I see people getting a lot wrong about UBI—but there are three things people get wrong mostby Scott Santens / December 3, 2018 / Leave a comment
In five years, unconditional basic income (also known as universal basic income or just basic income) has gone from an idea few people had ever even heard of to one many now think they know all about—despite often being misinformed, mostly by those who are themselves misinformed. The idea of UBI as a foundational social investment policy is an evolution of traditional safety nets, formulated in recognition of the evolution of work. Yet relatively few people, even in policy-making, have fully got to grips with it.
As someone who’s focused solely on this idea since 2013, I see people getting a lot wrong about UBI, but there are three things people get wrong most: its impact on work, the cost of implementing it, and the nature of the idea itself.
Traditional safety nets are targeted, meaning that only some people qualify, and only if they meet the requirements. What’s commonly not understood is that the targeting itself, not the money, creates a disincentive to work. Because benefits are withdrawn as income is earned, recipients can effectively see tax rates exceeding 100 per cent. It’s like asking people whether they’d like money, or more or less the same money plus misery. Which would you prefer?
Unconditional basic income has no disincentive to work. Because UBI is never withdrawn, everyone is always financially better off employed than not employed. UBI is a floor, not a ceiling.
Without a disincentive to work, the incentive to work then rests on the shoulders of those offering the work. Traditionally, such incentives tend to take the form of higher wages—but it can also be more meaningful work or more flexible hours.
What we mean by working and not working is also vital. Many seem to only think of paid work as work, but unpaid work is valuable work too, and “not working” can actually allow us to find better work.
For example, income guarantee experiments have shown people work fewer hours in a year. You’d think that’s all you need to know, right? But what if you then learned people were spending two more weeks finding a higher-paying more meaningful job that better utilizes their skills? What if they were teenage dropouts, and what they were doing was going back to school? What…