In the United States, income inequality has reached its most extreme disparity since before the Great Depression. This has left politicians and pundits jumping through intellectual hoops to find a solution that aligns with their neoliberal ideology and the interests of their corporate sponsors — but, alas, to no avail.
I submit a simple solution: give people money via a Universal Basic Income [UBI].
The UBI is a program in which the federal government cuts a yearly check to every resident citizen — no strings attached, no questions asked. It is, in short, like Social Security for all.
Some will scoff at this policy as radical, or even crazy, but, if implemented, along with mitigating inequality, it would also reduce — and potentially end — poverty. According to Demos economics blogger Matt Bruenig, cutting a $3,000 check to each individual would halve poverty.
Beyond poverty and inequality, a UBI is constructive in various other ways. First, a UBI would promote autonomy among those in the labor market. A recent ABC poll shows that over half of those who are employed feel overworked; nearly 70 percent say they dream of having a different job. For those holding multiple jobs and/ or working more than 40 hours a week, a UBI would allow them to cut back on hours, or even quit a job — and, in turn, spend more time with family, more time bettering their employment prospects through higher education, or more time being artistically creative.
For us college students, a UBI would mean less pressure to settle for unwanted post-undergrad jobs. For instance, we could use our UBI money to pay down our loans, start an entrepreneurial venture, or supplement the income of a postgrad job that doesn’t compensate well enough for sustenance, but is one that we really wish to have — for example, AmeriCorps VISTA-ships. A UBI would even allow us to partake in the infamous unpaid internship without the risk of starving.
Ultimately, no matter one’s circumstances, a UBI would allow one to rent him/herself for less time to undesirable employers.
A UBI wouldn’t only promote autonomy for workers, but it would also do so for women who are involved in physically and/ or psychologically abusive relationships. Many women stay in abusive relationships because they wouldn’t have enough financial resources to support themselves — and, in some cases, their kids — without their husband/ boyfriend. A UBI would help many women separate from an abusive partner without risk of financial disaster. Therefore, because it helps facilitate a path of social and economic self-determination for women, the UBI program is also feminist.
Furthermore, the UBI would also serve as a supplement for domestic work — which is disproportionately practiced by women — that we don’t typically consider compensable labor: namely, child rearing. Raising a child is certainly labor, and it definitely profits society at-large, but we have yet to institutionalize a way to compensate it — the UBI is our chance.
Finally, a UBI would stimulate the economy. Placing an extra $3,000 in the pockets of each individual would undeniably create greater consumer demand and spending — especially among those inhabiting the lower wrongs of the economic latter, of whom spend the greatest share of their income. The UBI is thus not only morally sound, but also economically constructive.
Beyond theory, and to address practicality, $3,000 per individual is about six percent of our national GDP. This is quite a bit of money, but the revenue can be raised through various avenues that would not adversely affect the economy: raising the current capital gains tax, levying a financial transaction tax, creating a public sovereign wealth fund, and/ or ending corporate welfare. In short, with political will, it can be done.
Economic insecurity and exploitation are among the worst facets of the American experience. A want of imagination is certainly not what is preventing us from ending them; rather, it is political apathy among elected officials. We can curb, if not eradicate these injustices with a few policies; let’s create the political will necessary.