“the trouble comes when UBI is used as a way of merely making techno-capitalism more tolerable for people, when it is administered like a painkiller that numbs the pain and masks the symptoms of economic injustice without addressing the root causes of exploitation and inequality.” Jathan Sadowski
Universal basic income (UBI).
According to the online Merriam Webster dictionary, ‘universal’ is defined as
“including or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception especially : available equitably to all members of a society.”
So, if something is universal, doesn’t it mean that it will apply to everybody? If so, why are individual countries racing to experiment with UBI? (Sam Altman, chairman of Y Combinator and co-chairman of OpenAI, may be the exception to date but he is attempting that in a silo).
To truly address the root causes of exploitation and inequality, why isn’t the paradigm of ‘I win, you lose’ Nonsense surfaced? Is that because you are so preoccupied with surviving/getting ahead for yourself, you are not aware Business-as-usual is the water we swim in?
Most countries don’t even have a minimum wage but Silicon Valley technocrats like Bill Gate, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and others globally are universal basic income (UBI) advocates. To expedite the latest Business-as-usual gold rush, UBI could be an initial bait.
Money already exists mostly as digital entries in many distributed databases. As humans become surplus elements of production, wouldn’t money become Big Data — the new numeric gold for digital entities?
The Business-as-usual model of digital Big Business like Google, Facebook, Alibaba, Airbnb, Uber, Kickstarter, Upwork and etc. already revolves around us creating the value and buying their services and products while they retain all the key benefits.
Silicon Valley has also been selling itself as a new breed of global corporation — a utopian technological revolution to connect and empower people, regardless of their nationality or language so “the nation” can be obsolete but Yasha Levine believes “this was always a transparent sham.”
Why? Is it because the Business-as-usual function of extracting our value based on ‘I win, you lose’ to maximize profits has not changed one iota? It is the operating system of the “technostructure.” So, DO NOT MISTAKE a change of form, name, people or mere regulatory tweaks for change.
The more things change, the more many will try to defend a system that is no longer relevant because normalized — not many realize it keeps extracting their most important essence. Surveillance capitalism enthusiasts are now enthralling us with the convenience of ‘digital’ to have us willingly surrender our physical assets and the rest of our human value to them.
Excerpt from the introduction to ‘Is universal basic income pure hype’ chapter in Social movements powering the future of money:
“Early last century, Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” By folding Frederick W. Taylor’s concepts into factory assembly lines and paying sufficiently large sums so a middle class could emerge to buy the products they were making, Ford could even have helped modern-day capitalism go mainstream, soon after the creation of the Fed.
However, that way of life is ending as new technologies automate jobs and replace humans. Already, full-time employees are workers of the last resort. But because we live in a world where we need money to survive, many will likely say more better paying jobs if you ask them what they want. Or universal basic income (UBI) as some perceive that will give us the freedom to live as we please.
According to the Basic Income Earth Network, UBI is a ‘periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.’ This means every citizen in a participating country will receive some money (usually) every month, regardless of differences in social or economic positions, with no restrictions on how it’s spent.
Since we must pay for food, shelter, water, healthcare, all kinds of care, energy, safety, security, clothing and other essential necessities to live, the idea of regularly receiving a standard amount of money just for being alive is extremely compelling.
But Business-as-usual anchors a paradigm of artificial Scarcity that turns you into a self-absorbed individual to survive/maximize profit. Once you embrace its ‘I win, you lose’ logic, anything that can be commoditized and monetized will be (e.g. human beings and fresh air). In a world that brings out our worst, insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting not to be exploited.
Almost a century ago, John Maynard Keynes had predicted that by 2030, technology would have advanced so countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. Instead, zero-hours contracts prevail in many parts of the UK economy as it grapples with Brexit while the US is regressing into a third world country.
Commencing 1 November 2018, Amazon pays all its US employees at least $15 an hour. But instead of pay raises, Bloomberg has reported pay cuts will replace many workers’ monthly bonuses and stock options.
Based on how Business-as-usual practices socialize losses and privatize profits, can UBI be dangled to cloak a global power grab as progress for all of humanity?
UBI proponents tell us it is an idea whose time has come. They typically frame UBI around where the funding will come from, how it will banish poverty, drive away fear and improve our lives — albeit with the nagging worry that free handouts will make it harder for people to continue to be responsible and motivated.
Perhaps that’s why when Europe’s first national, government-backed experiment started giving 2,000 Finnish citizens free money in January 2017, many had assumed it was a trial run for UBI.
But a behavioral sciences specialist working in the Finnish prime minister’s Helsinki office shared with the Guardian:
“We’re just trialling one kind of model, with one income level and one target group. A full-scale universal income trial would need to study different target groups, not just the unemployed. It would have to test different basic income levels, look at local factors. This is really about seeing how a basic unconditional income affects the employment of unemployed people.”
According to Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project:
“The way the UBI experiment in Finland worked was they took people who were already on basic unemployment allowance (or labor market subsidy) and then gave them a UBI amount that was identical to what they were already receiving from those programs. The difference was not really an infusion of money. It was a promise that for the next two years, they could take up work without losing their unemployment benefits. So the plan did not give any new free money to jobless people as those jobless people were already getting that “free money.” And the reason the rules surrounding the free money changed for the experiment was to see if it would make them stop being jobless.”
Instead of creating conditions for people to thrive without paid work, it was just Business-as-usual — incentivizing unemployed people to take up paid work. Can that experiment be an excuse to withdraw welfare so services can be privatized as ‘a blueprint for the Finnish social security system?’
In 2014, the Economist proclaimed: “… no government is prepared” for the automation of almost half of all jobs within two decades. But Bill Gates still wants a world government, saying “the UN has failed.” Even though the Internet has the ability to directly connect us, the world’s second richest man still wants solutions to be centralized.
Economists call companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Alphabet’s Google “natural monopolies.” A ‘natural monopoly’ takes advantage of an industry’s high barriers to entry to create a ‘moat’ or protective wall around its operations.
Global Justice Now revealed in 2016 that 10 of the biggest corporations made more money than most countries in the world combined. Meantime, wages for most people globally have dwindled over the last few decades as Business-as-usual normalizes how governments fund ‘natural monopolies’ to privatize services, with many stashing away their profits in tax havens.
The system we depend on is built around having an income to buy what we produce. Households, businesses and governments also borrow, assuming their debts can be serviced by paying the principal and interest or by rolling into new loans.
So, what happens when that systemic arrangement is seemingly disrupted?
Money in circulation is already mostly digits on a screen. In the digital era, will UBI (and the cashless society) eventually transition us into even greater digital Scarcity?
UBI has been called “welfare for the rich” because the key value of our (aggregated) data will only benefit oligarchs. (For more, see Introduction).
The way of life Henry Ford got traction for, paying humans a decent salary to buy goods and services we produce, is evolving. But have free money experiments led you to believe our future will be more of the same with Business-as-usual entities continuing to pay most of us a salary?
UBI is not even new
Some 500 years ago, the first person to float the idea was Saint Thomas More as he saw how the social order was a “conspiracy of the rich” with many noblemen living like drones on the labor of others. Viewing such people as “greedy, unscrupulous and useless,” this ‘most human’ of lawyers published Utopia in 1516. His most famous work had imagined a simpler world where “each man” could become an “expert in law.”
For a time, he was also one of Henry VIII’s most trusted civil servants, and from October 1529 to 16 May 1532, the Lord High Chancellor of England. More was beheaded for treason for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy. Prior to his execution, he was reported to have said: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Then in 1962, Milton Friedman dangled his version of UBI in Capitalism and Freedom. Eight years later, he published a very confusing New York Times article titled ‘The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.’
At that time, the private sector firms in the US were starting to feel the initial pressures of global competition. Like many today, people had desperately wanted quick fixes.
As business executives scoured for ways to increase their returns, Friedman’s article could have convinced them they were “unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces … undermining the basis of a free society these past decades,” guilty of “analytical looseness and lack of rigor” for not exclusively focused on making money. The eventual 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics was disdainful of such “unelected government officials,” illegally taxing employers and customers.
Friedman’s push to prioritize making money over concerns for people (i.e. employees, customers or society) subsequently had Jack Welch call it the world’s “dumbest idea.”
But Friedman’s maximizing shareholder value theory is now fully embedded into the “technostructure” we depend on to survive. Based on Business-as-usual, wouldn’t free UBI money eventually lead to even greater artificial Scarcity?
US President Richard Nixon, known for unpegging the US dollar from the gold standard in 1971, had also explored basic income in the late 1960s.
Governments-led, one-size-fits-all approach?
Many governments (e.g. in Canada, Finland, Germany, India, Italy Kenya, Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, Uganda, United Kingdom and the Untied States) are in various stages of exploring/ implementing UBI.
In June 2016, Switzerland was the first country to vote on it. However, in the debate preceding their referendum, UBI proponents had proposed financing that with a value-added tax of 50 percent. As the tax system needed to sustain that would be brutally regressive, nearly 77 percent had opposed it.
AEI quoted a Lawrence Reed on Facebook describing Swiss voters who overwhelmingly rejected this proposal for a ‘Guaranteed Basic Income’ of almost $31,000 for every citizen:
“The Swiss decide not to steal from each other, launder the loot through a government bureaucracy and then give what’s left back to each other.”
Should other governments follow Switzerland’s initial idea to finance UBI from consumption taxes (something Bill Gates favors), people struggling to get by will spend all their UBI payout (or more) just to survive. Based on maximizing shareholder value, the cost of basic necessities will keep rising as corporations making them have no higher god than growth.
For example, a bakery chain produces one million loaves of bread at $2 each. With UBI money, more people can afford one. The quantity remains the same but with greater demand, the company raises the price (inflation). Instead of $2, the same bread is sold for say, $3 a piece. Without producing more, the company can potentially generate $3 million instead of $2 million.
Indirect taxes like sales tax or the VAT will also take a cut. By favoring people with other incomes and putting people who most need UBI money back to square one, wouldn’t this make UBI pointless?
Unless the real agenda isn’t people’s welfare but to use UBI to usher humans into an even more extractive system. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek has shared how UBI is a form of rent we pay to be citizens.
In The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie, he shares how Bill Gates’ wealth was because “Microsoft has imposed itself as an almost universal standard, practically monopolising the field” as Gates had “effectively privatised part of the general intellect and became rich by appropriating the rent that followed.”
As we experience “the highest level of mass migration seen since World War II,” mass migration is disrupting the foundation of nation-states and people’s lives. To survive in a new environment, vulnerable refugees are likely to be more receptive to new payment technologies and cross-border transactions.
However, if many people no longer live in their birth country and only your national identity guarantees you a universal basic income, wouldn’t families in economic precarity for State support see foreigners as competitors for public money? Wouldn’t that then seriously reinforce xenophobia?
Especially if the money for people not working comes from taxing the relatively few who work.
If governments are UBI providers, will they provide everything we need to survive, or will they just further widen the gap between the ‘Haves’ and the rest of us? To keep us dependent, helpless and exploit us for political gains by assisting the global elites to get even richer and more powerful?
Brexit, the Trump presidency, Spain being without a government, South Koreans forcing their first democratically elected leader from office and then jailing another president for bribery and embezzlement, yellow vest protests and other mass uprisings around the world, etc. Do they not show many no longer believe the current system we depend on works for them?
Transnational corporations’ veto power
“It is the very success of capitalism (greater efficiency, raised productivity etc) which produces unemployment, rendering more and more workers useless: what should be a blessing — less hard labour needed — becomes a curse. Or, to put it differently, the chance to be exploited in a long-term job is now experienced as a privilege.” Slavoj Žižek
Even as UBI hogs the global limelight, the progress of international trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Trade in Services Agreement (TiSa), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTiP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has remained shrouded in secrecy.
Most international investment treaties and free-trade deals grant foreign investors the right to activate Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a legal system written into a vast network of treaties. ISDS gives corporate raiders the power to sue, challenge and veto governments if that infringes on their rights and affects their investments. The World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) is the primary institution for handling cases that corporations file against sovereign states.
Since most people (including our future generations) are unlikely to have salaries, what is the real agenda? Is that to ensure digital technologies will let Big Business reap what they did not sow and to control us with our data?
“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative Commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.” Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief
Because foreign investors can veto government decisions, wouldn’t investor-state arbitration completely ignore human welfare, environmental sanity, peace, equity and justice? If only bottom line profits and market dominance matter, wouldn’t they keep driving a form of corporate-led globalization that is highly extractive of human and natural resources?
Meantime, is there also an invisible tug of war between old power and new with we, the booty they are fighting hard to extract from — especially the remaining billions at the bottom of the pyramid?
Transnationals like FAAMG, Uber and the Gates Foundation in the US and BAT in China have disrupted traditional power and increasingly, they dominate global politics. With traditional international powers like the UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO, WHO and UNHCR, etc. seemingly on the wane, there are new kids on the block. They include the G20 which comprises of economic power houses from both North and South, China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Silk Road projects supported by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — a new and alternate version of the World Bank. There’s also the Chiang Mai initiative in East Asia, the Shanghai-based New Development Bank and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
But with all the chaos that’s now happening, can all the above (along with UBI) be one global act to distract us from what’s truly happening — disguising surveillance as empowerment to lure us into co-creating a virtual domain with our physical assets and the rest of our human value? (See Introduction).
Business-as-usual has ensured too many are systemically blind to anything but the status quo. Remember, Hegelian dialectic is about manufacturing a crisis to dangle two polar opposites so we will clamor for a predetermined Solution we perceive will protect us.
But if all the power-hungry people know is ‘I win, you lose’ in artificial Scarcity, true Abundance will come across as nonsense. Why will Big Business honed on maximizing profits suddenly want to stop extracting our value? Instead of making us a product they can manipulate, control and sell, what is the likelihood they will pave the way for us to empower each other?
Likewise, do you expect anyone who has always been nasty to abruptly be nice? Most countries today don’t even have a minimum wage. As Business-as-usual prioritizes profits and their interests at the expense of workers, consumers and the planet, UBI is not as simple as getting free money.
For UBI to truly work for all of us, we will need an entirely different set of mindset, motivation and skills. Implications like mindset and long-term direction must be addressed first before we can collectively work out what can be done instead of just grabbing free handouts or joining the next Business-as-usual (digital) fad.
Do your research and look for patterns to decide if UBI is pure hype. Ask yourself whether our biggest problems can be solved, top-down, based on the same thinking used to create them with the Business-as-usual logic of extraction?
Hopefully, the views below will also set you thinking deeper into what’s truly happening before you rush in like ‘a headless chicken’ to augment even greater Scarcity as our shared future … _________________________________________________________________
To read the rest of the chapter, get your free download of Social movements powering the future of money between April 24–28, 2019 (Pacific time). It will also likely be available for sale on platforms other than Amazon some time from May 2019.
By 2030, the UN has mandated universal biometric national id cards for all and a growing consortium of international NGOs, private companies and UN agencies is also advocating how identity is to be a human right where individuals have “ownership” over their own identity.
Are we being prepped for a very different world?
As Business-as-usual entities work to entice you to a future where the future of money is surveillance capitalism, is UBI a form of private-public partnership to shove us into A Brave New World that Aldous Huxley wrote about in the early 1930’s? At a 1962 speech at Berkley, Huxley had admitted his book was based on what the elites were planning to implement for the world.
Is that the future you want for yourself, your present/future generations and everyone? Or don’t we first need a paradigm shift from artificial Scarcity to True Abundance instead of to Even Greater artificial Scarcity?
If so, please sign our petition when it’s out. In a world with almost 8 billion people, can we find 100,000 people who care enough about our shared future to sign and share it, walking their talk?
Each of us has the perfect gift to give the world … if we are able to each give what’s so uniquely ours — won’t we be able to create magic for and with each other?
Can strangers anywhere rediscover their innate value to build trust with one and all? That depends on you because a paradigm shift needs all of us to co-actualize like we did the Age of ‘I win, you lose’ Nonsense.
Some UBI articles