Why a Basic Income
(original title: Why the United States should implement Basic Income)
by Sam Alexander - Xamuel.com Oct. 2009
The fundamental economic flaw is the deep underlying assumption of human labor.
A "Basic Income" is a citizen's dividend, an automatic payment to every citizen, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, no qualifications necessary. A decent basic income would go a long way to repair and enhance the economy.
The main problem with the economy is not regulation or deregulation, outsourcing or immigration, housing bubble or any other bubble. The fundamental economic flaw is the deep underlying assumption of human labor.
At its core, economics assumes there's so much work to do and that humans are the ones to do the job. This has been true to varying degrees throughout history, becoming more and more obsolete as technology improves. Machines, computers and robots edge into every work sector, and yet the underlying assumption remains that every good citizen should work so many hours a week.
What, pray tell, are all those workers supposed to do, when more and more work is automated?
A much more realistic economic assumption is that every person has inherent value solely for being alive, before ever picking up hammer or sickle. This is reflected by Basic Income.
When Benjamin Franklin predicted a 4-hour workday within his lifetime, he apparently forgot to inform economists of his breakthrough.The same goes for Paul and Percival Goodman, who calculated that just 5% of the work being done was enough to provide food, shelter and clothing for everyone. The Goodmans' calculation was done in the 60's, when automation was still just a shadow of what it has since become.
The free market reflects the growth of technology through the annihilation of jobs. At the time I'm writing this, the U6 measure of unemployment puts one in five working-age U.S. adults out of work.
Of course, even 80% employment should be surprisingly high when you consider that in the blink of an eye, a computer can do work that would take a man a lifetime.
Human beings can do a number of tasks which machines can never do: we alone can enjoy the world, we alone can revel in the beauty of nature, we alone can keep each other company, we alone can love. Unfortunately, the old economic models don't give any of these tasks any value at all.
According to classic economics, all the love and pleasure and joy in the world doesn't add up to one hour of ditch-digging. In a world where machines can take care of so much of our ditch-digging for us, we need an economics which rewards the inherent value of merely being alive. That is Basic Income.
Even the most staunch libertarian would agree that in a nation as advanced as the United States, nobody should starve on the street. Under the current setup, this is prevented through welfare, food stamps, and homeless shelters, as well as the fact that food is already so ridiculously abundant you can stay alive just by eating the food people discard.
The problem with these solutions is that they are humiliating.
The Impacts of Inequality - Richard Wilkinson
They explicitly stratify society into classes, enforcing the obsolete notion that the man who doesn't do labor is a less valuable member of society. This is why Basic Income should be absolutely universal- even Warren Buffett and Bill Gates must be given automatic "welfare", for only then can the dole rise above its condescending, humiliating nature.
Another flaw in the current welfare system is that it actually discourages its recipients from raising their status.
If you give a woman free money, threatening to take it away as soon as she finds another source of income, what kind of message does that impart?
Unlike welfare (and some would even say "unlike communism"), Basic Income doesn't remove the incentive to work. People are still free to work, the only difference is that now they're working for extra money, for luxuries beyond what their automatic stipend can provide.
But no more should anyone labor just to "put bread on the table", no more than we should labor to "put oxygen in the room."
As a society, we must rise above the assumption that everyone is "supposed" to perform jobs throughout all the best years of life.
Critics of BI warn that with automatic stipends, the workforce would dwindle and civilization would descend into anarchy. I say the opposite, civilization will evolve toward a new golden age as employers are forced to automate those tasks so miserable that nobody with a living wage already would consider doing them.
The automatic living wage acts as a kind of filter which filters out the worst jobs from civilization, leaving only those jobs where people can keep their precious dignity intact.
To see the extent of the error in modern labor-based economics, look no further than what happens when a previously human job is automated.
Under the ridiculous idea that every human should work a job, people react with horror to new automation, as if this development is a bad thing. How absurd that any technological progress which eliminates the need for human labor should be called a bad thing! In short: if a household gets a dish-washing machine, that's a good thing, but if a company gets a dish-washing machine, that's the grim spectre of unemployment!
Reprinted with Permission from Xamuel.com
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