Basic Income has been the talk of the town in a lot of circles recently, thanks to a handful of nationally publicized articles and reaching the front-page of social media hodgepodge, Reddit. What sparked my interest in writing about the BI debate was the 15th International Basic Income Congress which took place in Montreal from June 27-29th, 2014. To see some videos of talks you may have missed, look no further.
Unconditional Basic Income (UBI or BI) is an income to be received by every adult person without conditions. Single, married, pregnant, employed, retired, etc.
The BIEN congress is the largest congress of its kind taking place in the world today. While listening to scholars, professors and well-researched activists, I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer quality of the research that was being conveyed through many of the talks. It is a testament to BI’s enormous potential that lifelong academics and educators would dedicate themselves for months or years to their subject matter. What stood out the most to me is how multi-disciplined the presentations were. They took approaches from the healthcare point of view; that providing people with basic income was the next logical step of healthcare. And that providing everyone with a basic income was simply a government providing its citizenry with basic dignity. There were others who approached it from an economic point of view and tackled the issues of paying for a basic income (yes, it can be feasible). And lastly, the ones that I personally found most interesting: the jobs point of view.
What happens to all the jobs when people are paid whether they go to work or not? Aren’t people just going to sit home and play video games all day?
Firstly, the jobs that are paying the lowest wages are rarely fulfilling careers. Note, jobs are something you do for money. Careers are something you build. If Basic Income were to be enacted, the people who would be happy with $12000 or $15000 or $20000 per year and would rather not work a job are better off not working a job.
If people are working because the economic system forces them to, and pays them below what they feel they deserve but they are forced to accept it to even barely scrape by, then our economic system isn’t functioning for the population, it’s functioning for itself. Basic Income is an economic systemic equalizer.
Unemployment gives employers power over the employees. If there was 100% employment, an employee can leave a job and take another, but because we have a constant rate of unemployment, the power rests in the hands of the employer.
Please watch “The Way The Eagle Shits” for a hilarious/tragic/cynical description on that subject.
Now, let’s assume then that our BI recipient is now someone that wants to sit at home and do nothing productive. So? Who qualifies what is productive and what isn’t? Right now we have a system that takes care of the elderly with pensions because they worked during their lives so they deserve to rest. We take care of those without jobs, but just barely, and punish them if they earn too much with the welfare trap . We take care of families, because if you’re having a child, that’s a lot of responsibility and the government should step in to help… But what about the rest of us? What about those that do not want children, that are earning minimum wage because they can’t earn more? What about the entrepreneurs that are forced into nonsensical jobs because they are not given the liberty to work on their innovative projects? How many more self-starters would we have under the BI system? We can’t even begin to imagine the answers to these questions, nor their unintended consequences – be they positive or negative – until we try.
The system is unbalanced towards specific subsets of individuals for a variety of reasons. BI could potentially help to balance things out.
So where do the jobs go?
We needn’t go further than places like Craigslist and Taskrabbit to see what people can do and are already doing for each other. Ask everyone you know if they would get a massage every other week if they could afford it. Find out how many people wish they could speak to a good therapist but can’t afford to foot the bill.
Under BI, I foresee an almost immediate fluid transition to an economy of care. We spend so much time organizing our own lives, now we’d have the opportunity to share that time. We would move towards paying one another for cleaning and cooking services. We would dedicate more funding to our personal well-being by attending exercise classes, eating locally grown healthy food and having a much more sensible work/life balance. This can also spawn a lot more community collaboration through the exchange of local services, the community will be more tight-knit and interested in the collective environment. And then we have those of us that are more primed to build the future than just simply live in somebody else’s. Let the social entrepreneurs who aren’t profit driven thrive! 40% of the workforce will be entrepreneurs by the year 2020. We need to be ready for that instead of allowing our population to fall deeper into poverty.
Free the people’s time up and we will fill it with useful endeavors and support one another.
The Sharing Economy that transitions us there.
When history ebooks are written about the sharing economy, Couchsurfing will have at least one chapter dedicated to its significance. While ebay may have popularized the reference, Couchsurfing created a sharing meritocracy (power based on merit). If you have positive references, that gives you value within the system and allows you to benefit from the sharing.
Nearly a decade later, TaskRabbit, AirBnB, and Uber pop up. All of which give you an opportunity to cut out professionals, hotels, and car purchasing while giving their companies a cut. While this is beneficial to the individual, these systems are only valuable because of the people that use them. These systems belong to the people and the open source movement will generate public & decentralized non-profit solutions that are based on these models. That is to say, the value that is currently being centralized will begin to be redistributed into the local economy.
And that decentralization of value is one of the primary goals of my personal project, an aspiring open-source meritocratic exchange marketplace called the Jack of all Trades Universe. We are designing a platform for a neighborhood to share, trade and exchange all of their goods and services any way they choose. So you won’t have to go further than a few blocks to work. And who will you be helping? A neighbor. Work will create tangible change right before your eyes for somebody in your community.
And JoatU (that’s the acronym) doesn’t just put you in touch with people living close by, it encourages community contributions. It gives points to people who do the jobs that the community requests. If your community wants a publicly accessible garden, the job is listed, and those that plant it will be rewarded with points for their contributions. These points can then be traded in for other people’s services or goods.
There are many more tools needed to obtain a society where people can work doing what they love. Basic Income, Open Source technology and a more accessible Sharing Economy are still novel concepts. It is up to all of us to take them and shape them into the future that we want to live in.
Jamie Klinger is the founder of JoatU which is currently raising funds for its alpha release. Please share and give generously.