How A Universal Basic Income Could Create A More Sustainable Society

I don’t think any child’s dream is to make lots of money. We certainly aren’t born with any innate need for money itself. But at some point in our lives, we are introduced to money and the eventual need to earn it. For many, it comes at a time when we are just beginning to learn about the world and what excites us most about it. Just when we are beginning to open the doors to possibility, the adult in the room says, “yeah, that’s really nice and sweet that you want to feed people in need, but what are you going to do to earn a living?”

What did you want to do before people told you that you had to "earn a living?"

A World Where People Follow Their Passions

“You mean I can’t do what I really want to do?” we wonder. With a universal basic income (UBI) – an idea in which the government replaces all other forms of monetary assistance (welfare, social security, etc.) with a yearly stipend given to every adult of say, $20,000 per year –  this would all change. For the first time in human history, people would have a realistic opportunity to follow their childhood passions instead of being forced to work jobs or develop careers they are dispassionate about just to survive.

For many, this world is hard to imagine. Today, humanity has the ability to create a world of sustainable abundance where everyone has access to everything they need and most of the things they desire. But overcoming long held societal values that see money as a reward for hard work will be difficult. A shift in mindset is needed to see every person as inherently worthy, rather than seeing every person in terms of their ability to produce. For this reason, it is important to understand the philosophical justification for a UBI, for it reveals some of the deep underlying flaws of our predatory capitalistic economy and the way it views human nature. Given these flaws, how we fund a UBI will go a long way toward the effectiveness of the shift in mindset from an age of ownership to an age of access. A poorly conceived plan could further tensions between social and economic classes. But this article will focus on the potential of a fairly funded UBI to transform consumer society into an ecological society.

Let us stop and imagine for a moment what we might do if we no longer had to work in order to meet our basic needs. In the present system, we are all burdened with the stress that comes with knowing that failure to earn a living could result in social isolation, the worst punishment possible for a social being. Imagine the psychological shift in knowing that no matter what happened, you would have a roof over your head and food to eat without having to give anyone any of your time. How would not having to work to survive change your day to day life? What might you do instead? A UBI has the potential to unleash unimaginable amounts of human time, energy, creativity, and passion that has the potential to radically transform society. Instead of everyone attempting to attain the same unattainable “dream” sold to us by the advertising industry, people would have the means to pursue their own unique dreams, or just focus on the quality of time they are able to give to their relationships with their family, friends, and community.

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If you could pursue your childhood dream, what would you do?

A Universal Basic Income Could Create A More Sustainable Economy

As people have time to adjust to this newfound freedom, a number of positive changes could develop. One major change will be the nature of work itself. For one thing, employers could no longer take advantage of people’s survival anxiety as the lack of a job would no longer lead to a life on the streets. Instead, workers will demand a more dynamic and higher quality work experience. The really hard and dirty jobs would also have to pay more. The choice between working in a coal mine or being a homeless beggar is a lot different than the choice between working in a coal mine and living off the basic income. Jobs would have to be interesting and offer chances for people to learn and grow. The days of people being exploited by the market wage would end.

Because people would only work in jobs they enjoyed, people would likely be far more passionate about their work. A recent survey said that 70 percent of people would quit their jobs if they no longer had to worry about money. That is 70 percent of the population that would rather be doing something else with their lives besides the thing they are doing. This systemic drudgery takes a toll on our lives in the form of fewer smiles, less laughter, and only a fraction of the joy that might otherwise be possible. Freed from this drudgery, what beautiful thing would you do?

A universal basic income could spawn all kinds of alternative living arrangements. Certainly, there are mobile home parks where you could live a decent quality of life on your own if that’s the way you want to live. But five people could also pool their basic income and have access to $100,000/year of guaranteed income. That’s enough to buy a house together. Those huge suburban houses with millions of empty bedrooms could become communal living houses, helping people meet that universal need of feeling like we belong to a community, of being needed and mattering to others.

On a system level, there is enormous potential to shift away from a very unsustainable economic model centered around private ownership and towards an economics based on access. To meet the needs of the emerging $4 trillion/ year life services market brought on by the UBI, new companies – call them life service companies (LSC) – might create all-inclusive amenity packages tailored to your preferred lifestyle in exchange for your basic income every year.

The LSC might offer a “travel” package that includes unlimited food at a number of supermarket chains, a place to stay at a hostile, health care, and an all-you-can-ride train ticket. There might be a “family” package which would include a 3 bedroom apartment, access to all city museums and national parks, access to transportation on demand (Lyft/Uber), and an entertainment package.

The LSC would be able to take advantage of efficiencies of scale that come when we pool our resources together. Instead of everyone owning their own everything, people can gain access to (almost) everything at a fraction of the cost. A LSC might maintain a dozen boats for a certain lake for a thousand people to share instead our current system where a thousand people each own their own boat. The LSC would also be able to “close the loop” on our industrial processes. Instead of selling products that the individual is responsible for, an LSC would sell access to products that they actually own, creating an incentive for companies to recycle and upcycle when their products are nearing the end of life. Large technology companies would still exist to service the LSC to meet the needs of their subscriber bases more efficiently. People would no longer see technological unemployment as a bad thing as the more efficient the LSC becomes, the more access to the world their subscriber base would have. This is a kind of “trickle down economics” that actually trickles down and is felt by every member of society.

Access to higher level perks might be available for an extra fee, which people could earn by working. Speaking of work, these LSC would likely become the economy’s biggest employers as well. Most people would work part time at a LSC doing the same things they do now – cutting hair, waiting tables, operating theme parks, etc. – to earn extra income to afford access to luxury items, just like they do now. The difference is that now, no one goes hungry or sleeps outside. Everyone is accepted into society regardless of one’s ability to work and no one is excluded from participating simply because they couldn’t find a job. This is what a humane society looks like.

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A universal basic income would enable people to opt out of contributing to economic growth and make possible many types of alternative living arrangements.

The Freedom to Follow Dreams

The cultural shift resulting from a UBI would be profound. As everyone begins to feel the freedom from the survival anxiety that dominated their previous lives and gain access to much of what society has to offer, money starts to have far less power in our lives. The vast majority of people who would likely subscribe to a LSC might never have to touch money again. A feeling of abundance would begin to overtake the experience of scarcity as people could access what they needed whenever they needed it, reducing the incentive to hoard or act greedy. Greedy people would be laughed at instead of put on the cover of Fortune magazine. People will likely no longer be defined (or judged) by their careers and achievements (or lack thereof) and instead be able to define themselves however they choose. Competition would still exist behind the scenes as LSCs compete for your basic income, but as they become more efficient through automation and technology, everyone benefits from the increased access instead of just a few people, and those unable to find jobs no longer have to sleep outside in the cold.

The possibilities that could emerge from the creativity unleashed by 7+ billion free people are unimaginable. There will be so much healing to do, both for the people and the planet, but we will finally have the time and space to do it without having to worry where our next meal will come from. The scarcity that drove tensions between people and countries would cease to exist, bringing with it an invitation to explore the vast cultural differences that make the human race special. Perhaps the most important change would be a very new feeling for all of us – a feeling of a shared prosperity, that we are all in this together. Now this isn’t utopia – as long as life is finite, there will always be heartache – it’s just a hell of a lot better than what we are doing today.

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Freed from the burden of earning a living, what beautiful thing would you do?

There is enormous potential to shift away from a very unsustainable economic model centered around private ownership and towards an economics based on access.
Chris Agnos

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