A universal basic income won’t do everyone good

What if there isn’t enough work to go around?
Alejo Jose G. Sison | Jun 20 2016 | comment  



“Wealth without work” is one of seven blunders that lead to violence, Gandhi was supposed to have said according to a Facebook post. This addresses the core of why a “universal basic income” (UBI) won’t do everyone good.

UBI, the direct payment by government of money to all citizens, to top up or instead of wages, is an old idea that dates back to the Enlightenment. In recent times, it has enjoyed resurgent popularity and support, even among political groups supposedly at opposite ends of the spectrum, such as libertarians and socialists. Early this June, for instance, Switzerland held a referendum on a constitutional amendment that would pave the way for it. The proposal was finally rejected. However, in 2017, Finland aims to put one such policy into effect, providing citizens with up to €800 a month. Some cities in Holland are considering doing something similar, albeit in a more limited scale. 

For advocates, the main reason behind UBI is that with the current state of technology, there is less work to go around. At the same time, most of the work still available consists of low-end jobs which no longer pay enough. The solution therefore is for government to step in and make up for the shortfall. The financial crisis which began in 2008 has only served to emphasize this urgent need. Even fiscal conservatives seem to have bought in because they find UBI less intrusive than other measures which expand the welfare state.

The majority of opponents, on the other hand, would prefer a “wait and see” attitude on the real effects of technological change on labor. Indeed, lots of people lost their jobs when horse-drawn carriages became obsolete, but there were many more who found new and higher paying ones in the automobile industry. Perhaps UBI is too drastic a cure for a temporary problem that will sort itself out in due course. Others insist that these direct and unconditional government transfers are just too costly for their intended effect and unsustainable in the long term.

What hardly anyone refers to is the intrinsic value of work for human dignity and wellbeing. Discussions have mostly focused on work as a source of income and ignored other perhaps even more important benefits. Not only does work prevent us from engaging in harmful, antisocial activities, but it also furnishes our lives with meaning and a sense of identity, as well as order and structure to our families and societies. This is not something that UBI can supply, even if economists figured out a way to afford it. Work is the universal, time-tested method through which human beings learn, acquire skills and develop all sorts of distinctive excellences or virtues. That is something no government dole-out can replace.  

The author teaches Business Ethics at the University of Navarre. His latest book is “Happiness and Virtue Ethics in Business. The Ultimate Value Proposition”. 



This article is published by Alejo Jose G. Sison and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

comments powered by Disqus
Follow MercatorNet
Facebook
Twitter
MercatorNet RSS feed
subscribe to newsletter
Sections and Blogs
Harambee
PopCorn
Conjugality
Careful!
Family Edge
Sheila Reports
Reading Matters
Demography Is Destiny
Bioedge
Conniptions (the editorial)
Connecting
Above
Information
contact us
our ideals
our People
our contributors
Mercator who?
partner sites
audited accounts
donate
advice for writers
privacy policy
New Media Foundation
Suite 12A, Level 2
5 George Street
North Strathfield NSW 2137
Australia

editor@mercatornet.com
+61 2 8005 8605
skype: mercatornet

© New Media Foundation 2017 | powered by Encyclomedia | designed by Elleston