The Case for Unconditional Basic Income (UBI)

Transitions for Society: Job Guarantee and Basic Income

Prosocial Progress foundation (2014)

Film Review

This 20 minute documentary attempts to address the structural unemployment that seems to have become a permanent feature of monopoly capitalism. According to the St Louis Federal Reserve, as of February 2015, only 62.8% of working age Americans have jobs – translating into a 36.2% unemployment rate. A substantial proportion of the jobless are young adults between 16 and 24. Who face more or less permanent exclusion from the economy.

The premise of the film is somewhat unusual. The filmmakers lay out the proposition that the political elite could save capitalism by enacting an unconditional basic income (UBI) for all citizens. However based on past history, they probably won’t. Instead of making the necessary reforms, they will allow human misery and social unrest to increase until the system is overthrown by popular revolt. They see a small chance one or more European countries could enact a UBI. A grassroots Swiss movement has successfully petitioned for a (binding) UBI referendum in 2016.

Martin Luther King’s Call for a UBI

Martin Luther King first called for a UBI in 1967 – in combination with a job guarantee. He maintained the US could easily afford such a program based on the massive automation-related productivity gains. He could not have predicted the financialization of the US economy that would occur in the 1970s, when Wall Street abandoned manufacturing to focus on selling financial products. Nor that this transformation would ensure that the benefits of higher productivity would accrue to the capitalist class, rather than workers.

A UBI, financed by progressive taxation, pays a fixed income to all citizens regardless of their employment or financial status. The most common argument against UBI is that it’s wrong to pay people for doing nothing. However as one interviewee points out, western governments presently pay billions in subsidies to corporations who provide no social benefit whatsoever. If we paid these subsidies to real people instead of corporations, society as a whole would gain gains by reducing the social costs of chronic unemployment and poverty.

How UBI Increases Productivity

Studies in third world countries show that guaranteeing income security causes people to increase their productivity by working more.

The most interesting section of the film describes a pilot program in Madhya Pradish India, in which all men, women and children were paid a UBI. After eighteen months, investigators found their was a clear reduction in illness (due to better nutrition and improved access to health care), a clear increase in the number of women farming their own land and a significant increase in school attendance.