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Why We Need a Guaranteed Income. Soon

Why We Need a Guaranteed Income. Soon.

Paul Buchheit

A thought for Labor Day: In the not-too-distant future we might wait around for a package delivery, hurry off to class, grab a taxi downtown, meet the family for dinner, and then take the train home. All without being served by a single human being. No delivery person, no teacher, no cab driver, no food server, no train conductor.

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This is an amazingly informative and important article. Thank you, Paul Bucheit. Over the last 40 years productivity in the US has increased over 72%, but hourly pay has only risen less than 9%. We need serious changes in our economic system. Mr. Bucheit points the way to a much improved modernization of a capitalism/socialism amalgam.


This goes out to Matt Heins and other forum parrots of right wing talking points that insist that any taxes on the rich = taking the profits they fairly earned away:

“The wealthiest individuals and corporations are the main beneficiaries of tax laws, tax breaks, property rights, zoning rules, patent and copyright provisions, trade pacts, antitrust legislation, and contract regulations. The largest companies benefit, despite their publicly voiced objections to regulatory agencies, from SBA and SEC guidelines that generally favor business, and from FDA and USDA quality control measures that minimize consumer complaints and product recalls.”

Right wing Libertarians are very fond of all those freebies for corporations, but when it comes to making sure that Grandma has Social Security–for them, THAT is an unfair entitlement.

The Conservatives who love money (their own) but show such callous disregard for people should rename their party that of Scrooge, Inc.


“Yet instead of demanding payment from the biggest polluters, we give them subsidies of over $5 trillion per year, …”
And that 5 trillion is nothing more than a ‘guaranteed income’ for the corporate welfare queens – we give to them and they take from us. It’s way past time for them to give back to us! Where’s Robin Hood when we need him?

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If everybody got enough to live on then they’d spend their time trying to earn more whether by getting an education, investing, starting a small business, creative efforts like music and art, finding that better paying job but most of all… everybody would be spending money that keeps the economy hopping!

Any extra money one earns helped change China from backward to forward in a generation. It started by allowing small farmers to keep the profits the extra profit made from working overtime after meeting their quota. People worked real hard, got more money, bought more land and China found it’s economy started to zoom. Liberalization of the economy followed.

If people all got a minimum income, people here would do the same. They work those extra hours to get more money even if it were just a part time job. Meanwhile stores would sell their wares and businesses would have customers.

What other solution will there be in an automated world? Just let people starve? I’m not all that interested in losing weight.

another advantage of a basic income society is doing away with minimum wage

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Sure. That decision comes directly from voters and American citizens… as in pay no attention to political graft, cronyism, and quid pro quo campaign financing agreements made good upon once the latest faux representative of The People assumes office. Add in all those deals where entities like ALEC WRITE the bills behind closed doors that magically become law… and then paid fools like you insist that it’s WE, the citizenry that made these choices. LIES told often!

"One of the earliest experiments with guaranteed incomes was the “Mincome” (minimum income) program conducted in the town of Dauphin, Manitoba during the 1970s. The results were never made clear, partly because of a change to a more conservative government, which put the program’s records in storage, unevaluated.

Two elements pop out in this observation.

  1. that “conservative” in the current lexicon means a configuration of both dynamic and content: a) constant growth criteria, which is based on ‘externalization of costs’ (remits also to the principle of first recognizing the societal principles of rights, to free, prior and informed consent of those impacted by proposed extractive activities and subsequent rightfully claimed compensation; 2) evisceration of the governance infrastructure in administering and upholding laws in society.

Sunlight/sunset concepts are eviscerated when legislation and product testing is funded, conducted by and applied by the interested party - not to mention in revolving collusion with regulating agency staffing by the same interests. Sort of an unspoken variation on a patent construct that is profoundly corrosive in all dimensions. Conflict of interest is currently, for all intents and purposes, simply rendered an ‘externalized cost’.

FOIA staffing/funding infrastructure not only reduced, but the process itself also subjected to the miasma of all of the above along with NSA knots, lacunae and interests scrambling in the delusion(s) of ‘constant growth’ metrics.

Its like trying to nurture a society with one of these

“Citizens of Switzerland and Finland have voted in favor of basic incomes.”

These direct democracies use voter initiatives and referendums to make such changes and circumvent the oligarchy’s system of bought representation. Trying to get politicians to tax the oligarchy that owns them is like trying to take meat away from a pack of crocodiles.

Lawrence Lessig is the only candidate talking about referendums. I would like to hear that word word from my candidate Berne.

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Please, let us not overlook that extra $1 trillion that flows annually to the top one percent from profits generated from stagnant wages over the past 35 years. That would be more than enough to pay a guaranteed income - or a big increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit - plus pay for tuition-free colleges.

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Read my comment again and see if you catch your mistake – the part you quoted from my comment was the comment that I quoted from the article; ergo, your comment should be directed to Mr. Buchheit.

BI (Basic Income), or UBI as I prefer to call it (U=Unconditional) in my view represents the consequence of the triumph (total domination) of the 1% over the 99%. I am not saying that this triumph is already a fact, but we certainly seem to be headed that way. Once a critical mass finds itself cornered into a desolate state, without a role to play in our hyper-efficient economy, and without a physical space in which to develop an alternate existence, what is there to do? That critical mass, which recognizes itself as being no fundamentally different from everybody else, has no other choice than to demand a REAL share of the economic pie, in exchange for nothing, and unconditionally: UBI. Note that it is universal (Bill Gates and the Koch brothers get the same share as you and I and as the homeless drunk we pass by in the corner every morning). With such a system in place, work will continue, but more in the periphery of life. UBI will keep you alive and with dignity, but without much comfort and certainly no luxuries. In varying degrees, folk will want to work. A majority will work a little, a few will do it more intensely (as is now the norm), out of personal choice. Most people will have a chance to get a little more than the UBI will provide, but it will be a voluntary choice, not a coerced one. How about that for a useful definition of “freedom”?

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Problem is that’s technically the system we already have. The problem is “needed work” generally won’t keep pace with the sheer volume of unemployed and unemployable. Further, by separating the disabled (which I am, although my case was ultimately rejected on two appeals), you retain the massive bureaucratic system that tries to decide who is worthy and who isn’t. It’s that ethos that got us here.

We need to stop obsessing over the people who might get a minimally free ride. It’s not worth the cost to catch one “wrong doer” if you obliterate 1000 innocent lives in the process. We need to grow up.

It was always claimed that the point of technology was to eventually make work obsolete, then we need to prove that we ever believed that and support the humans tossed aside in ever labor efficient markets. And if we didn’t ever believe that, then we need to jettison efficiency as an economic value and begin to do things the slower and more labor intensive way again.

Your choice. Or utter destruction. You can choose that, too.

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A lot of comments on this completely miss the real point of the need for a guaranteed income, which is reasonable since this real point was not really fully expounded in the article.

There are two issues. One is how much wealth a society creates. Wealth is products and services. The second issues is how that wealth is divided.

We live in a system where how wealth is divided is done in two tiers. The vast majority of us trade our labor for a small share of the wealth. Even those whose labor is in professional services and are ‘upper middle class’ still only get a small share of the total wealth created. The small elite get their vast share of the wealth by selling to the majority the products and services the majority create through their labor at a price higher than the cost of that labor.

This system is unstable and doomed. Why? Because the whole lynch pin of the system- that workers create the wealth but get a small share of it because the elite own their products- is being replaced by technology where wealth can be created without workers.

We are at the very beginning of this revolution (if we don’t destroy our biosphere before it can happen.) This robotic revolution will be much bigger than the two previous revolutions: the agrarian revolution and the industrial revolution. When it is completed we will live in a society that creates vast more wealth than we have now but will not need workers to create it. Imagine any product or service you can think of not needing workers to create them.

The owners, stuck in the Capitalist mentality, continue to try to make the old system work, and it has been so far for them in great ways beyond the dreams of a generation or two ago. They seek less cost of production, in other words less workers to pay or cheaper paid workers. But at some point this trend will no longer work. The workers will have less share of the wealth and not be needed to create it, but the system generates the elites vast share of the wealth by selling the products and services to the majority and at some tipping point the majority will no long have enough means to purchase the goods and services.

So we will have a society where products and services are extremely abundant except the ex-workers will not be able to purchase them because they have no income because they have no jobs because they aren’t needed to create the products and services because of the robotic revolution. But then the elite won’t have any profits.

If the system doesn’t change first, what will happen is the wealth of the society will grow and grow and the percentage of it that goes to the elite will grow and grow as their profits increase until suddenly the system collapses and profits vanish.

We need to invent a new way of sharing the wealth to replace wages and profits as the new way of creating the wealth replaces the need for labor.

I see two possible scenarios. One is that the elite realize they don’t need or want the vast majority who used to be needed to create the wealth and then to purchase it. They’ll just instead own what their technology creates for them and let the rest of us go to hell-- or even worse, find ways to get rid of us. Perhaps they’ll set their robots on us like in Terminator. Perhaps they’ll have us turn on each other like in the Purge. Most likely they’d send out a virus to kill us or in a more gentle way make us all sterile like in Children of Men.

The more hopeful scenario is the vast wealth will cause a consciousness shift among the wealthy and they won’t see a need to hoard the wealth. A guaranteed income is a first step in this consciousness change.

The idea that the guaranteed income should be one of austerity so people are still motivated to work just misses the entire point since there will not be work available soon. The guaranteed income needs to be enough so people don’t need to work to have the means to share the wealth and share it abundantly. From each according to his ability doesn’t work anymore after the robotic revolution.

We are trapped in a mentality that still thinks in terms that are rapidly becoming outdated. We still assume:

  1. Everyone’s share of the wealth must be earned- by labor or by capital investment to generate profits.
  2. Wealth is created by labor of humans working.

Technology is rapidly changing the latter. Will we change the former? That requires a political revolution. A guaranteed income is a small first step in that revolution.

(This is something I’ve been saying now for 30 years.)

But it is only a step, because it still operates on the old system where the owners depend on their overwhelmingly vast share of the wealth being due to profits, which happen when the majority purchases their goods and services. Since the majority can’t earn the means to purchase them through labor, they are guaranteed an income, so they can then purchase them.

So half of the system is being propped up. The demand side of the equation is propped up so the elite can still generate their profits. This is basically like the old feudal warfare system trying to continue in the old ways by adding more and plate armor to the knights. Although we romanticize about knights in shining armor, it was really a failing attempt in the last generations of that system of warfare to use the old system despite the new technology of gunpowder making it obsolete. Eventually armor just stopped being used.

Eventually the elite will stop using profits to increase their wealth and thus there will be no need to give money to the majority to purchase goods and services to generate those profits.

A socialist solution is that the elite don’t own the means of production, society does and all in society should have an abundant share. An equal share is also nonsense because it is still thinking in terms of limited wealth and if we’re going to have to divide this wealth among us we need to be sure it fair and equal. That’s like five friends ordering two pizzas and counting the slices and dividing them up so no one gets less than anyone else. But what if five friends ordered twentyfive pizzas? Then worrying about equal shares become moot.

The reality is that if we are going to continue past this robotic revolution in any kind of just society, the idea of money and price will vanish as surely as the need for labor to create wealth and the idea that the elite get their vast share through profits of selling their goods and services.

Of course this is communism, the hoped for ideal communistic utopia. (Not the state controlled systems of the 20th Century.) When you need something it’s available and you use it. There’s no need to hoard (own) because of abundance of wealth.

Are there limits? Well of course. There are ecological limits. Those are generating the real crisis of whether we can get to a point where creating this vast wealth through robotics doesn’t at the same time destroy the biosphere as we know it. There are solutions to that- renewable energy, moving away from a meat based diet, recycling resources.

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LibWing, I have also been thinking about the UBI (unconditional basic income) concept for a while, although not quite 30 years, so you are obviously ahead of me. Here’s another related thought I’d like to hear your opinion on.

The spirit behind the idea is to tackle simultaneously two disconnected problems, one being the disappearance of labor due to robotics/automation, and the other the excessive carbon footprint of the world capitalist economy in its current state of development. The idea also provides us with a convenient response to the familiar right wing objection that it’s wrong to pay folks in exchange for laying around all day and doing nothing.

The idea is this: we develop, perhaps through a significant deployment of research from engineering and other applied fields (e.g, permaculture), an entire lifestyle that does not add any stress to the environment on a per-person basis. We are talking about a rather “smart” infrastructure, with both a physical and a social component. It would be offered to anybody who wants it, and as an alternative to the UBI cash payment that all citizens would be entitled to. The $ cost of this smart infrastructure (S.I.) on a per-person basis should probably be a little higher than the cash version of the UBI, so as to minimize the perception that it is a “cheap” alternative that the government want to push us into. In fact, folks taking the cash UBI would, in general, not be able to afford as good a quality of life as those participating in the S.I.

Before finishing, I need to insert an important reminder here. The option of doing work (remember, there will always be some need of work) for extra pay will apply regardless of how you choose to take your UBI, in cash or through the S.I. Let’s keep the two things separate.

With an S.I. type system as one of the options for how the UBI is dispensed to the citizenry, a person can choose to be a “free-rider”, to the consternation of right-wing moralists, and yet be able to claim “hey, I’m not polluting the environment”. In other words, in return for being a (small) economic burden, you accept a (simple and frugal) lifestyle that turns you into an ecologically neutral living being. As our consciousness evolves in a direction of higher environmental awareness and lesser economic obsession, this individual would have no reason to feel in debt to society. Maybe it would be the hard-working and high-spending folk who would gradually be viewed with suspicion (in some circles, this happens already).


Frugality and austerity are not the solution in my view. If energy is renewable and doesn’t leave a carbon footprint and if the creation of the products doesn’t pollute, have any carbon footprint then limiting how much of the products and services individuals have is unnecessary.

This is why I support systematic change over individual lifestyle changes.

I also don’t think buying into the idea that work justifies income and so the guaranteed income should be low to not go against that idea is yielding the battle at the start.

My beliefs on what needs to happen to protect our current biosphere are massive changes in our system- we need to end all fossil fuel burning, not just in vehicles but in power plants (and not use Nuclear) and we need to remove carbon from the atmosphere by setting aside large regions of land to grow high yield plants that are buried in the ground.

Now at first I thought you were going to say that those getting the guaranteed income would be hired to do the kind of work I just described. But we don’t need to do that, it can be done through robotic labor.

We need to move towards the idea that human beings’ value lays not in their labor but is inherent and it is a good thing for humans to not need to work- giving them time for leisure, family, recreation, arts and other creativity.

You miss-read what I wrote, but I know it’s complicated, and I’m not the best writer. I’ll leave it there.

But I fundamentally agree with everything you are saying, and most specifically with the part about the value of human beings not having to depend on their labor productivity. I was just trying to be more practical and concrete, but failed at communicating. I will mention though that I never said “austerity”, that maligned neo-liberal concept. Make sure you don’t inadvertently put words in other people’s mouths.

I know you didn’t say austerity, but in my view the idea that a guaranteed income must be low enough that those who get it can’t afford luxuries is austerity. The conservatives/neoliberals in both parties want those who don’t ‘earn’ their living through work or profit to have to live in this austerity. Thus the attacks on food stamp recipients that they shouldn’t be allowed to eat sea food or steak.

On the other hand you said that those who’d get the higher income would do so by being ‘frugal.’ What would you say is the difference between a frugal lifestyle and an austere one? I don’t think that a ‘frugal’ lifestyle is the answer.

Neoliberal austerity and simple living (frugality) may be not far in terms of their material cost, but they are the result of vastly different agendas. Austerity is meant to be punishing, whereas simple living is an opportunity to experience life outside the consumeristic treadmill that enriches the capitalist class and fails to deliver the happiness promised by advertising. Instead of participating in the work-and-spend paradigm that is designed to increase inequality and keep us unfulfilled, we should embrace any opportunity to learn to find happiness without linking it to a high-consumption lifestyle which, in turn, also adds to the ecological stresses which ultimately threaten to kill us all. So I thought my suggestion provided us with a win-win situation.