By Daniel Nettle – Today should be the best time ever to be alive. Thanks to many decades of increasing productive efficiency, the real resources available to enable us to do the things we value—the avocados, the bicycles, the musical instruments, the bricks and glass—are more abundant and of better quality than ever. Thus, at least in the industrialized world, we should be living in the Age of Aquarius, the age where the most urgent problem is self-actualization, not mere subsistence: not ‘How can we live?’, but ‘How shall we live?’.
Why then, does it not feel like the best time ever?
Contrary to the predictions of mid-twentieth-century economists, the age of universal wellbeing has not really materialized. Working hours are as high as they were for our parents, if not higher, and the quality of work is no better for most people. Many people work several jobs they do not enjoy, just to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and the lights on. In fact, many people are unable to satisfy these basic wants despite being in work.
Big problems require big ideas.
Our current generation of politicians don’t really have ideas big enough to deal with the problems of widespread insecurity and marked inequality. Big ideas come along every few decades. The last one was about forty years ago: neoliberalism, the idea that market competition between private-sector corporations would deliver the social outcomes we all wanted, as long as government got out of the way as far as possible.
Our current politicians propose to deal with symptoms piecemeal—a minimum-wage increase here, a price cap there, rent-control in the other place; tax credits for those people; financial aid to buy a house for those others. At best we are dealing with one symptom at a time. Each piecemeal intervention increases the complexity of the state; divides citizens down into finer and finer ad hoc groups each eligible for different transactions; requires more bureaucratic monitoring; and often has unintended and perverse knock-on effects.
A Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a regular financial payment made to all eligible adults, whether they work or not, regardless of their other means, and without any conditionality whatever. Receiving it is a fundamental entitlement that comes with being a member of society: people can know that it will always be there, now and in the future. more>