I have seen a lot of discussion lately in the media, online and otherwise about the prospect of universal basic income. The justification is usually along the lines of the generally failing world economy, as well as the rising tide of automation. Of course the prospect of having all or most of your basic needs catered for sounds like a great idea, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. At what cost will this universal basic income be?
First and foremost let us address the justifications for it. Sure the economy globally is struggling, and there are a few small pockets of societies still doing well, but the norm is massive amounts of debt and over leveraging, especially among the world economic powerhouses. The fact is even though I do believe a global economic collapse is inevitable, it will not last forever. Could it be really bad? Yes. Could it possibly last for decades? Yes. Do we have the potential to avoid an extended global depression with appropriate application of new technologies? Absolutely.
One of the main reasons in my opinion that the world economy is stalling is because disruptive technologies are being bought up, mothballed, or otherwise suppressed. The technology to create thorium nuclear reactors for example that are more efficient, produce less toxic waste, and most importantly will NOT melt down, unlike current systems, creating potentially extinction level events. This technology currently exists and simply lacks industrial and government support to get it into usable applications. Why would they do this? The answer is very simple, profits, or more specifically externalized cost.
Why would these companies who are highly subsidized by government running reactors far past their designed expiration dates all over the world, barely operating at a profit, if profitable at all, want to invest billions of dollars to build new safer systems when they can simply continue to use the existing time bombs known as nuclear reactors? After all, if one melts down, they don’t pay the cost. You do. Sure they MIGHT get sued, but even if they do they simply declare bankruptcy and write off the loss. They are incorporated after all. In the end they will not be held responsible. This is what is otherwise known as externalized cost in corporate lingo.
This is just one single example of technology being suppressed in order to preserve profits. Another more overarching example would be what is known as “planned obsolescence”. This is the concept that companies will produce products designed to fail after a predetermined amount of time, forcing their user base to dispose of the unit and then buy another. This is the simple economics of preserving the customer base. If you sell a widget that lasts forever, once everyone buys one, you are out of business. As a result of this policy, better, more efficient, and longer lasting technologies are suppressed in order to preserve this treadmill of constant consumer behavior.
The problem with all of these types of policies is they are all very short sighted and focus on very specific components of the economy on an industry specific or company level. If technologies were allowed to be advanced, a new more robust economy focused around developing these new technologies would emerge, and as a result of the saved resources there would be MORE money for people to use on other products. Of course this plan falls victim to the tragedy of the commons, where overall people would benefit from such a system, but unfortunately individual actors would simply exploit this system rather than support it for the benefit of all. With some careful planning though, this system of exploitation too could be broken.
This brings us to the idea of automation increasingly removing jobs from humans. This idea is simply a red herring. As automation increases there grows demand for people to build, maintain, and design these machines. More jobs WILL be created in the wake of automation, except they will require increasing levels of education and training in most cases. Guess what that means. More jobs training these people. What the real issue is here is that employers CHOOSE not to employ humans, and automation is simply a blanket excuse used for dumping the workers of the world on their asses.
Machines don’t need benefits, they don’t complain, they don’t need time off, or get sick. Before too long machines will be able to complete almost every task a human can, and it is inevitable automation will become an increasing part of the world economy. Again this is just another situation that lacks long term organizational structuring and planning for the common man, but history shows the common man is simply discarded by those in power when they are no longer needed. That is really what is happening here. The idea of universal basic income is just a carrot tempting the population into handing over control of their lives using the stick of unemployment.
Now we come to the topic at hand. The idea of a universal basic income. It sounds great right? Who wouldn’t want free money and not have to work. Slow down… nothing good comes for free. Let us examine the costs of such a “utopia”. Not only is this plan not economically viable for reasons I will explain, it is designed to destroy the idea of any free representative republic, and take any freedom we may have left.
First and foremost, if you start handing out a currency to everyone for nothing, the laws of economics are very clear. That currency instantly becomes worth less. If it takes zero effort or sacrifice in order to obtain it, then at the end of the day what is it worth? Likely not very much. Additionally, there still exists the issues of scarcity. Even with a universal basic income, actual resources are still limited, and not everyone can get what they want. The result of this will mean that the prices of everything will instantly go up! This is inflation, and would be the direct result of any universal basic income system. Then once again, there grows a rift between the “haves” and the “have nots”, and we are back to square one. You can’t fight the laws of economics with ideology. It simply doesn’t work, and history shows this.
Finally let us approach the most important and devastating effect of a universal basic income. When people become dependent on the government issuing them currency to live on, and not on the merits of their own efforts, you have defacto Marxism/Communism. A lot of people throw those words around, but lets cover what this means directly in this context. The result of being dependent on the state is that first of all people will not fight for change within it for fear of being cut off from their primary source of income.
This is a very dangerous precedent that will grant the government a blank check to run roughshod over the human population. It creates an environment under which people are constantly under threat of starving and being left homeless simply for speaking out, or trying to make changes in the state of their governance. The key to any free society is independence. Dependence by definition is exclusive to freedom. To depend on a government or anyone else for your survival automatically puts you in a position of being subject to the control of those forces.
Furthermore, even if people are not 100% dependent on this income, it will still create an environment where people will support practically anything the government pushes as policy in order to preserve their income. This has already demonstrated to be the case in countries with large welfare entitlement programs. It builds a vicious destructive cycle of the government granting handouts, and politicians having a ready made voter base willing to go along with anything they say. Then the people vote for more handouts, and the politicians give it to them in order to preserve that voter base. At the end of the day, that money represents resources, and it has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is usually taxes, and taxes are collected at the point of a gun. If you do not pay taxes men with guns come find you and put you in a cage, or even worse kill you. Eventually this system will run out of other peoples money to steal. Then what happens? Forced labor. Loss of control of your life. There goes your freedom. You got your “free” money, and all you had to do was pay by becoming a slave. Alternatively the other option is depopulation… and that is not something that ends well for anyone but the most powerful. Wouldn’t just working for that income and preserving your freedom be a better solution? Before you put your hand out and cheer for a universal basic income, ask yourself what that “free” lunch actually costs.
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