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UBI - Universal Basic Income...Good or Bad?

Started by Kalliste, December 17, 2018, 01:57:49 PM

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Is UBI a good or bad idea? I see the cost of enabling such scheme as an obvious barrier with up to 27% of GDP (in US) cost but in the meantime could drastically lower populism risk and bureaucracy if we could creatively find the money (reducing social spending, keeping healthcare for ex and scaling down UBI based on revenue). What do you guys think?


Implementing UBI is such a complex problem so it's hard to say whether it's good or bad.


I think it comes down to 2 questions about human nature:

1) How much are we motivated to be productive by pride, desire for luxury, desire for prestige, desire for social connections, desire to do do good in the world, etc. And how much are we motivated by just wanting a roof over our heads and food on the table. The more the secondary values of productivity matter to us, the more wiggle room we'd have for setting a UBI payout and gaining (or at least not losing much) productivity.

2) If we accept that some range of UBI payouts may provide a net benefit, but values beyond that are a net drain: can we as a society maintain a healthy UBI rate? If the UBI rate is set directly by politicians, will people vote in politicians who'll raise it beyond a healthy level? If the UBI rate is set by some bureaucracy like the Fed, will it be able to maintain independence? Can it be trusted to set the UBI rate correctly?

If you think people only work because they don't want to starve, or that any large scale economic project will ultimately be subverted by short term desires, you'll probably think UBI is a terrible idea. If you think people mostly desire to be productive members of there community (or at least to become middle class or wealthy), and that a system with proper feedback loops can maintain a steady state rate, it sounds like a wonderful opportunity for unlocking lost productivity.

If you find humans to be complex, nuanced creatures and society as a dynamic ever changing arrangement, then it's an intriguing possibility with the promise of vastly increased economic freedom and the specter of a fallen civilization.


QuoteIs UBI a good or bad idea?

What is the intended effect of UBI? What do you gain and what do you lose?

QuoteWhat do you guys think?
"...[trading] freedom not even for a bowl of soup, but worse, for the spoken empty feelings of others who say that you deserve to have a full bowl of soup provided by someone else." Terry Goodkind, Faith of the Fallen

Fat Tony

I honestly a system like UBI could make sense (all the utility curves and the exact structure has huge effects too on what UBI feels like- one person's "UBI" at $X/mo is another's "prosperity dividend/oil dividend"). Psychology and human behavior and reaction to incentives is real too, and can change dramatically in the space of decades. Studying small groups of people is very different from entire nations. I think introducing UBI today is going to cause far more problems than it produces. It's too early, basically.

If we have 3.7% unemployment and 3%+ GDP growth, where is our technological unemployment? How different will it be this time? When/if will robots replace *substantial* amounts of humans? Why rush to implement this now, rather than wait until it is necessary?

In a way, "classic" UBI is a very *rigid* redistribution scheme of income on the "giving" side. Paired with some form of progressive taxation, you can adjust the curve there. As a result, given the complex choices, incentives, and desire of humans, it is highly unlikely to provide as much performance or "overall utility" or "net societal good" over a more complex scheme that involves more sticks and carrots and phase-outs and whatnot. You see this expressed in a more concrete form of "but why are we giving the rich people $X, don't other people need it more? What about cost of living? Sick single mothers get the same? etc."

I think a huge part of the emotional appeal of UBI is that it is simple, but that's what also makes it questionable. It tries to get rid of some of the ill effects of the current system e.g. super-high effective marginal tax rates as you phase out of welfare into net tax paying, but is replacing it with something also as rigid better? Also, how do we know that the current system with various traps is actually worse than UBI? Strictly speaking, from nearly any value perspective, adding more rules should give you a better system. The fact that UBI isn't being implemented everywhere and gets voted down by huge margins should say something too.