Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) is the idea that every citizen should be guaranteed a paid income simply for survival. A basic income would help pay for necessities while also promoting liberty and an egalitarian society. With the potential to transform 21st century society, the UBI can have major beneficial outcomes in the fight against poverty, the labour market and on economical and societal benefits. This paper will examine the arguments for the implementation of a UBI, arguing why such a policy would be beneficial to humans and society.
An unconditional basic income is a regular income guaranteed to all individuals, including children who are a part of a political establishment regardless of employment, financial background or means tested. The UBI would provide individuals with a minimum standard of living by allowing access to life’s necessities such as food, shelter and clothing. The UBI would be paid out monthly and is used instead of other forms of welfare such as food stamps or unemployment. The UBI would not stipulate any conditions on how the payment should be used but would rather be at the discretion of the individual.
The aim of a UBI is to form a society that is free and equal, through increased living standards and the emancipation of poverty (Basicincome. org, 2015 & Van Parijs, 2005). Firstly, a UBI makes the strongest case to achieve a society that is free and egalitarian. An income is essential to have access to the necessities of life. When a person does not have access to a form of income they are inhibited in what they can provide for themselves. Existing welfare programs established by governments dictate what the individual should be able to purchase, therefore constraining these individuals.
The very idea of a UBI is liberating as it comes unconditionally. It is inevitable in life that society will be filled with diverse people with differing abilities (Van Parijs, 2005). A UBI gives all individuals, regardless of ability or inherited wealth the financial tool of an income in order to sustain their own lives, forwarding equality throughout society. The basic income is an effective tool to help alleviate individuals from poverty. When people live in poverty they lack the conditions of material existence that are required to exercise freedom (Raventos, 2007 p. 1). As inequality continues to rise world-wide, it is coupled with rising poverty. Inequality affects individuals’ access to healthcare, education and economic potential, thus leading to the perpetuation of the poverty cycle. (United Nations, 2013 p. 66, 73). The UBI aims to free individuals from the chains of poverty by providing access to a minimum standard of living for all citizens. The UBI distributes wealth more equally throughout society, lowering inequality and in-turn poverty. Studies have confirmed the reduction in poverty and inequality.
A study conducted in India in 2010 over eighteen months focused on how more than six thousand individuals were affected once they received a small UBI paid monthly to all individuals, including children. The study found a significant reduction in indebtedness and a drastic increase in savings: new housing increased by 10%, the UBI increased the amount of people who had sufficient food from 50% (start of pilot) to 82%, and children were better nourished resulting in an improvement in weight-for-age that affected mainly girls.
Overall, health improved from an increased ability to afford medicines and a healthier and sufficient diet, the disabled saw considerable improvement in access to food and medicine which even led some to become economically active. In addition, school enrollment increased from k-12 by 12% along with an improvement in attendance and grades (Standing, 2013). The tremendous effects of the implementation of a UBI in India prove that by providing shelter, access to healthcare, food and education, individuals are given tools to combat poverty nd inequality. As the UBI strives to promote a society based on the ideals of freedom and equality, poverty is a natural opponent, though it can be seriously constrained. The UBI yields the incredible power of changing the way the labour market and the economy work. A UBI would incentivized people to work unlike the current welfare system. Currently, the labour market is faced with disincentives because individuals lose welfare benefits at the same rate their income rises, which has disproportionate effects on low-waged jobs.
When a low-income earner returns to work they lose their welfare benefits and begin to pay taxes, ultimately leaving the individual in a financial situation that is only slightly better or even worse than on welfare benefits, thus reducing the incentive to return to work ( Worstall, 2015). When the UBI is administered as to provide for the minimal standard of living where all basic needs can be met, people are incentivized to work so to be able to supplement their UBI in order to have a better standard of living.
A study conducted in 2013 in Uganda examined two groups of people, one which received a UBI and the other which did not. The study found that recipients of the UBI worked an extra 17% compared to the control group, proving that no disincentive is apparent when a UBI is issued (Blattman, Fiala & Martines, 2013). The UBI would encourage self-employment by reducing risk in the startup of a business. Entrepreneurs expose themselves to risk as they have no fixed income and cannot guarantee that there will be customers for their goods and services.
If a UBI was in place, entrepreneurs would have more financial security as they would already be able to afford to live (Raventos, 2007 p. 82). The UBI would also make it easier for individuals to obtain loans to fund their business as the basic income would serve as collateral for the loan (Mordanicus, 2015). This increase in self-employment would also result in more innovation and a more competitive economy, ultimately resulting in lower prices for the consumer. The decrease in prices was confirmed by the UBI study in India in 2010 (Standing, 2013). The UBI can also transform the way we hink about other forms of work such as domestic work – labour performed around the household such cooking, cleaning and caring for the young, old and ill, or voluntary work – tasks such as social services, education and aid work. In the case of domestic work, it is disproportionately worked by woman than men, and a UBI would facilitate a reduction in some sexual inequalities between sexes. As voluntary and domestic work receive no financial recognition, a UBI would also serve as a means to financially recognize both forms of labour and the benefits they bring to society.
Individuals would not feel so constrained by employment and its importance for survival, providing more freedom of choice to participate in either voluntary or domestic work, encouraging endless possible social changes which could have great benefits to society. (Raventos, 2007 p. 86,87,88 & Wright, 1999). In the age of automation, technology is displacing workers who rely on an income as their sole means of providing for themselves and/or their families. As the capitalist system dictates, to maintain competitive, businesses must automate and reduce expensive human labour.
The replacement of human labour concentrates wealth in the hands of the machine owners, therefore furthering inequality (Labret, 2012). This technological unemployment leaves the working class without an income and at an increased risk of falling into poverty. The economy also suffers as consumers have less money to spend and can no longer afford the goods and services of businesses. Though this technological advancement is inevitable, a UBI can help in alleviating the symptoms of a changing economic landscape.
By making sure people avoid poverty, the UBI provides a safety net for the unemployed while also allowing them to stay economically active, providing stability for the economy (Schneider, 2015). A UBI would provide a more egalitarian and free labour market as workers would be able to refuse employment. The UBI would act like a union, improving the individuals bargaining power as they would be able to live with or without employment. Wages for work which is unfavourable would increase relative to wages of enjoyable work while working conditions would improve for unfair or degrading jobs.
The empowerment of individuals would force employers to innovate and disband unpleasant work (Wright, 1999 & Basicincome. org. uk, 2015). The UBI, with its fundamental ideals of liberty and egalitarianism, can help shape society for the benefit of all. Because a UBI is a simple form of welfare it will reduce all the bureaucracy surrounding the welfare system. Programs such as food stamps, unemployment and housing benefits can all be removed. Streamlining all social welfare programs would result in much less over-head costs and a smaller and more efficient government (Basicincome. org. uk, 2015).
Having the ability to eradicate poverty a UBI would decrease shame among the poor which would in-turn increase happiness, as all citizens would be empowered and have the financial means to care for themselves (Stone, 2015). The financial security of a UBI would also create a society where the arts and culture can flourish (Basicincomeireland. org, 2015). Mental health problems caused by financial stress would be significantly lowered, as confirmed by a study conducted in Canada during the 1970s (Belik, 2011).
Society can even become a safer place as seen in Namibia where crime dropped 36. % with the issuance of a UBI among citizens (Chung, 2010). The areas of societal life that the UBI can effect for the better are almost limitless. The way our current system works, society has intertwined the ideas of an income and an individual’s labour with our very survival, resulting in the majority of people having to work in order for survival. The forced nature of our labour market does not promote liberty for the individual. Capitalism has established a mentality deeply ingrained in us that we must compete with one another in order to afford the basic necessities of life.
It is time we recognize our basic human right of the right to life and pursuit of happiness. One cannot pursue happiness and life when the very means of our survival are tied to our labour. By changing the very way we think about an income, we can begin to accept the idea of a UBI and the change it would bring to society. Providing a UBI makes society more free and equal by re-distributing wealth without means tested, so to ensure all citizens have the right to live with financial security, dignity and self-respect.
Individuals would be incentivized to work in order to supplement their UBI and obtain a better standard of living. Economic activity would therefore increase with less risk for individuals as the ability to work and innovate as they wish would liberate the individual while sharing their gifts with the community. Poverty could become an issue of the past and society a much safer and stable place when everyone is afforded the same economic opportunities and access to basic human necessities. The numerous positive effects that a UBI can have will help to bring out the best in individuals, society and our capitalist system.