Dumb ideas are a feature of democracy. The main reason for this is the majority of people trusted with a vote are average or below average. Democracy works on the assumption that people work in series. Connect enough of them, no matter their intellectual capacity, and you get enough brain power. In reality, people work in parallel, so the more you connect, the faster dumb ideas flow through society. Democracy is the form of government with the lowest resistance to dumb ideas.
Another aspect of this is that dumb ideas never die. At the risk of mixing science and superstition, dumb ideas are like demons from Hell. They are never killed. They can be exorcised and sent back to the pit, but they always find a way out. Like a demon, they inhabit a new body and employ new tricks, so the dumb idea often looks like an entirely new dumb idea. That’s what you see with the universal basic income. It is an old dumb idea that has come back in a new disguise.
Dumb ideas are not without their utility. Until they are revealed to be dumb, people debate them and that debate says something about the people. The homosexual marriage debate, which feels like a lifetime ago, revealed that the left side of the political class was going insane, while the right side had quit on its stool. In the fullness of time, the surrender on homosexual marriage will be seen as the point where conservatism entered the death spiral. That’s the power of dumb ideas.
In the case of the UBI, Andrew Yang becoming a household name based on his promotion of the idea underscores the bankruptcy of the Left. The reason Yang got so much attention is he is the only guy talking about policy. His idea may be silly, but at least it is an idea. People can hear the proposal and think about what it would mean to them if it was enacted. The rest of the candidates emote about intersectional grievances and social justice. They may as well be speaking in tongues.
Of course, the intellectual bankruptcy of the Left is not a new idea. In the 1990’s it became clear that the American Left had run out of practical road and was veering into the side roads of the bizarre. Conservatives used to crow about how they had many more plans for having the government do stuff. The thing is, the American Right was always just the straight man for the Left. It was never intended to be the star. Their job was to respond to the hijinks of their Progressive partners.
Another side benefit of the UBI is that it resonated with young people on the Right, who tweeted Yang onto the big stage. They were attracted to that promised allowance of a thousand bucks a month. It was mostly a joke, but it revealed a truth about the people moving from conventional politics. That is, there is a slow re-discovery of the fact that the point of government is to serve the people. Public policy is not about pleasing the economy, but about improving the life of the people.
The UBI debate has also leaked into adult conversation. The paleoconservatives are coming around to the idea that the economy is a false god. That wing of conservatism never went down the libertarian dead end, but they did get lost in the wilderness of foreign policy fanaticism. For a long time, they have focused solely on the endless wars and to a lesser extent the slobbering obedience to Israel. This post in the American Conservative suggests that is changing.
Again, the UBI is a dumb idea. Giving everyone an allowance of some figure simply makes that allowance the new zero. Whatever initial benefit people experience will soon be gobbled up by retail inflation as the new money hits the streets. You don’t fix massive inequality by dropping cash into the ghetto. What matters here is that people are starting to think again about government playing an active role in defending society, rather than acting as the great paladin of the economy.
Probably the most important observation that comes from the UBI discussion is that it has no impact on elite opinion. The Democrat candidates on stage look at Andrew Yang and fail to connect his presence with his ideas. Instead, they continue to pose in bizarre ways about intersectional politics and grandiose reform schemes. You would think that at least one of them would notice that a simple idea took an unknown Jackie Chan body double and elevated him to the big stage.
What this reveals, maybe underscores is the right way to put it, is that the political class, particular the inner party political class, is beyond reform. It is just a collection of carny folk hired to perform by the oligarchs. Those oligarchs look at America society in the same way raiders look at a coastal village. They are focused on looting as much as they can as fast as they can. If there is going to be reform, it will come after the current ruling class is wiped out and replaced by natives.
For sites like this to exist, it requires people like you chipping in a few bucks a month to keep the lights on and the people fed. It turns out that you can’t live on clicks and compliments. Five bucks a month is not a lot to ask. If you don’t want to commit to a subscription, make a one time donation. Or, you can send money to: Z Media LLC P.O. Box 432 Cockeysville, MD 21030-0432. You can also use PayPal to send a few bucks, rather than have that latte at Starbucks. Thank you for your support!