definition of feminism is wider than the mainstream definition, which is probably the one you’re operating on. My definition includes more egalitarianism for women in the job market, but I also mean it in the sense of doing away with antiquated and unfair gender-roles (including unfair burdens on men), because that’s the source of the problem. It’s really a matter of basic justice in human relationships, and I think a UBI would benefit society in that regard.

As far as I know, marriage rates are already declining, but I think that’s related to a rise in precarious work and an atrophying middle-class. Millenials are getting married later in life and less frequently than previous generations. In fact, richer people are more likely to marry and vice-versa, because financial instability and uncertainty is inimical to stability in a relationship. If anything, I think a UBI would increase marriage rates. People have more confidence and self-esteem when they’re not living paycheque-to-paycheque, so are more likely to find and stay with a partner. I think what you’re saying is that UBI would make it easier to be a single parent on a single income, so marriages would decline further. I see your logic, and it could happen. But I really don’t know which is more likely.

You’re right that there are some tough jobs that are even tougher to automate. I can actually envision partial-automation solutions to the jobs you listed (repairing/installing a motor, or killing rodents), but humans would still have to be involved. None of the research I’ve encountered suggests that automation is going to be a tidal wave that knocks humans out of the labour market completely — just the low-skilled, repetitive jobs like the ones I mentioned (but those jobs represent a lot of people). For dangerous jobs that really can’t be automated easily, the market will respond by offering higher wages until someone agrees to do it. People already do dangerous jobs today if they’re paid enough. All automation will do is push those wages higher through market forces, and I believe that’s fair, too.

What you said about 80% of people philosophizing made me laugh. I wouldn’t go that far, but I think that most people have something they’d rather be doing than working a boring 9–5 if they had the option. But since that’s never been an option for the vast majority of people, generation upon generation has grown up thinking of work as their purpose in life. I find that sad. UBI wouldn’t be enough to retire on, btw, but it would give people the financial freedom, for the first time in their adult lives, to imagine doing things they like more often, instead of settling for shit. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a job for which you are eager to get out of bed in the morning, I bet you’ve dreamed of doing something you enjoy more, too.

Addressing your “corrections” part: Nope, I meant parents, both moms and dads. This is the feminism thing I talked about. A father should be able to stay at home with children while his wife is at work just as easily as the opposite. Old-fashioned gender norms have historically prevented that, though, and it’s time we recognize that as nonsense.

You said “ Feminist perspective on economics is the ability to not work and still get enough money to live off of?” The fact that you don’t view work in the home as real work is exactly the problem I’m drawing attention to. We have learned to view activities as valuable only if they can be rewarded with money, but that’s not logical. UBI rewards real work that so far has not been recognized as such.

I hope I’ve done justice to the critiques you’ve made, Andrew. Thanks for reading and engaging!

2018 winner of the Dalton Camp Award for essay-writing. M.A. Political Science. I'll go to the mat for the Oxford comma.

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