A Radical Critique of Universal Basic Income

Readers have been asking me what I thought of Universal Basic Income (UBI) as the solution to the systemic problem of jobs being replaced by automation.To answer this question, I realized I had to start by taking a fresh look at work and its role in human life and society. And since UBI is fundamentally a distribution of money, I also needed to take a fresh look at our system of money.

That led to a radical critique of Universal Basic Income (UBI) and an outline for a much more sustainable and just system of money and work than we have now. To adequately explore these critical topics, I ended up writing a 50,000 word book, Money and Work Unchained.

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is increasingly being held up as the solution to automation’s displacement of human labor. UBI combines two powerful incentives: self-interest (who couldn’t use an extra $1,000 per month) and an idealistic commitment to guaranteeing everyone material security and reducing the rising income inequality that threatens our social contract–a topic I’ve addressed many times over the past decade.

UBI’s goals–guaranteeing material security and reducing income inequality–are not just worthy; they are essential. The question then becomes: how do we achieve these goals?

The conventional critiques of UBI focus on the practicalities of funding such a substantial universal entitlement. Where will the trillions of extra dollars required come from? Can we pay for UBI by “taxing the robots” or borrowing/ printing more currency?

But a radical critique must go much, much further, and ask: is UBI the best that we can do? If we provide the basics of material security–the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs–what about all the higher needs for positive social roles, meaningful work, and the opportunity to build capital?

This critique reveals the unintended consequences of UBI:rather than deliver a Utopia, UBI institutionalizes serfdom and a two-class neofeudalism in which the bottom 95% scrape by on UBI while the top 5% hoard what every human wants and needs: positive social roles in our community, meaningful work that makes us feel needed, and the opportunity to build capital in all its manifestations.

UBI is the last gasp of a broken, dying system, a “solution” that institutionalizes all the injustices of serfdom under the guise of aiding those left behind by automation. We can do better–we must do better–and I lay out how to do so in this book.

A radical critique must also examine the widely accepted assumption that automation will destroy most jobs. Is this assumption valid? It turns out this assumption rests on a completely false understanding of the nature of work, the economics of automation and the presumed stability of an unsustainable global economy.

Read the first section for free in PDF format.

I’m offering Money and Work Unchained to my readers at a 25% discount ($7.45 for the Kindle ebook and $15 for the print edition) through Saturday, December 9, after which the price goes up to retail ($9.95 and $20). 

If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

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  • Shiggity

    The millennials are already living a worse version of serfdom than you describe.

    A UBI based serfdom is a step up for 18-34 year olds.

    Baby boomers have blinded themselves to the fact that the young of the western hemisphere have been in something worse than the great depression for the past 10 years, in terms of economic growth / wages.

    • disillusionist

      Everyone is losing in this economy but corporations and the wealthy. The baby boomers have had their savings and retirement stolen and their futures are not bright. Boomers keep working when they could have retired and let younger people take the few well paying jobs available. The GOP is still trying to take their Social Security and Medicare.

  • kimyo

    the moment you show me a robot which can re-fold and re-stack a shopper-disturbed shelf-ful of sweaters is the moment you can start worrying about robots stealing our jobs. as things currently stand, robots aren’t even able to navigate themselves thru the aisles without falling over all the time.

    it is deceitful to frame the ubi conversation as ‘robots robots robots’. the true cause is financialization – or ‘plunder capitalism’ as paul craig roberts recently called it.

    ubi wouldn’t be necessary if mortgages required a 20% down payment instead of zero-down liar/ninja loans. if a college student could earn the year’s tuition, board and books with a summer job. i know someone whose obamacare deductible is $12,000, their take-home is $30k. how is that feasible? what does any of this have to do with automation?

    either we claw back the ill-gotten gains from wall street banks or we restore balance with ubi. or we continue down this path and destroy our future (the millenials) while accusing them of spending too much on avocado toast.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzlsvFN_5HI

    • Natalie


      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a great New Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      !da263d:
      ➽➽
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    • Natalie


      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a great New Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      !da263d:
      ➽➽
      ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleDailyConsumerNetJournalsJobsReport1/easy/jobs ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!da263lus

    • Sadie


      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a great New Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
      !da243d:
      ➽➽
      ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleDailyHomeBuzzWorkFromHome/more/cash ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!da243luuu

      • cettel

        Go to hell, spammer!

  • andrew1212

    Step 1: AUDIT the U.S. Federal Reserve

    Step 2: AUDIT the U.S. Dept. of Defense

    Step 3: Prosecute the Swindlers

  • Sparticus

    I will repeat myself until HELL FREEZES over because it will eventually sink in. I have the patients of Job.
    Basic income is the solution. Government welfare is everywhere. Bankers pushed the DOW to 25,000 because of Government WELFARE. Corporations bought their own Stock with Government Welfare and this raises the costs of living and housing for all. You cannot give to one and not the other; by definition this is discrimination. Those who want to do without government are delusional because government is the only reason we have a society.

    Bankers have been taking TRILLIONS in Welfare. MIC takes TRILLIONS in Welfare. Nobody will ever go against the US government because the world fears the US government; therefore, the US government can print and credit currency until JESUS returns and there will be NO actions taken against the US government that did not come from the US government.

    Translation …. Get everything you can people, because it is a FREE FOR ALL, and those who do not get their cut will be lost in poverty.

    Costs of Education, you must be JOKING … Look at the Charts! Only a fool would pay for an education, today! You have to be RICH to get an education.

    Jobs are sent to slave labor and slave labor nations.

    People … If you do not get BASIC INCOME you will be eating your SHOES, soon.

  • Sparticus

    Oh, and if you want an Idea how to pay for it , Cake, and this should go perfectly with all of you who love peace. You stop the MIC and transfer funds from WAR to UBI … Very, Very Simple and there will be Change!

    As to the Hierarchy of Needs: Without Food, Clothing and Shelter … You die. Basic Income Security is necessary because you cannot “impoverish the consumers” or nobody will buy all those stolen goods from china. If that Happens, then You will have War. UBI has nothing to do with Earning a living or Working to acquire Capital. Simply, if you have nothing against bankers getting “stimulus and welfare” but object to the people getting UBI than you should be tarred and feathered by the people. Look at the Cost of Education, and learn to have some Empathy, because it should be YOU paying the SLSC/AES for 20-years; while your Job does not even pay you enough to eat!

  • Norman Mailer

    Charles,Please address the concept of debt forgiveness.
    Is it possible to forgive the National Debt and leave the private banks
    with all the Federal Reserve assets/debts and marked to market ?…which would make them
    insolvent and go out of business I presume.
    Is a biblical type Jubilee only for wealthy bankers?

  • Black Swan

    Article I Section 8 of our Constitution, Congress is solely given the authority to $ Coin Money, Regulate The Value Thereof, and of Foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.
    Where are the Constitutional Scholars and the Academic Think Tanks?

  • jadan

    Why is it that there is a guaranteed annual income for wealthy investors? Those who own capital thrive as the work is done by underpaid peasants with no net worth who own nothing but debt and pay rent to the parasites who exploit them. Is it so difficult to conceive of making every citizen an investor and distributing dividends to everyone? It is not easy for you, Smith, but for anyone with some compassion and basic common sense, it is very easy. Sometimes I agree with you in a lukewarm sort of way, but more often I want to smash your niggardly little ideology and piss on your shoes. I think GW likes you. My feelings about him are highly ambivalent.

  • Hologrammar

    The gist of your critique seems to be that UBI, in itself, is not a solution. I applaud your instincts; in the long run, you are right.

    Only if it’s funded correctly will it actually accomplish anything for civilization. It must be funded from land rent, the market rental value of land titles. And in fact this addresses your funding question: At any given time, how much funding is available for a “basic income” — or rather a Residents’ Dividend, as we geoists prefer to call it when it’s funded the right way — can be measured in the price of land.

    @urbanlandrights

  • Sparticus

    SS is basic Income, so, why is it that all the GEEZERS get “Free Money,” but nobody else? Here is a hint, nobody pays in “anywhere near what they collect in benefit.” Why all the bias? Are Geezers Special People? Why are GEEZERS given FREE HEALTHCARE (medicare) while everyone else is told to go off and DIE? You people do understand and recall that it was the GEEZER generation that sold the soul of America ( manufacturing and Industrial base) for their early retirement? This is why you boomers and others will never Retire. Again, “Wake up and Smell the Coffee.”

    You all better, “wake up and smell the coffee,” because you`re being screwed and the US government has a license to print and credit to infinity. SO … if you want nothing from Government, then stop giving to it, birdbrains! Employers are nothing but slave drivers who impoverish and enslave. People live on credit and are, thereby, by Roman Definition, Slaves. You`re 1/300,000,00., People, so stop accepting the government responsibility crap. They abused the masses with over 1-million laws, or so, nobody can count them all; which obliterates all freedoms! The Sheep only OBEY their masters so things will only get worse because your masters are owned by Wall Street.

    Get used to Slavery if you are unwilling to Fight.