Universal Basic Income--Inevitability?

Universal basic income (UBI) is the idea that every human being should receive material support just for being alive. This is a different approach to distribution of wealth compared to current capitalism which generally provides material support in exchange for labor or ownership. 

I believe that one day in the future, the human civilization will look back on the era where UBI did not exist and consider it to be a kind of dark age. This is because in the way our system is designed, not having access to a basic material standard can be tantamount to a slow burning death sentence. This is especially tragic for the youngest members of our society who must contend with an entire life ahead of them without basic elements of shelter, nutrition, or education.

How much for those blueberries?

How much for those blueberries?

In our present system, if a person is spiritually or psychologically differentiated to the point where they are unable to fit in to what can be a narrow box of behavior—they are unable to participate in the labor market. As a society we generally tell such people “just get out of my face” and they end up on the street. There are welfare programs that provide crucial support, but coverage is spotty and not a true catch all.

The promise of entrepreneurship is compelling. Perhaps in the future we will see a world where every family has its own company, and so is able to generate their own living in a more flexible or distributed way. However, entrepreneurship as a path has its own very real challenges. It is not a simple task to successfully and effectively create a good or service that is meaningful enough to compete in a globalized market place. Perhaps more enlightened forms of anti-trade regulation may emerge in the future to support a flourishing of cottage industries.

Now UBI is certainly not a cheap option for any government. It is no small decision to start giving a meaningful amount of money to every registered citizen. This is obviously a much bigger vision that will have a meaningful impact across the entire political-economy landscape. This includes the way aid programs and social safety nets are currently designed.

What would a living wage be? Perhaps in a country like the United States it could be $10,000 or $20,000 a year. In a country that has a lower GDP per capita it could be less. Accounting for local prices, inflation, market shifts, and defining what a “living” lifestyle is, this would probably require an evolution of the actuarial science being done at insurance companies.

It is obvious that vast quantities of money would be required to make UBI a reality. This project would probably start out as regional and national projects into the foreseeable future of at least a century or two. Only once the entire planet has caught up to what we could call industrial revolution 3.0 (energy + infrastructure + information), could there be any meaningful opportunity for a truly globally funded and provided UBI net.

Even by then I wonder what global inequality would look like. Given how challenging even creating carbon quotas is (partially due to a limiting effect on national economies), it would doubtlessly be even more politically onerous to consider monetary quotas.

One source of money from a UBI plan is that it would remove the need for a byzantine system of welfare that currently eats up a lot of overhead. One would no longer need to determine whether somebody meets all the requirements to receive aid. It would be much simpler.

UBI would also be highly improbable without a strong family planning and education component, as the planet would not be able to continuously provide the same level of value to an uncontrollably increasing population.

If capitalism is to survive as a meaningful structure of governance, UBI is inevitable at some point in time in the future. It is an interesting integration of the sentiment found in socialist thinking with the market mechanism that is currently in use over most of the planet in capitalist thinking. 

Some interesting experiments and examples I have heard of recently include Y-Combinator’s UBI pilot in Oakland, United States. And a UBI referendum in Switzerland.

What do you think is the most important argument for or against UBI?