Image from http://www.pbs.org/
Universal Basic Income. As with all political topics, the more you look into it, the more complicated it gets.
Because of this, it’s impossible to say whether it is an entirely good/bad thing, because the answer will always rely on the culture/wealth/size/organisation of the country, the amount they choose to give out, how often its given out, whether it supports or replaces existing financial benefit systems, etc.
But we can assess it in broad terms. It is broadly effective? Is it broadly beneficial? Does it do a better job than other benefit systems?
I’m going to focus on the UK, because that’s where I live.
In the UK, as opposed to the USA, we are more used to government taking an active role in our lives. As such, I think there would be less backlash against it here than there would be in the States.
But I personally don’t think it’s a good idea. Why?
I’ve read the arguments of the pro-UBI side of things, and they make some good points. In fact, if you have any doubts about the moral repercussions of introducing UBI, I would direct you to this page: http://www.scottsantens.com/what-do-we-do-about-drug-users-with-basic-incomes
My chief concern with UBI is that I think the money could be better invested elsewhere.
To give everyone in the UK (roughly 64million people) £150 a week would cost the UK government £9.6billion, or £1.4billion a day. This comes to £499.2billion a year – five times bigger than the annual budget of the NHS, and two thirds of the entire annual spending of the UK, which is around £730billion.
One of the principal arguments for UBI is that, upon observation, even people with drug addictions tend to spend the money given to them responsibly. This £9.6billion then is an extra £9.6billion a week that is put into the UK economy, keeping it healthy. It gives poor and homeless people some disposable income that can be spent on enjoyment or hobbies each week, reducing the chance that they will fall into addiction or depression.
However, wouldn’t such a large sum of money be better invested directly into drug and alcohol addiction centres? Mental health treatment? Improving security funding for finding illegal drugs? Potentially.
I might argue that tackling the cause is better than tackling the effects, but the costs of prevention is so much higher that the UK economy is just not big enough to support it.
So, if UBI is unfeasible, is it possible to reduce the cost? Perhaps by giving money to families instead of individuals? Or people over a certain age? Or reduce tax payments for people who don’t make enough money?
Certainly. And these systems are already in place in the UK. But, as is the nature of political policy, they often don’t serve the public to the extent that they potentially could. This is due to the incredibly slow nature of government, compared to the speed at which society and its needs change.
The problem, then, is to find the ‘sweet spot’ at which these policies provide the best quality of life to the people and the smallest cost. And the problem with this goal is that the sweet spot is always moving.
If this is the goal of the welfare system, I would reject the concept of UBI as being overly costly when compared to the positive impact it would have.
(Bear in mind this is just my opinion, and that others will invariably be different. Also bear in mind that I am not correct by default. Politics is a continual debate and what is ‘right’ changes on a monthly, weekly, daily basis – that’s if something can ever be fully right in politics in the first place. I’m also more than willing to change my mind if someone can present a good argument. So, don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you think I’m wrong!)