By T. Rebecca Hansen
A quick glance at literally anywhere on the internet will tell you that we are a nation in crisis – and I’m not talking about impending nuclear war or even our toupeed president.
Since the Great Recession, average Americans have struggled to make ends meet; wages have stagnated while costs of living have ballooned.
Single-income families are, for the most part, a thing of the past, and many adults work two or more jobs just to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. Nearly half of U.S. adults doubt that they will be able to live comfortably when they are no longer working.
We are returning to a sustenance economy, and for a nation that is supposedly a world leader that is frankly ridiculous.
It’s not like there too few resources to go around. Worldwide, the earth is perfectly capable of supporting the global population, and here in the U.S. we have more than our share of natural resources and innovative industries.
No, it’s a distribution problem, and the solution is so simple a child could grasp it.
We need a Universal Basic Income.
A Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a guaranteed amount of money that every person gets every month, no matter what. It can range from a small amount that acts as supplemental income to a hefty chunk that ensures the recipient will never need to go without necessities.
Universal Basic Income has been the subject of much research and experimentation in recent years as global income distribution has become increasingly lopsided. Finland is currently running a 2000-person trial replacing social programs with a basic income, while the Canadian province of Ontario is getting ready to launch a similar study in three cities.
Opponents protest that the cost to the government will be too great. Where will all that money come from? They also posit that giving everyone “free” money will encourage laziness. And who will do the work of running society if no one needs to work for a living?
These questions are understandable, yet demonstrate a misunderstanding of economics, the human psyche and the way society should function.
We already have the money for a universal basic income. Ten percent of the U.S. population controls 76 percent of the nation’s wealth. Business profits tend to disproportionately land in the pockets of the already wealthy, widening the gap between rich and poor and shrinking the American middle class.
The cost of this system is high.
Overworking is a major factor in stress-related problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. Poverty is also correlated with obesity, as well as with diabetes and a shortened lifespan.
It’s a very damned-if-you-do sort of setup; you can work 80 hour weeks to make ends meet or you can live in poverty. Either way you’re killing yourself slowly.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that until basic human needs – food, shelter, safety, health and sleep – are consistently met, it is impossible for a person to move on to higher levels such as creativity or self-actualization.
Imagine how much lost art and literature our hectic lifestyle produces every year.
The answer to the questions of laziness and a functioning society are related; namely, humans are naturally productive and creative.
We all have things we are good at; we love to be needed. The work will still get done, and by healthier, happier people. Income from work will be a bonus, a way to afford extras like vacations and art.
Are there jobs that are less desirable? Sure! Make them pay more. Imagine if being a garbage man was a high-paying position (it is, after all, a crucial part of making society work). Would you take the job?
The benefits of UBI are clear. With basic needs taken care of we can once again produce great artists, scientists, philosophers and poets. We will all be healthier and happier. We will eat better, sleep more, exercise longer. We will have time to cook real food, enjoy our loved ones and explore the world around us.
The real reason we balk at the idea of support with no strings attached is that we feel our worth is tied to our productivity and possessions. That is a concept we can afford to lose.