The Cost of Living: Do We Need a Basic Income
Directed by Shayne Blackwell and Wayne Welsh
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.