UBI – A Panacea or A Placebo??

UBI : Universal Basic Income. A policy proposal in which every citizen of a given country receives a certain amount, with no strings attached. The citizens can decide for themselves how to use this amount. This article is a primer on UBI.

Hildy : Hey Celine, how have you been? Are you done with your faux outrages on Elephant/cow death in India?

Celine : My Goodness, You and your pretentiousness!! Tell me what you want?

Hildy : Cool down, Celine. I come in good faith to discuss something with you

Celine : You and Good faith? They’re mutually exclusive. But, tell me what have you come up with?

Hildy : This policy proposal that’s gaining steam across the world – UBI. Have you heard of it?

Celine : Yes, I have heard of it. I even read a book & some articles about it. It is an interesting policy proposal for sure.

HIldy : Can you explain me in layperson terms about what it is and what are the aims of implementing this policy?

Celine : Wow! This is a new for you. You asking someone to explain something. You’ve always been a know-all, didn’t you?

Hildy : You see, I am not a uni-dimensional person. There are aspects of me, which you or no one is aware of.

Celine : Still I have my doubts about you. Let me see what your true intentions are.

Hildy : Come on Celine. Trust me for once. Okay, you start with UBI & I will ask my doubts about it, as and when I get these.

Celine : Sure. As the name suggests, UBI, is a Universal Policy, meaning everyone is covered in this policy

Hildy : You mean everyone? Citizens, immigrants (documented & undocumented) & all?

Celine : Why don’t you hold your doubts until I finish? Will you?

Hildy : Go on

Celine : As I said, everyone will be benefited by this policy. The idea is to give people a certain amount at regular intervals (monthly/bi-weekly/yearly). People will not be told what to do with that money. They can spend their money as they wish.

Hildy : Even if I were to get drunk with that money, can I?

Celine : There you go again. But yes, you can do whatever you want with that money. The proponents believe that giving people money empowers them. Welfare-states, in whichever form they are, have been helping people by means of social policies such as Pensions, Medicare, Unemployment benefits etc. For instance, if a person were to claim unemployment benefits, that person had to be employed the year before or so. So, if for some reasons, you’re not able to work the year before, chances of you getting the benefits are reduced to a large extent. Similarly all the welfare-policies have some strings attached to them. Since UBI is universal, there are no strings attached to it. You will be eligible for it, regardless of your employment status, your wealth, race, gender, poverty level. This way people who slip through the safety nets of existing welfare policies, for whatever reasons/criteria, will be covered.

Hildy : If I may ask, why is there a sudden interest in this policy? Is it because people realized that the failure of welfare-states or something else?

Celine : Yes and No. The current welfare-states, though how well run they may be, always tend to miss out a quite a few people. Furthermore, the results of UBI schemes implemented across different parts of the world have been encouraging. So, this triggered a renewed interest in UBI. Also with the advancement in technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, & etc, huge proportion of existing jobs will disappear in next 15-20 years. If people don’t have jobs, how will they survive? Most importantly, if people don’t have money to buy goods, how will the economy survive?

Hildy : Here you go, so for capitalism to survive, people need to spend and for them to spend governments give money.  So this is not some warmheartedness from the authorities, but just a ploy to help capitalism survive. Isn’t it ?

Celine : Though I abhor your cynicism, the answer to your question is Yes

Hildy : Thanks for being honest. By the way, what you mean by renewed interest? Does it mean UBI was implemented previously?

Celine : Yes, it was implemented in a Canadian City in the 70s. They implemented it for a period and forgot about it. Later when they looked into the results, the authorities found UBI had made a difference in lives of people. It eliminated poverty in that town over a period of 4 years.

Hildy : If that were the case, then why wasn’t the policy implemented on a large scale?

Celine : As always, there was a change of government and the new government abandoned the old government’s policies

Hildy : Now you know why I consider politics as absurd?

Celine : Please don’t start

Hildy : Ok, what are the benefits of UBI?

Celine : For starters, this helps people to not worry about putting food on the their table. The benefits include, but not limited to, helping people to have better bargaining power with their employers, aiding women to walk out of toxic relationships without fear of being starved to death. Furthermore those who can manage their expenses within UBI can pursue different interests, people can save this UBI amount for a long term and spend it during any crisis times, people can move to a better neighborhood where their children get a better education and much more.

Hildy : So is it a Cure All medicine for all the ills plaguing the society, presently?

Celine : I wish it were, but I doubt it will.

Hildy : Why do you say so?

Celine : Opponents of this scheme have their fair share of concerns. The biggest concern of all is the money. How will government generate money to fund this? The corporate companies might find this uncomfortable for now (at least until they are able to replace manual labor with Robots/AI etc, at which point they need to figure out a way for jobless people to consume the corporate companies’ goods) because they might not get cheap labor any longer, Middle/Upper Middle class people don’t want their privileges to be shared with the very people whom they have been exploiting for years, in a developing countries such as India the sheer number of bureaucratic hurdles people need to overcome for obtaining a government benefit is unimaginable. Given such a state, it’s hard to imagine a poor person’s struggle to get their well-deserved money? And in less educated places, people might not even be aware of this and some other person might get benefited, defeating the purpose of this scheme. The biggest concern among those who support free market economies is that giving people money would make them lazy, even though there is not a single study that proves this hypothesis.

Hildy : Let’s say governments across the globes start considering to implement this, wouldn’t they find a way to scrap the existing social welfare schemes such as housing, free education, free health care & etc? What’s the guarantee that government wouldn’t scrap and make people to pay for their Rights? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of giving people the money, just so that they pay for schemes that they might be availing for free now? Even if they don’t scrap and pay people the money, would this solve all the non-monetary issues such as racism, casteism, xenophobia?

Celine : Yeah it is possible that government might scrap the existing welfare schemes. All  depends on the amount that would be given. If the amount given is very less, none of the benefits stated above would come to fruition. To your question of eliminating non-monetary issues, that’s a big NO. Even those people who are in favor of UBI, when asked if they would be willing to extend UBI to immigrants, their answer was largely NO. So, no amount of money could cure the hatred of others.

Hildy : I understand, from your explanation that, there are quite a few unanswered questions  for this scheme to be taken seriously, right?

Celine : Unfortunately, Yes.

Hildy : Are you in favor of UBI? From your enthusiasm in explaining the benefits, I guess Yes.

Celine : Yes, I am in favor of UBI. But I do have my fair share of concerns. The crux of UBI debate can be summed up by these lines from the Jacobin article (source below) : “Faced with these facts, we should question UBI’s rationality; as Luke Martinelli put it: “an affordable UBI is inadequate, and an adequate UBI is unaffordable.”

Hildy : So, as always our conversation has ended with no clear answers, isn’t it?

Celine : Yes, Hildy. 🙂

Hildy : Anyway, my belief in Absurd nature of life is reinforced every time I talk to you. 🙂

Few Sources on UBI

Give people Money – A book by Annie Lowry

Utopia for Realists – A book by Rutger Bergman

Criticism of UBI

https://jacobinmag.com/2017/12/universal-basic-income-inequality-work
https://fee.org/articles/the-top-three-arguments-against-a-universal-basic-income/
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-case-against-universal-basic-income_b_58b0178ee4b02f3f81e44612
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/23/universal-basic-income-ubi-welfare-state

Support of UBI

https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/01/the-feminist-case-for-universal-basic-income.html
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/01/why-we-should-all-have-a-basic-income
https://www.thebalance.com/universal-basic-income-4160668#pros-and-cons-of-universal-basic-income

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