Expletive Deleted!

I’ll probably not post much more about Universal Basic Income to this blog (though I reserve the right to tweet about it) lest NE become too one-note while there’s so much going on with UBI. As this article puts it:

There has recently been a surge of interest in basic income. […] Long derided as unaffordable and conducive to idleness, basic income is now attracting support from many quarters and standard objections have been robustly challenged. This interest has prompted the launch of several basic income pilots around the world. One started on 1 January in Finland with others planned in Ontario, Canada, Oakland, California, Aquitaine and Catalonia, and discussions are ongoing in Fife and Glasgow. A US NGO, GiveDirectly, is raising $30m for a 12-year experiment in Kenya.

But before we go quiet on this front, let me tell you that Utopia for Realists is a rather good book. It’s light on ideology and instead draws on a wealth of facts and figures, projections and dispassionate analyses of trials. We need more of this, especially in the age of personality politics and post-truth awfulness. There’s a great chapter about the history of UBI in which I learned the following.

President Nixon (of all people and, hey, as of this week he’ll only be the third most-despised US president in history) tried to get UBI for America. It was during a swell of national ambition after the moon landing, and in response to an open letter signed by 1,200 economists supportive of UBI.

Trials were conducted and the Nixon administration came tantalizingly close to eradicating poverty in America. Alas, it never made it through the Senate.

Attempts to save the project were made for a number of years and, in 1978, it almost made it. What ultimately killed the project was a moral panic resulting from a particular statistic from the trials: a 50% increase in divorce rates. This happened, it was reasoned, because women in receipt of UBI no longer had to stay married to jerks just to have food and a home.

Too much freedom for women was the concern that canned UBI in America.

I’m not sure which is more appalling — the very fact of this concern (“I’m not ironing my own goddam babies!”) or (wait for it) the discovery in 1988 that the 50% divorce figure was the result of a statistical error.

This is probably how the world will end, isn’t it? Stinking moral judgement based on obsolete ideas and a made-up a fact.

It resembles, to my mind, the current objection that UBI would lead to idleness when (a) trials indicate that it won’t, and (b) morally, there’s nothing wrong with idleness anyway. People shouldn’t have to stay put in a kitchen — domestically or professionally — if they don’t want to.

If you want to get a taste of this book before buying it, here is its author, Rutger Bregman, speaking quite compellingly on CBC Radio.

The post-print phase of New Escapologist is just beginning. Go here to join in.
You can also buy all thirteen issues in print or PDF (in newly discounted £20 bargain bundles) at the shop.

About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

2 Responses to “Expletive Deleted!”

  1. Eric B says:

    So if facts and analysis won’t turn the tide of perception towards a favorable opinion of UBI, what will? Could a UBI-themed reality TV show bring about the necessary sea change in opinion? Or will people literally hate the idea until the day they cash their first UBI check? 🙂

  2. Well, don’t forget that the men who went against UBI in 1978 were in possession of what they thought was a fact — a fact which, to them, was an argument against the adoption of UBI. The problem was their moral outlook – their belief that women must not be granted the same agency experienced by men. For us today, at least the facts are more likely to be correct (more data, more robustly gathered) but whether our moral outlook will prevail this time remains to be seen. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we need to destroy what remains of the Protestant Work Ethic.

    (I like the idea that the first cheque might convince someone once and for all. We could just keep running more and more trials until everyone’s experienced UBI first-hand!)

Leave a Reply

Latest issues and offers

1-7

Issues One to Seven

A bundle of our first seven issues. Featuring minimalism, Houdini, Leo Babauta, Bohemianism, Alain de Botton, Sartre, and Tom Hodgkinson. 567 pages. £35.

8-11

Issues Eight to Thirteen

A bundle of our last six issues. Featuring Luke Rhinehart, Flaubert, Mr Money Mustache, part-time work, Will Self, home life, Richard Herring, and E. F. Schumacher. 593 pages. £30.

Issue Thirteen

Our final edition. Featuring an interview with celebrity mortician Caitlin Doughty; Matt Caulfield on zen fool Ryokan; and Reggie C. King on David Bowie and Sun Ra. 122 pages. £7.

Escape Everything!

A hardbacked guide to scarpering. Essential reading for wage slaves and slugabeds alike. Published by Unbound. 230 pages. £12.