What’s the Deal with Universal Income?

If the government decided to give you $1000 a month for the rest of your life, what would you do? Would you stop working? Probably not, depending on where you live. Would you work less, at least? Would you continue at a job you love, or quit a job you hate to pursue a passion project?

Considering you’re at a site for ladypreneurs, I seriously doubt you would lounge on those oft-cited laurels. You’d find something to work on; that’s what you do. But that may or may not be the reaction throughout the expanse of our capitalistic economy.

Cynics of a Universal Basic Income, or U.B.I., argue that an income for everyone equates to a lazy populace. Proponents say that’s not true, and that the U.B.I. merely offsets poverty. It may seem like a strictly liberal idea — redistribution of wealth and all that — but in the 60’s and 70’s, a version of this actually had strong bipartisan support. Our friends in Silicon Valley have more recently argued that a U.B.I. is the only real solution for when most of our labor jobs are taken over by robots.  

Whatever your inclination, as the global discussion around the U.B.I. grows, it’s important to know what the heck everyone’s talking about. Here are the basics.

  1. The U.B.I. is not a new idea. In 1516, Sir Thomas More wrote about a universal income as a way to lower crime rates in Utopia, which you might remember as the book Danielle obsessively read in “Ever After.” Now we know why she had such a progressive stance on capital punishment eh? One of our own founding fathers, Thomas Paine, also proposed a version of a U.B.I. in 1797. Not to mention the fact that every resident of Alaska has been paid to live in Alaska since the 1980’s, to the tune of up to $3,000/year. Yes, seriously. And now, countries like Finland and India are implementing experiments to decide if they’ll go full-scale nationwide U.B.I.
  2. It really does have bipartisan support — and bipartisan consternation. Ironically, there are supporters and naysayers from both sides of the aisle who use the exact same reasons to love or hate the U.B.I. Liberal supporters claim the injection of liquid capital will help the economy through, well, more cash; conservative naysayers say liquid injection of capital will hurt the economy through lowering motivation (because of said cash). Liberal naysayers say the program will take funds away from programs like welfare; conservative supporters love that it will cut down on bureaucracy and the resources it takes to implement programs like welfare. You see the problem. It’s hard to tell what will really happen without more real-world experiments and research.
  3. It’s different than an N.I.T. The N.I.T., or Negative Income Tax, is often compared very closely with the U.B.I. The N.I.T. is a program where, if an individual makes below a certain income level, they are not taxed and are instead paid a cash dividend. The difference here being, of course, that the N.I.T. is not universal — it only affects the lower income levels, and would be taken away once you reach a certain pay grade. While this seems more practical on the surface, on closer inspection some research has found that this has motivated workers to intentionally not seek job growth. Counterintuitively, a U.B.I. may stimulate job growth since the recipient will not lose their benefit from getting a better job. This correlation — whether a U.B.I. stimulates employment — is exactly what Finland plans to study in their two-year experiment.

The only way we’ll ever know for sure how the U.B.I. would affect our economy is with more of these grand experiments; as the discussion grows, so will, hopefully, the research on the subject. I mean, if they need any test subjects, I’d be happy to volunteer.

What about you? What would you do with an extra grand a month?

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