back to article Universal basic income is a great idea, which is also why it won't happen

The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) unites a strange mix of people. “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things,” Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said in a speech at Harvard University in May. “And yes, giving everyone the freedom to pursue purpose isn’t free. People …

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        1. d3vy Silver badge

          Re: fast forward.

          "True, but if they can get someone to look after their kids for a few hours (like when they are a school) they would be able to earn something without loosing the benefit. Currently they have no incentive to earn anything as the withdrawal of benefits gives the same result as a 100% marginal tax rate. With UBI, working when they can makes them less destitute."

          Exactly, the system we have at the moment is mental, You can go from benefits to full time employment and end up with LESS income... Where is the incentive for anyone on benefits to look for work (Unless they are able to find something well paid).

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: fast forward.

          > if they can get someone to look after their kids for a few hours

          Which becomes more plausible if that childminder has UBI backing up their income.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: fast forward.

      "And that SNP-led government recently announced funding of local trials of “a citizen’s basic income, a radical form of social assistance,” in its programme for government for the coming year."

      Well I guess as this is effectively subsidising cash based businesses such as drug dealing and prostitution it's quite important for Scotland...

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: fast forward.

      All UBI will do is cause inflation to a new equilibrium point. That point will still have hyper-rich & poor, with a minuscule middle class. And probably a hell of a lot more alcoholics & drug addicts.

    3. Def Silver badge

      Re: fast forward.

      But consider 100 years in the future. Where will the UBI come from then? What will the citizens of 2117 be getting. And more importantly, what about the families that have known nothing except getting all their money from the state for as long as any of them can remember - what will they be like?

      You're not thinking this through logically in my opinion.

      As we move to an ever more automated manufacturing base, real jobs will become scarcer. This has been going on for some time and is simply accelerating all the time. At some point in the (probably not too distant) future almost all products will be produced by robots or by automated factories of some description. All raw materials will similarly be extracted/sourced by robots and transported automatically. All infrastructure will be built and maintained in a similar fashion.

      And when that happens, money as we know it will become obsolete. I see UBI merely as a stop-gap measure along this path.

      As for people, I think you also underestimate humanity's drive and curiosity. The vast majority of people would want to (and would be able to) do things that they enjoy as opposed to being forced into what is essentially modern day slavery for most employees.

      For some people, their contribution to society will be artistic in nature. Imagine a future where anyone can submit a structurally viable design for a new bridge (for example) and have the local residents vote on the one they like the most before it is built. For others, who knows what possibilities the future could bring?

      I used to make games for a living. I would like to do that some more - but with the knowledge that I'm not being ripped off and exploited by an industry that treats employees like shit. I would like to get better at carpentry. I would like to have the time to fix things on my house - maybe turn the land into something that resembles a garden. I would like to have the time to travel more. I want to have the time to socialise with my friends more. If I were born several hundred years from now, I might want to explore new worlds. Don't get me wrong, I also want to be able to enjoy my free time and party like crazy, but not all the time.

      Of course some people will want to waste away their lives getting high and inspecting their navels. But if that's what they want to do, who are we to discourage that? ;)

      Addendum:

      Education shouldn't change too much I wouldn't have thought. Although if we had a fewer art-history majors that wouldn't be a bad thing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: fast forward.

        "As we move to an ever more automated manufacturing base, real jobs will become scarcer. This has been going on for some time and is simply accelerating all the time."

        Is a flat-out falsehood. More people are in employment now that any time in history.

        "As for people, I think you also underestimate humanity's drive and curiosity. The vast majority of people would want to (and would be able to) do things that they enjoy as opposed to being forced into what is essentially modern day slavery for most employees."

        So if everyone only did stuff they wanted to do, who would do all the shitty jobs that need doing? Who would clean the sewers, care for elderly people with dementia, fix potholes in the road?

        "Imagine a future where anyone can submit a structurally viable design for a new bridge (for example) and have the local residents vote on the one they like the most before it is built."

        Imagine a lot of fault bridges collapsing and killing a lot of people.

        "I used to make games for a living. I would like to do that some more - but with the knowledge that I'm not being ripped off and exploited by an industry that treats employees like shit."

        You are perfectly free right now to set up your own game company and be your own boss. Maybe the reason you don't is because, like me, as much as you bitch about your employers ripping you off, you really don't want the hassle, extra work and risk that comes with it.

        1. Def Silver badge

          Re: fast forward.

          More people are in employment now that any time in history.

          Technically you might be correct, but I would argue a lot of those jobs are jobs for the sake of jobs. But I think the chances of that continuing is becoming less and less likely as a consequence of the things that are now being automated today and in the near future. The number of manufacturing jobs in the US peaked in 1979, for example. How many taxi or bus or goods drivers will be on the roads in 30 years time?

          Re: Shitty jobs

          Why wouldn't these be automated?

          The one people can't see happening any time soon is caring for others. But to be honest, I'd rather have a robot look after me than some snotty nosed cunt who doesn't give a shit about me or my needs.

          Imagine a lot of fault bridges collapsing and killing a lot of people.

          Which is why I said "structurally viable". All architects and designers today have software that will tell them where stresses are and whether a building is structurally sound or not - and what its breaking points are. Why do you think that would suddenly not exist? Or in an automated society, why would you assume such things would be allowed to be built in the first place.

          You are perfectly free right now to set up your own game company and be your own boss. Maybe the reason you don't is because, like me, as much as you bitch about your employers ripping you off, you really don't want the hassle, extra work and risk that comes with it.

          Actually, I don't want to be worrying about money. I know a lot of friends who've set up their own companies who have struggled (and continue to struggle) financially, or ultimately failed because they were unable to get financial support in the first place, or their products failed because an investor or publisher forced them to release too early simply to make up the numbers on their books. I have my own company already for personal software projects, but it's only a part time affair for me right now. It may never amount to anything more than that, which is fine. My point was that if I were financially unburdened I would still do what I enjoy doing which is solving problems, experimenting and trying new things out, and developing software that other people find useful or enjoy.

          1. d3vy Silver badge

            Re: fast forward.

            "The one people can't see happening any time soon is caring for others. But to be honest, I'd rather have a robot look after me than some snotty nosed cunt who doesn't give a shit about me or my needs."

            I'd rather book a trip to dignitas...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: fast forward.

          >So if everyone only did stuff they wanted to do, who would do all the shitty jobs that need doing? Who would clean the sewers, care for elderly people with dementia, fix potholes in the road?

          Maybe not care for the elderly with dementia (although families could do more of that), but the robots would clean the sewers and fix the potholes. Otherwise what is the point of inventing them?

    4. rmullen0

      Re: fast forward.

      Unless global warming is addressed, 2117 isn't going to matter. If things keep going the way they have been, you don't need to worry about 2117. The oil goons will have made the planet uninhabitable by then.

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: fast forward.

        Unless global warming is addressed, 2117 isn't going to matter. If things keep going the way they have been, you don't need to worry about 2117.

        Why? The ocean levels will have risen by 500 trillion parsecs by then - but "isostatic rebound" would still be miraculously keeping pace....

        </troll>

    5. Kiwi Silver badge

      Re: fast forward.

      And more importantly, what about the families that have known nothing except getting all their money from the state for as long as any of them can remember - what will they be like?

      I've spent much of my time working - childhood was school and helping around home then around the homes of friends and neighbours - among my earliest memories are being out on a frosty morning helping mom and dad feed the lambs across the road (owners were away), and being upset that I couldn't share their bottle. I still had a couple of years to go before I began school, but I was already working and learning various skills. Into my teens it was paper runs, then farm work eg milking before the paper run before school, then after I finished school before I found work I did further education or volunteer work. Once I entered the workforce I was either working, training, or volunteering.

      Even now, while I am unable to work full time, I volunteer most of my time when my body lets me.

      The simple reason, and it is stated in the article, is that I, like many others, actually like to do things with my life. I've seen children from beneficiary families move away from that. People like to have productive lives, they like their lives to have some level of meaning.

      While I expect with a UBI there would be a lot of people not working, I don't know you'd have much more than today. Those who cannot get jobs will tend to volunteer in their community. It might be like a guy near a mate's place - you see him out every day sweeping the gutters in the street and cleaning up around the local neighbourhood. Might be people going into parks and reserves and cleaning them - daily rather than the 6-yearly "look at how great we are" things we have today. Some won't want to get out of bed and just become even worse slobs, but others will still work one way or another.

      TL;DR: People want their life to have some meaning, and if they cannot work they'll tend to volunteer, UBI or not. UBI will just give them better options.

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's got nothing to do with robots, it's overpopulation of the planet and the top 1% are scared that they will fight if they don't have food etc...

    1. Tigra 07 Silver badge

      The top 1% don't care about UBI, they can make more money by replacing staff with robots. That's why they've been doing it for the last how many decades

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        surely then it would be in their interests to do UBI to keep the masses pacified and dependant on them?

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Tax the robots?

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          "surely then it would be in their interests to do UBI to keep the masses pacified and dependant on them?"

          No, because closing off the walled garden and sending out the killer drones amounts to a one-time cost compared to UBI which would be continuous.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Peter Galbavy

        This point is sooooo hard to get into people's heads. I try with some of my more "right on" friends and they just don't get it...

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        "If you're living in the west, _you_ are part of the 1%."

        Interesting take on basic arithmetic you have there. At least half a billion people live in Western Europe and North America, which is nearer 7% of the world population. This is without adding in places like Japan which are not geographically "west" but certainly belong to the western economic model.

        The converse is not true either. Quite a few of the world's 1% are despotic scum who have screwed their respective countries for decades.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A shorter term problem

    Is that with UBI, many more people might decide that doing some jobs wasn't worth the hassle, compared to doing something else with their time, and living off UBI. I'm not talking about the feckless idle that all societies have (they're already on benefits, or "NEETs), I'm talking specifically about the quite large number of:

    - people on crappy zero hours contracts,

    - people doing horrible minimum wage jobs or low paid shift work,

    - people simply doing unthanked and sometimes nasty jobs, eg prison officers, traffic wardens

    - people simply working for really shit employers, like JD Sports, or Amazon.

    There's a lot of different consequences if any proportion of those people throw in the towel, with few good outcomes or easy resolutions.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: A shorter term problem

      You realise that people can throw in the towel right now and be on benefits?

      People prefer to earn money. UBI gets t set at a level that stops you freezing to death starving to death or dying of illness where medicine is not socialised. Almost everybody would prefer to work a few extra hours to earn some money for luxuries that is how capitalism works or is supposed to.

      Means-tested benefits are profoundly anti-capitalist, they break the functioning of the market at the lower end of the income scale.

      Now unless you are one of those anarcho capitalists you believe that people shouldn't die of poverty, and there should be a safety net. UBI is just a much fairer more efficient and more flexible way of implementing that net.

      1. SolidSquid

        Re: A shorter term problem

        If you quit your job you can't apply for unemployment, at the very least. I'm not saying I agree that it's a major issue, but if you do implement UBI you're going to see worker retention become more difficult. In the long run this could lead to better working conditions, but that'll take time

        1. Mycho Silver badge

          Re: A shorter term problem

          If you quit your job you can't apply for unemployment, at the very least.

          You have to take a fixed term contract doing something or other first, but it's not that hard to work around.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A shorter term problem

        You realise that people can throw in the towel right now and be on benefits?

        But for most people currently choosing to work, there's a stigma attached to "claiming benefits", added to which the system is set up to support (or pressure) people back into work. And any job will do so far as the benefits system is concerned. If the claimant can't evidence that they're trying to find work, then the benefits get stopped. So other than for the feckless, dishonest, and unemployable, it is pretty hard to remain on benefits as some sort of career choice.

        So UBI isn't the same thing at all. Since I don't live in Scotland, I'm all for Scotland trying it out. Lets see how it pans out, if it works, and is affordable, then other countries will copy it.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A shorter term problem

        Almost everybody would prefer to work a few extra hours to earn some money for luxuries

        Depends on the jobs available.

        Clear drains for £200/week, or starve? You'll find drain cleaners.

        £100 UBI a week, with an extra £110 if you'll clean drains? Sorry mate, ain't worth it, £100 is enough for me, I'll maybe do a few odd jobs as well, cash in hand.

        1. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: A shorter term problem

          Drain cleaning is well paid (and the specialist sludge (polite choice) slurper trucks are eye wateringly expensive) and the workers who do it are well trained (plenty of risks to be aware of, ranging from Weils disease, Anoxia to drowning, crushing)

          Disclosure: Know folk in the industry

      4. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: A shorter term problem

        Means tested benefits have stupoid consequences.

        Friend of mine, nbow too physically infirm to do "unskilled" manual jobs anymore (and no skllis to do office work etc) - worked on production lines all tehir working life.

        Too young to get a pension.

        They were frugal and saved - now cannot get various disability help precisely because they saved for their retirement in a mix of ways (e.g. ISAs not just pension).

        They will get disability benefit - when they have used their savings to live on for a while to dip below means tested value.

        So much for the incentive to save for retirement / rainy day - they may as well have had lots of holidays and fun and then they would be getting disability benefit, not having to pay for disability related add ons to their accomodation etc.

      5. strum Silver badge

        Re: A shorter term problem

        >You realise that people can throw in the towel right now and be on benefits?

        Not really. Getting benefits, these days, can be bloody hard work.

    2. moiety

      Re: A shorter term problem

      Most of your examples, Ledswinger, are employers taking the piss out of desperate people who have no choice. Those employers would have to raise their games or lose their businesses, and that is no bad thing.

      1. SundogUK

        Re: A shorter term problem

        This is bollocks. Companies simply don't do this. Increasing their wage bill will simply bankrupt most of these companies.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: A shorter term problem

          So Amazon has a revenue of over $136 billion ($136,000,000,000.00) per year, most of which is "reinvested" into tax dodges to avoid having a profit and therefore paying any tax. And yet a pay rise is going to bankrupt them?! Who actually beleives that? Profitibility in a normal company is about 40% which would be about $54 billion a year for Amazon. Even assuming that true pre tax dodge profitibility is half this figure it's still perfectly adequate to be able to pay their staff an extra few dollars an hour without causing one little problem for the company, much as they may scream about it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: A shorter term problem

            "So Amazon has a revenue of over $136 billion ($136,000,000,000.00) per year"

            I think you need to look up what the word "revenue" means. Here is a clue - it is not the same as profit.

            "most of which is "reinvested" into tax dodges to avoid having a profit and therefore paying any tax."

            Wrong, most of it is offset in expenditure - you know, buying the stock it sells and paying it's staff and it's bills.

            "Profitibility in a normal company is about 40% which would be about $54 billion a year for Amazon."

            Wrong and wrong again.

            "Even assuming that true pre tax dodge profitibility is half this figure"

            Would still be wrong.

            Amazon sells vast quantities of stuff, but at very thin margins or even at a loss because Jeff Bezos wants to grow the business more than make immediate profits.

            Apple is a much better example of a company that is vastly profitable, and keeps all it's profits in a bank vault in an offshore tax haven to avoid paying taxes.

            1. Peter2 Silver badge

              Re: A shorter term problem

              The problem is that legal if amoral accounting makes the entire discussion a nonsense. Amazons declared profits for this year were $200 million, though they announced a $13 billion purchase of another company.

              I do beleive that the pre tax dodge profitibility was much more than that, and that buying other companies means that the money spend is written off as an operating expense and therefore as it's not profit it's not taxed. (And pity poor old broke Amazon, who is so really deeply broke and that they can't afford to pay their staff entirely independant contractors the minimum wage or other workers rights such as holiday pay, a pension, protection from unfair dismissal etc)

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: A shorter term problem

                "Amazons declared profits for this year were $200 million, though they announced a $13 billion purchase of another company."

                That I found surprising as it involved borrowing money. AFAIK that has been contrary to Amazon's SOP; the reason for a low profit in relation to turnover has been that they've funded growth out of sales.

        2. Dave Hilling

          Re: A shorter term problem

          or they raise the cost of products meaning we are all still equally poor.

    3. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: A shorter term problem

      Yes, and no. Personally, I think UBI is a stupid idea. However, I don't think too many of your objections to it should be too serious.

      For instance, farming (in terms of the picking fruit type) is widely considered to be a example of a sector that you have to have hard working low paid employees doing a physically strenous job and offloading the cost of injuries caused by inproper heavy lifting etc to the state in healthcare etc despite the fact that you can already buy harvesting equipment to do the job. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bt73GOk4JRY) The only reason it's done with cheap labour is that this removes the need for capital spend on equipment.

      "horrible" minimum wage jobs exist because the employers know full fucking well that they can get away with treating their employees like dirt. Object? Your out on your ear and the next poor desperate sod comes in to replace you.

      Both the money and treatment comes down to economics, that a huge number of people are competing for a small number of jobs. If the labour supply suddenly drops, then you have to start paying and treating staff better. It's not as if JD sports or Amazon couldn't afford to pay/treat their workers better with their levels of pre tax dodge profitability, doing so is a deliberate choice.

      IF JD Sports/Amazon went bust overnight then it would have about the same impact as wollies going bust overnight. People would moan a bit, and then just use another shop. What it'd mean is that there would be competition for better working conditions to attract staff.

      The few unthanked and nasty jobs (eg, prison officers, police etc) would simply have to be offering yet better pay to attract people willing to do the jobs.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A shorter term problem

        wait till BREXIT when all these "horrible" jobs will need to be filled by good 'ol hard working Brits as all the Eastern European labour will have gone, oh shit hang on a minute.......

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A shorter term problem

      UBI is good to get people working. The basic allowance is enough to keep people warm, fed and clothed. It's not enough to enjoy shiny toys like expensive mobile phones. If they want them they have to get a job, and because they still get UBI everything they make goes into their pocket to improve their lifestyle. Eventually they will be making enough money to pay a little tax, and if they want a better life and are able to progress they will get to the point where their tax bill reaches and exceeds what they are getting from UBI.

      Minimum wage jobs and zero hours contracts wouldn't so bad if they were essentially just providers of extra spending money, but they are really crap at the moment for the people who have to do them just to survive.

    5. veti Silver badge

      Re: A shorter term problem

      Then in so far as those jobs still need to be done, people will need to be paid (or otherwise rewarded) more for doing them.

      I see that as a feature, not a bug.

  3. Tigra 07 Silver badge

    I always wondered what was going to stop people quitting their jobs and decreasing the government's tax intake when UBI rises. Get close to someone's wage and why work when you can earn the same at home?

    I like this idea, but it seems like it wouldn't work in any circumstances. Plus we'd all need ID cards to prevent fraud for this.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Get close to someone's wage...

      ... of course that would also break the market. As with speed limits the fact that you can set it too low or too high doesn't mean it's a bad idea in itself

    2. Richard 81

      @Tigra 07: But they won't be earning the same; if their pay is the same as their UBI, then they've doubled their income.

      1. Tigra 07 Silver badge

        RE: Richard

        I realise that (and toyed with including it in my comment), but my logic was that a person may see the UBI as a good reason to jack in a job they don't enjoy for a similar income at home.

        Arguably some people may see it as a good reason to keep doing a shitty job since it would act like a pay rise, but then may disincentivise asking for a pay rise instead.

        There's a lot of factors...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: RE: Richard

          They are talking £60 a week!!!

          What job do you do that you would be able to quit because the government paid you £60 a week?

          40 hours at minimum wage of £7.50 is £300.

          If someone is earning £60 a week, giving up their job because they got it off the government instead is not going to cause major ripples in the economic landscape. Hell, they are only working a day a week to replace it with £60.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: RE: Richard

            "They are talking £60 a week!!!

            What job do you do that you would be able to quit because the government paid you £60 a week?"

            £60/week for you, £60/week for each of your 5 kids, £60/week for your "partner" and it's a couple of thousand a month besides the cash from selling a little pot and meth on the side.

            I don't see the merit in bankrupting a country just to give every Oxygen theif 60 quid a week for nothing.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UBI is a horrible idea. It will destroy democracy and hand all power to a tiny ruling elite. (Even more than they have currently.)

    As a historical example, the Roman Republic introduced a universal basic income for all Roman citizens: Within a couple of decades the Republic - which was centuries old, and had become the greatest power in history - collapsed and became and Empire: Free Roman citizens became subjects of an all-powerful monarch.

    "Engineers look at systems that aren’t working and ask how they can be made to work,"

    Communists saw human society as a "system" that could be perfected if only a small group of very clever people (themselves) could only be given absolute control over it. How did that work out again?

    “Technologists can see more clearly than many that the employment market is going to change.”

    Technologists don't have a particularly good track record at predicting the future of the employment market.

    What people like Zuckerberg probably do see in UBI is that the cost to them is one worth paying in return for society's acquiescence in a tiny billionaire elite, which he is a member of, taking ever more control over society and the economy.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      UBI is a horrible idea. It will destroy democracy and hand all power to a tiny ruling elite. (Even more than they have currently.)

      Concur. It leads to stuff like this: https://www.goodreads.com/series/61988-owner-trilogy

      If you are not sufficiently horrified by page 30 you bloody well should be.

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