Guaranteed Basic Income

“‘It seemed to me that I had happened upon humanity upon the wane. The ruddy sunset set me thinking of the sunset of mankind. For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the social effort in which we are at present engaged. And yet, come to think, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work of ameliorating the conditions of life—the true civilizing process that makes life more and more secure— had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw!”

–Time Machine

The Swiss are voting on a referendum that if passed, would require the state to supply every Swiss citizen a basic income of 2,500 Swiss francs per month. That’s roughly $2500 or £1,755. For my one Japanese reader, that’s a trillion yen. This story in the BBC does a respectable job of covering the topic. The news suggests the referendum has little chance of passing. The Swiss are a practical people and this proposal has too many unanswered questions. That and the proponents are something less than assuring.

These proposals are following the typical course of reform efforts. They bounce around the academy for a while as intellectuals work over the concepts. Then they are sold to the political class in fits and starts. If the political class is resistant, then maybe an activist group or industry group is enlisted to move the effort. Over time, what was once a radical idea is being discussed by respectable people. Before long the debate is over who can best implement the new idea.

There are some good arguments in favor of the guaranteed basic income. One is it is simple. Like the flat tax, the GBI replaces the myriad of welfare programs and the government vipers that come with them. The other point in its favor is it addresses the growing problem of mass unemployment. In the robot future, most people don’t work so this solves the problem of people not having a way to earn money. There’s also the fact that it is value neutral. People get the money to spend on whatever they wish, without the nanny state harassing them.

There are many arguments against it, with the most obvious being that welfare programs never go away. In America, the US Congress has repealed exactly one welfare program in the last century. The WPA was passed in the 1930’s and later replaced by Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which was such a hilarious disaster, it was replaced by a program called the Jobs Training Partnership Act. That was eventually repealed in the 90’s. That’s a long time to kill one horrible welfare program.

The most likely result, at least in America, is a basic income on top of existing welfare programs. There are 79 means tested welfare programs in America. Everyone of those programs has a federal agency employing thousands of people who do nothing but administer welfare programs. Congress will get rid of those right after they do something about the unicorn infestation. Until the inevitable fiscal crisis forces a mass retrenchment of industrial era government programs, there will be no reform of welfare in America.

Putting that aside, there are other problems. Spend time in the ghetto and you see the effects of the dole on the human spirit. A man not working quickly falls into bad habits. Families dependent on public money soon start to act like zoo animals, because they are essentially zoo animals. The state gives them an allowance, tells them how to spend it and supervises their living conditions. Granted, most got into that state because they lack the ability to manage their own affairs, but the corrosive effects of dependency are well known.

Even so, for all of human history, nature solved the problem of too many people by killing off the excess people either through famine, warfare or migration. In other words, supplying enough food, shelter, water and security for the population required all hands on deck. If a society out bred its resource supply, then that meant starvation or expanding territory through conquest in order to get more resources. Often, it just meant killing off a lot of people in wars over resources, thus solving the problem.

We are now able to produce all the food we need long into the future. More important, automated food production is well on the path to producing all the food we could ever need with very little human labor. The robot future has been discussed to death at this point, but even allowing for a fair bit of hyperbole in the predictions, we are facing a future where human labor is decreasingly necessary. That means the value of human capital will plummet, assuming the current economic models.

In a world of scarcity, society can carry the old and very young, along with a ruling elite. The modern industrial society could carry many more people who produced nothing because technology made those who did produce vastly more productive. Welfare programs knocked the edges off the inequality by transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. In the mature technological society, vast numbers will be idle, but provided for as there will be more than enough resources.

How that is resolved will be the greatest intellectual challenge in human history.

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31 Comments on "Guaranteed Basic Income"

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Frogdaddy
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Doug
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I’ll raise you a good link over your good link:
http://blog.jim.com/politics/trump-for-king-2/

Doug
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No helicopter money for the Swiss. Good on them! It’s time to give the bastards the finger. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-06-05/landslide-vote-swiss-reject-proposal-hand-out-free-money-everyone Lot of signs all over the world the dirt people have had enough. Think about the sphere of your life, how many people are happy with the bullshit the sonofabitches running things here are pulling? Never mind had enough? Are you fighting mad yet? You will be, guarantee it. When you look at it objectively, the “governments” of the world are nothing but the largest organized crime syndicates in human history. Demetri Orlov and compatriots published a scathing screed on the NeoCons:… Read more »
james wilson
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I tend to disagree with your over abundance–welfare state progression model. Human dysfunction will overwhelm function in a short time when dysfunction is being subsidized. The structure that collapses only recently appeared to be sound.

Karl Horst (Germany)
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The Swiss rejected it today so that’s the end of it for now. For anyone who’s interested, I recommend you read up on the European Revolutions of 1848* as this will help you understand why the Swiss are even considering a basic income. In 1849 many of the Swiss social undesirables (e.g. the poor, the elderly and anyone who didn’t have a job) was given a one way ticket to the USA and handed cash by a Swiss representative once they were actually on the ship. Not that the Swiss were trying to do them any favors, they simply didn’t… Read more »
Member

“Robot Future” is for nerds as “Climate Change” is for environmentalists: an excuse for wholesale social and economic change in order to avoid an apocalypse which, despite little or no rational or empirical evidence, is just around the corner. Pay me now or pay me later. Basic Income is to Robot Futurists as Cap and Trade is to Climate Changists. If collectivists can’t sell their political philosophy based on economics, then why not try to usher it in through the backdoor by means of histrionics?

Karl Horst (Germany)
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@ ciribiribin – Were you aware that last year, HP laid off nearly 30,000 employees and Foxconn just laid off 60,000 workers because they automated their production lines to reduce costs? In the banking sector, HSBC plans to lay off up to 50,000 employees by 2017 – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. People are expensive. Machines by comparison, are cheap; they work 24-7-356, without pay or benefits and in the dark. So no, automation is not some “nerdy” concept – it’s a fact.

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36376966

Audacious Epigone
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From Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1935 state of the union address:

“Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole our relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of a sound policy.”

Buckaroo Banzai
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Say one thing, do another. Ain’t it just like a Progressive.

Severian
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“Families dependent on public money soon start to act like zoo animals, because they are essentially zoo animals.” Yes. And therefore should not have the vote. But other than that — and it’s yuuuge — I’m not seeing the problem. As you say, absent famine, plague, and war — the old Malthusain population-limiters — there’s no natural selection, so you get a large group of people who can’t manage their own affairs in an industrial society, and need to be managed. (Or, put another way, representative democracy really only works with a self-selecting population on a wild frontier). You can’t… Read more »
Exasperated
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This Guardian article is well timed.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/18/knowledge-economy-myth-more-universities-degree

The knowledge economy is a myth. We don’t need more universities to feed it Andre Spicer
Most new jobs now do not require degree-level qualifications. Encouraging more young people to graduate will create only debt and disappointment

guest
Guest

Back in 2012 the crazy Swiss even rejected six weeks of mandatory vacations, they also voted against a public smoking ban that year, both proposals were rejected by around 66% of the voters! But they did approve “sex boxes” for prostitution with special parking spaces, to keep prostitution away from suburban areas.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_referendums,_2012

That’s one way to tell if you live in a libertarian paradise, sex drive ins!
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/drive-in-sex-boxes-open-zurich-2224067

Member

Note that the losers in this had a big party to celebrate the fact that they had convinced 22% of Swiss to support this dangerous nonsense. Like all Leftist campaigns, they look at this loss as a momentary setback in the Great March. This referendum will be brought up again and again – until they start winning them. Remember: The Left only has to win once and their policy is written in stone for all time.

Buckaroo Banzai
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Nixon and Moynihan almost implemented a Basic Income scheme right here in the good old USA. In retrospect, it really didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

“The perplexing problem the Nixon had to tackle was how to reform the welfare system as he had campaigned on, but how to do it in a manner that was soft in delivery, did not increase the deficit and was acceptable to the Democrat majority in Congress. Moynihan and Nixon put together a Family Assistance Plan (F.A.P.) that acted as a universal basic income.”

http://28sherman.blogspot.com/2014/08/when-nixon-and-moynihan-almost.html

Member
Why is the issue of GBI coming up now? We are told that it is a response to anticipated automation, and that makes sense, but I don’t agree with that. I think that is merely a cover for the fabled “helicopter money” the FED wishes to rain down on the economy. They tried to deliver stimulus using the banks as a disbursement mechanism, but it didn’t work. The banks ended up sitting on tons of it, or just using it to gamble in the markets. They’ve had to rethink that whole strategy and now they think that direct stimulus to… Read more »
joe
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Poorhouses are the only practical way to provide a social safety net, anything else will inevitably result in an infestation of entitled parasites, and worse yet – the sociology grads who manage all the programs and vote for more. Situating the mens and womens poorhouses on opposite sides of town, far enough out for cheaper land would limit the breeding of the less successful who inhabit the barracks. Having little money will reduce problems with criminals feeding on them. This would restrict thug culture – how will useless thugs and criminals get laid, when girls face the prospect of the… Read more »
Karl Horst (Germany)
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@ thezman – I recently learned Alaska has a program called the “Alaska Permanent Fund” which pays Alaskan residents around $2K per year. It’s actually part of their state constitution. Given the billions in profit earned by other corporations in other states across the US, why couldn’t this concept be duplicated to equally distribute benefit to citizens in other states? I would think instead of depending on the traditional tax-based revenue where only working people contribute, it would make sense to use the billions in corporate profits from companies in other states, and create a similar funding schedule for the… Read more »
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