Me, me, me.” – Agent Smith, The Matrix Reloaded
Ignoring the obvious inflationary aspects of the universal basic income (UBI) for a moment, I wish to concentrate on some of its social effects. Both modern monetary theory (MMT)-associated and mainstream UBI advocates seem to miss a very important issue, which is to eradicate the reality of society and to solidify the fantasy of individualism as an insurmountable truth.
The self-aware society
Does society exist in a situation where most people are trained to think only on individual terms? Yes, of course. It is just not self-aware. Once we become aware that we are alive, few of us wish to die. So it is with society being self-aware.
The majority of individuals within society must re-familiarise themselves with the existence of a factual thing called “society”. They must come to acknowledge it for self-awareness to occur. Self-awareness on the level of society as a whole, then, is when the majority acts as one body with purpose and determination towards a singular goal, or a set of goals.
We can see glimpses of this self-awareness during the Olympics, or the World Cup, and we also witnessed it during the second world war, when the majority of society came together for a common goal. True, during events such as these, individuals carry on with their personal lives. But they also comprehend the larger purpose that they are involved with.
Central government’s main job is to secure the well-being of the people
When we talk of economics, the singular goal which society must pursue is the public purpose. Pursuit of the public purpose is the realisation that, as the currency-issuer and regulatory authority, central government’s main job is to secure the wellbeing of the people, through policies aimed at full employment, equitable wages and fully-funded public services; and to advance that wellbeing by guaranteeing full financial support for the useful sciences and the arts.
The goal of the establishment over the past fifty years has been to break down the people’s awareness of society, gradually replacing it with a focus on the individual, and then putting a consumer price tag on public services which should never have one. The reason? To drive vast amounts of wealth to the already wealthy. How was this done?
It was done by eliminating policies of full employment, weakening trade unions, suppressing wages, deliberately under-funding public services such as police, schools, and fire brigades and blatant privatisation efforts of services like British Rail and the NHS, obstructing university education through high tuition costs and student loans, and the list goes on. All of these events work over time to break down society by removing the security and certainty of many basic needs, causing people to turn inward and to begin worrying about their own survival.
There is an alternative
Though it was not Thatcher’s idea alone, she was the visible face of the neoliberalism movement; the deliberate transformation from a sophisticated, self-aware society to a nation of confused, broken victims who now believe that there is no alternative to the hell that they live in.
But there is an alternative, there always has been, and no, we are not talking about socialism here, though there isn’t anything wrong with it. We are talking about doing the right thing. We are talking about eliminating the false notion of a taxpayer-funded central government that has no money of its own from our schools, from our universities, from our media, and from our public debate. We are talking about ridding ourselves of neoliberalism and destructive free-market nonsense. We are talking about restoring the central government to its proper place as the central figure of the economy and then allowing it to do its job properly.
The moment society becomes aware of its own existence, and the immense benefits that awareness brings to the lives of each individual, it will view individualism as death and will ever after seek to avoid it with great determination. The UBI has individualism at its core, and works to thwart social responsibility and self-awareness by turning human beings into self-interested consumption units.
The reality of society, already hard to understand for most people, becomes even less coherent with a UBI. Personal interaction at the community level in the workplace becomes more infrequent as individuals leave the workforce and turn their attentions inward to greater selfishness.
Is individualism and competition the inescapable natural order of the universe?
A job isn’t just something one does to earn money. It is also serves a major social purpose. Spending one’s time associating with other members of the community in the workplace allows for the development of critical personal relationships such as friendships, acquaintances, and the possibility of even meeting a romantic partner. All of that is now severely reduced, replaced by a growing isolation from the community. An already unhealthy preference for social media interaction and dating apps over personal contact will become worse. I will come back to the social costs of involuntary unemployment in Part VIII.
Naturally, social media corporations benefit greatly as more people stay on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms longer, allowing them to push even more advertised products for consumption units to purchase with their UBI.
The end result is the perception of “it is all about me” as the driving force behind a nation. The false notion that “there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals” becomes more deeply entrenched as the way things really are in nature.
“Me, me, me.”
You were told that individualism and competition are the inescapable natural order of the universe; that selfishness and greed promote a vibrant economy, success, and personal happiness. After fifty years of living with the results of greed and selfishness, how’s that working out for you? Are you enjoying your vibrant economy, success, and personal happiness?
The UBI is the brainchild of that same market-based ideological nonsense. Some opponents of the UBI see it as the last resort of a failing free-market ideology struggling to keep itself alive in the face of growing public protest against the grinding poverty, homelessness, out-of-control crime rates, and the vast income and wealth inequality that it has created. It’s not. It is merely the next logical step in the 1%’s consolidation of power.
UBI equals status quo
Returning now to the obvious inflationary aspects of the UBI, it can be argued that a UBI is nothing more than a consumer spending enhancement tool. It contains no inflation anchor, so at the point where accelerating inflation begins, eventually the outright elimination of the UBI in conjunction with massive tax rises must occur to reduce spending and to quell inflationary pressures.
When that happens, you can rest assured that the very same people who howl and moan about the government’s finances today will point the finger of blame at it again, and then tell society: “See we told you so!”, declaring central government spending to be an irresponsible danger to the economy and society. And from there, the lie of “there is no alternative” becomes cemented in the public’s mind as an unassailable truth.
Extreme measures may be suggested, to “get the government’s finances in order”. Doing so will cause consumer spending to fall, which means that business income will fall. When that happens, business will sack workers to save money, which will only fuel the collapse in consumer spending, leading to a recession. And remember, a main objective of UBI was to eliminate social security, welfare, and benefits. Those will now be either gone, along with the UBI entirely, or entrusted into the hand of private entities. The jobless will have nowhere to turn and will be forced to accept low-paying, part-time jobs. It is a thing that we call ‘wage suppression’.
A UBI is neoliberal market ideology, cleverly pretending to be social action through the use of the word ‘universal’ – ‘everyone’ benefits. It falsely assumes that markets are in charge of the economy. It masquerades as an acceptable form of welfare, since everyone gets some money. It pretends to be a relief from the disastrous poverty, struggle and economic turmoil that was caused by the very same free market ideology which now offers you the UBI programme as the solution to all of your woes. It is the status quo. Nothing changes for the better. Things only get worse over time.
It should be pretty clear at this point in the series that a ‘living wage’ UBI is not a realistic, workable solution to any economic and social problems that we face. But, thankfully, there is an alternative. If you wish to see actual economic stability and progress, then you will need to begin by redefining the concept of work.
Up Next: Part VII – Redefining Work