Universal basic income vs jobs guarantees: which one will make us happier?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/07/27/democratic-socialists-of-ameri.html



Universal income so that you don’t have to work if you are busy being a student or caring for a disabled relative or having a baby or being sick or whatever. Federal jobs guarantee that if you aren’t busy doing other shit, there will be a job for you.


Maybe I’m just pessimistic, but UBI feels way easier to deliver on than this promise:


Bingo. Different people will have different situations. If you’re 55 and are an old 55 having worked in hard physical labor - another job may not be your first choice.


In the words of Warwick university economist Andrew Oswald: “There is overwhelming statistical evidence that involuntary unemployment produces extreme unhappiness.” What’s more, adds Prof Oswald, most of this unhappiness seems to be because of a loss of prestige, identity or self-worth. Money is only a small part of it. This suggests that the advocates of a jobs guarantee may be on to something.

I’m always confused by people who insist that UBI would result in mass involuntary unemployment (or even mass unemployment at all, tbh), thereby producing a miserable populace that is not longer required to submit to the demands of a labor market that doesn’t give a single shit about them in order to not die starving on the streets. Like, sure, there are people out there who define themselves in relation to the work they do, and those people will probably be happier with a 9-to-5 supplementing their UBI benefit, but how many more people out there find involuntary employment to be the thing that ruins their life? How many people find themselves stuck on the bottom rung of the ladder because they’re trapped in a dead-end job with no recourse or opportunities because their 24 hours actually aren’t the same as Tim Cook’s?

If anything, UBI seems likely to improve the labor market, since employers will no longer be able to dangle “you’ll die on the street” over people’s heads as the alternative to “scrabble to make ends meet on shit wages for long, thankless hours”. They’ll have to actually make jobs worth taking. Take that federal jobs guarantee and instead put that money into ensuring that jobs which are vital to the operation of society (farming, sanitation, education, etc.) pay very well in order to incentivize people into taking them.

Seriously, UBI is basically taking the aphorism of “find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life” and building actual economic policy around it. UBI: follow your passion, because failure no longer means utter destitution. For a service-driven innovative-entrepreneur economy, that’s kind of a Big Deal.


Personally, I don’t tend to trust any ‘guarantees’ that come from the American government, just based on their track record… which is “spotty” at best.

UBI seems much more feasible, but having both programs simultaneously couldn’t hurt.


I lean toward a UBI in conjunction with or incorporating single-payer universal health insurance. That set-up will allow people who want to work (which, despite conservative stereotypes, is most people) to do so on their own terms.

Since scaling back on work hours is one of those terms I can see employers who feel that a job genuinely requires 40 hours a week of work splitting those hours between two or three workers if continuity isn’t a big deal. That means there will be more jobs available to individuals, just fewer hours per week for many of them, so a jobs guarantee isn’t as big a priority.

A jobs guarantee as an alternative has a lot of limitations. A WPA-style public sector programme might work outside of an economic emergency scenario but the state can only create so many jobs (especially in light of the increasing automation that’s in large part driving discussions like this).

All that is “should” talk, of course, because Fully Automated Luxury Communism is my goal. The greedheads who run things in the U.S. at the moment will implement UBI primarily as a way to prop up a consumer economy while continuing to concentrate wealth ever-upward and would implement a jobs guarantee as mandatory national service and conscription for young people and no-show sinecures for their cronies.


New band name…


Probably basic income. I can’t imagine people being paid fairly being a bad thing. If such excesses exist that people in Trumps cabinet can afford 10 yachts, I think those people should pay their fair share in taxes.


Yup. It’s not a binary choice. In fact, I’d say that permanent infrastructure budgeting should be a mandatory federal budget item as part of this nations compelling and continuing interests to maintain the infrastructure we all paid taxes to build in the first place. The flow of money that would create throughout the economy should go a long way towards generating the additional tax revenue a universal income would require.


It seems obvious to me that if we had UBI, some people would spend the rest of their days consuming entertainment and self-medicating. Some people will become philosophers and poets. I can’t imagine who would choose busy-work over one of those options.

What’s more interesting is to wonder how it would work out in a generation or two. Would we become a nation of scholars, or artisans, or couch potatoes? Would new classes arise, with insulting names for one another? I expect the answer would be all of the above, plus a dozen possibilities nobody has thought of.


Gibson’s maxim applies. Based on an estimate of a UBI giving someone $20k a year that future is here right now for any individual who has roughly $500k sitting in an investment portfolio or who’s being subsidised by wealthy parents. What they have to figure out is a way to distribute that future more broadly. Now which people (human and otherwise, my friend) have hundreds of millions of dollars salted away to be spent on things like multiple yachts and non-street-legal sports cars?

Here’s the original video.


The UBI proposals I’ve seen are too small to support either lifestyle. One way or another, you’d need to supplement it.

I’m guessing it would be a lot like it is now but with less poverty and suffering as well as giving people in bad jobs more opportunity to find something better which may end up raising the bar for all employees and employers since people won’t be trapped as easily in a bad job. Employers wouldn’t be able to get away with as much abuse, wage theft, etc.
But as far as what people will do, I think thats mostly about the person. If you are a couch potato now, you will be then. If art drives you now, it will continue to do so. If money and greed are your bag, that’s not going to change.

I know quite a few unemployed people who would jump at the chance for a solid job even if they had $500 a month for groceries.

edit to add: is it busy work? I was thinking it was infrastructure repair, construction, and that sort of thing.


I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I hate my job. I didn’t always hate it, but it’s become boring and tedious, and aspects of it have removed whatever joy I used to get out of it. But I’m not sure how to move on. If I had some kind of modest stipend to live on I would start my own business doing something creative and constructive, but the worry about making rent each month keeps me from taking that plunge.


Same here.

The whole idea that most people just won’t work at all if they’re not utterly terrified of starving or being homeless is a huge crock of shit; most folks actively want to feel productive and useful within the society that they inhabit.


The government does know how to cut a check. It has no idea how to create useful employment.

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Yeah, I think we could greatly expand those kind of public service, “quality of life”, jobs. Park upkeep, for example. Are there enough to give a guarantee of full-time jobs? No way. Not to mention the question of finding positions for people who are physically or mentally incapable or normal work.


The other thing about the guaranteed jobs is it assumes that the government will have an unlimited capacity to absorb massive changes in the available worker pool. A factory went bankrupt and abruptly closed down - okay, now this city needs five thousand new meaningful jobs that weren’t already filled yesterday. There aren’t a lot of jobs that fit that availability criterion which aren’t “dig this hole, now fill it back in”

Unrelated -
I’ve heard a lot of self-employed people, especially artists, saying that one of the biggest obstacles to following their dream was that if you quit your soul-sucking day job, you’ll lose your health insurance. If people had both UBI and universal health care, it kind of feels like that might be fertile ground for an explosion of creative output


And it would help create a better, more sustainable society, all around.


Definitely one of the primary goals of capitalism and market economies. /s

Want to know how it could work?