Your name is John/Jane Smith, and you are an American citizen 18 years of age or older. On this merit alone, you will receive approximately 300 dollars per month to be deposited in a bank account of your choosing.
That right there is the gist of Guaranteed Minimum Income and the subject of today’s discussion.
Now the simple concept of citizens getting money simply by virtue of their being citizens dates back to the early 600s, and since that time has been tossed around by various economists, leaders, and thinkers, from Thomas Paine to Friedrich Hayek. While only recently having been implemented in any major way (see the example of France), with the economic crisis dragging painfully on after half a decade now, more and more unorthodox solution to our financial woes are being brought to the table, with Guaranteed Income first and foremost among them.
While Evan had asked me a week ago to write a post on the subject, I had actually first heard about the concept on a podcast guest-starring Jason Pargin (AKA David Wong). While the official topic of discussion was generation gaps, Pargin wound up taking the accusation leveled against millennials as being “lazy” and, rather than attempting to combat it, simply asserted that with production as easy as it is today there’s honestly not a whole of need for massive swathes of the population to slave away for 8 hours a day. While acknowledging himself that the idea was still pretty futuristic, Pargin wound up arguing that there’s no sense in not providing the population at large with a guaranteed minimum income which would assure everyone a basic standard of living and stimulate the economy.
Pargin actually pointed to our culture in his lament that this system hadn’t been implemented yet, claiming our twisted sense of “work ethic” was resulting in a massive waste of manpower and resources in the attempt to justify paying out to the public (indeed, Pargin asserts that many our societal ills today are self-inflicted, his article 5 Reasons The Future Will Be B.S. is really worth checking out).
Now I think the illustrious David Wong has a lot of great things to say, and far be it from me to bash people from bringing innovation to our mangled, burning wreck of an economic system, but as it has been requested- nay, demanded– that I speak on this issue, I must say this:
Guaranteed Minimum Income is ****ing stupid.
Don’t get me wrong here. We do not need to be working as hard or as long as we do. Both Wong and the advocates of GMI are absolutely right in pointing out that the vast majority of our work is producing stuff simply for the sake of producing. We have more cars in America than we have Americans and we’re still making the dang things. Same goes for beds, blenders, houses, tanks, mirrors, combs- don’t even get me started on food- you name it. Still, the idea of us just trying to solve unemployment, poverty, and a host of societal ills simply by chucking money at ’em is- no matter how well intentioned- insane.
Let me break it down here:
GMI Is Unsustainable
Part of the problem here is that we’re imagining poverty like the flu, that it’s something that “just happens.” Make no mistake, poverty is created– it is a synthetic problem. Let’s imagine that a town has 10,000 folks in it and a third are going to be getting 1,000 bucks per month in GMI. Firstly, how many apartment buildings in town offer a rate low enough for us to get housing there? Two? Maybe three? How many wireless providers are in town? If this example is anything like the real world, there’s probably two or three competing industries for any given service in town, and that’s a liberal estimate. And if they can work on the assumption that I’m going to have exactly 1,000 bucks a month coming in, exactly what prevents them from locking me in to a contract or lease spanning years (as they do in real life)?
Again, I’m not going to knock the ability of people to get some basic services like housing or food- but government subsidized slums are not a solution. My purpose as a citizen should not be to wind up as an excuse for a corporation to line their pockets. A safety net should not be something you get caught in.
GMI Is Condescending
Perspective, again, is the issue here.
The advocates of GMI seem to view poverty not only as a random event but view work as being something we can live without. I don’t know about you, but I like work. I don’t like working in abusive conditions or for lousy pay or with no assurance of my future, but I can tell you that every time I have a break that lasts for 4 days, I’m bored to tears by the 3rd.
The whole purpose of work is to do something we love- doesn’t it make more sense that we get paid for doing work that we actually enjoy, rather than getting bribed to sit on our hands? And yes, it does feel like we’re being bribed here- “behave and we’ll make sure you have the most basic of your needs met.” Am I the only one who feels that it’s not my life that’s being valued, but my adherence to social order?
Am I the only who feels that this isn’t being done out of respect for my humanity, but to keep people like me from slowing up Emergency Room wait times?
GMI Is Unnatural
Part of the reason that I was tasked with covering this issue is because yours truly is a diehard Marxist- unorthodox politics, economics, and the subject of poverty all tend to be my specialties. As a result of that background, I am going to drag in the old Marxist term of “alienation”- the idea that our humanity and our place in the universe is being stripped away from us. Capitalism is the usual suspect here, but I really can’t see GMI being any different. Simple fact of the matter is that work should not be separated from reward and reward should not be separated from work. Consumption and production should never be isolated from one another- doing so strips the value away from both.
Let’s assume GMI does work out (rather than turning us into underclass sheep for companies to fleece)- how could I go through my life just getting everything for free? We accuse the poor of “entitlement” unfairly, but I really don’t know of how else I could describe this kind of life. I might not want to fight tooth and claw against my fellow man every day just to make it to the next, but if I were to be robbed of any sense of challenge or struggle, what on earth would I be?
GMI Is All Smoke and Mirrors
I’ve referenced this before, but I’d like to do it again. Chris Rock might not be a raging Communist, but he explains the fundamentals of Marxist economics with such accuracy and simplicity it’s almost eerie. Check it out:
Am I crazy here? We’re ground into the pesticide-ridden earth through debt and poverty, we slave our lives away to build palaces for kings and queens, we kill each other by the tens of thousands to fatten up their wallets and we’re being told “Hey, things look rough for you guys- do want to have an allowance?”
I don’t want your pity, I want equity. I want what’s mine. The solution to ploitation is not to make it more bearable but to abolish it- GMI does. Not. Do. That. I will neither be placated nor satisfied with a pittance– I demand a seat at the table for myself and every other working class and poor person out there. Security and a future which I do not build for myself is not mine, and I don’t believe I’m alone in seeing it this way.