Basic Income Means Basic Freedom

I think it’s wrong to tell people how to live their lives.

Beyond what is necessary to ensure the safety and security of those within a society, the state should not impinge on the liberty of individuals to live their lives as they see fit. There may have been a time when the need for social cohesiveness in a brutish world trumped the rights of the individual, a time when moralistic laws against certain lifestyles were justified, but that time is behind us.

Although the tension between social cohesiveness and individual freedoms is eternal and inescapable, I always find it encouraging that the ethic of the modern world seems to have slid so consistently towards liberty; advancing in the intensive bursts of societal change seen during the enlightenment, the American Revolution, and the civil rights movement, among others. 

More recently, we have seen momentous shifts in the ethics of female empowerment and sexual freedoms. While societal progress often seems a frustratingly slow process, the past has shown us that change can crystallize around a strong moral argument. An idea who’s time has come can transition from ridiculous to obvious with surprising quickness.

I think we might be currently standing on the doorstep of a great new revolution in personal freedom; one in which will reexamine our ethic of work. I have already written extensively about the problems inherent in a highly automated society which also relies on the “job” for as a means of providing basic sustenance for people. The plain fact of technological job displacement provides ample argument that basic income will be a pragmatic necessity to avoid mass poverty following mass automation, but here I would like to make an argument that is equally important as such practical considerations. 

Freedom in the 21st century should mean freedom from having to engage in productive work simply to meet your basic needs for comfort and dignity. 

At one time, the ready availability of jobs amply filled the need for a basic access to a comfortable and dignified life, but precipitous technological and economic changes erode this dynamic further each day. The function of the economy has never been to provide gainful employment to people, but simply to provide material goods. As the economy manages to produce more with less human labor, we must create new mechanisms aimed specifically that maintaining and raising the minimum level of comfort and dignity to everyone in a society. 

The first step, as for any change, will be to admit that we were wrong. The establishment of a basic income will require every inch of personal and societal soul searching we went through in previous epochs of tectonic social change.  Social progress has too often been retarded by our inability to deal with our own fallibility. The abolishment of slavery and the establishment of civil rights was an agonizingly slow process because those in power were unwilling to deal with their own sins.

Similarly, even as wealthy years of technological and productivity gains have eroded the justification for the job-driven society, we remain unwilling to admit that we were wrong; it is ok that we let people starve because we have no choice, right? We maintain a facade of work ethic aimed at convincing ourselves that our draconian social constructions to compel people into productive work are necessary and morally just. 

If we test this facade of work ethic, we can easily see that there is little real rationale for maintaining our current view of work. We can afford to have everything that the dramatically less productive economies of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s had; things like healthcare and education are not too expensive, and it is not acceptable to let people whither in poverty.

Worse than just being immoral, the desperate poverty of the lower classes is both immoral and useless. It is not a lack of money that compels the great successes of the modern age, but rather the availability of opportunities. It is because healthy, well-fed people were able to get a good education that allowed us to realize the great miracles of the modern age (eg, the internet, smart phones, Google, etc…). 

We must rebalance the right of society to compel people into productive work with the obligation of society to support its citizens. It should be noted that basic income is not aimed at the unrealisitic and undesirable goal of unfettered access for all to every luxury of the world. Freedom from work does not mean the right to luxury; it simply sets a baseline below which no person should fall. Basic income seeks to strike a fair balance between allowing the benefit of work to coexist with a system aimed at delivering dignity and opportunity for all in a society.

Beyond just better enabling access to opportunities, basic income will also allow people the freedom to live as they choose; to explore unpaid work in the form of volunteering, participating in creative projects, or starting new business ventures. Some argue that there would be less incentive for people to start businesses and be productive, but it could just as easily be argued that it would remove the disincentive from the high-risk, high-reward ventures that are so valuable to modern society.

One exciting example might be the number of small startup companies which could be realized if people had the time and support to work on their interests without worrying about their basic needs or being accountable to investors. In my opinion, basic income opens much more opportunity in this way than what it closes by disincentivizing work. It would also provide a firmer platform for those bargaining with employers looking to fill unfulfilling, dangerous or otherwise undesirable jobs.

Requiring people to live so much of their life working simply to earn a basic income is a waste of human potential and bad for progress. By eliminating the obligation to work just for simple survival, basic income would allow a new dynamic expansion of human freedom and human potential.

A society compelled to perfect cohesion and homogeneity lacks the dynamism to compete in the modern world. New ideas can only come into being at the chaotic interface between contrasting worldviews and lifestyles. In a world where progress is completely reliant on our ability to innovate and create new ideas, we should be seeking to maximize the spectrum of lifestyles which can be expressed within the society. By removing the need to work just to live, we will let people explore their true potential, and we will realize the untold benefits of a new dynamism.  

And this brings us to the real reason that I think basic income will happen soon, not only because it is morally the right thing to do (which it is), but because it makes good sense economically. Just as slavery ended when factories made the economic model of slavery obsolete, we will move towards basic income because it makes good economic sense for the modern innovation economy.

Dynamic, creative and competitive economies of today must seek to stretch the social fabric to its limits. Basic income will serve to reinforce this fabric and enable the risky ventures that will power us forward in the 21st century. 

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If you are interested in learning more about basic income, here is a link to the wikipedia article on the subject, or you can head over to http://www.reddit.com/r/BasicIncome for some more in depth discussion about why and how we could really make basic income happen.

Here is a link to a great info graphic on some of the merits of basic income

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32 thoughts on “Basic Income Means Basic Freedom

  1. You make a reasonable argument, but appear to make no effort to explain how such an initiative would be funded. Perhaps you did and I missed it.

    What do you believe that the impetus for such a change could or should be? How do we go about inciting such a revolution in thought and society?

    Also (and this may be to pick nits, so to speak, but I mean it constructively), you sometimes speak of absolutes:

    “Requiring that people live so much of their life simply to earn an income *is* a waste of human potential..,” ” …we *will* realize the untold benefits of a new dynamism,” “Dynamic, creative and competitive economies of today must seek to stretch the social fabric to its limits. Basic income will serve to reinforce this fabric and enable the risky ventures that will power us forward in the 21st century.” Though I basically agree with everything, or at least most everything, you’ve said, your writing and persuasion might improve by avoiding such statements and/or providing more evidence to support them. I do appreciate the linked supporting details that were included.

    I suspect that you will appreciate both of these quotes to illustrate my point:

    “I expressed] myself in terms of modest diffidence, never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; It appears to me, or I should not think it so and so, for such and such reasons; or, I imagine it to be so; or, It is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting. And as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning and sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive assuming manner that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat most of those purposes for which speech was given to us.”
    –Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

    And, quite ironically:

    “Only a Sith Deals in absolutes.” Obi Wan Kenobi

    I did thoroughly enjoy reading this article, and I wish you the very best.

    • It is not meant as a technical or academic piece of writing. More persuasive and entertaining. Absolutes are more interesting than maybe and possibly.

      Funding basic income is a matter of debate, and depends on a number of factors. For instance it is not clear exactly who should receive it, some think that everyone should receive the basic income regardless of income level, whereas others favor a system where the basic income is reduced for those who make over a certain amount. These are important details which should be examined by economists and social experts before identifying the best course of action.

      Either way, it is thought that this basic income should certainly replace the current patchwork of social programs such as welfare and publicly funded employment insurance. This would account for part of the program, and for the rest I would favor an increase in corporate and wealth taxation (although this is very much just a personal opinion and would definitely be as problematic as any other tax increase)

      Thanks for reading and the response! I always appreciate a well articulated argument.

      In the end, I don’t think we really have much of a choice. Automation is going to push this issue to the fore in the next 5 years, so we can start talking about it now, or later.

      I suggest you head over to http://www.reddit.com/r/BasicIncome if you are interested in a lot more in depth discussion on the issue.

      • “It is not meant as a technical or academic piece of writing. More persuasive and entertaining. Absolutes are more interesting than maybe and possibly.”

        I enjoyed it greatly as casual reading on the subject, and meant no criticism in that regard. I am very familiar with the idea of basic income and have read extensively on the subject both in casual forums and academic papers. I have looked into a number of propositions of how best to implement it, how to fund it, etc. I am currently convinced that Universal Basic Income (a flat grant regardless of income) rather than Guaranteed Basic Income (which makes up any shortfall from your own income) is the way to go for various reasons that I will not go into at the moment, this being a simple discussion between you and me.

        I am assuming you are American. Is this a correct assumption? I apologize if not. If you are, it might interest you to know that I am a “died in the wool” Republican. I can, however, see the writing on the wall.

        Regardless, I offered my critique simply because I see in your ability to write something that so many who speak on this lack, namely an ability to articulate the ideas and present a persuasive argument. In my opinion, we desperately need people with those abilities to press them to their fullest if this is ever to happen. In that regard, adding some academic support and some proven elements of persuasion may well help you to take what you are doing from simply entertaining and raising awareness to actually changing minds and eventually policies.

        I have read your “About” page and recognize that you are a PhD. Though this is not in the field of social science or politics (I assume you wanted education in something that would actually allow you to eat), I also know that they drilled this type of writing into you from my own experiences. I lack nine hours (including finishing my Dissertation) completing an EdD, the equivalent of a PhD in Education. My work was certainly not as difficult as yours, but I do have an understanding of how to write persuasive academic papers. Knowing this about you and having read this, I am convinced that you can help this cause if you’re willing to step it up a notch. You may well be one who can get enough attention to cause change. I would not say this to many people and I do not say it lightly.

    • Thanks for reading and leaving a reply by the way. I always appreciate a good discussion, especially when well articulated.

  2. I agree we need to have a society that does not waste human potential through endless hours of tedious work and basic income may be the means in which this transition may start. Unfortunately I think it is human nature to react instead of prepare. It is clear that within the next 10 years we will see breakthrough leaps in robotic autonomy and mobility. At the same time we will see advancements in 3D printing, virtual reality, and network infrastructure (fiber connectivity). It doesn’t take much foresight to see that smart and cheap robotic labor will eventually emerge and dominate jobs in many industries such as agriculture, construction, and delivery / transportation.

    It may require such massive job loss and frustration before people take basic income seriously. I feel like much of skepticism comes from the unfulfilled promises of technology in the past. Flying cars, robotic maids and workers, unlimited energy, human-level AI, and interplanetary space travel are just a few predicted technologies that have yet to arrive. Many people hear talk of robots and automation and think of these claims as yet more promises of unrealistic technologies. It’s hard to blame them when you see video of our latest humanoid robots that walk at a snails pace and have very little practical use. It is difficult to explain to someone about the exponential growth of technology and how this growth will impact their life in the next 20 years. Hopefully messages like yours are heard and repeated across the globe so we adequately prepare for the changes to come.

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  4. You’re an economic idiot.
    Socialism and Communism fail every time they are tried. Every time.

    Read Bradford’s description (in the linked article) about what socialism did with the pilgrims: it created poverty, envy, and slothfulness. Many of them *died* as a result. Prosperity only returned when they re-introduced private property.

    I know you are well meaning, but you are ignorant. Your “solution” will create misery. Educate yourself, then change your mind.

    • Six winners of the Nobel Prize support a Basic Income Guarantee. You should really get on the phone with them about this pilgrim thing so they won’t remain idiots.

  5. Lame.

    Wealth is *created* (quite literally). Through *work*.

    If everyone is sitting around doing whatever they darned well feel like (instead of what the market demands), the amount of production available to be absconded with will be greatly decreased. And therefore, there will be no available source for “basic income”.

  6. I struggled through this article because there were so many grammatical errors. It makes your point difficult to understand, and makes readers want to quit reading.
    Words are important, and simplicity is powerful.

    • As a means to divide monetary value amongst people. Give people an idea of what their basic share is.

      Plus, not everyone wants the same thing. One person might spend their money on a new couch, the other might spend it on a party, a third person on a new computer system.

  7. @Austrian Economics:
    Problem with any critisim aiming at putting unconditional cash grants in the socialism/communism corner, is that socialism and communism share a pattern of community descison making that unconditional cash grants simply don’t include.

    Namely, socialism and communism construct a third party, with supposed lack of self interest (but that’s impossible if you ask me), within the state or commune to decide where and how labor is supposed to be applied. unconditional basic income explicitly goes without those, in favor of leaving people to earn MORE money as they desire.

    As such it poses a nice approach to something Hayek, a contributor to the Austrian School, proposed: “The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall”

    @Jason
    That’s the thing, wealth arises from work, and if you work well, e.g. you fulfill people’s desires, you will live in wealth in a system where welfare boils down to sending everybody a 1000$ check a month at the expense of a flat tax of some sort.
    Wealth doesn’t arise from 1% of the population working in aggriculture and feeding us all. But if providers and entrepeneurs know that everybody gets a 1000$ check every month, they sure know they can enter the market at any point they want.
    Of course the big players will pay for most of that, but if they keep providing the best service they’ll keep earning big. If their service sucks, what’s the point in them staying the big players? Isn’t that what the free market is about?

    Opportunity getting lost as capital keeps gaining momentum over labor is of course, another story. But do you think requiring everybody to work is somehow magically NOT gonna inflate the value of labor?

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  9. Thx for the article.

    Well joy: basic income does not need to be funded. So it is not about ‘getting rich to agree’ either.

    We, in our living together, are Already creating the economic space for living together. Because we go to the bakery and so on.

    For this economical space we LIVE (Litteraly), money can monthly be created for everyone, as much as is needed to be alive. Because we WILL spend it right away into the economy: we go to the butcher and so on.

    This takes only one programming rule in a banking application, to higher our banking acount balance monthly. And from now on, with each transaction, automatically a part of the amount dissolves by itself again.

    So this costs nothing, and is a 1 to 1 expression of the economical space we ALready are creating ourselves in our togetherness. So this money belongs already to us, instead of creating money for people who have a good life and also want to have a loan (you know for this is money created just like that, with tons!).

    So…. this change our position: it is not about telling rich people to be social en chose for basic income. No, it is about telling them to stop robbing our economical spending money. Because it is ours, WE create this economical space by living.

    With one programming rule.. costs nothing, we have our Life Entrance money back. And then taxes will vanish by them selves, and 90% of the structures also.

    So it is not about ‘moral awareness’.
    It is about robery and suppression awareness.

    Our life entrance money belongs to us, WE create this economical space by being alive together. And creating this money costs nothing. Not even time.

    Worldwide justice, within one day. And it costs nothing.

    • Exactly.

      The only point I see in having a “non-seignorage” version of Basic Income (i.e. a Basic Income that is “funded” first by collecting existing tokens instead of just creating new ones) is to serve as a sort of “trial” phase which would show people how massively good that system is.

      And once it runs out of its initial funds (inevitably, through lobbying to cut its funding, or because of a bust in the boom-bust cycle, etc.) people will not want it to go away, at which point they will have already used their increased freedom and awareness to realize that Basic Income has to be the primary mechanism of money issuance in an economy, i.e. it is a missing component in our current economies, that they were flawed, incomplete, and that’s why they failed so badly. It’s not a “solution”; it’s simply what’s missing in the design.

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  11. Basic/Unconditional/Citizen’s Income is one of these concepts that you either are ready to get and it comes out as blatantly obvious, or you aren’t ready and it seems absurd.

    All objections to it are variations of “I don’t want to be forced to support somebody else.” Leaving out the fact that every piece of land in the planet today has an “owner” that demands “payment” that most people can’t “afford,” and hence, if your “job skill” is not wanted by “the free market”, you don’t have the option of finding a piece of land and settling like all animals do, let’s take this kind of objection at face value:

    I do think no human being, or human community, has the obligation to provide to any other human being or human community with the means for them to live. However, it should be obvious that in an advanced (i.e. intelligent) human civilization, humans will _want_ to make sure that everyone has, at the very least, the basics covered, because that is simply intelligent of them.

    A world-wide population that treats itself with this kind of “equality,” that is, with that knowledge that we are essentially one social organism, will be essentially free of poverty, of violence (of all sorts), of stress, of needless competition, of wars and of most forms of control and monitoring which will be simply abandoned. We already know this is true.

    At a more meta-level, I think it is imperative that every human that wants that kind of advanced civilization to become reality to be patient and to respect the point of view of the other souls that do not want to share, that prefer humanity to be stuck at an “animal level,” so to speak. It is each person’s responsibility to break out of their shell of fear; that shell that tells us the only thing that will ever work is “every person for themselves,” because “it’s animal nature,” etc. All we can do is help and invite from the outside, and get together and work towards building sharing communities with those who like us have already stepped out of their shells — the people that would rather die with nothing than not share.

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