Douglas Rushkoff's sobering view of Universal Basic Income

Originally published at:


His buried premise is that we will all go out and spend this money with monolithic corporations, and not invest it in cooperatives or microloans or other grass roots wealth-building.

He may well be right. But I just wish he’d come out and say that.


Well let’s stop all benefits then. In a sense (according to op anyway), they’re all just bribes.

See how that works when the poor call round to burn down your house and haul you off to the guillotine.


Sure, collectivism is where it’s at, but many people also need UBI until we can bring about that change. Extracting ourselves from capitalism is going to be like turning a ship around, so until then, we need to be handing out life preservers to those who are already starting to drown.

ETA: My point has already been misunderstood. Collectivism and individual choice do not have to be exclusive. I’m merely suggesting replacing capitalism with collectivism. Individual entrepeneurship can and should be non-exploitative, yet still be able to compete against collectives if that individual so chooses.

If we moved individual basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, transportation, media) back to the public sector, but still allowed non-capitalist private sector variation (dining out, renovation, personal vehicles, entertainment) to thrive, I feel that would be a good thing.


Thanks for this. I needed a good laugh.


I was interested because of the headline, the excerpt was a let-down. Utter nonsense.

Being an economist, I was intrigued by the UBI long ago. It actually exists in some countries - for children. A subsidy for raising children with a fixed income per child is a UBI for the child.

So I looked up the poverty line of my country, and found there’s a different poverty line for single adults, adult couples, single parent with 1 child, 2, 3 etc, couples with 1 child, 2, 3 etc (after a certain quantity every other child adds the same amount).

I took the fixed amount that the children after the 4th or so would get as a UBI per child. Then used excel to look up what UBI for adults would be appropriate.

It turns out that a couple with 4 children gets lifted way above poverty line if we set the adult UBI right on the poverty line of a single adult. The effect would be even more pronounced if we assume a low cost of living area for the former and a high cost of living area for the latter.
The single adult would on the other hand become homeless or starve if we set the adult UBI right for a family of 6. Again, differences in cost of living have severe consequences.

As a conclusion, I suppose we either need a UBI that tolerates subsidies well above poverty lines or we need to combine an adult UBI & child UBI with a needs-adjusted cost of living subsidy.

UBI on its own is enticing in its elegance, but that elegance is also deceptive. Means testing and needs testing were introduced for good reasons. The optimum if´s probably a ‘golden middle’ compromise / combo instead of a single approach.
The ordinary means and needs testing subsidies for poor and/or unemployed people do have well-known disincentive effects and although those don’t matter much in bad economies (where one cannot have much of a career anyway), they do matter in good economies.


Isn’t that what’s happening already?


So first he says (about UBI)

Study after study shows that the added security actually enables people to take greater risks, become more entrepreneurial, or dedicate more time and energy to improving their communities.

Then he says

UBI really just turns us from stakeholders or even citizens to mere consumers.the ability to create or exchange value is stripped from us


Yeah, but, probably not.


I’m inclined to agree with this premise: that UBI is more controlling than freeing. I think a better solution would be to create a country/economy where minimum needs are easy to attain. Communal health care, education, food and shelter, etc. UBI focuses on the money instead of the people.


One can never overestimate the nobility of starvation.


I think this threat should be made and followed through with far more frequency than it is now.


Don’t we know that some of the greatest barriers to individual and/or collective civic engagement are largely resultant from individual financial hardship? If a UBI increases the likelyhood of individual civic engagement exponentially, but increases corporate “civic engagement” only marginally, is that alone not a catalyst for major public policy reversals which favor the public good? Of course we would have to listen to the red hat’s usual fever pitch whining about a “Democrat plantation” or some such nonsense, but that seems a small price to pay. I don’t think we can put a high enough price tag on a widely engaged populace that values good governance, has the time and energy to become politically literate/active and votes regularly, now that we see the results of the alternative.


I have a weird page issue I’m getting on iPhone: when I reply to the article it’s picking someone who has recently made a comment to reply to instead of the article itself.

Centuries ago, French economists discovered money was like blood. Poor circulation was bad for your health, whether in your body or in your economy.

Set aside UBI, things like employment insurance, social security, minimum wage ensure that enough money gets into the hands of the less well off that the economy keeps circulating money.

Whether or not you think it’s “fair,” it’s definitely practical. You can give businesses all the tax breaks you want, but what they need are paying customers. People with little money to their name don’t save it, they spend it. And that activity keeps the economy moving forward. But if all the money lands in the hands of a few who do everything they can to hide it from being taxed, you’re starving the economy from its life blood. If people don’t have money to spend, businesses close down, more people are desperate, everyone suffers.


Yeah, if and when that kind of revolution comes again, the median BB reader/commenter is beheaded years before the Jeff Bezoses of the world get theirs. There’s more of us, our wealth is more easily confiscated, and we were fully complicit in all the shit that trickled down from the top.

I mean, maybe Marx was right and that kind of proletarian uprising is not only inevitable but the only possible way to get the wheel turning again. But I hope not.


What exactly is “new” about this incarnation? My take from the article is that the only thing new is that it is coming from Silicon Valley. UBI has been a concept for quite a while and is one of the few things that both left and right are both intrigued by. The basic gist of the article seems to me to be an ad hominem- that if this is being pitched by Silicon Valley, there must be something wrong with it. I have a strong suspicion he wouldn’t have written this same article if he’d been giving a talk to a socialist org.

Tell that to a homeless person.

Is it though? UBI would be much more liberating. Collectivism involves everyone having a say in what activities are allowed with communal resources. With UBI, want to be an underwater basket weaver? If that’s your thing go nuts. Collectivists tend to want to collectively decide what is and isn’t a frivolous use of time and resources. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for personal variance.

I’m on the fence about UBI and I would like to see a lot more experiments. Preferably in other countries. Could be fantastic, could be a complete disaster of unintended consequences (i.e. millions of basket weavers, no janitors or accountants).


This argument is bewilderingly silly. Not least because it works equally well as an argument against employment.

It certainly does make a difference whether UBI is funded by printing money or by increasing corporate taxes. It’s a little weird that he just shrugs off that distinction.

I agree with @yetanother that it’s more important to move basic needs out of the market economy entirely. In an ethically defensible society, no one chooses whether to consume food, healthcare, running water, shelter, energy etc., and without choice, the logic of market economics simply doesn’t apply. So even in capitalist terms it is a mistake to use markets to administer those parts of the economy. (With the possible exception of food, which is a more complicated case than the others). Instead of being assholes squabbling about nonsense, we should just agree that housing and power and water and so on should be provided by the state in the first instance, with a secondary market-based mechanism to accommodate those who want mansions or 20MW power supplies.


I’m sometimes amused that in the constant calls for revolution here that there is an assumption that they will somehow magically escape the inevitable circular firing squads in the immediate aftermath.


An Anarchist FAQ – I.7 Won’t Libertarian Socialism destroy individuality?

No. Libertarian socialism only suppresses individuality for those who are so shallow that they can’t separate their identity from what they own…

Also further down the page

I.7.4 Does capitalism protect individuality?

Given that many people claim that any form of socialism will destroy liberty (and so individuality) it is worthwhile to consider whether capitalism actually does protect individuality. As noted briefly in section I.7 the answer must be no. Capitalism seems to help create a standardisation which helps to distort individuality and the fact that individuality does exist under capitalism says more about the human spirit than capitalist social relationships.

So, why does a system apparently based on the idea of individual profit result in such a deadening of the individual? There are four main reasons:

  1. capitalism produces a hierarchical system which crushes self-government in many areas of life;

  2. there is the lack of community which does not provide the necessary supports for the encouragement of individuality;

  3. there is the psychological impact of “individual profit” when it becomes identified purely with monetary gain (as in capitalism);

  4. the effects of competition in creating conformity and mindless obedience to authority.