The twin burdens of scarcity and toil are a deep part of our cultural legacy. There is not nearly enough of the basic necessities for all the world's people to live in comfort and security. A lucky few are born into wealth and a clever, evil few get away with cheating or stealing. For the rest of us, hard work is the best guarantee of meeting our basic needs and finding a bit of peace and leisure in this harsh, competitive world.
Unemployment -- Street crime -- Poverty in the midst of plenty -- Social anxiety -- A young generation that feels it has no place -- An aged generation living longer with diminished savings
The solution to all these problems begins with a Universal Basic Income.
This is no longer an accurate picture of the world, if ever it was.
- Many animals far less clever and industrious than Homo sapiens live in a leisurely manner, sleeping and playing much of the time, hunting or grazing without a sense of desperation.
- Accounts of hunter-gatherer societies consistently report that what we might call "work" is limited to 10 or 15 hours per week.
- Ancient agrarian societies, say from 10,000 BC to 1900 AD, were the exception, in which there really was not enough to go around, and the leisure of each privileged man relied on the uncompensated toil of many slaves, servants or serfs. But then...
- I've been reading a utopian novel from the 19th Century full of descriptions of ways in which capitalist competition wastes effort and material, expending the lion's share of our energies in duplicative efforts, or in trying to defeat one another.
The folly of men, not their hard-heartedness, was the great cause of the world's poverty...I showed them how four fifths of the labor of men was utterly wasted by the mutual warfare, the lack of organization and concert among the workers...Let but the famine-stricken nation assume the function it had neglected, and regulate for the common good the course of the life-giving stream [of productive labor], and the earth would bloom like one garden, and none of its children lack any good thing. -- Edward Bellamy, 1888
- Bertrand Russell in 1932 already perceived that
Modern technic has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor necessary to produce the necessaries of life for every one. This was made obvious during the [First World] War. At that time all the men in the armed forces, all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or government offices connected with the War were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of physical well-being among wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance; borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The War showed conclusively that by the scientific organization of production it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. -- Bertrand Russell, 1932
- Presently, over 1/3 of the world's food production is wasted. Another 40%+ (depending on the report) goes to feed livestock causing extremes of pollution and global warming, while wasting 90% of the caloric content. Simply re-distributing the world's GDP could supply a middle-class standard of living to all 7 billion people, even without addressing the massive inefficiencies and counter-productivities of our industrial and transportation systems.
- We are caught in a long-established habit of competing with one another not just for the comforts and pleasures of a luxurious life, but for status and rank that, by their nature, can only be available to a minority.
- In America, 11% of all our productive time is spent in commuting, and another 10% is spent in looking for employment. ShadowStats.com says that the real unemployment rate in America is 23%.
- 4% of our labor goes to agriculture [ref]
- 12% of our labor goes to primary non-farm productivity
- 3% goes to warehousing and distribution of goods
- 2% goes to education
- 2% goes to research
- 19% of our productivity goes to marketing = convincing people to buy things they didn't know they wanted. [ref]
- 7% of our GDP is in finance - stockbrokers, bankers, financiers, insurance agents. One way to look at their work product is a massive Casino for re-distributing wealth, in which their 7% is extracted off the top.
- US military budget is 4% of GDP. We spend as much on our war machine as all the rest of the world's nations combined.
- 10% of US workers are in retail sales, though their income is only 5% of GDP
- More than 5% of our productivity goes to incarceration of criminals. I have not seen a full accounting of the cost of crime to the American economy, probably because so much crime goes unreported, undetected, or (in the case of very expensive white collar crime) it is actually condoned.
- "Health care" absorbs 18% (more than twice the average for the rest of the world), but half of that is in overhead and paperwork for insurance. A good deal of the rest is not making us any healthier, but is
- defensive medicine, protecting hospitals against liability
- treating addictions and diseases caused by self-harm
- treating industrial accidents
- treating iatrogenic diseases acquired in hospitals and as a result of malpractice or mistaken diagnoses
- helping people recover from violence
The big picture is that we will all be happier, healthier, and friendlier when the struggle for survival is no longer a condition of our existence.
A simple escape from this cruel and absurd situation in which we find ourselves is the Universal Basic Income. We recognize our collective wealth, and bestow on every citizen enough money for food and housing. Everyone, rich and poor, gets the same monthly check. Then those who wish to read or watch TV or compose music or write a novel can do so. Those who want to supplement their UBI can seek part- or full-time employment in a labor market that is far less crowded. The crime rate at society's bottom will plummet because no one is desperate for survival. We will no longer have to funnel our young people into education as a way to keep them out of the job market. People will be able to retire without fear, or take a few years off from work to raise a child or to travel or to write a novel.
A great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by the belief in the virtuousness of work, and the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work. -- Bertrand RussellThe Universal Basic Income is an idea too good to be suppressed much longer. It has been proposed in Switzerland, trials are beginning in Finland. Richard Nixon sent a UBI bill to Congress. There were local experiments in Canada in the 1970s. There is a successful pilot ongoing in Brazil. There are advocates from Robert Reich to Mark Zuckerberg, Martin Luther King, Thomas Paine, Charles Murray, Elon Musk, Dan Savage, Keith Ellison and Paul Samuelson. A new study by "serious" economists says that UBI will add $2.5 trillion to the US economy.
Just as important is a reduced work week. People who have jobs complain they are working too hard, while people without jobs suffer daily anxiety and discouragement. Americans work more hours than Europeans, but have higher unemployment. Paid vacation in America is rarer than it was 20 years ago, and much shorter than in France, Italy or Germany. 40 hours pay for a 28-hour workweek (4 seven-hour days) would be a modest beginning.