If you want to understand humans, learn from History. Historians help mould mental model; Dutch historian Rutger Bregman offers me Utopia as “a new lodestar, a new map of the world that once again includes a distant, uncharted continent.”
Utopia, created by Thomas More over 500 years ago, had dual meanings of “good place” and “no place”. Bregman gives us a history of how utopian visions that have driven humanity forwards. A Guardian reviewer agreed, but questioned the feasibility of universal basic income (UBI) that Bregman argues the case for in “Utopia for Realists“.
I find the evidence presented on UBI quite compelling, if limited. Many of the fears around poor use of money are not realised; people mostly use money to get out of poverty or meet important needs. Nevertheless, it remains the basis of the critiques. Do the attackers identify flaws with the evidence he presents for his case? Not that I have see; instead they use false logic, basing their ‘theory’ of what will happen on an old and flawed model of ‘human nature.’ And despite the historical evidence to the contrary.
(But then what does evidence have to do with policy-making, when it is driven by specific interests rather than the collectives good. (cf. Climate Change)
Of course, the main challenge to UBI is affordability. Bregman shows how much wealthier we have got than 50 years ago, when Nixon almost implemented a UBI. Democratic Senate held it back because they wanted a higher payment – eventually getting nothing! The UBI will remove the need for a large government bureaucracy to deliver a range of benefits, as well as potentially removing ‘bullshit’ work. It can also unleash entrepreneurial activity that then generates more wealth. But affordability is a political as much as financial decision.
UBI could be more than just money purely financial support to the supply of the means of life: water, food, shelter, transport. Digital systems offer new means of matching supply and demand to maximise efficiency while giving citizens choice. And we urgently need to address the food industry for the sake of our health.
Some will not agree for UBI, or prefer to spend tax dollars elsewhere, but the positive impact of public services is already well demonstrated. If the State can provide the basic needs for all, and leave the private sector for luxuries, would we not be all better off? Can you imagine this society, this utopia?
Is more evidence needed to implement the UBI? And could it be done globally, rather than my country? Yes, utopian visions. But is the thee time not over-ripe for the Messiah to come (or return, depending on your view of Christ). Alternatively, we now have the science and resources to create a Utopia; or continue on the path of self-destruction.
Money solves poverty. We can afford it. Really, we can!