A Thought Experiment

Suppose you are an employee of a huge corporation where you’ve worked all your life. The company is phenomenally successful, largely due to developing and acquiring better and better technology—technology that streamlines efficiency and automates away the jobs of many employees in roles that are no longer needed. Now imagine that this company is the only employment option available; there is no practical way for you to quit and join another company.

Ask yourself, what should happen to the immense profits that the company accumulates? Should they all go to the executives in the upper echelons of management? Or should some reasonable share be distributed to all employees, whose hard work is essential in achieving those profits? What about the laid-off employees with no more opportunities in the company and nowhere to go? Should they get no further reward for the years that they contributed to the company’s profits? No options for them to spend the time and expense necessary to learn new skills and seek new ways to contribute again? Or should some reasonable share of the company’s profits be distributed to them, in the hope that they can once again join the workforce and continue to expand the wealth and well-being of all?

Now replace “employees of the corporation” with “citizens of the nation.” Does this make any difference to the moral and practical issues involved? All of us who are citizens of this country contribute to its success, or would gladly do so given the right incentives and rewards. I have no objection to rewarding the best contributors more than the least, but even the least of us have the potential to move us all forward with new ideas, new approaches, new infrastructure; nurturing and supporting our children and our communities; sharing artistic visions of the better society that we can aspire to; and the sheer application of hard work that advances our common goals. Isn’t that worth at least a minimal investment toward a better future for us all?

As citizens, we are all shareholders of the American Dream. If that dream produces great wealth, shouldn’t we all receive dividends from our shares? We all share in the failures of our society—crime, corruption, violence, discrimination, stress, depression, drug abuse, poverty, and environmental decay. Shouldn’t we also share in our country’s success? Won’t the nation prosper and succeed more when every citizen is personally rewarded for our common success?

This is the compelling argument for Universal Basic Income, aptly named the Freedom Dividend by Andrew Yang. The primaries and the upcoming election are the citizen shareholders’ meetings. If you don’t claim your share, it will be taken from you.

#UBI #UniversalBasicIncome #FreedomDividend @AndrewYang #2020Election

4 Replies to “A Thought Experiment

  1. When you ask the question is there any moral difference between a corporation and a government, of course there is. Governments get their “income” by taking it from people by the threat of violence. Companies get their income by freely exchange their products and services for money on a voluntary basis. Companies MUST operate win-win. Governments solely operate involuntarily, by force.

    For UBI to exist, the state must take from some to “give” to others. When the currency is created by a central bank, the wealth is sucked out of the poor and given to the rich. Now that’s obscenely immoral.

    1. Garrett, I agree with you, and most of my life I would have made the same argument and opposed the idea of UBI. I’ve always agreed with Washington’s succinct summary, “government is force.” The same can be said of law in general: the entire purpose of law is to define, as precisely as possible, the situations in which force is authorized. But as long as any adult citizen is free to leave the country, then it’s fair to view the constitution as a contract between the government and the governed. That contract grants the federal government certain limited powers to “ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense,” and “promote the general welfare.”

      As recent events have clearly shown, there is much more to the common defense than military power. While you may or may not argue with the exact details of the government’s response to the pandemic, it is surely the case that the federal government has a role in promoting and protecting the health of the citizens and the economic infrastructure on which our society depends. Likewise, “ensuring domestic tranquility” is not just about suppressing the citizens from rebelling; it’s about encouraging us to see our interdependence on each other as a strength that we can all build on, rather than a weakness.

      Andrew Yang’s book, “The War on Normal People” convinced me that UBI, properly implemented, can be the “win-win” situation that you are looking for. Data promoted by Yang and Sen. Santens strongly indicate that UBI does not discourage people from working. Rather, it encourages them to take the time and pay the cost to pursue the occupations that they passionately want to pursue, but cannot afford to when every penny of income goes to basic survival. It provides a stable floor on which to stand while building a better future for everyone. This is what you and I and all the generations before us referred to as “raising the standard of living.” It’s what we’ve always called “progress.”

      Under the Yang model, UBI is a “dividend” on our shared investment in America. Everyone receives the same amount; there is no means-testing that can be corrupted to favor one class over another or additional bureaucracy to siphon off most of the resources. It’s paid for primarily from a VAT, on the principle that the nationwide economic infrastructure is an important factor in the profits that can be obtained privately, and therefore some compensation is due to those providing that infrastructure — all of us as individuals.

      How is this a win-win for those who pay the VAT? Consider that the primary impediment to a robust economy is uncertainty. Business can thrive under almost any set of rules (obviously, some are better than others) as long as the rules are stable, predictable, and fairly enforced. UBI goes a long way to eliminating the most basic economic uncertainties. Customers with money to spend will be available, even in the midst of natural disasters, international tensions, and pandemics. Your employees will be engaged in their jobs, or they will move on to something that suits them better. You may have to offer better compensation or better working environments, but so will everyone else. Crime will be a much less attractive career path when basic needs are fulfilled and it’s possible to explore new opportunities. Entrepreneurship will flourish when you can fail and still pick yourself up again. Higher standard of living. Progress.

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