A Radical Critique Of Universal Basic Income

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

This critique reveals the unintended consequences of UBI.

Readers have been asking me what I thought of Universal Basic Income (UBI) as the solution to the systemic problem of jobs being replaced by automation. To answer this question, I realized I had to start by taking a fresh look at work and its role in human life and society. And since UBI is fundamentally a distribution of money, I also needed to take a fresh look at our system of money.

That led to a radical critique of Universal Basic Income (UBI) and an outline for a much more sustainable and just system of money and work than we have now. To adequately explore these critical topics, I ended up writing a 50,000 word book, Money and Work Unchained.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is increasingly being held up as the solution to automation's displacement of human labor. UBI combines two powerful incentives: self-interest (who couldn't use an extra $1,000 per month) and an idealistic commitment to guaranteeing everyone material security and reducing the rising income inequality that threatens our social contract--a topic I've addressed many times over the past decade.

UBI's goals - guaranteeing material security and reducing income inequality - are not just worthy; they are essential. The question then becomes: how do we achieve these goals?

The conventional critiques of UBI focus on the practicalities of funding such a substantial universal entitlement. Where will the trillions of extra dollars required come from? Can we pay for UBI by "taxing the robots" or borrowing/ printing more currency?

But a radical critique must go much, much further, and ask: is UBI the best that we can do? If we provide the basics of material security--the bottom level of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs--what about all the higher needs for positive social roles, meaningful work, and the opportunity to build capital?

This critique reveals the unintended consequences of UBI: rather than deliver a Utopia, UBI institutionalizes serfdom and a two-class neofeudalism in which the bottom 95% scrape by on UBI while the top 5% hoard what every human wants and needs: positive social roles in our community, meaningful work that makes us feel needed, and the opportunity to build capital in all its manifestations.

UBI is the last gasp of a broken, dying system, a "solution" that institutionalizes all the injustices of serfdom under the guise of aiding those left behind by automation. We can do better--we must do better--and I lay out how to do so in this book.

A radical critique must also examine the widely accepted assumption that automation will destroy most jobs. Is this assumption valid? It turns out this assumption rests on a completely false understanding of the nature of work, the economics of automation and the presumed stability of an unsustainable global economy.

Read the first section for free in PDF format.

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