A major newspaper has mentioned the burning issue of our time, the one and only worthwhile public policy measure on Earth -- a citizen's dividend.
In the United States, we are generally told that poverty is a deeply complicated problem whose solution requires dozens of reforms on issues as diverse as public schooling, job training, and marriage.
But it’s not true. High rates of poverty can, as a policy matter, be solved with trivial ease. How? By simply giving the poor money.
Using the dataset from the latest Census poverty report, I determined that if we cut a $2,920 check to every single American—adults, children, and retirees—we could cut official poverty in half. Economists consider this sort of across-the-board payment a “universal basic income.” You can think of it as Social Security for all, not just the elderly.
Could we afford it? Sure. For starters, we could raises taxes, first on the rich, who would pay more in new taxes than they would receive in basic income, and then on lower-middle class and poor families, who would come out ahead. There is also plenty of room to cut tax expenditures on homeowners, personal retirement accounts, capital gains exclusions at death, and exclusions on annuity investment returns. This submerged welfare state for the affluent costs hundreds of billions of dollars each year. There is also the matter of the $700 billion military budget, which could take some trimming.
This plan, of course, is to add a citizen's dividend on top of all the previous social benefits we give Americans. A better plan would be to cut all other social benefits and give only the citizen's dividend, a much heftier version, of $12,000 a year per person. But never mind, this plan would work too. Any plan would work better than the current status quo.
Why is such a brilliant solution ignored in favor of policies that are already proven not to work in relieving poverty (because they haven't, because we still have 15% of Americans below the poverty line despite all these programs already existing), like job training, public education, etc? Because conservatives are fine with giving people 'opportunity' at any price, but they refuse to give anyone a good 'outcome' who doesn't 'deserve' it. IE, conservatives are fine with helping the poor, but only the deserving poor. And the deserving poor, to them, are not just all of God's children great and small, but only those who work. It doesn't matter what work they do, so long as they are working.
For instance, it's fine if they work at a public job that doesn't actually do anything -- like the military, which they are happy to fund with 700 billion dollars a year despite the world posing no serious threat to us and in fact in a military alliance with us on all sides. It's also fine if your job is supplemented by extra free income, like the earned income tax credit or employer given health care, even if the job is so unproductive that it only ever pays minimum wage, and then only because employers are mandated to pay them that much. It's also fine if you're being given free school lunches every day and, essentially, free daycare every day, because you are working at getting good grades in arcane trivia like what happens when Nitrogen meets Oxygen or the stellar life cycle or how many electrons can exist in each energy ring surrounding a boron atom. So long as you're pounding your head against a brick wall of complicated questions -- nevermind that no one in their right mind would ever want or need to know these facts, and that Wikipedia could instantly find the answer for you if you ever did need to know these facts at some point in your life -- so long as children are being tortured by being drilled in mindless trivia like this, conservatives consider said children deserving. At least if they are studying hard, who knows how they feel about those awful slackers who don't do their eight hours of assigned homework a day but instead choose to actually sleep a healthy amount of time as proscribed by all the world's leading doctors.
Conservatives seem to be some sort of lower life form that act only based off of instincts. They clearly have some sort of gene that continuously seeks out freeloaders and punishes them with hatred and violence far beyond any natural, reasonable limit compared to the harm the freeloaders have actually done. We are talking about giving a freeloader $3,000, in a country that makes $50,700 per capita. But they still go ballistic. It's like we just proposed a new Holocaust or something, when it's actually so little money that no one would even notice the difference in their own financial well being. In fact, if done right, the citizen's dividend would give more aid to the poor with fewer tax dollars than are currently being spent on their behalf. But that doesn't matter to these unevolved, unthinking, irrational neanderthals. They have some sort of instictive gene that just says, "A freeloader? Die, freeloader!" And then they smash the freeloader with a club. The debate can't even get past the point where they start sputtering over a lazy person getting free money.
It's okay if a hard working person gets way more free money. Even if the work is useless. Even if it is unproductive. Even if it costs more money to have these people working than it would cost for them to do nothing. For instance, in an age of automation, it is simply a waste of money for people to be paid driving trucks all around the country. We would be better off letting the trucks drive themselves, and yet, conservatives are fine with truckers, despite the fact that they're a pure negative externality on the rest of the country, which could have cheaper and faster shipping deliveries without them. Because truckers are miserable from having to work so hard and be so far from their families all their lives, they're the right sort of person. Whereas someone who's actually happy and spends his time enriching his family's existence with cheerful and amiable discourse, hobbies, and interest in their lives is the worst sort of scum because he's a freeloader. Like Beth from Little Women, curse her! How dare she just do chores at home and play the piano? The lazy bum! She should've been sewing for a living like all the other hard working women, sew until your fingers bleed, you dirty freeloader! Die, freeloader!
A conservative is completely incapable of imagining someone whose 'productivity' is not measured in terms of 'employability.' To them, there is no such thing as happiness, only money. If they make themselves happy, or if they make someone else happy, by for instance just playing a challenging round of Go with a friend, or going skiing together, or making love, or cooking a home made meal for them, or having a conversation together, it doesn't matter. It's all just laziness and thus the worst possible sin under the sun. It's like their brains are simply short circuited. Humans have no value whatsoever to them. Only work has value, and only if the work is paid for. If you volunteer your assistance, like the coach in Ro-Kyu-Bu, you're still scum and still deserve to die. Not one cent to volunteers! Let them starve, the parasites!
I cannot fathom an answer to these people. In a world of global free trade, open immigration, and automation, the idea that everyone could find productive work to do is completely unfounded. The markets simply aren't telling us this is true. 40% of Italians aged 15-24 can't find a job. In most of the third world, they are still employed as subsistence farmers. If those farmers were driven from their land in favor of more efficient tractors, billions of people would be unemployed. Production would go up in these lands, but what would the peasants do without land to till? Libertarians say there are infinite jobs. Fine, before you claim there are infinite jobs, just try and find a job for every single rural farmer in India. That should be no problem, right? It's only five hundred million people or so. That's a lot less than infinite. Will they all become software engineers? Rocket Scientists? Please inform me what their new jobs will be once we kick them off their land.
The market is telling us most people, when you take out parasitical, government jobs and makework private jobs like clerks which could easily be automated, are unemployable. There are no jobs for them, there is no use for them, machines can already do everything they'll ever be able to do. And no, it is impossible to 'train' this unemployable mass of people for new jobs, because there are only so many jobs worth doing in the world and training another person to do them just means someone else has to stop doing them, because there is no demand for any jobs more than the ones that are already being done. Currently, all the capital of the world is already being exploited, there is no new habitable frontier, so there is no way we can make use of any further labor. It's like a hamster running in circles in its hamster wheel, but the wheel isn't attached to anything so it's just tiring itself out to no effect. Without capital to put into the hands of laborers, there isn't any point to work. Unless you have a field to farm, it's hard to hire another farmer. Unless there's funding for a new building, it's no use hiring a construction worker to build it. Unless patients can pay their medical bills, there's no sense training a doctor to treat their illnesses. Round and round it goes. All labor is dependent on capital, and all capital is dependent on the Earth's finite resources. We are at peak jobs because we are at peak Earth. We've taken everything the Earth has to offer, it has nothing more we can rape or steal from it, so an extra pair of hands can't add to our planet's wealth one whit more.
Now, certainly, there is a market for discovering new scientific discoveries that don't currently exist yet, like fusion power or immortality, but any such discovery would actually decrease the total number of jobs on Earth rather than increase them. So the idea that 'we'll just find new jobs' is a joke. A job means something that meets a basic need of mankind, and these needs are finite. Once you have all your basic necessities met, and entertainment to keep your mind occupied all day, money is totally worthless. The only way people can prosper any further can't be measured in material goods, but only in status and power games. For instance, Mao Zedong enjoyed killing his enemies, but that's not actually a job we're willing to put on sale. Already, every conceivable job that is allowable morally is already being done. People are healthy, entertained, fed, have electricity, water, sewage, etc. There is no need left unmet in human existence, except power over other people, our fondest desire, but not something the market can provide. Any new market that opens up, like say a new entertainment device, will simply take market share from the previous entertainment product. Total jobs won't rise, only who gets the job will change. A new energy product, like fusion power, would just take jobs from the fossil fuel industry. A new food product, like synthetic beef, would just take jobs from the ranching industry. There are no new job fields, they all fall under some pre-existent human need that is already being met. We can meet those new needs better than before, but we can not provide for any new needs because there are no needs left.
There are no jobs. Nor will any new jobs ever become available again. The jobs we do have are all illusions and in a rational world no one would even be working at them in the first place. For instance, the entire field of teaching is a joke. People with just an internet connection and the ability to read are equipped for life -- everything else is a farce. The same with doctors treating terminal illnesses. What an absolute waste of time, and yet it accounts for half of all medical expenses. Who cares if death comes a month sooner or later? It makes no difference at all, and yet we waste trillions on the walking dead every year. Scrap all the fake jobs, and 90% of 'work' would cease to exist overnight. The idea that the poor are deserving so long as they're employed in one of these fake jobs, but undeserving if they remain unemployed and refuse to participate in this mummer's farce, is so ludicrously irrational that words simply cannot describe the philosophy.
I understand that in the past, most work needed doing. Before we had machines that multiplied our muscle power a thousand fold, we needed strong men plowing fields and diligent women sewing clothes and fetching water. I get that we are biologically programmed to think there is always more work that needs to be done than strong hands that can do it. That's how it's always been since the dawn of time. There has always been a use for anyone willing to work and healthy enough to swing an axe, a hoe, or whatever. But that's just not the case anymore -- it hasn't been since 1900, much less 2013 and the age of computers. Conservatives are people who have not evolved past evolution. They are like pigs or bats or any other life form that just reflexively lives off of instincts all their life long and never stops to think about what they are doing or why they are doing it. They are punishing freeloaders, just like they always have. What could be more moral than that? But when the whole world has changed, forever, to be the complete opposite of what evolution believes it to be, you can't just live on autopilot anymore. Morality is not just a god damn autopilot reflex. It's a philosophy, built out of the mind, out of reason, devoted to discovering the greatest good for the greatest number. It's about making people happy. And we can't do that on autopilot, we can't stay neanderthals and answer all these questions from the viewpoint of the God damn stone age. Wake up! Look around you! Where is the work? Where is the productive work that needs to be done by all these lazy people? Give them a job! Please, go ahead! Give them a job and pay them for it! Try and find one useful place for them, anywhere, all the billions of the unemployed all across the world! Find a job for them! There are infinite, right? So go ahead, brave souls, go ahead and give them all work. Hire them yourselves! If you can't, shut up. If you can't, why do you think they can find jobs? You are throwing them into lives of hopelessness and despair, and you don't even have a single solution for them yourselves. That is the ultimate irresponsibility known to man. You're willing to torture these billions of unfortunate souls, but you aren't willing to hire them. How cute. How very cute! If that's the extent of conservative morality, always willing to punish but never willing to help, then all you are is glorified devils.