The Universal Basic Income Experiment
I first heard about Universal Basic Income from a childhood friend who touts it as the best! idea! ever! It’s not a bad idea, but it’s an idea that works best in its natural environment as part of the overall economic and political system. If not, it’s sort of like placing a lion in an elementary school. You can do it, and it would certainly be interesting, but I don’t think it would be what we’d call successful for either the lion or the students.
Meaning, people have a tendency to see something working in one place and believe they can implement that idea in another place. The reason it works in the first place is because the idea is integrated into a larger mentality and belief system, and the reason it usually doesn’t work in the second place is because the system doesn’t really fit with the overall personality of the new space.
The idea of UBI is to give people an allowance that covers all of their needs. You work out what is the lowest amount of money a person can live on while having their basic needs of food, shelter, and health care met, and then the government gives that money to the citizen so they have the breathing space to find their most productive space in helping society continue to run.
You may have heard about it recently because Finland is testing out the idea on 2000 people.
Listen, there are definite benefits to UBI. If everyone has a basic income, you don’t need millions of social welfare programs. There would be no homelessness, no hunger, less crime, more education. People wouldn’t stay in jobs that make them miserable simply to hold onto benefits. In fact, employers would no longer have to worry about providing benefits at all. You would still need to work if you wanted extras like fashionable clothing or iPhones. But your basic needs would all be covered.
It sounds good, and it certainly could work, small-scale. But UBI requires high taxation levels (at least it would in capitalistic countries like the US), and a social mentality where people put taking care of their neighbours over their own personal gain. I can’t really see that working out large-scale in the US, especially not in today’s political climate. I can’t even see it working large-scale in Finland, or any country without a shift in mindset.
But I’m totally curious to watch it play out.
Do you think something like UBI could ever work, large-scale? Any economists out there with thoughts on this?