Basic Income and a Different Direction

This was always intended to be a blog where I could discuss some of the things that interest me–primarily stories, yes, but other things as well–and here is where that begins. Please note: everything you see here is my own opinion except where explicitly noted otherwise, and as any place to which I refer is not responsible for my opinions or other actions, so to am I to be held not responsible for their opinions or other actions. It’s just a discussion of some very interesting ideas. With that in mind, here we go:

Basic income is the idea that, to address a host of societal issues, each adult citizen should be given a yearly “paycheck” of sorts, just for existing. Most suggested values I have come across are on the order of $10k-$15k per annum, but I think as much as $25k is not unreasonable. This is especially important as we go into the automated future (that’s a really fantastic video, by the way, and I encourage everyone to take the time to watch it).

At first glance, it seems very strange. I am, to be clear, advocating a basic income to every citizen, regardless of their ability or inclination to work. I’m not saying it will be easy, and I’m not saying that there might not be hidden issues I haven’t taken into consideration, but I believe that, when we get right down to it, it’s a solution we can all get behind.

It addresses the same things current social programs address, only simpler. Imagine getting rid of means-tested benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, SNAP, and every other massive federal program–and its associated red tape and administrative overhead–and funneling that money into a basic income for everyone. Like small government? This is the solution for you.

(Of course, I will assume you are all familiar with the concept of ideologies–suffice it to say that ideologues know the answer to every question before it is asked–and are okay with my assuming that we can discuss options that might actually work, instead of removing options that don’t “feel good”.)

“But Jomo,” I can hear some of you say, “won’t that just mean government money is being spent on drugs and alcohol and lots of things I don’t want my taxes being spent on?” In some cases, sure, not that it doesn’t already happen through the (very minor) abuse of current federal programs. That’s not a problem that is easily addressed, but a basic income–a guaranteed source of funding for every person–is, in some ways, a solution.

I like to imagine money like a block-stacking game: if you put money (blocks) from the top to the bottom, the tower stays stable (let’s assume these are magic blocks that can move instantly and without disturbing their fellows). If you move money from the bottom to the top, the tower will eventually fall down. It is the same way with actual money: give money to those who have no money, and they will spend it on things like food and rent and health care, clothes and education, and–yes–vacation and leisure time.

This is good for the economy. There are two concepts I want you to consider here: the marginal utility of money, and the velocity of money. The marginal utility of money says that the more money you have, the less each additional unit of money matters to you. I could tax Bill Gates a million dollars and he won’t even notice it, but give that same million dollars to 40 people at $25k apiece, and suddenly you have entire families buying cars to get to work (or to drive to Disneyland; it really doesn’t matter), or to educate themselves (the next Einstein might be living in poverty right now, unable to get access to good education), or to take care of loved ones or pursue that painting dream they’ve always had…the possibilities are endless. It’s about dignity–that’s a large part of the Basic Income community, those who care primarily about dignity–but it’s extremely practical as well. So tax those who make money and give it to those who don’t.

This brings me to my next point. Taxing those who make money (let’s assume a reasonably respectful tax percentage that balances remunerative reward with societal obligation and stability; that shouldn’t be too hard, in general) and giving it to those without money would be awful…if money were a thing that went away when you taxed it. It’s not; that’s the velocity of money.

I’ve read a very good parable about the velocity of money which I cannot find at the moment–it involves a hunter and an innkeeper; please let me know if you find it–but suffice it to say that money given to those who have none and, subsequently, spent, rises back up through the strata and…back into the pockets of the people who earned it in the first place! Money is a store of value, and the same dollar can pass between different people and express that value before returning to the people from whom it was taxed in the first place. I’ve also heard it referred to in terms of debt held and absolved.

The point is this: taxing people results in spending, which results in income, which results in taxes, which results in spending, which–you get the picture. The bottom-up model is demonstrably effective, whereas the top-down model is far less so.

So hopefully I’ve given you something to consider. A basic income, though strange at first glance, is by far the simplest and most effective boost to the economy possible. A basic income for every adult citizen would allow all basic needs to be met without necessarily compromising the efficacy of the economy. The Steve Jobses and Bill Gateses of today who weren’t so lucky as the originals to have the resources they had available to them back in the middle-late twentieth century would now have the ability to test that strange new idea for a company, or build that prototype, or write that novel. The opportunities and flexibility allowed for in a rich country with a solid basic income are incalculable.

And for those who object to recipients “dragging” on the economy, producing no useful output while suckling off of those who do…well, if you like your job it won’t matter (remember, everyone, even you at your job, would receive this income), and if you don’t you’ll be able to quit, so it doesn’t matter. Remember, all the economy really cares about is the flow of money. If you want to be a part of some innovative process or some interesting artistic subculture, there isn’t anything in Basic Income stopping you–quite the opposite, in fact. This would even allow companies to pay less in wages, and would allow workers to be choosier about their employment options. It could be a happy, healthy, powerful, rich, innovative, and effective country, without all the overhead and red tape and grinding nonsense that accompanies such programs today.

As technology makes things more efficient and therefore cheaper, as the exploitation of resources becomes ever-more productive, as the price of goods and services drops even as the human jobs they once represented disappear, a basic income is a dead-simple means of keeping the engine of capitalism going.

Do you believe in freedom? Capitalism? Individuality? Streamlined government? Effective fiscal policy? Do you believe in making money? Innovation? Technology? Science? Art? Education?

Then support a basic income scheme. It is simple, straightforward, and it stands the greatest chance of actually working in an era of increasingly automated jobs. Don’t think you’re safe. The robots don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be better, and they are coming. Write your representatives in government and ask them to support basic income.

And you thought this was just a blog about anime, didn’t you? Please feel free to comment below. I look forward to any discussion that arises out of this, but please keep it civil.

5 thoughts on “Basic Income and a Different Direction

  1. […] much greater. And though the wealthy do provide much of the massive investments, as I said in my basic income post, money flowing down from the top does less good than money flowing up from the bottom, and part of […]

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  2. […] those who believe that paying your share of taxes is morally indefensible, please also review my other other post on basic income, wherein I describe how, in order to make even more money, wealthy business owners […]

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  3. […] soon not even them. I’ve linked to CGP Grey’s Humans Need Not Apply video in my basic income post, and that’s absolutely relevant, but I want to talk about a new article […]

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  4. […] Let’s assume that people are going to act reasonably up to a point. That is, even if a rich person wants the most hyphenated cow ever (hand-fed, free-range, etc), they’re not going to have fifty cows each with a personal servant just for their morning cream-and-coffee. A rich person won’t buy a dozen yachts or a hundred diamond-encrusted iPhones. Not only that, no amount of investment will matter the slightest bit if nobody poorer than they can afford their product or service en masse. The end result of technological advance in this sector is massive post-scarcity abundance, when money ceases to have significant meaning. In the meantime, there is basic income. […]

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  5. […] if you’re somehow still on the fence or in denial that a basic income policy is useful, there goes one counter-argument. However bloated and inefficient you believe the […]

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