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Now Is the Time for Universal Basic Income

Duane is an avid reader and follower of all things social, spiritual, and political, and a committed leftist.

Collective Investment in We the People

Collective Investment in We the People

Guaranteed Basic Income Is Not a New Idea

There is a concept commonly called Guaranteed Basic Income, the Citizen's Dividend, or Basic Income Guarantee. Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), a British philosopher, says:

“A certain small income, sufficient for necessities, should be secured for all, whether they work or not. A larger income … should be given to those who are willing to engage in some work which the community recognizes as useful.”

Guaranteed basic income, an idea promoted by American Revolutionary-era writer, Founding Father, and visionary Thomas Paine. It is a concept that has been supported across the political spectrum from right-wing libertarian economists like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman to liberal/progressives such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Democratic Socialist Erich Fromm, humanist philosopher and social psychologist.

In 1969, President Richard Nixon delivered a speech outlining his proposal for an "income floor," a program he called the "Family Assistance Program" (FAP). This was to replace the traditional welfare system of the day. Nixon's program would include the working poor, in addition to the jobless and indigent. FAP would subsidize the income of those working to above poverty levels and provide the unemployed enough income for shelter, food, healthcare, and other necessities. Nixon's program passed in the house by a margin of 243-155. It stalled in the Senate.

In 1970, Representative William F. Ryan (D-N.Y.) championed a proposal by the National Welfare Rights Organization on the house floor:

"A guaranteed annual income is not a privilege. It should be a right to which every American is entitled. No country as affluent as ours can allow any citizen or his family not to have an adequate diet, not to have adequate housing, not to have adequate health services and not to have adequate educational opportunity — in short, not to be able to have a life with dignity."


Basic Income Guarantee: Invaluable Benefits to Society

Here is a restaurant napkin analysis of how this will work financially. Presently, there are 234 million Americans of adult age. The poverty level for a single adult is approximately $12,000/year. This can be adjusted for local economy.

New Yorkers couldn't live on $12K/yr., while Kentuckians could live on less. The cost of the yearly payout would be almost $3 trillion ($2.8). Basic Income Guarantee will bring an invaluable return on investment. So much so that the $3 trillion annual cost would be a bargain.

For that annual societal expenditure, our communities will experience a major return on investment (ROI), such as:

  • Lower crime
  • A vast reduction in poverty
  • Lowered healthcare costs
  • Lower infant mortality rates (the U.S. ranks 27th of developed countries)
  • Improved school performance
  • Lowered inequality

Including other less quantifiable, preferred ROI to society. The intangible gains associated with Basic Income Guarantee include:

  • A collective sense of material security
  • Heightened community involvement
  • People will be free to imagine and create garage inventions and art
  • The rediscovered ability to effectively plan one’s life
  • Reduced societal stress, improved collective mental health

Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) encapsulates the new vision of financially sustaining human beings:

“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”

Less Demand for Human Labor

Capitalism is at a cross-roads. Marcus Wohlsen of Wired writes:

"Traditionally, increased productivity correlates with economic growth and job growth, since human labor has historically driven production. A robot workforce, however, can drive productivity and growth on its own, eliminating jobs in the process. That might mean the whole paradigm of exchanging labor for pay starts to break down."

The ever-evolving advancement of software capability and technological advancement has made the prospect of job growth for human beings problematic. Frankly, with a growing population and more technology-driven 'work', human labor is becoming less 'valuable'. That is the less-spoken-of factor in wage stagnation. The technology replacing labor trend will not be reversing. This is a sea-change in society. It will make a permanent underclass unable to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, because they won't have a livable wage job, straps, or boots. All of this is not to say that the notion of gainful employment is going away, it is saying that there won't be enough jobs, at livable wages to support a nation based on consumerism.

This technology isn't simply replacing blue collar labor. David Rotman of MIT Technology Review writes:

"Countless traditional white-collar jobs, such as many in the post office and in customer service, have disappeared. W. Brian Arthur, a visiting researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center’s intelligence systems lab and a former economics professor at Stanford University, calls it the “autonomous economy.” It’s far more subtle than the idea of robots and automation doing human jobs, he says: it involves “digital processes talking to other digital processes and creating new processes,” enabling us to do many things with fewer people and making yet other human jobs obsolete."


800 Million Jobs Will Be Automated Globally

The BBC reports:

"Up to 800 million global workers will lose their jobs by 2030 and be replaced by robotic automation, a new report from a consultancy has found. The study of 46 countries and 800 occupations by the McKinsey Global Institute found that up to one-fifth of the global work force will be affected."

These disappearing jobs will not simply be low-skilled manufacturing work. The BBC reports that paralegals, mortgage brokers, administrative office staff, and managers are especially prone to automated software replacing them.

Fortune writes:

"The notion that robots or automation will take on the jobs of millions of people is a nagging source of anxiety for many people. As has been reported, workers ranging from truck drivers—of which there are an estimated 1.8 million in the U.S.— to airline pilots to paralegals to surgeons are already being affected by automation."


Capitalism Must Be Reformed

Capitalism, as practiced for the last two centuries, has proved to be unsustainable for humanity and the planet. We're at a pivot point in human social evolution until the owners of capital realize that hoarding property and funds, extracting profit from the earth in a reckless manner, and profit that doesn't circulate through the collective of humanity will lead to the collapse of society and the environment. When we realize that for over 200 years, we've acted more like a cancer on this planet, not as caretakers of the earth or each other.

When this understanding dawns on those responsible, when we the people refuse to play along anymore, then the next phase in mankind's evolution will occur. Every month that passes, more people move closer to material insecurity, worried the next new automated development will take their job.

Guaranteed basic income, a citizen's dividend, is the idea for this time in history. No, it's not a panacea; we won't live happily ever after because of it. But it is more akin to the powerful pain reliever administered in medical emergencies. It soothes us, allows us to relax as we collectively heal and transition to a new way to live on earth. What more people every day are realizing is that we cannot continue with the present system.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2015 Duane Townsend