A Collection of Articles on UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME by Chris Agnos
WHY EVERY HUMAN BEING DESERVES A UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME
Do you ever stop and take notice at how non-human animals will disregard our property lines and laws? Deer will jump our fences and eat the vegetables in our gardens. Birds will build nests on our roofs. And if you leave food out on your counter, it is highly likely that an army of ants will be devouring it by morning. Nature doesn’t seem to want to play along with our concepts of private property, perhaps because they are completely unnatural.
Animals seem to have no regard or interest in private property.
The Unnatural Economy
The economy currently run by humans is very unnatural. On a planet that offers natural abundance, human beings have implemented an economy that creates artificial scarcity. For example, it is considered perfectly normal for some humans to take far more than they could ever need and systematically deny access to others in need. The animal world is different. Lions don’t kill every gazelle. When their bellies are full, they will rest or play.
In Nature, competition exists when resources become scarce (and they are becoming increasingly scarce as humans begin to use up the rest of the natural world to fuel its ever-growing economy). When resources aren’t scarce, you see far more examples of cooperation. Human beings, on the other hand, will compete to be the “winner” or to be recognized as “the best” at something, even after all their physical needs are met and to the degree that they may become personally identified with their successes or failures.
Finally, in Nature’s economy, nothing is wasted. Once the lions have had their fill on the gazelle carcass, the vultures have their turn, before the insects and microorganisms in the soil reclaim whatever is left. But our economy based on ownership of personal property creates a system where companies are incentivized to sell as much material product as possible without care if it ultimately winds up in a landfill or some poor animal’s stomach.
In nature’s economy, nothing is wasted.
Nature Doesn’t Believe In Private Property
Perhaps the most important discrepancy between the way human beings and Nature organize their economies is in the concept of private property. While a bear may lay claim to a particular area of land while he is inhabiting it, they do not lay claim to various pieces of land around the world and exclude access to other local bears. Humans, on the other hand, have littered the countryside with “No Trespassing” signs, excluding everyone from accessing the planet on which they were born.
When you put it that way, private property seems criminal, doesn’t it? What right does anyone have to exclude people from accessing land they aren’t currently using themselves? It would be absurd to think that an animal should be denied access to the land that allows them to live. But isn’t a human being born into this world to parents with no property of their own being put in a similar situation? Shouldn’t the right to access the land be the same as the right to access the air to breathe and the water to drink?
I would love to debate anyone who would like to take the opposing side of that argument.
The issue is not whether we agree with this principle. The issue is what do we do about it. Surely, I am not going to advocate for simply abolishing all private property claims. To do that would send our system into utter chaos as private property would just amass to those best able to keep the peace at any cost. Human civilization has endured a fairly long period of this kind of system and it did not bring out the best in us.
Here is what I am proposing: In the global, capitalist economy we are creating, where private property is essential to the systems of production currently in place, money equals access. In most countries in this world, if you have no money, then you have no food, shelter, clothing, or health care. If you have a billion dollars, then you have access to the everything the world has to offer. I believe that everyone, for no other reason than they have been born on this planet, deserves access to meet his or her needs.
The problem is all the land in the world is already owned by either a country or a private person. Since money equals access, everyone should be entitled (yes, entitled) to a share of value of the productive use of all the land. And this share could take the form of a guaranteed, universal basic income (UBI) – an amount of money given to every citizen every year simply for being alive. It is important to note that how we fund the UBI will make the difference on whether we continue to further class divisions or we are able to transform an unsustainable society based on private ownership to a much more sustainable society built on the principle of access.
In the human economy, money equals access.
Challenging Old Cultural Norms And Beliefs About Money
There are usually two reactions at this point. Some people, probably a minority, can see this logic all the way through. It makes perfect sense. Many others, however, begin to develop a case of cognitive dissonance. The idea of giving people money “for free” violates a number of cultural norms of capitalistic society. Money, after all, is supposed to be the “reward for hard work.”
For most of human history, this has been true. When the pilgrims were settling villages, they couldn’t afford to support people who were unwilling to work. There was enough work to go around. Everyone was needed. In 1790, it required 90 percent of the population of the United States to produce food to feed the 100 percent. Today, due to incredible advancements in productivity, it only requires two percent of the population to grow the food to feed the 100 percent.
But instead of sharing the decreasing burden of food production and working fewer hours, everyone else was forced to find some other way of creating a product or service to sell to the market. For a while, factories and massive state-sponsored construction projects were happy to soak up the excess labor supply. Today, we are on the cusp of further developments in technology that will dramatically increase productivity further by making most human labor obsolete. The only reason why this would ever be considered to be a bad thing is because people need the income that the jobs provide to survive. A UBI would ensure that as the economy continues to become more productive through automation, everyone will be able to live a decent and quality life, regardless of their ability or need to contribute.
There are still those who will use these traditional cultural norms and values around money to argue that society, as we know it, would cease to exist. But if you take careful look, you will probably notice that these folks are in positions of relative abundance compared to the average person. It is likely that they have sacrificed much and worked very hard to attain what they have. That is why how you fund the UBI is critical to its successful adoption. If thoughtfully constructed, it could also radically transform how society organizes itself towards a more ecological society. And isn’t that what we need more than anything?
Freed from survival anxiety, could you humanity and nature work together in partnership?
Shouldn’t the right to access the land be the same as the right to access the air to breathe and the water to drink?
This article, Why Every Human Being Deserves A Universal Basic Income is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris Agnos and ChrisAgnos.com. (Just copy and paste this text with links at the bottom of your page.)
HOW TO FUND A UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME FAIRLY
A universal basic income (UBI) – an idea in which the government replaces all other forms of monetary assistance (welfare, social security, etc.) with yearly stipend – has enormous potential to radically transform our current unsustainable consumer economy based on individual ownership into a much more sustainable economy based on access if it is designed and funded carefully. Implementing a UBI would require a cultural shift in our attitudes towards work and money but in a world where money is access, the idea of granting everyone enough money to meet their basic needs has sound philosophical logic behind it. However, all of this potential is highly dependent on the way a UBI is funded. A poorly conceived plan may wind up doing far more harm to a society already ravaged by class divisions and extreme inequality.
Properly conceived, a universal basic income could radically transform society.
Popular Criticisms Of A Universal Basic Income
The idea around a universal basic income is not a new idea. It has backers all across the political and economic spectrum. On the right, many people have rightly seen the potential in eliminating expensive bureaucratic government agencies and processes that exist primarily to determine eligibility for assistance programs. If everyone is eligible, the process is simplified greatly. On the left, people are recognizing the emerging “crisis of capitalism” in which the majority of people lose access to their purchasing power as most jobs are replaced by automation and robots. However, very few ideas actually consider how the UBI should be funded.
The reason why many people are opposed to the idea of a UBI is because most plans use income tax as the source of the revenue that would fund it. More often than not, earning an income requires incredibly hard work and sacrifice and the idea that some people might be given the same monetary reward without having to work at all seems unfair. We begin to think “why should we have to give our lives to a job to earn money while others can live without giving anything?” The truth is the income tax really amounts to extortion – why should anyone else be entitled to the fruits of another’s labor? For this reason, funding a UBI through income tax is a terrible idea and will never get anywhere.
Taxing one’s labor is theft but taxing the use of resources that people did not create themselves is not.
We All Deserve Access To The Planet That Gave Birth To Us
Instead, to fund the UBI in a way that is fair, we need to create a new narrative based on a different understanding of the principles of private ownership that our economy is founded upon. When the Europeans first came to North America, they wanted to try to buy the land from the Native Americans. But the native tribes couldn’t understand the logic behind owning land. “How could anyone own the land?” they thought, “for they did not create it.”
The Native Americans saw land as the equivalent of both water and air. These are things that can’t belong to people. They believed all beings had a right to access these basic resources by virtue of the simple fact that they were born on this planet. The idea that because you owned land you had the right to exclude other people from occupying it was a radical idea to them. We need to realize that there are certain things that shouldn’t ever be able to be owned – things like air, water, and land – if that means giving some people the ability to exclude others from meeting their needs.
A properly constructed UBI would be based on the idea that the resources that weren’t created by human labor – the land, the airwaves, our public spaces, the skies, and even money itself – belong to everyone. And therefore, if you want exclusive access to any of these resources either to live or to start a business, you should have to compensate the rest of humanity for their reduced access. These economic “rents” already exist in the form of property taxes, licenses, and interest payments. But instead of sharing this wealth (that no human being created) with everyone, the wealthy elites appropriate it all to themselves. This is what must change.
What right does anyone have to own that which they did not create?
Giving Everyone A Base Level Of Access
The UBI ought to be funded from these “rent” payments. Just how much would that be? In the United States, the value of all the land (just the land itself, not the buildings or roads which were made from human labor) is estimated to be valued at $23 trillion. A five percent “exclusivity fee” would generate $1.15 trillion annually. Interest paid on money loaned ought to be another public asset. After all, no individual gives money its value. The value of money comes from our collective willingness to believe that it has value. Nearly $4 trillion was paid in collective interest from US households, businesses, governments, and non-profits in 2015. Instead of this money flowing to the shareholders of private banks, it, too, should form the collective pool that the UBI is drawn from. Combining these revenue sources into a $5 trillion yearly fund would yield a net of $18,000 a year for every adult and $9,000 a year for every child in the United States.
To save money, some have proposed means testing the UBI by only giving it to those who make below a certain income. This, too, is a terrible idea. To avoid the disastrous social implications that have been applied to people on government assistance in the past, it is critical that the UBI be given to all, even those with well-off means. If the wealthy choose to donate their UBI allotment to a cause of their choice, that should be their decision to make. The UBI is not earned the way additional money would be earned by trading one’s labor for it. Instead, the UBI should be considered to be every human being’s inheritance from the gifts and toils of all previous generations.
Everyone deserves the ability to meet their needs without having to be controlled.
It Is Far Cheaper To Feed The World Than It Is To Bomb It
But the true economic efficiency resulting from this form of a UBI comes much later. Today, enormous amounts of money are spent at both the collective and individual levels on various form of security. A typical response to the theft of a $30,000 car might be to put the thief in jail for 5 years at a total cost of $250,000. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper just to ensure that everyone had access to a car? The implementation of a UBI would likely spawn the creation of an entirely new $5 trillion a year “life services” market that would create unprecedented levels of access for the average person. In a society in which everyone has the ability to meet their basic needs, crime would be dramatically reduced. The main cause of crime and international conflict is scarcity. When people (and any animal really) can meet their needs, they are less likely to harm each other. Today, the US spends $39 billion a year on prisons, $350 billion a year on security, and $1100 billion a year on military. It isn’t hard to imagine that these expenditures could be drastically reduced in a world where people no longer had conflict over meeting their basic needs.
Intuitively, I think we all know that it is far cheaper to feed the world than it is to bomb it. But our stories around private property, money, wealth, ownership, and access must evolve before we will have access to the tools that can solve the economic crises we face today. In our society, money is the fuel of creation. The rich know this very well. Given enough money, you can pay just about anyone to do just about anything. A universal basic income gives everyone the chance to find their place in this world. It will be important to educate people that the UBI is a gift that is given to them by the previous generations of human beings who toiled and sacrificed their blood, sweat, tears, and lives while they endured the growing pains of industrial civilization. Only by sharing in the fruits of our collective success will be able to continue evolving human society sustainably far into the future.
Could life on earth one day be like an amusement park with unlimited access for all?
A properly constructed UBI would be based on the idea that the resources that weren’t created by human labor – the land, the airwaves, our public spaces, the skies, and even money itself – belong to everyone.
This article, How To Fund A Universal Basic Income Fairly is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris Agnos and ChrisAgnos.com. (Just copy and paste this text with links at the bottom of your page.)
HOW A UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME COULD CREATE A MORE SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY
I don’t think any child’s dream is to make lots of money. We certainly aren’t born with any innate need for money itself. But at some point in our lives, we are introduced to money and the eventual need to earn it. For many, it comes at a time when we are just beginning to learn about the world and what excites us most about it. Just when we are beginning to open the doors to possibility, the adult in the room says, “yeah, that’s really nice and sweet that you want to feed people in need, but what are you going to do to earn a living?”
What did you want to do before people told you that you had to “earn a living?”
A World Where People Follow Their Passions
“You mean I can’t do what I really want to do?” we wonder. With a universal basic income (UBI) – an idea in which the government replaces all other forms of monetary assistance (welfare, social security, etc.) with a yearly stipend given to every adult of say, $20,000 per year – this would all change. For the first time in human history, people would have a realistic opportunity to follow their childhood passions instead of being forced to work jobs or develop careers they are dispassionate about just to survive.
For many, this world is hard to imagine. Today, humanity has the ability to create a world of sustainable abundance where everyone has access to everything they need and most of the things they desire. But overcoming long held societal values that see money as a reward for hard work will be difficult. A shift in mindset is needed to see every person as inherently worthy, rather than seeing every person in terms of their ability to produce. For this reason, it is important to understand the philosophical justification for a UBI, for it reveals some of the deep underlying flaws of our predatory capitalistic economy and the way it views human nature. Given these flaws, how we fund a UBI will go a long way toward the effectiveness of the shift in mindset from an age of ownership to an age of access. A poorly conceived plan could further tensions between social and economic classes. But this article will focus on the potential of a fairly funded UBI to transform consumer society into an ecological society.
Let us stop and imagine for a moment what we might do if we no longer had to work in order to meet our basic needs. In the present system, we are all burdened with the stress that comes with knowing that failure to earn a living could result in social isolation, the worst punishment possible for a social being. Imagine the psychological shift in knowing that no matter what happened, you would have a roof over your head and food to eat without having to give anyone any of your time. How would not having to work to survive change your day to day life? What might you do instead? A UBI has the potential to unleash unimaginable amounts of human time, energy, creativity, and passion that has the potential to radically transform society. Instead of everyone attempting to attain the same unattainable “dream” sold to us by the advertising industry, people would have the means to pursue their own unique dreams, or just focus on the quality of time they are able to give to their relationships with their family, friends, and community.
If you could pursue your childhood dream, what would you do?
A Universal Basic Income Could Create A More Sustainable Economy
As people have time to adjust to this newfound freedom, a number of positive changes could develop. One major change will be the nature of work itself. For one thing, employers could no longer take advantage of people’s survival anxiety as the lack of a job would no longer lead to a life on the streets. Instead, workers will demand a more dynamic and higher quality work experience. The really hard and dirty jobs would also have to pay more. The choice between working in a coal mine or being a homeless beggar is a lot different than the choice between working in a coal mine and living off the basic income. Jobs would have to be interesting and offer chances for people to learn and grow. The days of people being exploited by the market wage would end.
Because people would only work in jobs they enjoyed, people would likely be far more passionate about their work. A recent survey said that 70 percent of people would quit their jobs if they no longer had to worry about money. That is 70 percent of the population that would rather be doing something else with their lives besides the thing they are doing. This systemic drudgery takes a toll on our lives in the form of fewer smiles, less laughter, and only a fraction of the joy that might otherwise be possible. Freed from this drudgery, what beautiful thing would you do?
A universal basic income could spawn all kinds of alternative living arrangements. Certainly, there are mobile home parks where you could live a decent quality of life on your own if that’s the way you want to live. But five people could also pool their basic income and have access to $100,000/year of guaranteed income. That’s enough to buy a house together. Those huge suburban houses with millions of empty bedrooms could become communal living houses, helping people meet that universal need of feeling like we belong to a community, of being needed and mattering to others.
On a system level, there is enormous potential to shift away from a very unsustainable economic model centered around private ownership and towards an economics based on access. To meet the needs of the emerging $4 trillion/ year life services market brought on by the UBI, new companies – call them life service companies (LSC) – might create all-inclusive amenity packages tailored to your preferred lifestyle in exchange for your basic income every year.
The LSC might offer a “travel” package that includes unlimited food at a number of supermarket chains, a place to stay at a hostile, health care, and an all-you-can-ride train ticket. There might be a “family” package which would include a 3 bedroom apartment, access to all city museums and national parks, access to transportation on demand (Lyft/Uber), and an entertainment package.
The LSC would be able to take advantage of efficiencies of scale that come when we pool our resources together. Instead of everyone owning their own everything, people can gain access to (almost) everything at a fraction of the cost. A LSC might maintain a dozen boats for a certain lake for a thousand people to share instead our current system where a thousand people each own their own boat. The LSC would also be able to “close the loop” on our industrial processes. Instead of selling products that the individual is responsible for, an LSC would sell access to products that they actually own, creating an incentive for companies to recycle and upcycle when their products are nearing the end of life. Large technology companies would still exist to service the LSC to meet the needs of their subscriber bases more efficiently. People would no longer see technological unemployment as a bad thing as the more efficient the LSC becomes, the more access to the world their subscriber base would have. This is a kind of “trickle down economics” that actually trickles down and is felt by every member of society.
Access to higher level perks might be available for an extra fee, which people could earn by working. Speaking of work, these LSC would likely become the economy’s biggest employers as well. Most people would work part time at a LSC doing the same things they do now – cutting hair, waiting tables, operating theme parks, etc. – to earn extra income to afford access to luxury items, just like they do now. The difference is that now, no one goes hungry or sleeps outside. Everyone is accepted into society regardless of one’s ability to work and no one is excluded from participating simply because they couldn’t find a job. This is what a humane society looks like.
A universal basic income would enable people to opt out of contributing to economic growth and make possible many types of alternative living arrangements.
The Freedom to Follow Dreams
The cultural shift resulting from a UBI would be profound. As everyone begins to feel the freedom from the survival anxiety that dominated their previous lives and gain access to much of what society has to offer, money starts to have far less power in our lives. The vast majority of people who would likely subscribe to a LSC might never have to touch money again. A feeling of abundance would begin to overtake the experience of scarcity as people could access what they needed whenever they needed it, reducing the incentive to hoard or act greedy. Greedy people would be laughed at instead of put on the cover of Fortune magazine. People will likely no longer be defined (or judged) by their careers and achievements (or lack thereof) and instead be able to define themselves however they choose. Competition would still exist behind the scenes as LSCs compete for your basic income, but as they become more efficient through automation and technology, everyone benefits from the increased access instead of just a few people, and those unable to find jobs no longer have to sleep outside in the cold.
The possibilities that could emerge from the creativity unleashed by 7+ billion free people are unimaginable. There will be so much healing to do, both for the people and the planet, but we will finally have the time and space to do it without having to worry where our next meal will come from. The scarcity that drove tensions between people and countries would cease to exist, bringing with it an invitation to explore the vast cultural differences that make the human race special. Perhaps the most important change would be a very new feeling for all of us – a feeling of a shared prosperity, that we are all in this together. Now this isn’t utopia – as long as life is finite, there will always be heartache – it’s just a hell of a lot better than what we are doing today.
Freed from the burden of earning a living, what beautiful thing would you do?
There is enormous potential to shift away from a very unsustainable economic model centered around private ownership and towards an economics based on access.
This article, How A Universal Basic Income Could Create A More Sustainable Society is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris Agnos and ChrisAgnos.com. (Just copy and paste this text with links at the bottom of your page.)
Published on May 18, 2012
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