Universal basic income and communism: Can you spot the difference?

I cannot.

I don’t venture into economic topics much because of low epistemological certainty. There are people smarter than me and with more economic knowledge who are also dedicated socialists, communists, you name it. But communism and universal basic income both have a smell to me, and it’s the same smell.

UBI seems like a tech-infused rebranding of communism and I can’t seem to figure out how the two are any different. A UBI supporter might say “Under UBI you’re still free to compete and earn more money,” but it isn’t clear what’s the average person’s incentive to do so. It’s a rare bird who’d rather work hard and have really fancy stuff than hang out all day and have stuff that’s good enough.

Plus, the people getting the good enough stuff for free will inevitably lobby to raise the standard of “good enough” higher and higher. (See all current welfare programs for evidence of this.)

So the guy working really hard is going to have to shell out more and more to support everyone else, continuously reducing his incentive to work really hard. So after a while the whole economy will be driven by just a few extremely super-wealthy, super-productive, super-well-connected people, which effectively consolidates power in their hands, and…

…hey, wasn’t that tried already? I seem to recall it didn’t end well.

Other problems with UBI that just popped into my head:

  • There are some jobs–waiting tables, cashiering, cleaning public restrooms, installing drywall, etc.–that plain suck–nobody who doesn’t need the money would want to do them as an alternative to hanging out. And those jobs can’t be easily fully automated either. But we need people to do those jobs. (And don’t just say the market would adjust by raising salaries, because the money for those salaries would have to come from somewhere; the reason bread costs $2 rather than $200 a loaf is in large part because the cashier who rings it up is making $8 and not $80 per hour. If people are willing to spend $200 for a loaf of bread because they get the money for free, then either that money will quickly run out or there’ll be hyper-inflation, with the same end result.)
  • There’s a slight moral problem with giving money to people who desperately need it while knowing they will spend that money on stuff like drugs and junk food, but I can get over that moral problem. There’s a much more serious moral problem when those people don’t desperately need the money in the first place because they are fully capable of finding and working a good-paying job but simply choose not to, and I can’t get over that.
  • A universal basic income makes strong assumptions about what is a proper standard of living. How much does a family of 4 really need in order to survive? Does a standard of living also have to take into account their comfort? Their education? Their lifelong fulfillment? These questions are properly set informally by culture, not formally by government redistribution programs.
  • Once we’ve given up the expectation of having to work hard and solve tough problems in order to thrive, how do we get it back when we need it? UBI would sentence all of us to a future of permanent poverty.

2 thoughts on “Universal basic income and communism: Can you spot the difference?

  1. “fully capable of finding and a working a good-paying job” — I’m not. If I lost one of my two adjuncting jobs I don’t know what I’d do. During past periods of desperation I tried Craigslist and some other site for anything — Excell data-entry, for example. Nothing, no responses. A listing of NYC transit jobs posted on a subway-column that I looked at recently stipulated experience or training in such fantastically specific things that you’d have to have planned to do those things from the age of 16 to end up doing them. Pretty much all blue-collar work seems to require having an uncle or some other contact already in the industry; I’ve never spoken to anyone who didn’t get such work through a connection. Part of why you only see Mexicans doing labor in NYC is that only the Mexicans who are already doing it know about what’s available — they tell their friends about it and recommend them to their employers, presumably. All postal workers are Chinese. All sanitation workers Italian. All DMV and court employees Black. Everything’s through connections, private information. The series of tests you have to take and forms that you have to fill out for any job is so complicated that you need someone in place to tell you what to do before you can even think about starting the process. Then there’s a 2+ year waiting period for any city-job. So how do you feed a family during those 2 years?

  2. Ooh, pick me, pick me -under Communism, layaboutery was illegal, and UBI encourages it.

    I’m not that worried about your first and fourth bullet points, but your second and third are good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s