The Case for Universal Basic Income

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the idea that all citizens of a country should regularly receive an unconditional sum of money in order to pay for basic living necessities. In practice, UBI would replace the current welfare system and it’s numerous existing programs as a more transparent, efficient, and affordable alternative. UBI would ultimately eradicate poverty and prepare us for the future economy that is rapidly changing due to technological process and automation. Let’s take a closer look on how UBI could work in the American economy.

In America, the poverty line for a single individual is $11,880. Thus if UBI were to provide every citizen between the age of (18-64) with $12,000 a year, it would instantly bring every citizen above the poverty line. This will allow a couple things to happen. First the need for a minimum wage law would become unnecessary because it would no longer have to provide a basic living, and therefore involuntary unemployment would no longer exist. Competition would thrive and people would be more willing to take risks knowing they’ll always have $1000 in the bank every month.

Secondly, women would be reinvigorated into the economy. Women disproportionately provide the majority of care taking roles in families for children and elderly which is work that is monetarily uncompensated for. UBI would thus be a transfer of wealth to care takers (and therefore mostly women) and provide them with compensation for work that they already do for free. Indeed, UBI would be the biggest feminist revolutionary act of our time.

While the economic boom that UBI is capable of providing looks promising, some skeptics have challenged it on several fronts. One criticism of UBI is that by providing people with free money is that people will have much less incentive to work. This is a fair criticism, but it is one that can be addressed by changing the tax system to a more progressive one.

In the current welfare system, benefits are phased out as workers earnings increase. This creates poor incentive to work, and in some cases like those with disability insurance, the choice is binary: work or receive benefits. With UBI, workers will only stand to gain from working and educating themselves to fit the needs of future markets.

Another strong criticism of UBI is it’s relationship with families that have a lot of children. Should UBI provide more for these families? Is this fair? And perhaps more importantly: Is this economically sustainable? This is a problem directly related to overpopulation. You can read more about this in my blog post Overpopulation: A Road to Dystopia. As far as I can tell, UBI advocates haven’t been entirely convincing on this front. However, some argue that this will be a non-issue.

UBI will require a change of mindset in the way we view work in our everyday lives. It will require us to accept the uncharted territories of a new world that has an abundance of resources, massive automation, and a diminishing need for traditional work. Despite the challenge this presents, I’m incredibly optimistic to the implementation of UBI in the near future (25-40 years) here in America. I expect this conversation to elevate onto the national level in the coming years.

For further reading on arguments for and against UBI, some recommended articles:

A Guaranteed Income For Every American

The Case for Free Money

My Second Thoughts About Universal Basic Income

Why a Universal Basic Income Is a Terrible Idea

If Robots Steal Out Jobs, A Universal Basic Income Could Help

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Overpopulation: A Road To Dystopia

Ever since the Black Death in the 14th century, caused by the Bubonic plague, the growth in human population has been on a constant rise. And within the last century, these numbers have risen exponentially. Indeed, in 1927 the population on earth was estimated to be 2 billion. Less than 90 years later in 2016, we have a population of 7.4 billion and it’s continuing to grow.

There are several contributing factors that have led to this population explosion. The most significant being attributed to declining death rates. Thanks to modern medicine and technology, we’ve been able to overcome problems of widespread hunger and poverty. Fertility treatments and better medical facilities have led otherwise fatal diseases and defects to be recoverable. And today, we reap the benefits and comfort that these advances have provided us.

The question remains: Should we be concerned about overpopulation? Within the scientific community there is diverse opinion on both when and what amount the population will peak at before stabilization or decline. Scientific studies have ranges of time as early as 2050 to 2300 and beyond. Estimates for the peak of population hover between the 9-12 billion range. (1, 2)

However, many of these scientific studies don’t take into consideration the potential scientific breakthroughs that may occur over the next two centuries. What if, for instance, it becomes normal to live to be 150 or even 200 years old? Considering the existence of super-centenarians, we should remain open and optimistic to the idea of increased human longevity. This would push the figures well beyond what many of these studies conclude.

Likewise, it is also possible that science could revolutionize the resources we need to survive and flourish. We have a limitless supply of energy in the sun and it’s only a matter of time before we begin to harvest this energy efficiently. In addition, the continuous evolution of technology like 3d printers may have enormous effects in the way we manage our resources. These kinds of innovations could nearly negate overpopulation as a problem altogether.

Of course we should remain skeptical of such ideas. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how our population growth plays out over the next several decades and whether this growth becomes a major problem. If it does become a problem, what are the philosophical consequences? Will we need to enable policies that discourage people from having children? Would that be ethical? My libertarian leanings may certainly begin having doubts.

Imagine a world with extremely scarce resources. People are starving and poverty is rampant. Every new child being born into this world would suffer this same miserable existence. In such a world, it may be morally reprehensible to not get an abortion. Can you picture such a thing?

The consequences of overpopulation are definitely reminiscent of those in dystopian fiction in many ways. And while this may be new territory for humans, overpopulation is nothing new for many animal species. When it does occurs to a species, it isn’t pretty. Nature has it’s own way of restoring order. One of two things tends to happen under these circumstances:

  1. There becomes an increase in their predators which naturally reduces the species.
  2. There becomes massive conflict over the remaining resources and there’s a major population crash.

Number one is common among several animals including snowshoe hares, deer and lemmings. If predators are not increased to keep the population low, number two becomes the inevitable result. Starvation and thirst becomes common, and eventually violent competition between their own species arises. However, some animals have learned to refrain from mating under such conditions thanks to their evolutionary pheromones. (1) Thus preventing conflict.

So how does this apply to us? Humans are apex predators, meaning we reside at the top of the food chain in which no other creatures prey. Therefore we would skip number one and go straight to number two. If humans weren’t to refrain from reproduction, we may escalate far beyond the violent skirmishes present in many animal species. In a worst case scenario, we could enter another world war led by fascist leaders. Just how far do you think some people would be willing to go under such dire circumstances? It’s a scary thing to consider.

It’s important to note that many of these violent outcomes are only possible if we let overpopulation get out of hand in the first place. Nevertheless, overpopulation may still present problems to a lesser degree including: major unemployment, increased global warming and a reduced quality of life for most people.

Whether or not overpopulation comes to fruition is yet to be seen, but the conversation needs to begin sooner rather than later. Someday, we may have to rethink our moral intuitions. For better or for worse.

The Age of Attention

A couple of days ago, I logged into my Facebook account to discover a seemingly never-ending stream of garbage. Of course, this isn’t new to anyone that has used Facebook in the last couple of years. It’s quickly turning into the new MySpace from years ago; scrambling to continuously keep our attention. And yet, this is exactly what is driving me away from social media sites like Facebook. Everything has to be interesting and attention-grabbing; after all, they depend on you and what you click on.

The problem with this attention-grabbing business model is that it promotes extremism. It changes how we view society and even our own personal lives. Mark Manson, a popular author, gave some clear examples of this in a recent article of his.

  1. Everyone seems like they are getting married, having kids, or having amazing trips around the world, because we are exposed to these events in disproportionate numbers. “It’s not that everyone is having amazing life experiences all the time, it’s that we’re always shown people’s amazing life experiences all the time. As a result, many of us begin to feel a constant gnaw of somehow missing out when really, we just have a heavily biased perception of what’s going on in our peers’ lives.”
  2. “The attention economy rewards people who are narcissistic and self-promotional because these people excel at getting attention. Therefore, it seems that everyone is becoming more shallow and self-absorbed, when in fact, we are merely becoming more exposed to other people’s self-promotion.”
  3. Politics. The more extreme, radical and ignorant views someone holds the better because they’re the most unusual and they grab the most attention. This makes it seem as if the world is full of crazy lunatics, when really, we’re just getting exposed to the people on the fringes more often than ever before. Donald Trump anybody?
  4. “Threats such as Ebola or terrorism become sensationalized, not because they’re actually that threatening, but because of their extremity and how much attention they garner. You’re more likely to get eaten by a shark while getting struck by lightning than dying from a terrorist attack. You’re more likely to die from the flu this year than you are from Ebola, ever. Yet, in our culture, it feels as though the world is in a constant state of imminent collapse.”
  5. “Pointless but dramatic events such as nipple slips, gaffs, errant interviews, and celebrities doing stupid celebrity stuff seem as though they are taking on a much greater cultural significance than they actually are.”

The internet has brought us an abundance of knowledge, but this luxury comes at a price- our own attention spans. We need to remember that social media is just a lens in which we can gather information and stay connected with the people we care about. Forgetting this fact will distort our perception of reality and ultimately change our lives for the worse.