Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Basic Income, Part 2

In my last blog post, I wrote about what Basic Income is as well as many of the reasons it would be very difficult to implement. This time I'm going to talk about why we should take a closer look at the idea.

Of the 320 million people living in the United States of America, according to 2012 census data 46.5 million people live in poverty. That is approximately 1 in 7 people. This is a problem that goes beyond simple unemployment--even many people with jobs don't earn a living wage.

Any person with a shred of empathy would like to help solve the poverty problem, and I think it's clear that any solution is going to require some radical changes. Current efforts are insufficient: welfare is expensive and in many cases counter-productive, disincentivizing earning a paycheck; people are always falling through the cracks, generating an enormous homeless population; the entire process is rife with inefficient bureaucracy. In short, it's just simply not working. That alone is enough to make me want to look into alternatives like basic income.

The other reason was the one my friend Aaron posited when he first brought the subject up with me: he suggests that, given the increasing automation of the workforce as robots become smarter and better-made, there are simply going to be fewer jobs in the future. As the market for unskilled laborers shrinks, unemployment is just going to keep rising.

And I think that's worth considering, to some degree. I don't think we'll ever truly eliminate the need for unskilled laborers, but I do think that the market for them is going to shrink dramatically in the coming decades, maybe even in the next five years or so. However, I also think that prediction doesn't account for the fact that people want to work, and if one door closes they'll either find a new one or make their own.

And that's a good thing, because one of the chief concerns about basic income is that, by receiving a paycheck from the government each month, people will be disinclined to work. And perhaps some of them will. However, a study in Manitoba suggested that only a small percentage of people cut back their working hours when given a guaranteed income. This is, of course, due to the fact that basic income covers only the most basic needs--anything else needs to be earned, and most people are inclined to work to earn those luxuries. (The result of that Manitoba experiment are somewhat suspect, by the way, but it does keep with my understanding of people in general.)

As the unskilled labor market shrinks, though, new generations will find education more and more important so they can find work in more specialized fields. Basic income helps with that as well--imagine if, as a student, you did not have to work a part time job or mooch off of your parents while attending college. You may accrue student loans, of course, but that's another problem we can talk about later.

Anyway, when I started writing this post I wanted to talk about how basic income could actually work. After doing my research, though, I learned enough to realize I would need to spend a lot more time researching this idea to really grasp the logistics of how to implement basic income in the United States. That said, in my limited research I found answers to some of my biggest questions. The Wikipedia article helps put it into layman's terms and provides links to actual research articles, but the Basic Income Earth Network (a group dedicated to spreading information about basic income) answers a lot of questions directly on their website.

I honestly think basic income could be the most promising solution to the poverty problem which, if solved, will provide a better start on solving other problems like education and health care.

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