The Internet is full of bitching about who is entitled to what and who is ripping who off. Endless back-and-forths that have been running for decades already, and sometimes for centuries before the Internet was invented. This bickering does a tremendous amount of social damage, fostering distrust, suspicion and cynicism at all levels. As this essay will examine, a universal basic income would pay for itself by settling much of this bitching.
One of the eternal debates relates to the pension age.
Our society is currently structured so that 64-year olds are made to work under threat of starvation, but 65-year olds are gifted $370 a week from the state until they die, no questions asked. A person’s life is radically different from the week before they turn 65 compared to the week after. Turning 65 grants you access to so much free money that it’s like winning the lottery.
The problem, from the state’s point of view, is that the pension already costs New Zealand some $16 billion dollars per year – a figure that is rising by about a billion a year. This means that there is a great incentive to cut down on costs by raising the pension age. On top of that, many argue that the current pension arrangement in unsustainable, on account of that people are in good health for longer.
Naturally, proposals to raise the pension age are bitterly resented by those close to it. Howls of outrage are inevitable every time the media raises the subject. Also naturally, those younger still, who have no hope of the luxury pension lifestyle that today’s elderly enjoy, don’t give a shit, and are happy to just laugh. Therefore there is bitter resentment on all sides.
We already have a universal basic income for those over 65. If we would lower the size of the payment to something more reasonable, and then extend the age limit all the way down to 18, would could get rid of the need to argue over the pension age entirely.
Another eternal debate revolves around making a distinction between the mentally ill and the lazy. The logic is that it’s fair to pay mentally ill people welfare because they can’t be expected to hold down a job, but it’s not fair to pay lazy people on welfare because it will just encourage them to not work.
The difficulty is, of course, that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the two. It’s not at all routine to find agreement between two psychiatrists as to whether a given patient is mentally ill or a malingerer. It couldn’t possibly be, given how complicated the average mind is and how long it takes to get to understand it.
In practice, there’s essentially no way to tell whether a person’s unwillingness to work stems from mental illness (thereby demanding a feminine solution) or a failure of the will (thereby demanding a masculine solution). There is no scientific test, so the psychiatrist just asks a bunch of questions and then offers a degree of help commensurate with how much they like the patient.
This means that a large part of the welfare apparatus – that devoted to distinguishing the “deserving” from the “undeserving” – is superfluous and could be scrapped at no loss. A universal basic income would remove the need for absurdities such as the requirement to get a doctor’s certificate every year or so to “prove” that one was too mentally infirm to hold down a job.
A mentally healthy person will not choose to avoid work, for the simple reason that employment is the only realistic way to meet one’s social needs today. Some people might need to take a break away from intense social pressure on occasion, and a UBI would help them do this. Then they could return on their own terms when able. This would prevent people from being ground down into destruction through the stress of trying to maintain employment with a mental illness.
Seldom does a person stop and think about how much social damage is caused by arguments about who is worthy to receive a basic level of financial dignity and who isn’t.
A universal basic income would settle all of these disputes in one stroke. It would say: there is no such thing as public welfare anymore, only dividends. Every citizen gets a basic dividend of the nation’s wealth, enough to stave off abject misery, no questions asked. No more squabbling about who’s paid in enough and who has been promised what.
There is a lot of talk about a looming financial crisis, and how we can’t lower interest rates to fight it, and will therefore have to print money. The last time we printed money we gave to the banks, and that didn’t help alleviate the human suffering. This time we should print money and give it to everyone to meet their basic survival needs.
If 3,500,000 people received a dividend of $250 for 52 weeks, the total cost would be $45,500,000,000. According to the New Zealand Treasury, crown income was $81,800,000,000 for the 2016/2017 financial year. That same link also shows us that the current cost of social security and welfare is $30,600,000,000, currently paid for by taxation and not money printing.
This means that we could scrap the entire social security and welfare bureaucracy, shift all of the funding for it to a UBI, and we’d only be $15,000,000,000 short. This shortfall could be made up for by money printing, or from increased economic efficiencies brought about by the structural change of every person having government-backed poverty insurance.
One likely side-effect of a UBI is that is will make many things much cheaper.
For instance, without the life-or-death pressure of needing to get a job before one starves, Kiwis would be much more willing to live in places with fewer job opportunities. This would create a drift to rural areas and release some of the demand pressure on urban land. Introduction of a UBI would, of course, mean the termination of the Accomodation Supplement, as there is simply no justification to live somewhere you can’t afford if this isn’t necessary for work purposes.
The fact is that New Zealand needs entrepreneurial activity if it is to succeed this century, and much of this will necessarily be Internet-based owing to New Zealand’s extreme geographical isolation. A UBI would make it possible for small start-ups to get off the ground in the smaller centres, because these start-ups would have much lower initial costs.
The rest of the value might be made up from the social benefits of putting a definitive and official end to all questions about who was worthy of Government assistance and who was a bludger, malinger, thief etc. Everyone gets $250, and when the rate goes up it goes up for all. Because everyone gets it, and the same amount, there would be no question over who is entitled and who isn’t.
If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.