UBI Is a Bad Idea, Actually

Ho ho ho merry Christmas!

Now, I’ve already shared why bonuses are a bad idea, so this holly jolly I’m going to ruin your holidays through bah-humbugging the risingly-popular notion of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a sort of extra allowance to citizens of a governing body that is applied equally and across the board. The plans vary in scope and amount, but generally each person (either all full-grown adults or all citizens or all people residing in said state, though I doubt most proponents would be okay with the latter) is given a set amount of money per month or year, with plans varying from a thousand or so a year to $500 a month. UBI’s are common in petro states, despite political representation. The fact that it’s guaranteed in socialist Venezuela, social democratic Sweden, and the religio-monarchist Kingdom of Saudi Arabia along with Iran and Alaska should tell us that it’s not exactly a leftist ideal. In fact, while it may seem to be an improvement in certain ways to current situations for the bottom 2/5ths of the economic scale in the US (including myself), I’d argue that it’s a bad idea for us for several reasons.

Image via David Milki . Image is a parody of a movie promotion, wherein we see a Grinch quote in a movie billboard saying “The wealth of the rich is drained from the blood of the poor.”

The first problem with UBI is that it’s centered on individualist consumer choices as a solution for people forced into poverty in an economy centered on individualist consumer choices. The assumption is that people with more money are able to buy more necessities based on their free consumer choices. It equates basic necessities for life with weekend vacations, blue jeans, or big screen TVs. So, it gives the same allowances to middle class (Petty Bourgeoise) families who need the money less in the hope that they will run to Target with that check. But necessities such as education, housing and health should never be considered commodities in the first place. Any move to take care of the basic needs of the poor on an individualistic structure not only does not work to upend the consumptive capitalism that oppresses workers but strengthens it. The reality is that promoters are pushing these bonuses in order to get more lower income Working Class people out into the shopping worlds of retail stores and Amazon more often.

Secondly, a couple hundred a month will not suffice to cover these needs, or rights, on their own, particularly if we lose food stamps or other government subsidies to rent or health insurance. The entire social safety net is incredibly distressed now — any plan favored by libertarians is looking to either abolish the net or push it to the breaking point. The thinking is that if people had a little extra money, they could rely less on the government and more on themselves. This is a form of psychological warfare, trading in immediate gratification for substantial rights and necessities, which wouldn’t be so damned tricky if most Americans weren’t trained from childhood to see meaning in sparklies. Poor people in the United States are much like poor people everywhere, but here the wealth inequality is focused in such a way that we lower-income Working Class cling heartily to material comforts that are in front of us rather than to promises of tomorrow’s basic needs. The United States, recall, is built on broken promises and slavery.

Additionally, as long as housing and health care are seen as commodities on the free market, a surplus of funds among base customers allows landlords and insurance companies — who provide these necessities — to raise their prices while providing little in return. So there may be little effect in the end anyway for most working class people. Now instead of abolishing cash bail, jailers have an excuse to raise bail prices.

Finally, while extra taxes will be required of the top tier, those taxes are mere bumps. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos will still have tens of billions of dollars and may in fact be richer if more people are able to buy more crap with their dollars while the typical WC family will still not have $1000 or more saved for emergencies such as sickness or losing a job. Simply giving more money to individuals and families does not address rising inequality nor the relationship between bosses and employees.

Some suggestions that perhaps a left should be fighting for in these states:

§ Universal housing and public utilities; housing should not chew up 1/3 to ½ of income.

§ Reparations for African American and Native communities.

§ Guaranteed living wage jobs for all.

§ Guaranteed paid parental leave — no matter the job status.

§ Guaranteed universal child care.

§ The abolition of the racist prison and criminal incarceral and judicial system.

§ Strengthened union and collective powers.

Your Humboldt Park Marxist; West Side, Chicago. Post-evangelical. Educator.