My introduction to the idea of a basic income happened somewhat gradually over a few years of what I feel were the set up to understanding it’s value, then hearing about it, and then actually looking to find out more. It was this final stage which is where I turned from casual observer of UBI to an advocate.
Now, what do I mean by “set up”?
I grew up in a middle class household with upper middle class grandparents. As such I knew what it was like from a very early age to not be working class, poor or on any kind of services. Life wasn’t exactly easy but I never worried about life’s fundamental basics. There would always be food. There would always be summer vacation. The Christmas tree at Grandma and Grandpas on Christmas morning was surrounded by an avalanche of gifts.
I was a lucky boy. I didn’t get that at the time but I certainly do now.
Mostly being an artist I kept working on my craft and entered the workforce always trying to find something better than minimum wage to support me, but rarely found this. I was kind of working poor but a little like Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Nickle and Dimed I had a upline that the working people around me did not.
Just like her observation I realised that there was nothing unique about me in the society of the minimum wage jobs I obtained. It’s not as though anyone ever observed that I was in some way different. If anything I was perpetually more naive than my counterparts who had often grown up more working class.
Working full time, few people back then could rise above work and life commitments to do something beyond their station in life. Back then we only worked 40 hours a week in one location. If you were particularly keen you could add additional employment but it wasn’t the norm. I even had an employer upset that I added work at a baseball field in concessions because, as I was told, it would “tire me out.”
These days we have people climbing well past 50 hours a week and even beyond.
Now whatever you think of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett or the sentiment of this quote, and according to the book by Warren’s son Peter Buffet, the two men once traveled across mainland China by bullet train. As they saw the thousands of workers out in the fields Warren said to Bill…
Out there could be the next Bill Gates and we’ll never know.
Now whatever you think of them or the statement it’s not completely wrong.
If a person has very limited resources they are hardly in the position to make choices like I was before moving out of the family home.
Ok, so how do we get to Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and Marvin the Paranoid Android?
We’re getting there.
This one detail of Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy has always stuck with me, like many things before I ever became a ubi advocate. Many disparate concepts simply gained a focal point for me.
In the story, the earth is a computer program. I will boil the story down to its basics so the two guys and poor old Marvin won’t really get mentioned.
I don’t blame you
But yeah, the earth was designed as a computer program to answer the ultimate question of “the meaning of life, the universe and everything.”
In the end the earth was almost able to complete it’s findings but is destroyed by the Vogons for a hyperspace bypass. It seems somehow fitting that it was a bunch of bureaucratic tough characters like the Vogons that did this but anyways…
Now how was the computer program called earth about to complete it’s job?
It was a young woman who goes into a cafe and orders a very strong cup of tea. She sits down by the window, stirring her tea and thinking. She then realizes how it all went wrong and how the world could actually be a nicer place to live and everyone could be happy.
Sadly, before she can get to a phone, the world is blown to smithereens by the aforementioned Vogon spaceship Fleet.
Like the workers in China, we’ll never know her amazing idea.
This is where UBI comes in (in our world, not in the Hitchhikers Universe)
With a basic income everyone is in the driver’s seat of their own life. Everyone take time to think, to explore, to decide what’s the best way to use their time. Does anyone care what patent work Einstein did? How many hours he really put in? Couldn’t he have taken some time to help with office filing?
No, strangely enough, everyone is more interested in what he did outside his prescribed line of work.
Any person could have the answer. Perhaps not on the same level of “meaning of life” as that lady in the cafe, but imagine if every single soul around the world was not consumed by the daily hours of busywork proving themselves worthy of life and then all the routine drudgery of keeping things afloat. It’s inefficient when more and more we are creating software (and have software creating software) that is so advanced that if it called you on the phone you would think it was an actual person. We have Amazon Go stores now functioning where you swipe your phone to enter, take what you want and the system charges you for your purchases on the way out.
It’s also interesting how many folks with their eyes on the stars have either advocated for a basic income or are in our gravitational field. Isaac Asimov, Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan have talked about things needing this new approach and then of course Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek actually featured one in the economic running of “The Federation.”
We will need to ensure that necessary services stay in place and that the basic income is working to everyone’s betterment once it is in place or any self described advocate would call it a failure, hardly the way any of us want to see the first nationwide program launch.
But, don’t panic. This idea has been around from hundreds of years, it nearly launched in the early seventies and every pilot so far has shown positive results.
Imagine being able to harness mankind’s combined imagination, creativity and innovation.
Vogons’s wouldn’t want to mess with us.
Thank you for reading!