Left of Eden? Beware the Bromide of a Universal Basic Income!
There’s no denying it. A Universal Basic Income was what God wanted for us.
Humanity, both examples of it, was secure in its Eden UBI. It wasn’t that basic either. All wants supplied- food, shelter, diversion and companionship -albeit companionship rather cis-gendered and heteronormative to the modern eye.
But then came that unpleasantness with the fruit*, and the first job interview ever. It was a shocker.
“The ground is cursed because of you,” said the First Boss.
“You will eat from it by means of painful labour all the days of your life.”
So, mankind came off UBI and has been off it ever since. Hard boss that one.
And we can see that, from the first, employment was never meant to be easy or fun. Sure, we’ve made it a lot more so, at least in the West where people are employed at record levels and richer for being so than ever before.
We’re no longer starving in April, T.S. Eliot’s cruellest month when last year’s harvest was exhausted and this year’s still far off. We’re no longer crushed to death in mine collapses or routinely butchered while the remorseless cogs of industry grind on. Most of us don’t start working at all until we’re quite old by historical and global standards. And we can still expect to be supported once we “retire.” Most people on Earth have no idea what that word means.
But the labour market can still be a scary place. There are few jobs for life, those unable or unwilling to stay fluid enough to cope with breakneck technological change are in trouble. There are no guarantees. But here’s the thing. ‘Twas ever thus, and the odds against those not born into wealth are stacked lower now than they’ve ever been.
We should be extremely wary of bromides from politicians who suggest that the scary parts of getting out into the world and earning a living can be sidestepped with State money. The competition, overwhelmingly in Asia, has no such illusions. It works harder and, increasingly, smarter than we do, and it makes its own provision for the future. Out of its own savings.
Western countries still spend vastly more than they can raise in tax, borrowing in the international debt markets secure in the erroneous belief that the world owes them the welfare states which they can no longer fund themselves.
We should also shun those who assure us that big, shiny tech will mean fewer jobs, must mean fewer jobs. Variants of this strain have been with us since we moved from the farms into cities. Hell, it was probably there when the hunter gatherers started to toy with this new-fangled “farming” malarkey. And it’s been wrong every time.
Now the putative benefits of future artificial intelligence are being used by the left to justify even larger welfare states, years and possibly decades before a fact which may never, in fact, be a fact. All industrial and technological revolutions have increased demand for labour.
So, if we are going to have UBI, I would suggest that the only force capable of returning it to us without economic calamity is the force which took it from us in the first place. And He’s not giving much away.
Leave it in Eden, where it belongs.
*Have you noticed, incidentally, that these days we all walk around with the fruit of the tree of knowledge tucked away in our back pockets and that, as often as not, it’s called Apple?
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