UBI: money for nothing and bureaucracy for free?

Universal Basic Income should be embraced alongside the rise of automation, argues

Universal­ Basic­ Income (UBI) ­is­ touted ­by ­many ­on the ­left ­as ­a ­pathway ­toward a successful ­socialist economy, ­but it’s ­through­ capitalist ­thinking­ that it ­could ­become a success.­ The­ idea behind ­all ­models­ of ­UBI ­is ­that ­all citizens­ within­ a­ state­ receive­ an unconditional­ level ­of ­income ­from the ­government, ­in ­addition ­to ­the other ­forms ­of income ­they ­receive. UBI­ should­ appeal­ to­ many on ­the ­right ­in ­any­ case.­ Though financed ­through ­taxation, ­it ­could replace­ many­ of­ the­ bureaucratic public­ organisations­ that­ inflate the ­state’s ­reach. ­The ­effect­ on­ the economy ­is ­what­ raises­ most­ people’s ­brows.

The­ Swiss­ Referendum­ on introducing­ basic­ income­ lost,­ with 77 ­per ­cent­ rejecting the­ proposal­ to pay ­each ­citizen­ £1­755 ­per ­month. Though ­basic ­income­ wouldn’t stop people from­ gaining ­more ­money through ­work, ­there ­would ­be ­less of­ a­ need ­to. ­While­ acting­ as­ a universal­ safety­ net,­ UBI­ has­ a­ big risk­ of­ disincentivising­ work­ and hindering ­the economy,­ as ­well ­as making ­countries ­that adopt UBI much­ more attractive ­for ­economic migrants.­ While­ it­ improves­ the quality ­of­ life­ for­ individuals ­within the ­economy, ­it ­poses ­a ­legitimate risk ­to ­society. This­ risk ­is ­magnified­ because the­ majority­ of­ UBI­ proponents advocate­ implementation­ through models­ where­ UBI­ is­ financed through­ income­ tax ­or the ­profits­ of publicly ­owned enterprise

Instead, ­UBI­ should ­be ­linked to­ the ­technological ­revolution. ­The largest­ inevitable ­risk ­to the economy ­is­ the ­automation­ of ­swathes of­ jobs ­and ­uncertainty ­over ­which jobs­ will­ become­ redundant­ and when.­ While­ the­ demand­ for ­supermarket ­workers­ is­ definitely going to­ decline, ­with ­CGI effectively­ resurrecting­ Peter ­Cushing­ in ­the ­film Rogue ­One, ­it’s now ­unclear­ what the­ future­ of­ the­ acting­ industry will ­be. No one­ alive­ regrets ­the­ agricultural ­and ­industrial ­revolution, and­ in­ a­ hundred years ­no ­one ­will regret­ the technological revolution. It’s ­only ­damaging ­to ­our ­future­ to try ­to suppress ­it. ­But ­as ­with ­all revolutions­ there­ are­ going­ to­ be casualties.­ Certainly, ­the­ revolution is ­inevitable, ­but­ its ­timing, ­nature and­ the ­level ­of ­resistance,­ are ­not.

Universal ­Basic Income­ could be­ financed­ and ­set ­through ­taxing the­ gains­ from­ automation.­ This would­ provide ­a ­safety ­net ­for ­those losing out ­from­ automation,­ benefit society­ more­ generally­ and­ motivate­ scientific­ research.­ Though those ­that lose ­their ­jobs­ gain the least­ from­ this­ model,­ they­ don’t lose­ their­ livelihoods­ as­ they­ risk doing ­anyway­ and­ there­ can ­be ­additional­ schemes ­to ­support ­them. Overall,­ less­ bureaucracy­ existed than ­does ­now,­ UBI­ is ­implemented ­and ­the ­fractures ­of automation are ­handled.

UBI­ benefits­ those­ who­ have no ­or ­low ­income.­ It­ also ­ultimately brings ­about­ more equal ­distributions ­of ­income while maintaining equality­ of­ opportunity.­ The­ approach­ toward­ it ­shouldn’t­ revolve around­ closing­ income­ gaps.­ Instead­ it ­should­ be ­about ­social ­security. Rather­ than­ disincentivising people­ from­ working­ when­ there is ­a ­need ­for ­people ­to ­be working, it ­can­ be ­used­ as ­a tool ­of ­compensation­ when­ there­ is­ no­ need­ for people ­to work. ­This ­isn’t­ a­ flawless idea, ­but ­it’s ­an approach­ that­ all paths ­of politics ­could ­find­ themselves­ supporting.­ UBI­ as­ it­ was proposed ­in ­the ­Swiss­ Referendum had­ more ­losers than ­winners. This model ­just has ­winners.

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