The Case for Universal Income

The Cost of Living: Do We Need a Basic Income

Directed by Shayne Blackwell and Wayne Welsh

Film Review

This documentary examines various argument, pro and con, for a Universal (Unconditional) Basic Income.

Britain’s highest profile UBI advocates are journalist George Monbiot and the late anthropologist David Graeber. The main arguments they (and others) offer are

  • Britain’s extremely high levels of extreme poverty and destitution, despite being the fifth richest country in the world.
  • The systematic dismantling of Britain’s welfare system (over the last four decades).
  • Growing food poverty levels among Britain’s working poor.
  • An aggressive speculative property market,* a major driver of inequality.
  • The need to free up working class Brits to perform work not considered “employment” (child and elder care, higher education, and voluntary work).
  • The protection a UBI provides against exploitative treatment by employers (employers are forced to provide better working conditions when employees have the freedom to say no.
  • Ongoing loss of jobs do to automation and offshoring and relocation of manufacturers overs.

Although the documentary was released prior to the 2020 COVID crisis, the economic crisis triggered by global lockdowns has only accentuated the dismal working conditions of the world’s working poor.

The main arguments used against UBI are that that it’s “too expensive” (meaning it would lead to higher taxes and/or debt); that would encourage laziness by removing the incentive to work); and that it would cause inflation.

David Graeber (author of the History of Debt) points out that that the “too expensive” argument stems from a misunderstanding of where money comes from in modern society. At present, in most countries other than China, governments allow private banks to issue 98% of the money in circulation as loans. This includes loans to government to cover budget deficits.

Graeber stresses that allowing banks to create and control our money supply is a political choice. There is nothing to stop government from issuing their own funds to cover their deficits (as both Lincoln and Roosevelt did).

Ironically (as becomes clear in the film), people who endorse the “laziness” argument assure us they would continue working despite receiving a UBI – it’s just other people who would quit working.

Prior experiments with UBI in Indian and African communities produced decreased a decrease, rather than increase, in inflation. The additional community income caused an increase in goods and services in the economy. This, in turn, tended to drive prices down.

*A Universal (Unconditional) Basic Income is a system under which government provides regular, permanent cash payments to each citizen, regardless of their income or work status.

**In the UK, as in the US and New Zealand, the primary cause of housing inflation is a monetary system that allow banks to focus most of their money creation in the housing market (rather than the productive economy) without any effort to regulate the amount created.

Public library members can view the film free at Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into your search engine.


4 thoughts on “The Case for Universal Income

  1. There is one very good argument against UBI encapsulated here
    In a nutshell:
    “Once self-reliance has been lost, so too has self-confidence been lost, and the Savior State dependent–individual and corporation alike–soon distrusts their ability to function (my word here – independently)”

    “Once a community dissolves into atomized individuals who each get a payment from the Central State, then they no longer need each other. Rather, other dependents on the State are viewed as competitors for the State’s resources.

    These atomized, isolated individuals have a perverse relationship with the State and what remains of the community around them: lacking the self-worth earned from work or engagement/investment in a community, then their only outlet for self-identity is consumption: what they wear, eat, drink, etc. as consumers. This lack of purpose and meaning is destructive to well-being; we all want to be needed and valued by our circle and society.

    This dependence on the State and corporate monopolies also serves the State’s goal, which is a passive, compliant populace of dependents, and distracted, passive workers who enrich the owners of corporations with their labor and pay their taxes to the state. This dependence on the State and a hollow consumerism are ontologically bound: each feeds the other.”
    Check out the link…
    We need to completely relocalise into self built communities of softer impact thought and action …ideally make a central government at many levels un-necessary…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting perspective, Steve. I’m in total agreement about the need to rebuild community. My personal view is that the global elite is scraping the bottom of the barrel in their desperation to preserve capitalism and their personal wealth. My preference would be to dismantle it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I actually think the global elite are winning hands down … provided they wish to continue on a pathway that ends up completely degrading this planet. Look at their success to date in controlling the USA! Dems or Rebs what is the difference? Zilch.Trump opposed war a bit more in some regards…?
    I don’t think dismantling nicely is possible. Unless it is through many individuals and families rapidly (or as fast as you can see the need) pulling out of the mainstream economic system inasmuch as you maintain the ability to control land and land use as a collective group. Or separately will do if you must …or if others make that the only option for you personally. The problem is finding ways to cut the ties to the economic system. And our current ways of thinking.


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