There’s been recently a lot of discussion around universal basic income (UBI). As we are entering in an increasingly certain era, where politics melts down and society braces for changes to come related to automation. There was an actual attempt to bring it to the mainstream in France during the last election cycle (incumbent Parti Socialiste was running on that platform, but they got crushed.)
Here’s a reading list with articles and books that might be good resources for the discussion:
Disclaimer: I haven’t read any book that are mentioned in the articles
What if the Government Gave Everyone a Paycheck? – Robert Reich, New-York Times
Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income? – Nathan Heller, The New-Yorker
Slate Star Codex has an interest, albeit lengthy discussion (I have a troubled relation with SSC, it’s often full of libertarian, contrarian bullshit, but at least it gets your neurons fired):
And the counterpoint:
With friends like these, who needs the UBI? Socialist Worker.org
A few things stuck me, while reading this: there is very little discussion about the moral and cultural impact of UBI. In his book “In praise of Idleness“, Bertrand Russell was playing with the idea that with technological progress, we would not have to work 60 hours a week, but only say 20 hours. He didn’t think that we would not have to work anymore (after all, a survey among cashiers showed that most of them where not working for the money, but for the social fabric at the workplace), but he reasoned that all the work (performed mostly by women) of raising children is actual work, even though it is not accounted for in metrics such as GDP, and that it could be more easily shared within parents and would bring better education for the population, in addition to stronger families.
While Russell was taking arts as an example of things that would flourish and make the society better, he didn’t get to experience the advent of social media. Interestingly, Jaron Lanier in his book “Who Owns the Future” describes a world in which people on social media would be paid for their contributions. That looks a lot like UBI!
In the specific context of the US, I believe that UBI would be an actionable way to restore economic justice, not too far an idea from Ta Nehisi Coates’ Case for Reparation, in that it levels everything from the bottom of the economic scale, and would decorrelate individual incomes from from family outcomes. Since the pioneering work from Esther Duflo on empirical economics, there’s been a swath of research showing that the best way to get a population out of poverty (in the third-world, that is) is to directly hand people cash, not services (free education, sanitation, etc., though they may help.)
That being said, the debate on UBI is ill-posed, because the concept itself is not fully-formed. While it transcends party (supposedly Milton Friedman and Nixon were proponents of UBI), the specifics matter, and knowing what happens to free education and free healthcare is fundamental (both can be construed as UBI for the young, and for the old.) However, I have doubts it will ever get to be adopted in the US, where the foolish ethos of “hard-working Americans” is very strong, and not working hard (whatever working, or hard, means) is seen as a moral disease. We need a major shift in how people see themselves before we can reach Olympia.