Economics

The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is Bullshit

Among the few bloggers I read somewhat regularly is Michael O. Church, a mathematician turned software engineer. He wrote a few incendiary post on the tech industry, with his arguably most well-known piece being “Don’t waste your time in crappy startup jobs.” To my great surprise, Michael O. Church recently came out as a bleeding-heart liberal. When I saw him advocating Universal Basic Income, I thought that he has lost his mind.

Here is the key quote from his article:

Automation will destroy jobs. Good. Fuck “jobs”. If we had a universal basic income, no one would shed a tear about the elimination of unpleasant labor from human life.

The most obvious problem with leftists is that they seem to be completely clueless with regards to how the real world, as opposed to the make-believe virtual worlds they mostly hang out in, works. They may have a bullshit job of which they assume that if they didn’t do it, society would continue to exist just as well. This is most likely the case with most bona fide bullshit jobs. What is worse, there is plenty of professional activity that is a net negative to society. Think of patent trolling, corrupt journalism, or the professionally offended. Society would be a lot better off without such people. There is plenty of zero-sum activity in society, too. For instance, I can readily see why someone who makes a six-figure income in the contemporary advertising technology ecosystem for improving click-through rates by a few fractions of a percent, which may well be due to factors out of his control, believes to have a bullshit job.

At a more fundamental level, society relies on the work of a lot of people who perform hard and unpleasant work. They may well be invisible to most people. Here is one example: A girl I once dated did not want to believe that construction workers live on site in containers, even after I took a detour to lead her to an inner-city construction site. In fact, she laughed when I told her that those men may be hundreds of miles away from their friends and families. There are plenty other jobs many people seem unaware they exist. Think of essentially all jobs that keep our basic infrastructure going: plumbing, electricity, construction, road maintenance and so on and so forth. This reminds me of a day-trip we took during primary school, where we got to visit an ecological farmer. Among others, we got to witness one of his employees milking a cow. This might not strike you as noteworthy in any way. Yet, there were kids who knew what a cow was and what milk was, but who took some time to grasp that they were standing in front of a milk source. To them, presumably, milk originated from supermarkets. Similarly, for clueless millennials, electricity seems to come out of a wall socket.

Most work people do is not glamorous, but it is work that needs to be done. The reason such work gets done, which may come as a huge surprise to a bleeding-heart liberal, is that helps to earn one’s livelihood. There are presumably very few electricians or plumbers out there who tell themselves that they are “changing the world.” That is a phrase you much more commonly hear coming out of the mouth of some clueless techie who builds websites for a living. Let us work with the contrast between a plumber and a software developer for a while. Mike the Plumber makes sure that the literal shit you excrete ends up in a sewage plant. On the other hand, Everett the tech lead at an advertising technology startup makes sure that shit of another nature proliferates on the Internet. Everett might really enjoy his job, sitting in a cushy office and doing a bit of coding between drinking lattes and playing foosball with Jolanda and Emily. In case he gets bored, this left-leaning millennial dreams of a better world in which we all sit on our asses and consume social media all day long, instead of going to work. All of this would work perfectly fine because we only have to take money “from the rich” and “fairly distribute it.” The world could be so beautiful, right, Everett?

If you don’t see how your work helps to maintain society, for instance because it does not, you probably think that UBI is a swell idea. Heck, Everett may even get to finally write his great novel, if Daddy Government would only take from the rich and transfer money to him in exchange for merely existing. Wouldn’t that be great? Well, the problem starts to arise when you think that Mike will likewise get the choice between doing plumbing and HVAC work for a living or sitting on his ass and getting a cheque for doing nothing every week. There could very well be a great novel in Mike, too, and most likely a much more interesting one than an utterly naive guy like Everett could ever produce.

UBI simply cannot work because there is too much work that needs to be done which nobody would do for fun. Why do you think people write books in their spare time? Because they enjoy doing it. On the other hand, do you think Mike would fix your plumbing for free in the evening because it’s so fun? He’ll tell you to pay him extra and if you claim you don’t have any money, he’ll inform you that he’s unfortunately unavailable. The same is true for every other job that needs to be done but isn’t all that fun. If you can’t grasp this, then try to empathize with those construction workers who live in containers for months.

There is another angle of the UBI that does not seem to get questioned much. The claim is that if people didn’t have to work for a living, then they could do whatever they wanted and would thus produce great art and whatnot. Let’s demolish this claim quickly: if your creative endeavor does not require much material or money, you can pursue it easily in your spare time. Go write your great novel! On that note, I recently threw out a lot of books — yes, hardcopies — but kept all those I consider great. Surprisingly, to me, the majority of those books were written by people who were not professional writers. My favorite novelist, for instance, barely published anything in his lifetime. That guy is Franz Kafka, an insurance lawyer who wrote in his spare time. (On an unrelated note: there is a tool in the Big Data ecosystem for message handling called Kafka, which some uncultured techie named after the author because it “writes a lot of data”. Clearly, having absolutely no education is better than having a rather poor one.)

Writing barely requires any money. If you’re strapped for cash, get an old laptop off eBay for a few bucks. Now go write! If you want to dabble in the visual arts, your costs will be higher. Pencil drawings are cheap to produce, but once you move on to acrylic or even oil paintings, or to sculpting, your hobby won’t be all that cheap anymore. You can see where this is going: there is no end to the sense of entitlement of bleeding-heart liberals. Hey, maybe writing and painting aren’t for you, maybe it’s your calling to produce Hollywood movies, financed by the taxpayer. Wouldn’t that be great?

There is very little reason to assume that having to work for a living holds creative people back. The opposite may be true. Indeed, there are precedents. Think of the English aristocracy, which, for the very most part, can be described as utterly parasitic, having produced more or less nothing artistic of lasting value in centuries, despite having all the time in the world and no responsibilities. Furthermore, you should not forget that we already have a Universal Basic Income in anything but name. It is called welfare. If you don’t want to work or if you are unable to work, you get food, shelter, housing for free, all provided by the “rich”, i.e. the taxpayer. However, how many great novels has Jamal, the proudest son of a family that has been living off welfare for three generations, produced so far? I’d say the total artistic output of the welfare class does not amount to very much. Yes, J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel while living off welfare, but how many hundreds of billions have been used on sustaining the underclass?

In the end, the upshot is that heart-bleeding liberals simply don’t want to work and don’t want to contribute to society. They feel entitled to other people’s money, which they intend to devote to artistic pursuits and, so they swear, definitely would not spend on drugs and booze.


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33 thoughts on “The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is Bullshit

  1. There is actually a great reason for income redistribution downward. Its to avoid dystopia where the least productive, by no fault of their own, starve. I would love to see a meritocracy because then the unproductive lazy capitalists class would starve, but the lowest class didnt deserve this fate, they arent lazy, just unlucky

      1. Two points why socialism is bullshit:
        – Socialism – if you look up at a lexicon – is a system “where property and goods are shared fairly among all members of that system”. The ones, who campaign for socialism, always draw parallels to some hippie tribes, native americans or amish people who live socialism for hundred of years now to prove, that it works.
        Surprisingly have these (socialism) systems no room for diasbled people or hardship cases and overall would lazyness be punished with exclusion followed by death.
        – John B. Calhoun performed in the 1960s a “Mouse experiment”
        wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_B._Calhoun#Mouse_experiments
        Original paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1644264/
        He established a socialism system, a habitat with “no shortage of food or water or nesting material. There were no predators. The only adversity was the limit on space”.
        Over time population grew rapidly and due to a limit on space social breakdown continued and the population declined toward extinction. You can read how it ended, but i just want to mention the conclusion: “The conclusions drawn from this experiment were that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviors, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population”

        Sad, that a breakdown in complex social behaviors happens in some cities/countries already:
        – female quote and immigration tightened competion, less work positions for men, because companies have to fulfill the quote
        – men withdraw, got passiv, non-dominant or only care about themselve (call it mgtow)
        – females are more aggressive then ever, media presents women as the “strong” gender, dresses them in that way (women with bomber jackets); a “ladylike” attitude is proscribed
        – declining birth-rate

      1. You are not joking. I once looked into demographics of gambling, and it turns out that those people who could afford it the least waste their money on lottery tickets. Apparently they view it as some kind of investment.

      2. At least if they played poker, well at least that requires a bit of calculations and bluff, besides luck.

        But yes, I grew up poor, and I got to see poor people in action, and it’s amazing what most poor people do in their spare time. And thanks to social media, it’s worse. They may not have money for rent or a decent car, but they gots to have the new IPhone to show “social mobility”. Not to mention the time wasted on Facebook and Instagram, especially the women that use it for attention whoring.

  2. Aaron, I think you didn’t even mention the biggest bullshit about UBI. Which is cost push inflation. Universal Basic Income is utterly bullshit. That much I agree but it is merely unfeasible because as we tax companies making products using robots they ultimately have to push the tax to consumers. Thus creating inflation in a non monetary way. However, this kind of inflation is highly dangerous even more than the inflation created by governments by their monetary policy. (more money printing) The runaway effect of UBI will be that the UBI amount would have to be increased far faster than possible every freaking year because of cost push inflation.

    1. Simply put, automation tax is a cost that will be push to the consumer as higher prices. Which will eat up the income in UBI quickly and the underclass will be protesting that their UBI is not enough.

  3. You’re correct that most people will never write a great novel, or create art of note. UBI gives everyone a chance; it can’t make up for a lack of talent.

    The argument for UBI is that people would still work, but that wages would increase because there wouldn’t be a horde of desperate, starving people who’ll work for nothing. We’d get 95% of the useful work, though we’d be paying more for it. This would create further incentives for automation, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing, since we would have solved the income problem.

    Some people would use UBI as an excuse to linger at the bottom, but I’d rather have our parasites at the bottom of society than have them at the top, which is currently the case. You’re a fool if you think corporate executives serve any purpose; all they do is come up with new ways to steal from the workers.

    I’d rather have the bottom 5-20% of society harmlessly not do anything– the parasites get out of the way– than have an economy where glorified slave traders and their spreadsheets run everything.

    1. I fail to see how UBI is, in principle, different from welfare as it is. The system already gives you a chance. True, it may be tougher in the US than in a place like Denmark or Sweden, where there is high social mobility, arguably largely due to subsidized healthcare and higher education. Yet, you won’t starve to death and there is plenty of support. Heck, Ivy League colleges fall over themselves to admit minorities with weaker credentials, and Corporate America does the same. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that the system is bending over to give the supposedly disadvantaged a leg up, as long as they are not Asian (Chinese) or White.

      Why do you assume that people would still work? I think it is safe to assume that the typical plumber or welder may not want to do grueling work. Also, what if incentivization does not play out as you imagine it? You seem to assume that in a world in which UBI exists and in which some plumbers deliberately drop out of the workforce, others would take their place and make more money as a consequence. What if those people don’t show up? From what I gather, it’s common that highly paid executives who got fired just retire instead of bothering to look for a new job, simply because their financial needs are met. I think Joe the Plumber could well think the same and view UBI as his golden parachute, albeit he won’t have the money for bottle service at a club at Rodeo Drive.

      There is the saying that we have a leisure class at the top and bottom of the social hierarchy. UBI won’t change this. The underclass will get UBI instead of welfare, and plenty of people who, maybe because of their protestant work ethic, currently work for a living may decide to just drop out. You’ll thus end up with the actual producers having to support an ever greater number of leeches.

      I wouldn’t be so negative on corporate executives. Sure, there are plenty of douchebags around. Lloyd Blankfein is a great example, but the B-team, e.g. people like Martin Shkreli or Elizabeth Holmes, is nothing to scoff at either. Yet, as douchy as they may be, I’d rather more have white-collar crime in the world than another dozen millions of the underclass who physically threaten our existence. Yes, white-collar crime can destroy livelihoods too, but I’d say that’s nothing compared to what the not-so-harmless members of society in the bottom 20% do.

  4. Writing novels…
    Well, it has been a very long time since I spend days reading a non-fiction (like more than 15 years since the last book).

    “I wouldn’t be so negative on corporate executives. Sure, there are plenty of douchebags around. Lloyd Blankfein is a great example, but the B-team, e.g. people like Martin Shkreli or Elizabeth Holmes, is nothing to scoff at either.”
    This seems to come out as a bitter sarcasm. The first (Shkreli) is already being convicted, the second is also investigated haha…

    1. Whoa, interesting story! Thx for the link.

      The wiki link assesses how the story is “right wing”. Funny how Disney has gone the other way and has all sorts of SJW / left-wing and feminist messaging, either overt or subtle. I suppose the only “consolation” is that Disney takes on and pushes these SJW messages as a way to sell movie tickets for profit.

  5. UBI sets unproductive incentives.
    Getting something for doing nothing is against the very basic principles of evolution. Can’t work. Never will.

  6. You’re missing the point. We already have UBI for everyone except White men.
    The main problem is that, due to automatizaton, our economy mostly revolves around non-productive activities. If you want a good salary, either you get into politics or into trading / online marketing bullshit.

    People no longer create value, only schemes for transferring existing value. Try making an idea come to fruition in STEM and you’ll just get endlessly flooded with red tape.

    I have over a dozen friends who left high exec jobs in engineering and management to become personal trainers or move to some third-world shithole just to find some sense of purpose in their lives.

    I have to run two jobs, as an engineer and a freelance developer, just to make the ends meet, working about 90 hours per week. So I do see the appeal of a real UBI or of SEA.

    It’s not about having a bullshit job, it’s about our whole economy revolving around bullshit jobs, while those creating real value are underpaid and increasingly unappealing in terms of career or perspectives.

    1. 1) Nothing keeps white men from getting welfare, so your first claim is invalid.

      2) You’re falling for the apex fallacy if you think that the fields you mention will make you rich. The average engineer certainly makes a lot more money than the average politician who can’t live off his work anyway or the average online marketer who would be happy if ten people a day visited his blog.

      3) There is plenty of innovation happening in STEM.

      4) I find it hard to believe that “high exec” would move to a place like Thailand to start a blog. Where is the meaning in that kind of work? They could easily have launched their “online business” in their spare time.

      5) If you need two jobs to make ends meet, you’re probably doing it wrong. An engineer’s salary is, no matter where you look, high enough to enable a rather comfortable life. If money is the problem, then you’re probably overspending.

      6) You may think that your engineering job is bullshit, but the alternatives for those who can’t make it in STEM are rather bleak. Sure, some get lucky and eventually make a high salary in a bullshit job, but the majority of graduates in gender studies, sociology, marketing, communications and other fields will have a long struggle ahead of them. At least the more attractive and better-behaved women may be able to marry an engineer.

      1. 1) Nothing except bias.

        2) I guess it depends on how you define the average politician. I’m talking about “professional” politicians which in my humble opinion is an aberration per se.

        3) Not going to go into details here but it’s more funneled “innovation” than anything else. I could mention hundreds of bullshit projects which are more a disguised way of transferring public funds to private companies than anything else.

        4) I never mentioned blogging. Usually they open some sort of business, scuba diving is quite a popular industry. The purpose is building something, instead of being a wage slave. Also I believe you grossly overestimate the amount of spare time an exec gets.

        5) I could always spend less, for sure. Honest question, how much do you believe an engineer makes ?

        6) I think you’d be surprised at how many graduates in marketing, sociology etc not only get top management positions in both the public and private sectors but also get to implement utterly retarded work policies.

        I guess my original post came out as too whiny, that was not the point.

        PS. I strongly advise most beautiful and well-behaved women not to marry engineers, it’s not the 19th century anymore 🙂

      2. Just some brief remarks:

        2) Look at all levels in the political hierarchy instead of only professional politicians.

        3) Of course there are some bullshit projects, but you can’t seriously make the claim that there is no innovation in STEM anymore. Progress over the last ten to twenty years has been nothing but staggering.

        4) I think the average “wage slave” has a more relaxed life than the average business owner. That would be a different discussion altogether, though.

        5) I have plenty of friends in engineering. Friends in Berlin working in tech make between 4,000 to 6,000 EUR/month (before taxes), which is plenty of money for a single. You won’t be balling on that kind of money but you’ll have a more than comfortable lifestyle.

        6) Look at the average graduate in those fields. Those people are working odd jobs to finance their internships and if they are lucky, they get a regular job after a few years that pays 1/2 to 2/3 of what an entry-level STEM graduate makes.

      3. Thank you for your reply, Aaron. You make some good points, maybe I’m simply not familiar enough with the average social science graduate to elaborate on an in-depth comparison with STEM.
        My father used to work in “social science” but it meant something altogether different in those times.

        I agree that the “wage slave” is a completely different discussion and I’d say the more relaxed life may be more due to ignorance than anything else.

        As far as an engineer’s salary is concerned, if I take my personal case, I earn 3500 € per month which according to the latest census puts me in the top 13% in my country.
        The beauty in my country though is that direct and indirect welfare is based on arbitrary thresholds, that is to say, once you add up income and welfare, someone making say 1500€ has a significantly better lifestyle than someome making 2000€, simply due to the fact that the former needs not pay as much (if any) taxes, has much lower rent for a same living surface, etc.

        I agree that if I were single, my income would give me a confortable lifestyle. However being a divorced dad of two, the math simply doesn’t work. So yeah, two jobs is what I’ve found to be working so far.
        The temptation is great however to cut the costs by moving to some country with a lower cost of living as most of my work can be done online.

      4. You’re in a similar situation as a friend of mine who makes a decent salary that used to be enough to feed a family with two kids. After divorce, he got put into a different tax category, which bumped up his tax burden. On top, he has to pay child support. This leads to his after-tax income being around 60% of what it used to be. On the other hand, his ex-wife has a lot more money now.

        I know of comparisons of welfare payments vs regular salaries in Germany. Your typical welfare recipient makes more off the taxpayer than they could make through work. On top, they get to do whatever they want. The incentives are way off as a hard-working engineer is not much better off than a member of the underclass who has his or her life taken care off by Daddy Government.

  7. In a similar vein, raising the minimum wage can be a bullshit endeavor. For example, some states of USA and provinces of Canada recently raised the minimum wage (i.e. the lowest amount you can make per hour, typically for entry-level or service-level jobs) by about 20-30%. The government (and leftist) theory is that this will expand the economy because little Susie will have more money to spend! Of course, as is typical with government/socialist intervention, they fail to foresee businesses reacting accordingly.

    For example, a popular chain in Canada has to raise the wages to comply with the new laws BUT they have reacted by cutting benefits to compensate (see news item: https://globalnews.ca/news/3944421/tim-hortons-paid-breaks-ontario-wage-hike/ )

    Even the Bank of Canada noted that the hike in minimum wage will result in a LOSS of 60,000 jobs by next year! (link: http://bit.ly/2DZczEf )

    1. This outcome is obvious for anyone who has an inkling of how the real world works. Of course, a politician who thinks that he only has to spend more tax money does not have that kind of privilege.

      There are other possible outcomes of increasing minimum wage: increased illegal employment (no, not necessarily illegal immigrants), closure of businesses as they are no longer profitable, or increased automation. Automation is the most severe thread because once you’ve replaced workers, they won’t come back. On the other hand, machines and robots will only become more efficient.

      1. I would also add as another possible outcome that life gets more expensive, i.e. inflation. If a business doesn’t close down, they will have to increase their costs which they pass on to their customer (assuming the customer doesn’t leave to a cheaper competitor).

        Consequently, that wage worker getting their increased minimum wage can’t afford this lifestyle inflation…which completely negates the politician’s vote-getting purpose of raising minimum wage in the first place!

      2. The idea that minimum wage must not be made higher because it leads to unintended consequences sounds smart at first, but must be scrutinized. If it was this simple then lowering min. Wage as much as possible and removing it completely will lead to the lowest costs for goods possible and prosperity for everybody.
        From history we know that is nonsense, see the years 1600-1900, which was dystopia for most of the working class and there was like no middle class.
        We can only assume that it all leads back to lazy rich capitalists exploiting the capitalist system. Money is power and buys influence in politics and when it is most profitable to manipulate some levers to steer the system in your favor instead of working harder and being a benefit to society, then they will do it.
        Capitalism is flawed.

      3. I like to use Chinas occams razor.

        China has minimum wage and increases it ocasionally. Its not really a problem. It also redistributes income downward to avoid dystopia. There is no revolution of the lower class in China. It works.

  8. I fail to see how UBI would work in practice:
    How much would that be? Enough just for paying bills and eat?
    You would need to raise taxes significantly to make it happen.
    That tax raise would be mostly on the middle and upper-class.
    Surely there will be a point where the tax for the basic income gets bigger than the amount of BI itself since that is a fixed amount.
    So the ‘universal’ part of basic income is not so universal in reality.
    The only point remains that you don’t have to work at all to have income.
    This only leads the before mentioned tipping point to go downwards to lower wage jobs.
    Then we can safely say that the whole thing is just a welfare program for the unemployed with elaborate mental-gymnastics.

    1. In short, I propose 2 outcomes:
      UBI devalues money that the basic income becomes the new zero.
      UBI devalues to a lesser extent, the effect of it will be equivalent to raising the minimum wage.

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