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Op-Ed: Pandemic causes Universal Basic Income? Not so weird after all

Universal Basic Income is a regular payment without strings attached, unlike many Social Security schemes. The original call for UBI has been around for quite a while. It was originally raised as a remedy for poverty and wealth inequity, but the pandemic has raised the stakes enormously.
Although most governments did come to the party with stimulus packages for the pandemic, criticism of those stimulus packages has been pretty continuous. The US stimulus package, in particular, was strongly criticised for not delivering enough money for long enough. Globally, the same ongoing criticisms apply in one form or another.
In an unlikely twist, my own country, Australia, a poll by YouGov has indicated support for a UBI in a recent poll. What’s so unlikely about it is that Australia is a typical Western nation. We tend to follow, not lead, in social reforms. To give you some idea of our social security mindset, there hasn’t been an increase in unemployment payments since the mid-90s. It’s not generally a major political issue for anyone.
The pandemic has changed the game. It wasn’t as bad here for infections and deaths, but it did involve major lockdowns for months. People were pretty lost. The financial uncertainties were real enough. Adding to this was the fact that low-income people were really hit hard. The stimulus, agreed to without dissent from anyone, did do the job of sealing the holes in peoples’ lifeboats.
The new poll is interesting:
50% agree or “somewhat” agree.
25% disagree, of whom 11% strongly disagreed.
25% didn’t agree or disagree, or didn’t know what UBI is.
If this was a demographic analysis, it’d be 50% are OK with the idea, and only 25% are actually against it. This is in a rich country, remember. It’s a rich country with some shocking, in fact disgusting, poverty stats.
Check out the link to the poverty stats, it’s a nasty little bit of reality which is rarely mentioned.
The point is this –
• We can assume that the 13.6% of the population below the poverty line aren’t opposed to more money.
• The 1 in 3 students dropping out of college and other education for lack of funds wouldn’t mind a bit more.
• Age pensioners (15% of the population) and others on fixed incomes (5% on unemployment benefits) wouldn’t object to some more cash.
So at least 28% of the population obviously do need the support a UBI could provide.
There are other issues:
• Homelessness and similar existential disasters. According to some pretty repulsive government stats, 116,000 Australians are homeless or near homeless.
• The misery of not being able to pay bills and the severe damage to businesses and the economy due to lack of money.
• Ever increasing costs of living progressively driving people below the poverty line.
• The future is expected to be more of the same, with automation taking large numbers of jobs and reconfiguring the workforce drastically. That means more people with much less money.
The question now is “Who’s objecting?”
It’s hard to tell what the basis for objections might be. Maybe it’s the old “work ethic”? Seems unlikely, given the total lack of ethics in the workplace around the world, which I’ve seen for myself.
Perhaps it’s the “Don’t get something for nothing” idea, which also no longer applies in the higher income brackets. It might be the built-in prejudice against the poor, that bizarre, in fact perverted, hatred by the rich of people who have little or nothing.
(It’s odd, you know; even after all these years of writing about various global insanities, to read that sort of logic cold is truly nauseating. How do people have such grotesque viewpoints about human misery and suffering? I’ll believe these misery-loving psychopaths and sociopaths are human when I see proof.)
Let’s clarify:
• The UBI isn’t about “paying people for breathing”. It’s a direct economic subsidy of the economy. Like social security, the money goes directly back into the economy.
• The UBI is a general support mechanism to pay bills, buy food, and have somewhere to live that isn’t on a sidewalk.
• In heavily privatised countries, (all of which were doing extremely well before privatisation), economic needs are much higher than they were a generation ago. People simply cannot afford what they used to be able to afford.
• The whole idea of jobs and earning a living will change, soon, and rapidly. It’ll be stop/start employment. Generation Z will be lucky to have regular employment. They’ll be in the gig economy, not earning enough money regularly enough to qualify for mortgages or the rest of the sitcom story of life.
• Career paths may be incredibly tricky for the next generations, who couldn’t possibly be sure what sort of income they’ll have in that economic environment.
The pandemic may have done the world a favour by forcing UBI to the centre stage. These issues are coming, fast, and there’s no stopping the fan from being hit. The problem now is whether governments understand it. If they don’t, it’s going to be one very big train wreck.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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