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The Proper Case for a Universal Basic Income

This web site serves as the anchor point for five short videos that address the following aspects of a Universal Basic Income or UBI:

•Video #1: What a UBI is and what it is not

•Video #2: Why a UBI is necessary

•Video #3: The effects of a UBI on our society and economy

•Video #4: What a UBI will cost and how we will fund it

•Video #5: What we will do in a post-jobs world

The reader is free to go directly to the videos by clicking on the highlighted button below labeled "The Five Videos". However, the videos and the context in which they were created are better understood by first reading the following paragraphs.

Motivation for The Videos

As I mention in the first video, these five videos and this web site are certainly not the first on this subject. I created them because I was deeply disappointed that those other sources so often failed to mention, or to make a proper case for, some of the most obvious needs and justifications for a UBI. Hence, the use of the word “Proper” in the above title. Those other sources often spend considerable time showing how a UBI can benefit society. They then cite those benefits as reasons to give everyone “free money”. I do agree that a UBI can provide many benefits, and can save our society from a host of current and future difficulties. However, I disagree that it is necessary to cite those benefits in order to justify a UBI, and I strongly disagree that a UBI is “free money”.

As I explain in the first video, I believe that every citizen owns an equal share of our societal infrastructure. That infrastructure consists of society’s accumulated knowledge and technology and our accumulated physical, educational, legal and military infrastructure. The value in that infrastructure was created by the total worldwide effort of all persons - past and present, and all current citizens are heirs to an equal share of that value. That infrastructure is used every day by businesses and individuals in the creation of value. Without that infrastructure, today’s enterprises would be much less prosperous or even non-existent. Therefore, a portion of that value should be paid, as a user fee, to us, the owners of that infrastructure. That fee could then be used to finance the UBI.

If the reader takes only one idea from this web site, let it be this one:

Every citizen is entitled to a Basic Income simply by virtue of our shared ownership of society’s infrastructure.

Therefore, a UBI is not free money. It is not welfare. It is not a handout, and it is not Socialism. It already belongs to each of us by way of common inheritance, and it does not need to be justified by its benefits.

Furthermore, to the extent that enterprises and individuals are failing to pay for the use of our infrastructure, they are misappropriating its value, and that must stop!”

I believe this idea has the power to sweep aside the current academic discussion of a UBI. Instead of the have-nots meekly approaching the wealthy and asking for a subsistence share of the economic pie, they can now simpy demand that the wealthy stop taking more than their rightful share.

I invite you to watch the videos and to judge for yourself the reasoning and evidence that led me to these conclusions.

How to Use This Site

The main topics of this site can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted buttons below. In addition, a Navigation Bar is anchored at the top of the page and contains pointers to those topic areas. Clicking or tapping on any pointer will bring that area as close as possible to the top of the display and highlight any associated button.

Universal Basic Income - part 1 - what a UBI is and what it is not

Universal Basic Income - part 2 - why a UBI is necessary

Universal Basic Income - part 3 - effects of a UBI on our society and economy

Universal Basic Income - part 4 - what a UBI will cost and how we will fund it

Universal Basic Income - part 5 - what we will do in the post-jobs world

The Rise of the Machines – Why Automation is Different this Time

An excellent video showing how automation once created more and better jobs than it destroyed, but also showing how that is no longer true. It also shows that worker pay and living standards have been declining as a result of automation for at least the last twenty years. The video suggests that a Universal Basic Income may be a potential solution for these problems.

3 Myths About the Future of Work (and why they're not true)

A TED talk by Daniel Susskind

Daniel Susskind claims that the threat of technological unemployment is real, and yet that is a good problem to have. Machines will make the economic pie bigger, but humans must still solve the problem of how everyone will get a slice.

How we'll earn money in a future without jobs

A TED talk by Martin Ford, author of "Rise of the Robots

A good explanation of how and why machine intelligence will advance to the point where it can do most jobs currently done by humans. Talks about how a UBI can move us to a post jobs world, and also how a UBI may be used to influence behavior and achieve society’s goals.

Why we should give everyone a basic income

A TEDx talk by Rutger Bregman

A good talk on the results of several Basic Income experiments and on the reasons to provide a UBI. Bregman likes to call the UBI “free money for everyone”, but he eventually acknowledges it as a “citizen’s dividend”.

Universal Basic Income Explained – Free Money for Everybody? UBI

An interesting animated video explaining the advantages of UBI over welfare and other reasons for adopting it.

Robots And AI: The Future Is Automated And Every Job Is At Risk

An interesting presentation on the types and number of jobs that may well be automated in the next ten years.

The Future of Your Job in the Age of AI | Robots & Us | WIRED

An interesting presentation on how jobs are lost to automation. It also talks about the nature and meaning of future work and how the Universal Basic Income may support that future.

Google's Deep Mind Explained! - Self Learning A.I.

A fascinating presentation on the technology behind some of the latest advances in Artificial Intelligence and automation.

Information on Basic Income pilot programs around the world – Wikipedia

An Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study of income inequality published in December 2019 and titled: “Top 1.0% of earners see (real) wages up 157.8% since 1979”

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies - Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee – 2014

A fascinating account of how exponential improvements in electronics and computer technology have recently reached the point where they have enabled the “digitization” of much of work and leisure (chapters 3 & 4). That digitization then enables additional combination and innovation (chapter 5). The result is the creation of much wealth – a good part of which is not included in conventional measures of GDP (chapters 7 & 8). Those same forces of digitization also inevitably result in increasing income and wealth inequality (chapters 9 & 10).

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future - Martin Ford – 2015

This often-cited book gives a sobering account of the problems of technological unemployment. The front cover gives the following warning: “The past solutions to technological disruption, especially more training and education, aren't going to work, and we must decide, now, whether the future will see broad-based prosperity or catastrophic levels of inequality and economic insecurity.” The book then makes a compelling case for a Universal Basic Income.

Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can Renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream - Andy Stern (with Lee Kravitz) – 2016

The author – formerly head of the Service Employees International Union – provides a sobering assessment of the future of work and how a Universal Basic Income will be our best strategy going forward.

The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future - Andrew Yang – 2018

A solid account of the number and types of jobs that are being eliminated by technology, and the reasons why new jobs will be insufficient to replace them. The author says, “Capitalism, with the assistance of technology, is about to turn on normal people. Capital and efficiency will prefer robots, software, AI and machines to people more and more.” He then discusses the advantages of a Universal Basic Income in helping to address this problem.

Click individual questions to show or hide their answer.

No. Being in the public domain simply means that it belongs to the public and anyone can use it. But that use has never been free. In the past, enterprises made payment by creating jobs for the rest of us. In today’s world, computerization, automation and globalization are resulting in the need for ever fewer workers. Therefore, some other payment method is necessary. That method should be a cash payment used to fund a UBI.

No. As I point out in the first video, Socialism advocates for Government ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods and services. A UBI simply does not require that. A UBI does, however, require that companies recognize that they derive considerable value from their use of our societal infrastructure. That infrastructure already belongs to the public, and enterprises need to pay a reasonable fee for its use.

As I point out near the beginning of the third video, there have been a number of pilot programs both proposed and implemented. They varied widely in location, number and type of participants, amount of money provided, etc. In general they showed positive effects on school attendance and graduation rates. Health effects were positive and stress and anxiety were often reduced. Negative effects seemed to be rare to non-existent. For more information, see the following Wikipedia reference: Basic income pilots

Video number four in this series discusses what a UBI will cost and how we will fund it. Fortunately the U.S. is a wealthy country, and a UBI can cost less than 20% of our GDP. A case can easily be made that the funds needed are already the property of every citizen.

No. If the UBI is paid for in the manner described in the fourth video, there will be no need to “print money” to cover its cost. Therefore, there will be no increase in the amount of money “chasing” the existing supply of goods and services. In addition, we can fully expect that computerization and automation will continue to improve and result in ever lower costs to produce goods and services. The result could well be deflationary pressures.

It doesn’t. It solves the problem of how to put food on the table when worthwhile jobs are simply not available.

No. A UBI only provides for basic necessities. There is no evidence that it will cause someone to give up a worthwhile job and just sit around.

This is a legitimate concern. If the UBI takes too much of GDP then incentives for producers will be insufficient to maintain production. It may well be necessary to limit the UBI to a certain percentage of per capita GDP by constitutional amendment.

While we don’t want children living in poverty, neither do we want people to have children simply because they will get more money. A workable compromise may be to give 0.8 of a adult UBI payment for the first child, 0.6 for the second, 0.4 for the third and nothing for subsequent children.

Our UBI should be for US citizens only. If other countries offer a UBI then their citizens working or studying in the US will receive their country’s UBI while they are here.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Age, the answer to this question has consistently been “Yes”. Machines have taken over much of physical labor and freed workers to do the better paid “brain work” of design, planning and supervision. But then, starting in the 60s and 70s, computers became less expensive and more common and brain work was no longer limited to humans. Over time, automation chased us out of the Agricultural sector, and into the Industrial and Services sectors. Then it chased us out of the Industrial sector as well. Now it is invading the Services sector and workers have nowhere else to find that better job. In summary we can safely say “This time it really is different”. Automation is destroying more jobs than it is creating.

This is a tricky issue that will likely be resolved through a gradual phase out of the Social Security program. One possible scenario would give current Social Security recipients a UBI plus a portion of their pre-UBI SS payment in recognition of their lifetime contribution to the SS program. Younger workers would see their contribution to SS reduced by an amount dependent on their age, and their eventual SS benefit would be smaller by an amount dependent on their age when the UBI started. The primary reason for phasing out Social Security is that it depends on contributions by current workers. That system is not sustainable in a world in which automation is continually reducing the number of workers.

Wealth and income inequality have been increasing for at least the last forty years. During that time, businesses were finding ways to operate with ever fewer employees. They were able to do that by using the increasing power of society’s knowledge, technology and infrastructure. It is not unreasonable to recover some of the value of that unpaid use by implementing, at least for a limited time, a tax on wealth above a certain level.

Yes. They have the same right to a UBI as any other citizen. However, their UBI payments should go toward paying for their incarceration and toward the support of any dependents they may have.

The UBI provides only a basic income. The costs for other needs such as health care and education will need to be covered by other public or private sources.

Any one country cannot control whether another country provides a UBI. As a result, a country that does could see an influx of people from a country that provides a lesser UBI or none at all. Limiting a UBI to citizens would prevent that. In the long run this should become less of an issue because the societal infrastructure that enables a country to pay a UBI would be seen as so valuable that it would be adopted worldwide.

Answer: I touched on this question in the second of my videos on UBI. Over 30% of our population has four or more years of college, and yet many of those people find themselves in jobs unworthy of their education. Furthermore, our efforts to retrain people for new careers often have dismal results. In the second video I offer the following quote from page 252 of Martin Ford’s book “Rise of the Robots”: “We are running up against a fundamental limit both in terms of the capabilities of the people being herded into colleges and the number of high-skill jobs that will be available for them if they manage to graduate.” “The problem is that the skills ladder is not really a ladder at all: it is a pyramid, and there is only so much room at the top."

It may well be true that certain of our predecessors added more to our accumulated infrastructure than others. However, it is difficult to determine how much credit is due and to whom, and should we try, the result will only be increased controversy. A more important question is whether certain groups should be rewarded or penalized for a mere accident of birth. The best solution is simply to assume that every person on Earth has an equal claim on our heritage.

Yes, but a person receiving only the UBI or even a small amount more will not have enough income to merit taxation. The wealthy will see the UBI added to their other income so that it will be taxed at their highest tax rate.

No. The UBI is not a discretionary Government program. It is the birthright of every citizen. The Government is only the transfer agent for payments.

A UBI could be cited as a reason to reduce or replace the minimum wage. The UBI could also enable someone to take a job that they like even though the job could not justifiably pay the minimum.

The money for the UBI must come from somewhere, and the opposition will come from those who will be paying for it. For the UBI to happen, the majority must declare that the UBI is everyone’s birthright – as described in the first video and at the top of this web site.

No. A guaranteed job program is difficult to define and implement, and people must be qualified for their job in terms of skills and location. In addition, guaranteed jobs may be of questionable economic value in a world in which automation does so many jobs better than people.


If you wish to engage in further discussion on this subject through a constructive exchange of comments, questions and/or criticisms, feel free to contact me via email by clicking here.

Sincerely, John Griffin