We've blogged already on the potentially disastrous effects a universal basis income could have on the work ethic in the U.S.
Today Dan Nidess, a writer in San Francisco, elaborates on that theme in a piece in the Wall Street Journal.
Nidess points out that the universal base income is suddenly popular with Silicon Valley types–from Mark Zuckerberg to Sam Altman– who see it as the way to address unemployment. This might not be such a great idea, Nidess writes:
Guaranteed income from the government may seem like the easiest way to address long-term unemployment, but UBI fixes only the narrowest and most quantifiable problem joblessness causes: lack of a reliable income. It completely ignores, and may exacerbate, the larger complications of mass unemployment.
In a way, the UBI is a war on the work ethic. Finland is testing a UBI on a small group of citizens (2,000), but there is already a large scale example of the UBI to which we may refer: Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, with their oil billions, have long guaranteed a basic income to all citizens. So how's that working out?
Perhaps more than half of all Saudis are unemployed and not seeking work. They live off payments funded by the country’s oil wealth.
And what has Saudi Arabia’s de facto UBI created? A population deeply resistant to work. Efforts by the Saudi government to diversify the economy have been hamstrung by the difficulty of getting Saudis to trade in their free income willingly for paid labor. Regular citizens lack dignity while the royal family lives a life of luxury. The technocratic elite has embraced relatively liberal values at odds with much of the society’s conservatism. These divisions have made the country a fertile recruiting ground for extremists.
. . .
At the heart of a functioning democratic society is a social contract built on the independence and equality of individuals. Casually accepting the mass unemployment of a large part of the country and viewing those people as burdens would undermine this social contract, as millions of Americans become dependent on the government and the taxpaying elite. It would also create a structural division of society that would destroy any pretense of equality.
In Men without Work: America's Invisible Crisis, Nicholas Eberstadt dealt with the growing population of men in what should be their prime working years but who are neither working or looking for work. Sorry, but they don't use their leisure to write symphonies and cure diseases. They are a demoralized population that devotes much of its waking time to video games. The reason that these men are able to live in idleness is that they can put together incomes from a patchwork of government programs. Do we really want to extend this phenomenon of demoralized idleness with a UBI?
Nidess offers a concluding prediction with which I do not entirely agree:
How long before the well-educated, technocratic elites come to believe the unemployed underclass should no longer have the right to vote? Will the “useless class” react with gratitude for the handout and admiration for the increasingly divergent culture and values of the “productive class”? If Donald Trump’s election, and the elites’ reactions, are any indication, the opposite is likelier.
But Trump's voters were mostly people who opposed government dependency. Their vote was in large part occasioned by a revulsion towards government dependence.
An even more frightening outcome of UBI (and in my opinion far more likely) is that it would create a huge dependent class that would vote to remain dependent. It would thus be a captive vote that inevitably supported the views of the progressive elites.
I suspect dependent "Life of Julia" voters would be a more likely outcome than rebellious Trump-style voters.