Universal Basic Income’s Time has Come

A year ago, Universal Basic Income (UBI) was not a mainstream topic, it’ wasn’t even on the radar (it’s also known as Unconditional Basic Income or Basic Income Guarantee to name just few). I wrote about UBI over a year ago and many readers didn’t know what I was talking about. It’s not to say that a UBI movement in Canada, the U.S. or globally, was non-existent—it just hadn’t hit mainstream conversations yet. That all changed in late 2019 and 2020 due to two main factors. The first being Andrew Yang’s entry into the U.S. presidential race. His introduction of his $1,000 a month Freedom Dividend for every American adult started garnering attention in the fall of 2019. No one would have imagined an unknown without political experience or clout would end up being one of the final ten participates in the Democratic primary debates. The New York Times called him the internet’s favourite candidate. His #YangGang and #Math became two of the most common trending political hashtags as he became one of the few US politicians to garner over a million followers on Twitter. He ushered UBI into the mainstream. The second major influence to bring UBI into mainstream conversation is the COVID-19 Pandemic. Countries around the world are looking at temporary UBI as part of their economic recovery plans, in some cases it’s created engaging conversations around possible permanent UBI programs, which would have been unheard of six months ago. It’s great that these conversations are now taking place on a broader scale. It’s moving UBI closer to becoming reality. The conversation has moved forward years, if not decades. UBI’s time has come. There are two main arguments from UBI critics: One, it’s too expensive—no government can afford to pay for it. Two, it will disincentivize work—too many people won’t want to work—economies need people working. If the COVID-19 Pandemic has taught us anything, it has demonstrated that when a group of politicians work together to creatively find ways to address a dire need, such as attempting to rescue their country from a downward economic spiral, they will find the money. Even prior to COVID-19 there were various plans created by economists and UBI advocates to demonstrate how UBI could be paid for. I’m not going to attempt to do so here. There’s plenty of information on the subject elsewhere. However, I will point to a few points that are good to be aware of. There’s an abundance of financial resources available in most countries. The issue is that those resources are in the hands of the 1%, as US senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have often highlighted. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported that since 1978 CEOs wages have gone up 940%, yet the average workers wage has only gone up 12% in real terms. EPI also reports that since 1978 workers productivity has gone up 253%. Yet, their wages have only moved 12%, in real purchasing value. Economic markets of the world have risen over the past forty years, it’s unethical that the 1% have gained the majority of that wealth. This increase in value is created on the backs of the average worker, yet, they’re not the ones benefiting from it. It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be a socialist to know this is wrong. There are all sorts of tax reforms that could be made to fund UBI and other social programs while still leaving the wealthy with most of their money. UBI is not about a socialist revolution. It’s about correcting a major fault in the distribution of the wealth that belongs to the world. Does any person have any inherent or ethical right to be worth billions? Every human being has a right to share in the wealth and resources of our world, simply by being a member of this world. That’s the ethical argument for UBI, and the only one truly needed. It will lift millions of people out of poverty. It will provide a basic guaranteed income to allow millions more to live better lives, and it will contribute to growing a healthy economy. There’s more than enough money to go around. Greed must stop. The argument UBI will disincentivize work has never been demonstrated to be true. It seems like a logical argument to make, that people won’t want to work if they don’t have to. Sure, it may happen to a certain minimal level. However, most people are more likely to want to be part of contributing to the workforce. UBI won’t make anyone rich, it will simply be a minimum threshold every human being has a right to. It’s not about working for it, or earning it. UBI is an inherent right for every member of this world. The world, and in particular North America, has this obsession with work. It’s been called workism. It values work above just about everything. If you don’t work, you don’t have value. Today we need to understand there are all sorts of non-traditional ways to work and contribute to society, to make it better. If people have a UBI threshold to fall back on they can volunteer more, work part-time, work at home as family caregivers, work in the arts, invests in their dreams, and invest in our economy. Work doesn’t have to be 40 to 60 hours a week, as we traditionally think of. Donald Trump keeps stating that prior to COVID-19 the US had more people working than ever, that it had the greatest economy ever. It’s such a misleading statement. There were fewer full-time hours and livable wage jobs than ever before, too many workers hold multiple jobs at minimum wage or lower. The 1% are the ones who have benefited the most from a strong economy, not the average worker or the marginalized. It’s tragic that the COVID-19 pandemic will have led to so many deaths. Hopefully, we will all learn from it, and that governments everywhere will be better prepared for the next one. In the meantime, a UBI conversation has entered the mainstream—that’s a good thing. There is a lot of information available online about UBI. Two great places to start are Basic Income Canada Network or by checking out leading UBI advocate Scott Santens’ website.

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