No sooner had mariner posted the last post about a new stratum, within minutes his wife handed him an article in the latest New Yorker magazine about universal base income (UBI). UBI is a concept where everyone, working or not, wealthy or not, young or old, socially accepted or not, receives the same base income from the government. Typically, it isn’t a lot of income; maybe enough to not starve.
The concept has been tested in small experiments in several countries. The testing arises from a concern that receiving a guaranteed freebie from the government may affect how or whether an individual will participate in the workforce and whether the stipend will affect employment regulations. By and large, it doesn’t alter the lifestyle of the individuals; they continue to participate in society as they did before receiving the stipend. In harshly deprived economies like many in Africa, UBI has worked well because it puts cash into a nonexistent economy; people react by using the stipend in responsible ways in order to escape abject poverty as much as possible.
Inadvertently, the United States has practiced UBI in a few labor markets. For most of the twentieth century school teachers were grossly underpaid because teaching, a female occupation, was considered a second income to the husband’s income. The teacher’s salary, in context, was treated like a universal base income outside the real source of income for a family.
Today, especially in small businesses or in larger service industries like convenience stores, the practice of requiring an employee to work only 38 hours to avoid benefits and fulltime labor regulations is the same rationale as UBI but for business profit instead of personal wellbeing; the business owner will claim that it is expected that a part time employee has other sources of income. These two examples suggest the reduced income was considered a stipend on the side rather than a fair, competitive salary.
However, in a government-distributed UBI, labor market income does not affect the stipend – or does it? Will labor class jobs slowly fall behind in salary because the government in effect is helping to pay the employee?
UBI relates to the last post about meritocracy; the New Yorker article uses the term as well. Meritocracy will mean every individual has the right to receive a stipend regardless of class, race, etc.
In several past posts, mariner has said that the true issue is not stipends; it is the definition of the word ‘job’. Pinning words similar to ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ to a universal dole is a false gesture insofar as human dignity is concerned; feeling justified in being a human takes more than a few dollars. With UBI will certain citizens continue to say, “They ought to get off their butt and get a job”?
Mariner must share with readers a fascinating quote he discovered. He was reading a book review by Ron Elving of Dan Kaufman’s book, The Fall of Wisconsin. In his final chapter, Kaufman returns to the quotation that begins his book. It is from Edward G. Ryan, who was Wisconsin’s chief justice in 1873 and foresaw the protracted struggle of the next century and a half with striking clarity.
“The question will arise … Which shall rule: wealth or man? Which shall lead, money or intellect? Who shall fill public stations, educated and patriotic freemen or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?”
1873!! And still we haven’t straightened it out. A wonderfully articulate and insightful statement.
 “Take the Money and Run,” The New Yorker July 2018, by Nathan Heller.