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.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?
There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.
An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.
- "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
- "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
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