Some forward-thinking people are starting to discuss the idea of a universal basic income. This is the idea that the Government would make a small but weekly payment to each adult resident citizen, just enough to keep them alive but not enough for any luxuries or even any decencies.
Predictably, the idea that the Government might help the poor in some new fashion has resulted in cries of communism from those who expect to inherit large amounts of property.
But there are reasons to believe that bringing in a universal basic income, even if it was as little as the current unemployment benefit, would significantly raise the standard of living of the average New Zealander.
For instance, a universal basic income would, at a stroke, remove all the cruel things that people do to each other out of desperate poverty.
One might object here that they would not remove all the cruel things that people do to each other out of greed – and that’s true in some cases – but consider this.
Every great dictator or tyrant who convinced a mass of people to go against their better nature, and to later regret that they had done so, convinced those people by offering them money.
They just looked for desperately poor people. Poverty is control. That’s the way it has to be understood for the psychological reactions of people to the question of a universal basic income to be understood.
Hitler could not have achieved what he did without the Great Depression and the economic restrictions imposed on Germany as a consequence of the Versailles Treaty.
People like to make a big deal about Hitler’s rhetoric and oratory skills, but the naked fact is that the NSDAP paid men to serve in the military, and they could pay a lot of men for not much money because those men were all as poor as shit.
This is why getting the rich to give up some of the money they have extorted out of the poor through their control of the Police and of private property is not a simple matter of appealing to the simple fact that it would reduce the sum total of human suffering.
One must also take into account the loss of power this entails.
Think of all the women in history who were forced to accept the sexual advances of a man they didn’t like because they needed the money.
Think of all the men in history who have wound up doing violence to strangers because they were forced to be obedient to someone violent for the sake of money.
Think of all the kings and queens who were able to raise an army to invade some other peaceful place because the peasants of their kingdom had no access to the commons on account of enclosure, and therefore were forced to take the monarch’s silver or starve.
Think of all the times a parent who, on account of stress from worry about where the next meal was coming from, took a short-sighted decision in the heat of the moment and came to regret it.
Go back as far in history as you like. How many robberies, how many burglaries, how many thefts, how many assaults and murders could have been prevented had we merely seen to it that people didn’t need to go hungry, and did so with a similar effort to what we already put into punishing and protecting ourselves from robbers, burglars, thieves and murderers?
We’re not talking about an equal distribution of luxuries, or even decencies. A person living merely on a universal basic income will be too poor to afford much beyond food and shelter – but at least they will not be so poor that they will take violent actions out of desperation.
One might raise an objection to this on the grounds that, if people were willing to look after each other enough to introduce a universal basic income, they would have done so already and would not need coercion through Government taxation.
This objection is only reasonable up to a certain historical point. When the productivity of the average citizen has advanced to such a degree that simply by pressing a button they can cause machines and computers to produce a million dollars worth of goods, there’s no reason barring a sadistic need for control to cut non-machine-owners out of this cornucopia.
Of course, much of this discussion is academic in the case of New Zealand, which is 20 years behind the rest of the world in progress on questions like this and getting worse. Medicinal cannabis was legalised in California in 1996 and we are yet to even have a proper discussion about it, so we will likely be several decades behind the rest of the world on the basic income question too.