The colossal problem with universal basic income
Here's why universal basic income will hurt the 99%, and make the 1% even richer.
Douglas Rushkoff is the host of the Team Human podcast and a professor of digital economics at CUNY/Queens. He is also the author of a dozen bestselling books on media, technology, and culture, including, Present Shock, Program or Be Programmed, Media Virus, and Team Human, the last of which is his latest work.
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF: For a long time I was a fan of universal basic income. And the logic I had was that I always hear politicians talking about, 'Let's create jobs for people. That's what we need is jobs, more jobs,' as if that's what's going to solve the economic problem. So the government is supposed to lend money to a bank, who can then lend money to a corporation, who will then build a factory in order for people to have jobs. Do we really need more jobs? In California, they're tearing down houses as we speak, because the houses are in foreclosure, and they want to keep market values high. The US Department of Agriculture burns food every week in order to keep the prices of that food high, even though there's people who are starving and people who need homes. We can't just let people have those homes. Why? Because they don't have jobs. So now we're supposed to create jobs for people to make useless stuff for other people to buy plastic crap that we're going to throw away or stick in storage units or end up in landfill just so those people can have jobs so that we can justify letting them participate in the abundance. And that's kind of ass backwards.
So I thought, well, shoot, rather than creating useless jobs, what if we just let people have the stuff that's in abundance? Just let people have the houses. What's the problem with this? And UBI kind of goes along that lines of, well, if we have more than enough stuff, if we don't need everybody working all the time, then why don't we just let people have income? Or at least go to a four-day workweek or a three-day workweek or a two-day workweek. If work is the thing that's scarce, then why don't we mete that out and say, 'OK, we've got these 10 days that you're allowed to work this year. So come on, come onto the farm and do that work, and then you'll have to find something else for you to do the rest of the time.' But in reality, it's not like that. If we were really that efficient, then we wouldn't be destroying the planet with pollution. What we've done is found ways of making stuff and doing things that require very little labor, but externalize a host of other problems to a whole lot of other places. So we could 3D print or something, but where do you get the plastic goop for your 3D printer? What mine in Africa is it coming out of, and which topsoil is it destroying? You know, when we're going to run out of topsoil in 60 years, it means that we're not actually using the appropriate labor intensive permaculture solutions in agriculture and all that. So first off, that whole idea that we're moving towards lower employment is a myth. We've faked lower employment through extremely extractive, exploitative, polluting, and unsustainable business practices.
And second, I was giving a talk at Uber, and I was talking to them about the problems with their business model and how they're putting all these drivers out of work. And here they are, these freelancers working for the company, basically training the algorithms that will be replacing them without any profit participation in the end-game company. And one of the guys got up and basically quoted back to me a passage from my own book, "Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus" he said, well, what about universal basic income? And when I heard it coming out of their mouths, I realized, 'Oh.' So universal basic income isn't just a way to help people have the money they need to survive and have time to innovate and come up with other solutions. It's becoming an excuse for companies like Uber to not pay a living wage to their workers. So what's the idea? Oh, we'll get the government to print more money to give it to workers for them to spend with us. So what really happens what is universal basic income? It's just a way of perpetuating our roles as consumers at the bottom of the pyramid, not as owners. If we're going to go to anything, I would say, what about universal basic assets? What about actual participation? What if the workers owned the means of production? So you don't just give them a handout so that the money ends up in the same corporate coffers and going into the same shares. That's not the point. What universal basic income does, if you look at the whole model, is allows the people who own the lion's share of our world to own more and more of it. We just print more money, and more of it goes up to the top. That's not the way to get long-term equity. Sure, Social Security, welfare, the dole, all those things are fine for those in need. But it's not a great long-term economic strategy. It's really just a Band-Aid on extractive corporate capitalism. How do we get to extract more? We'll just print more cash for us to extract.
- Universal basic income is a band-aid solution that will not solve wealth inequality, says Rushkoff.
- Funneling money to the 99% perpetuates their roles as consumers, pumping money straight back up to the 1% at the top of the pyramid.
- Rushkoff suggests universal basic assets instead, so that the people at the bottom of the pyramid can own some means of production and participate in the profits of mega-rich companies.
- Why Elon Musk Thinks Universal Basic Income Is Inevitable - Big Think ›
- Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for a universal basic income - Big Think ›
- Andrew Yang: Universal basic income won't make people lazy - Big ... ›
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
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With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
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