Friday, 10 May 2019

Why UBI is so Important

Saw this on YouTube and it made me smile. Reminded me a of a cartoon I saw once where a kid turns up at his parents' door after graduation with a massive sack of debt on his back. His dad greets him with no sympathy, saying "I left school with nothing!", and the kid replies, "I wish I'd left with nothing."

I mentioned Universal Basic Income briefly in my TEDx talk. For those who don't know what it is, here's the lowdown.

Finland joined the list of countries to trial a UBI payment. The experiment recently finished and I was a bit annoyed by the coverage. One of the key complaints was that it didn't lead to significantly more people starting businesses.

Well, would you, if you knew UBI was an experiment lasting for two years, and after that the money would stop? You're hardly going to behave in the same way as you might if you knew the money was guaranteed for life. One woman gave a heartfelt panic as the year drew to an end, because she wasn't sure how she'd make up for the loss of UBI. There were also strongly influential restrictions to the study, which you can read about here, that discouraged people from taking employment. Many people involved in the study had been living with financial insecurity for a long time, you can't just ask someone to trust in a stable income and behave with confidence.That takes time.

All that considered though, I think the emphasis is on the wrong thing. Leading opinion compellingly suggests that we're facing a fourth industrial revolution and that 9-5 jobs are not the way of the future. The other thing we're seeing is a global mental health crisis brought about by financial stress and a growing lack of purpose. As the video above shows, you can have someone physically in the office eight hours a day, but that doesn't mean they're productive.

One thing that has come out of UBI studies is their positive effect on mental health and boosting self-worth. This is absolutely what we need to focus on. We need to stop talking about work and the simple act of living in terms of how much money it equates to. The crux of it should always be quality of life. Whatever that means for each individual.

Happy people are also more productive people. When you care about what you do, and enjoy doing it, you usually do it well. When you don't give a crap and see no point to it, why bother?

For me, as a writer, it's of particular interest. Recent research shows that the average writer in the UK earns around £10,000 a year. I'd suggest that's optimistic for many. Most writers work several other jobs to get by and financial tension, as shown above, leads to increased mental stress. This is true for other arts too, from circus performers and dancers through to musicians and painters. Art takes time to develop and mental space to conceptualise. Yet the pay off is significant, with a recent report showing the arts industry contributes more to the UK economy than agriculture.

Not that farming escapes the ravages of austerity either, with Brexit and climate uncertainty leading to a spike in suicides among farmers. These are people who love the land. Who want to raise animals, grow crops and put food on people's tables. Often farms that have been in families for generations, or a person's life-long dream of escaping the city, now rendered unsustainable because of our obsession with financial worth. Although I'm viewing this from an artistic perspective, because it's my perspective, nobody in any profession is unaffected by the times. For a developed country, we're backwards when it comes to income inequality.

Here's an excerpt from the above report which sums things up well.

Another popular assumption about employment is that all employment is better than no employment. Finland’s experiment did not break employment down to the granularity of the nature of the work itself. If they had done so, and the results showed that 50 basic income recipients quit their jobs as telemarketers to pursue their doctoral degrees in biotechnology and quantum computing, would that loss of employment reveal a failure of basic income, or its success? Existing research also shows that going from unemployment into a bad job is worse for your mental health than staying unemployed.

We need to start asking some important questions about employment. How much employment actively hurts society? How many people have jobs that are the opposite of contributing to society, and instead drag society down? How many people have entirely unnecessary jobs that don’t need to exist at all? How many people have jobs that could already be done more cheaply and with higher quality and dependability by existing technologies? How many hours are we clocking that could be reduced without accomplishing less?

None of the above questions were investigated in this experiment, because for the most part, these questions aren’t being asked by society in general because of a mass delusion that all employment is good. That assumption is not only wrong, but dangerously wrong with exponential technological advancement. - Understanding Finland's Universal Basic Income Experiment

Capitalism is a financial feudal system. Money only travels in one direction unless we're willing to redistribute it. UBI is a way to redistribute it. Whereas I'd love to think governments would do this out of the goodness of their heart, to benefit the mental health and well-being of their populations, you know that's never going to be the reason.

The reason it is most likely to happen is to save economies. If people have no money, they don't spend anything. If they don't spend anything, you don't have an economy. You need to give just a little back to the people, so that the people can give it back to businesses - and the wheel keeps turning.

And you know things are getting bad, because the UK are mooting this point right now. It's been suggested that every adult in the UK gets £48 in UBI each week. Whereas this does sound like a ridiculously small amount given the current cost of living, the horrific thing is that almost four million people rely on food banks in the UK and that money would actually make a significant difference to their lives. 

That is why I predict UBI will come into effect. Not for our well-being, but because the government need it as a way to placate growing civil unrest. You can only control people for as long as they feel they have something to lose. Take everything from them, as is happening now: homes, pensions, health care, self-worth, dignity and financial security, and, well, this beautiful individual right here explains what happens:

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