Universal Basic Income

Written by on September 2, 2020

A mind needs to be free beyond survival to invent or discover the things that will be useful to us all.

I have a reputation for being something of a loose cannon, but to be fair to myself, I only ever kick off when I have been spat at and shouted at repeatedly. I am something of a twisted philanthropist. The Human Race has used up all the available credit with my patience, so I’m not quite sure why anyone else is entitled to anymore.  I am often criticised for being rude and volatile but those are the responses that live at the bottom of one’s purse when its contents have been extorted and pilfered by the public sector, the private sector, the third sector, the criminal sector and the vagrant underclass, all employing any number of devices including appealing to one’s better and foolish nature.   

Although I move through this world, spitting and sparking, twitching and barking, I only ever wanted to live in a culture of logic, love and cooperation, and I still do, but my commitment to it had put me at the bottom of the food chain for most my life, and only slightly above it since my mid-fifties. Suffice it to say, I feel regret and bitterness.   There are two types of brigand in this world; dirty sociopathic callous opportunist capitalist scoundrels, and people who call themselves socialist, progressive, enlightened, inclusive and egalitarian, but are nonetheless also dirty sociopathic callous opportunist capitalist scoundrels.  I’m not having a pop at any kind of progressive politics; I’m not having a pop at free-market enterprise and trade either, I enjoy the spoils of both. I’ve just got a big chip on my shoulder because I know that it doesn’t matter what badge a person pins to their ego; political alignment, honour and donned moral fortitude are pretty much only ever skin deep.  Disasters and dilemmas are the only real measure of somebody’s political soul, intellect and compassion. Anything else is just posturing. Whether it is the saintly sanctimonious lefty or the scathing comfortable insulated simplistic right-winger, people wrap opinions around themselves to shut out truth, responsibility and mutuality. It’s interesting what emerges when the heat is on.  

So here we go again; Universal Basic Income.  It’s something I want us all to have so much but I hate the expression, because like so many polarising political ideas, one quickly gets tired of it. In Britain, “Brexit,” became a profanity whichever side of the debate you were on. I don’t know where you are with it but I’m sick of it, I hate the standard-issue noise UBI makes when it rattles around peoples’ heads. It’s just another war of left and right proclamations, none of which are based on any real science or history – it’s just speculation and not much more.  Which is a shame, because UBI has the power to do MAGiC!  Yeah, I know that’s not a helpful expression in secular economic terms, but to unleash the human spirit is to release magic into the world!  A hundred billion neurons per head is a lot of intellectual firepower and if that firepower has only one pursuit: – survival, then a fine mind quickly, and sometimes terminally atrophies.  Whatever your politics are, I want the reason for us humans to collectively self-organise into societies, to be so we can create a survival substrate in order to grow something amazing. The greater the exchange of compassion and intellect, the richer we become. The freer mindscapes are from financial emergency, the more chances there are for pollination and cross pollination of ideas and strategies.  Call me a romantic, but I think that this is essential for both the individual and society.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!”

It doesn’t mean Jack is boring; it means he’s intellectually tarnished and not as brightly shining as he could be.  His brain is survival, survival survival!  A mind needs to be free beyond survival to invent or discover the things that will be useful to us.  Books and songs pretty much write themselves. Ideas and inventions take flight in minds that are full of open skies and vistas, but only when we can give these things time to emerge.  We become stunted if we are only ever preoccupied by the worry of survival, it’s a waste of space!

There’s more to the human condition than sloth, hedonism and violent opportunism.  Do governments honestly believe that humans will only cooperate or produce if they are corralled into legal pens by haughty privately educated toffs and their thugs?   I don’t think that we are entitled to UBI – far from it!  Governments of the world, you owe us nothing, and we, sure as hell, owe you nothing. I thought that governments were only ever meant to be an administrative manifestation of ourselves in the first place – the governments that were supposed to be of the people, by the people and for the people, don’t really behave that way.   I just see UBI as a grand act of mutual inclusion, a deal done with a promise and a social contract, opening the floodgates to allow a tsunami of unprecedented compassionate action and imagination that will be economically self-fulfilling. That’s probably why, in the early days, UBI might just have to be conditional.   

I understand the reluctance of governments, it is after all a wild card of sorts, just giving away money to people and possibly demotivating them to take a job or contribute in other ways.  After governments have so utterly derailed economies across the world in response to Covid 19, they’re going to feel the need to be more authoritarian and money’s too tight to mention, what with millions of people Furloughed and the rest of the socio-economic fallout and infrastructural collapse that will undoubtedly lead to many more deaths in addition to the deaths already caused by the virus.

UBI seems alien, fanciful, even childish and counter to common sense.  Large swathes of my mind feel that way too. I don’t know how the world will respond, or if it is viable. I can see it working for me and mine, but I can only really honestly vouch for myself.  People are right to be sceptical, or even cynical or scathing about the viability of UBI, but they need to understand that their scepticism, is itself, mostly but only mostl,y unfounded. There’s very little historically to compare it to or to support either argument.  During the Covid 19 disaster, we have all been stunned by peoples’ capacity for unrewarded compassion.  Compassion is only part of it, however, the other spike is personal self-improvement.  In these last months, I have become really proficient in Excel, it’s not a degree, but for the first time in 56 years, I’m employable! And I actually speak a bit of Spanish now. My previous attempts at conversations were limited and only in one tense. Now I am able to express that I like my cheese sandwich served by the clever Señorita Sanchez adding only that my husband liked bears when he was alive.

 I have had so many conversations with people and they’re all learning and building stuff and helping other people.  It’s not just the nurses and doctors and keyworkers I am in awe of, it’s anyone who’s picked up a hammer or downloaded a course.  Whether they do so for selfish or societal reasons, I don’t care, it’s laudable either way.

One of the requirements of the conditions of UBI as laid out by most people that support it, is that it should be unconditional. I do understand that position, I suppose. Why should people in receipt of UBI have some sense of magnificence or start becoming Leonardo Da Vinci, Hypatia or Isambard Kingdom Brunel or Florence Nightingale or someone? Only the overachievers are entitled to UBI? That’s not nice. The expectation that they should just do something amazing to justify having UBI, is itself, intellectual and moral imperialism. Maybe two old lovebirds will just want to watch their final nine hundred and ninety-nine sunsets together with no other concerns than their love for each other and the remaining sunsets, because they’ve kind of earned it.   Many people may just want to travel and do nothing else.  And you can do that on a shoestring easily and forever.  Some people may want to lose themselves in soap opera or computer games. 

Are these people a good investment for the treasury? Probably not, but any country has tens of millions of people, and that’s one hell of a diversified portfolio. Is it not possible that the people we free up that do amazing things, will easily overcompensate for the odd dardledumdue?

The trouble is, if you want UBI, you’ve got to convince the government, the voter and the tax paying self-made workaholics that it IS viable, because it’s too foreign or flaky a reality to invest in if it has only ever been, outside of a few test communities, just a concept. I think, inevitably, people will pursue more leisure time if they do have UBI, but that, in itself, is not degeneracy. I have both worked harder and slobbed harder since the onset of Covid 19. The online colleges, the housework/renovations and Netflix have all done well out of me while I was temporarily unowned by some Dickensian oik. Some people’s idea of leisure is reading Noam Chomsky while roller skating, for others it’s taking three narcotics simultaneously; namely cannabis, alcohol and cricket until they  dissolve into nothingness,  (It is worth noting that, to date, there is no scientific evidence to support the rather runaway notion that cricket is a gateway narcotic.  Many people only ever use cricket and do not graduate to more oblivion-inducing pursuits.) Leisure time is an in-breath, it’s essential for life, longevity, production and flow.   Not that leisure time needs justifying, unlike UBI, leisure time IS a human right and it must be protected from audits.  People are not work shy in my experience; they are merely employer shy.  Work becomes joy when you own your own life.

UBI is not culturally established.  Although it isn’t a new idea, it feels like it is to most people.  It also feels like an idea that has no more worth than the famous words, “Wouldn’t it be great if all this money was real,” uttered in thousands of homes in many countries over many decades by people playing Monopoly?  “Wouldn’t it be great if we had Universal Basic Income?”

Yeah, yeah it would, but like all wonderful social innovations, it’s blocked by luddites, sabotaged by monkeys and hijacked by precious pedants. Just go to any forum on UBI and you’ll find them, I promise.  The old establishment won’t have to crush UBI because there is, built into the culture of some of its advocates a tendency to get into stupid debates over some of the finer and sometimes superficial details. I am reminded of the Golgafrinchams in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, when they invent the wheel and confess that they are having trouble perfecting the prototype, which is hexagonal. When Ford Prefect admonishes them, explaining that it is the simplest machine in the universe, a Golgafrincham replies, “Ok, Mister Wise Guy, you tell us what colour it should be!”   There is a Golgafrincham component within the UBI movement that will make this opportunity, this social technology, ridiculous and untouchable, in exactly the same way alleged UFO abductees make SETI laughable, in exactly the same way that political correctness and verbal hygiene killed Leftism in the eighties and is doing so again now.  Radio Hydrogen and I don’t have political alignment, but if I were a lefty, or a SETI scientist or an advocate of UBI, I’d be screaming the famous but not overused phrase, “Do me a favour, STAY OFF MY SIDE!”    

On the other side, shrewd marketers will be dreaming up new things to sell to the new survival solvent class. I would hope that it will be new and wondrous hobbies and pastimes rather than more kinds of Findus Crispy Pancake, but hey, I’m an idealist and a romantic.  Oh, I do speak as a hypocrite btw, I love Findus Crispy Pancakes.  If ever I’m feeling a little peckish…

What I would love to see, both as a propaganda device for people to get behind UBI and as an inspiration for what to do with it once you have it, is for UBI to permeate pop culture – soap opera and the like, having storylines showing how people react to having UBI.  Better than that but arguably less realistic, I would like to see UBI with its own fiction library, just like political movements, religions and gingerbread groups.  Not a how-to library, but a bunch of books from a novella with a 2-dimensional plot, to some grand opus, spanning the world and future history.  Universal Basic Income fiction is, when you think about it, a sub-set of Social Science Fiction. I don’t know if such a thing even exists yet, but I think it could become, literally, a marvellous medium for generating ideas and proposing projects.  Science Fiction has a mutual feedback relationship with Science, but Social Science Fiction, for some reason, less so. I think Universal Basic Income Fiction, could become trendy for long enough that it and other social Sci-Fi informs politics as much as hard Sci-Fi invites science and technology to dream big.  Never mind well executed essays and articles in the broadsheets, their rhetoric is no better than the Monopoly money.  Instead, write the stories of international rescue, community uplifting, garage science, kitchen table entrepreneurship, random as well as institutional acts of compassion and infinite imagination.  Throw a bit of sex, violence and intrigue in there and job’s a good’n! Why stop there?  Make low budget, high-dialogue movies that do the same. 

There are no experts in this subject – none! You cannot predict or map my responses to suddenly having a survival wage, nor I you.  But I promise you this much, if the pressure of my daily, sometimes hourly survival economics were lifted for life, by way of UBI or even a lottery win, your world will become microscopically better!  I am one person, multiply that by ten, and then a hundred and so on and so forth. I am confident that the same would be true if you were liberated, that the world and therefore my world, would become microscopically improved.  You wouldn’t have got to the bottom of this article were it not so.  Freed slaves don’t turn into slobs, they do stuff for the good of us all. I’m banking on wage-slaves being no different. Will UBI work?  I don’t know. I do know that it will work for me and my tiny social bubble.  What’s your tiny social bubble like? The world is screwed, why not try something different?

Rusty Burridge

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