Universal Basic Income—The Foundation of a Technically Advanced Society

With the announcements that Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Mark Rubio are running in the 2016 Presidential Primaries, it appears election season is well underway. As usual, many topics will be discussed, but there are many other important policies that will be left untouched. The scripted, binary world of American Politics leaves out much of importance during its process, preferring instead to emphasize fear tactics as a means of garnering votes.

One of the more important issues on the table for me is Universal Basic Income. This is not welfare, or assistance, or social security. This is a guarantee that every single human being in our society has shelter, food and health care. UBI is a call to finally use our technology to provide the most basic needs to all our citizens.

It isn’t altruism that drives me to the viewpoint that human life is important enough to protect. It’s pragmatism, and I believe that futurists need to consider UBI as an important step to achieving a more prosperous and technologically advanced society.

Welfare Isn’t Only For the Poor

The system of welfare, social security and other social support systems that we currently employ are based on the desire for those who have, to lord over those who don’t. Layers upon layers of administration exists for the sole purpose of deciding who is worthy of support, who is actually needy enough, and who can be given help. Each year we heap on more requirements, the most recent being restrictions on buying steak and salmon with food stamps. This behavior is inherently childish. It supposes that some of us are better than others. 

Here’s a very simple suggestion: what if we got rid of EVERY safety net, from SNAP to Social Security to Unemployment, and pooled that money together to create a guaranteed minimum income of $30,000 to be paid to every living American, eighteen and older. In addition, we cut our military spending and add that money to the pool as well.

Now many will say, $30K!!! That’s outrageous. But remember, one war in Iraq has cost us TRILLIONS, so please don’t say we don’t have enough money. In addition, all the administrative costs of lording over the current assistance programs, i.e. deciding who is worthy of help, go away. Now there are only two qualifications for receiving assistance: Are you alive? Are you over 18? Done.

This is for everyone. Hillary’s grandchildren will get $30K a year as well as the immigrant’s child. ALL are worthy of welfare, not just the poor or elderly. All of us are worthy of food, shelter and health care. And this $30K will cover that, if you’re frugal.

Look up the word, welfare, in the thesaurus and see the many synonyms: well-being, abundance, euphoria, contentment, thriving. Who doesn’t deserve this?

Universal Basic Income Allows Freedom

So now, at 18, you get $30K a year, for the rest of your life. The government has no say in how you spend it, or what you do with it. However, $30K will not get you a Tesla, or an apartment in Silicon Valley, or NYC. Here’s where the freedom lies; Capitalism still exists. You want to live a more opulent life, then use the money to go to college and become a software engineer, or doctor, or financial wizard. There’s no stopping you. Earn as much as you want, continue with business as usual. This isn’t socialism, this isn’t a mandatory maximum wage, rather it’s a guarantee. The sky’s the limit. Go be Elon Musk if you want. Or drop out of college and invent the next big thing. More power to you. With everyone now fed and sheltered, the market place demand for your product has grown.

UBI would also open the door to tax reform and simplification. The first $30K earned each year is NOT taxed, regardless of your total income or net worth. Anything you make above that, whether in wages or investments, is taxed at a simple rate across the board. Consumption taxes on luxury goods can also be considered.

Most importantly for futurists: UBI will allow technological advancement. When a farmer is guaranteed a basic income to pay her bills, she might be more willing to try a new sort of crop and take the economic hit a few years. Or when fast-food workers are replaced by robots, they can still thrive while figuring out their next step. Experts suggest that within 20 years, robots will replace 40% of our jobs. (Yes, each of the highlighted words in that sentence link to an article about the robot revolution that’s coming.) This is great for efficiency and technology, but not for humans if we don’t have any way of making an income. This means that many industries will AVOID technical advancement, rather than embrace it, because of the fear of losing their jobs and their livelihood. Take that risk away and watch the world change from one where many go hungry to one of abundance and health.

What Would You Do?

Many people fear that giving money away to others will support those “bad” people, like stoners, unwed mothers, and immigrants (Their words, not mine.) I hear this argument all the time. To me, UBI is about supporting humanity, plain and simple. We’ve been on this abundant planet long enough, the time has come to make it a good, safe and clean home for everyone. A guaranteed minimum income frees us from the fear of failure, and gives all of us a chance to start again, over and over, throughout our lives. Our tit-for-tat way of dealing with one another is only getting in our way and slowing us down.

Rather than fear what others would do with the money, let me ask you this, what would YOU do with a guaranteed minimum income of $30K a year?  Would you:

-          Raise a child?
-          Care for an elderly relative?
-          Start a new business?
-          Go to college?
-          Get your PhD?
-          Volunteer?
-          Paint beautiful scenes on hospital walls?
-          Write that screenplay?
-          Direct that documentary?
-          Leave your abusive spouse?
-          Tutor children in math?
-          Retire and raise goats?
-          Live simply in a tiny home?
-          Form a band?
-          Invent new technologies?
-          Work in the Open Source Movement?
-          Run for political office?

There are approximately 244,673,000 adults in the US, which means that this question really over two million answers, for each of us has our own desires, needs and wants.

While the Democrats and Republicans are sure to leave UBI out of their discussions, there are many third-party initiatives that include it as important. The Green Party is one. In his recent article, Transhumanist Party founder and first presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan, mentions many futurist parties that include some form of UBI in their platform. They have to, for their futuristic goals are held hostage until we can change our economic policies from scarcity to abundance thinking. This is the thinking that made Silicon Valley. UBI completes the promise. Futurists looking to learn more about UBI should read Marshall Brain’s write up in IEET.

Lastly, dear Libertarians, you too can find UBI as part of the freedom you desire. Matt Zwolinski’s article on Cato Unbound is an excellent source for actual numbers and the effectiveness of a guaranteed basic income. Check it out and start thinking about what you would do with $30K a year.


John Grunwell said...

I support this idea in principle, but how do you answer the basic criticism that the cost of this program is presently estimated at 175% of our the United States' current federal budget?

I hope you also see that this premise idea is entirely too accepting, non-judgmental and rational to ever be accepted and promoted by the political leadership of this nation, much like drug legalization.

Nicole Sallak Anderson said...

Hi there John. Just seeing this now, I've been out of the country and missed the entire discussion of my article. Yes, I am aware of the fact that the cost of this program doesn't fit in today's economic picture. But there's also a lot of government spending that goes unreported, particularly in the military expense category. Regardless, even with the removal of ALL benefits programs, and subsidies to businesses, and deep, deep cuts to the military budget, there's a gap that would have to be made up through taxation. We're not there yet, but in the second article I wrote on the subject I try to point out that if we want to truly change the world, and make room for a technically advanced society, we have to stop limiting our selves to the way we do business in the now. We have to take risks and begin to imagine a better future before we can make a better future.

As to your second point, I do see that this is not something the current leadership of our country could ever accept. I think you're right when you compare it to drug legalization. Yet state by state, that legislation is changing. The younger generation thinks differently, and their influence is beginning to be felt. The more we talk about it, the more it becomes acceptable.

I have hope that like views on recreational drugs, our views on universal basic income will also grow and become more accepted. Because in the long run, it just makes sense.