John Storey

UBI Is the Wrong Paradigm

Everywhere I turn I hear "we need universal basic income!" and "a liveable income is a human right!". Even "we need to provide it to everyone, not just our own citizens!". Because apparently printing infinite money won't lower it's value at all.

(Sorry, I mean this to be a positive post, not a cynical one).

This is a short write-up of why I think UBI is the wrong paradigm.

I just did a quick Google Search on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The lowest level, physiological needs, are

  • air
  • water
  • food
  • shelter
  • sleep
  • clothing
  • reproduction

The second level, safety needs, are

  • personal security
  • employment
  • resources
  • health
  • property

UBI is supposed to meet many of these needs. But it does it by introducing a dependency on the government to determine what you need, and pay it to you in a currency which has no fixed value. Fiat currency is what we have today, but I hold that depending on others each (month?) to send you what you need to survive is not security. It's servitude.

The proper way to provide this is to encourage people to have the means to meet these needs on their own, and make that inalienable. When they can provide their own needs, they will know they are not dependent on others, and that will give a real sense of security.

In practical terms, what does that mean? It means you don't want to be renting. Misfortune can take away your ability to pay the rent. So the government should be finding way to make more property owners who cannot, even by the government, have their homes taken away under any circumstance. Including not paying property taxes, or being hated by everyone else in the country.

They need a way to provide food for their family. How can they have a food source that works over years without being dependent on anyone? Well, in some way you need to produce that food yourself, or at least the majority of what your family needs to eat well and have plenty of nutrition. Maybe something based on aquaponics. Maybe micro-gardens. Maybe we raise goats and chickens.

How about energy? That's needed for heat, air conditioning, entertainment, and the internet, which carries the ability to participate in todays world. So I'd say solar, wind, and hydro power -- independent to your home. Electrical grids, at most, should be a backup for use in emergencies. The Net Zero movement misses it completely -- we need to be living in cities but have homes that are off grid.

A much smaller UBI (which might even make it feasible in reality rather than febrile imaginations) could then be used to cover the rest of life's needs. Add in a national health system that is measured on outcomes, not costs, and we start to have something.

I do not have all the answers right now. This is still early thinking on my part. But I have found someone addressing these issues. I don't believe it's the complete solution (though they appear to think it is) but Michael Reynolds in Taos, New Mexico has been trying to perfect Earthships for decades. Google it and see what he is doing. This is the type of solution I believe could achieve what UBI thinks it will accomplish.

Modern technology makes it cost effective to make citizens property owners mostly independent of all infrastructure. Do so, and they become resistant to dollars dropping in value; to national infrastructure going down (a small cyberwar with China would do that); to losing your job. Now you are living a free life with a degree of security unknown to almost any citizen of the United States today. Now one can choose what do do with ones life not fearing for survival or future.

What would you prefer? Hoping the UBI check shows up on time (oops! government shutdown), is enough (oops! inflation! bread costs twice as much now!), a future government does not decide you need 50% of what you used to get, and your rent does not go up over time (hah!)?

Or would you rather know it's all in your control? Let's change the world to give people security, not dependency. Let's give them urban living with the security of homesteads.

As a side note, let me point out that I do not say you need to believe all jobs will be automated away, or believe that climate change is real. This is actually about what governments should do for their citizens regardless of other situations. It is not a reaction to our particular time in history.