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.