Just imagine getting $1000.00 each month for free from the government, no strings attached. Sounds good, doesn't it? This monthly "free money" is called a Universal Basic Income, or UBI. To make the idea even more attractive, Andrew Yang dubbed it the "Freedom Dividend". Read on to understand why a better name would be the "Status Quo Dividend", "Revolution Insurance", or the "Proletariat Bribe".
source: Wikimedia Commons
The problem with UBI can be summarized in a sentence; it keeps intact capitalism's innate economical injustices, it doesn't do away with its built in class division. And this is a big problem as it is, but will become an even bigger problem when most human labor is automated in the future; I'll get back to that. Let's first examine why Yang's Freedom Dividend is so popular, not only with his online supporter base but all kinds of people on the political left and right. To begin with, UBI itself isn't a means-tested program which makes it truly Universal and makes it so that you keep 100% of the income you earn from any job. Welfare programs usually are means-tested, which means that any income you earn with a job is subtracted from whatever the state gives you. Say you get $500 each month from the state and you find a part time job that earns you $400 a month, you still have $500 to spend per month. If, in that scenario, your job earns you $600, you wouldn't get anything from the state anymore, which means working the job only nets you $100, a proposition most people will refuse if at all possible. With UBI you'd get to keep every dollar you earn, on top of the monthly free money; it always pays to get a job in this system. And the fact that it's truly universal, which means even billionaires would get the $1000 freedom dividend, has the important psychological and moral effect of every universal program: it cultivates a sense of true unity among the people of all classes.
But... Even though UBI itself isn't means-tested, it will have an effect on all other social welfare programs that usually are means-tested. Under Yang's plan you'd have to choose; keep your current benefits or take the $1000 a month Freedom Dividend. Yang said that his plan would replace many of the existing welfare programs; it would make poor people responsible for their own monthly expenditures, and it would remove the need for most of the bureaucrats who's job it is to try to "motivate" the unemployed to accept any shitty job that comes along. Yang phrases this like: "people would rather have cash than have the government take care of them". This is a problem. Not to speak badly about the poor among us, but it's a well known fact that people who don't have money are of course not so good at managing money; they've never had the money to manage to begin with. Also the lower classes are much more likely to make unhealthy lifestyle choices, some of them economically induced like eating cheap unhealthy food. The biggest and central problem however is that a UBI doesn't solve the problem that Yang himself supposedly tries to solve.
Yang's rightfully concerned with the coming waves of automation that will eventually erase most jobs; in a future where most people won't be able to find a job, it's necessary to provide the people with a base-income so they can keep their homes and not starve to death. And there's the reason why a UBI has nothing to do with economic justice or economic freedom, even if Yang's website says that "the Freedom Dividend would provide money to cover the basics for Americans while enabling us to look for a better job, start our own business, go back to school, take care of our loved ones or work towards our next opportunity". Yeah, it sure sounds great. That is until we do a Marxist analysis on the whole deal. What we have now is a neoliberal capitalist society in which we have two classes: the ones who make money through ownership of capital (landlords, factory owners and major shareholders), the bourgeoisie or capitalists, and the ones who make money through labor, the proletariat or working class. These two groups have conflicting interests; your boss will always pay you the minimal amount of wages he can get away with, while you want your wage to be as high as possible, likewise landlords will want property values to be as high as possible, to make more profits, while tenants want property values to be as low as possible, so they can afford the rent. If there's one thing I wish people would be more aware of, it's that their boss is not their friend, not someone to suck-up to but someone to fight against, and that to do so they need unity among their ranks...
This is capitalism's problem, and everyone with even the most basic understanding of Marx's writings knows that. With Yang's plan, or any other UBI, this problem will not go away. Imagine a future where the capitalists own all the machines that do all the work; productivity will soar and wages are a thing of the past as everyone now gets Yang's "Freedom" Dividend, just enough to maintain their status as an obedient consumer and not die. The gap between rich and poor will become astronomical, even more so than it is already. We'll all be thrown at the mercy of the capitalists, who are understandably very much in favor of a UBI. Yang explains the real purpose of his plan as follows:
"Really, the universal basic income is necessary for the continuation of capitalism through the wave of automation and worker displacement. Markets need consumers to sell things to. UBI is capitalism with a floor that people cannot fall beneath."
And to be perfectly clear, the same goes for income redistribution through progressive taxation; social democracy as proposed by Bernie Sanders and effectuated Franklin Delano Roosevelt also don't solve the problem of economical injustice. Only the true socialist proposition will cure the ails of the class struggle; in a future where the machines are owned by the workers who produced those machines is the only just future and the only future where civil class war can be avoided. It's that, or the dystopian world described in so many science fiction narratives. UBI could work for now, as a temporary solution to soften the effects of the current pandemic and any other future economic disruptions. But it should be fought tooth and nail as a permanent "solution" to unemployment.
Why UBI Isn't Progressive
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