By Timothy Rush | Staff Columnist
Money. We all want it, and we all need it. Money is the quantitative tool that we use to purchase the goods and services we need to survive and get what we want. Society is built around this very concept. Our labor is purely based around the paycheck in order to get that which we need to survive. To live, many must sell their time to jobs, often ones that alienate them from their very happiness. And sometimes these jobs don’t even pay for the necessities needed to survive for many people, and many more live paycheck to paycheck, barely scraping by. Of course, the most immediate solution that comes to mind is just raising the minimum wage or just expanding welfare programs, but there is something even more radical than that: just giving people money.
The very principle finds its foundation in the 16th century novel, Utopia, where a character suggests that the way to fight thievery is to eliminate the need for one to steal. While this foundation is a basic one, what it gave birth to is far from basic—the idea of Universal Basic Income, or UBI for short.
UBI’s whole purpose is simple, and that is to give financial security to people by giving them an annual or monthly supplementary stipend. To those who already have financial security, it gives them extra money to put back into the economy by purchasing goods and services they may not have otherwise, or maybe investing and buying a business of their own. It also remedies one of the core problems with modern labor, that being how workers become bound to their jobs in order to survive. With that bit of extra money, maybe a worker will be more willing to call time off work in order to recover from sickness or injury, and a mother may take more maternity leave even if it’s unpaid.
And yes, UBI does deliver on these lofty goals in many scenarios. In the 1970s, Canada experimented with a UBI targeting those below the poverty line in the town of Dauphin. People stayed in school longer and invested more time into their education, were more dedicated to their family and experienced better domestic harmony, hospital visits decreased, and overall mental health improved amongst the population. America did four tests with the UBI, with results strikingly similar to the Dauphin experiment. The only consequence that was shown was that people did work less, but this wasn’t a marked problem by the observations made.
A much more recent experiment comes from the nation of Finland, though this one with a particular focus on the unemployed. It wasn’t a trial on a real UBI system, but it was following the principle. This was done to address the relationship between the UBI and engaging in paid labor, as a common criticism of the system is that people would opt not to work if receiving regular income from the government. While there wasn’t a great jump in employment, what was found was possibly even more extraordinary. Authors and journalists put more time into their writing. One participant got the courage to buy a restaurant and build her own business. There was still an increase in productivity and participation in the economy, despite the fact that unemployment didn’t increase and the income given wasn’t even enough to live on for those who did receive.
The UBI has massive credentials behind increasing the overall quality of life for everyone involved, but that leaves us with a question of funding. Naturally this depends on the amount given per citizen, and while those details should definitely be discussed, there are several basic things we have to understand. Since the UBI has proven in experiments that people visit hospitals less and crime decreases, less will be spent on these programs. Furthermore, we can ascertain that these funds for such a program will come from either new or increased taxes, or through redirecting spending. How much taxes increase or how much money is reallocated would depend on how much money is given to recipients.
But despite that hurdle of spending, this is something that we must look into as an option. There is a lot of evidence that shows that there are many benefits to implementing such a program. The working poor are liberated from being bound to their job, trying to earn as much as they can and barely scraping by. People have more resources to pursue education. The redistribution of wealth allows for people to look into actually investing money into the economy with that bit of extra income.
This is incredibly relevant, especially in the current Democratic primary. A proponent for a universal basic income is running on the idea of giving every American over the age of 18 a monthly basic income of $1,000. Calling it the “Freedom Dividend,” American entrepreneur Andrew Yang is running on this very idea as a cornerstone of his campaign, championing it alongside medicare for all.
To dismiss such an idea would be a folly that would be incredibly unforgivable. This is something we should consider and attempt to implement. It has a remarkable amount of evidence behind it from various tests in America and abroad, and with the looming influence of automation potentially going to destroy quite a few American jobs, this is one policy that could definitely aid in the economic recovery and stimulation across the nation.