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Universal Basic Income (UBI)–why it is a terrible idea

20 Mar 2018

One of the hidden-from-view debates going on among intellectuals and elites is the idea of the Universal Basic Income (UBI).  The basic idea is let’s get rid of all welfare programs, and give everybody a check of some minimum amount that would meet the essentials of life.  You could have it baked into the tax system so even the rich get this same check, but then they’d pay a higher rate to recapture for the Treasury what they’d received from UBI.  Some progressives like it because it ensures everyone receives a certain amount of money to live off of, some conservatives like it because it is potentially efficient (getting rid of many bureaucratic and regulatory burdens).  I mean, even the economists greatest teaching object lesson, the minimum wage, could be eliminated with this program.  One of the motivators for this is the view of the impending end of all low-skilled jobs by Artificial Intelligence and technology generally.  So where does this Christian stand on UBI?

I think its another lie straight from Hell.  Yep, that’s what I think.  UBI does not reflect the most basic Christian understanding of what it means to be human, that we are both created in the Image of God and yet are fallen.  Our goal for people in human flourishing is to help them become what God wants for them to be.  Of course we want people to have minimum essentials of life.  But not at the expense of eternal life.  As it says in Proverbs 16:26, a man’s hunger “works for him,” in that it drives each of us to overcome our own fleshly sloth to work in service to others.  Because we are fallen, each of us has our inner couch potato (at least at some level) and some of us can have an inner couch potato so large we’ll play video games in our parent’s basement well into our 20s and 30s to avoid serving others through work!  Young ladies, if you wonder why there are so many unworthy potential marriage partners, start looking right here for a big part of the problem.  This is a serious problem, and UBI would be an enabler of this incredibly disturbing trend, because it doesn’t understand our fallen nature and how many will become trapped by their fleshly sloth.  As Nicholas Eberstadt says,

The progressive detachment of ever-larger numbers of adult men from the reality and routines of regular paid labor poses a self-evident threat to our nation’s future prosperity. It can only result in lower living standards, greater economic disparities, and slower economic growth than we might otherwise expect.

And the troubles posed by this male flight from work are by no means solely economic. It is also a social crisis – and a moral crisis. The growing incapability of grown men to function as breadwinners cannot help but undermine the American family. It casts those who nature designed to be strongest into the role of dependents – on their wives or girlfriends, on their aging parents, or on government welfare.

Among those who should be most capable of shouldering the burdens of civic responsibilities, it instead encourages sloth, idleness, and vices perhaps more insidious. Whether we choose to recognize it or not, this feature of the American condition – the new “men without work” normal – is inimical to our tradition; it is subversive of our national ethos, and arguably even of our civilization

Further, UBI does not reflect the fact that work is a gift from God, created for us by God before the Fall, that we should steward His garden.  To become who God has called us to be, we are to serve others through effective stewardship of others, and working in the market is a primary way to do that in our economy.

I have seen the problems of this nature in a small fashion in my own small town in Arkansas, where seemingly everybody has somebody in their family on social security disability–nobody will do anything.  One of the fallacious drivers of UBI is the idea that there will be no more need for manual, low skilled labor.  As long as there are human wants and desires, there will be opportunity for workers and jobs.  Technology may change what those service opportunities may look like, but those service opportunities have been and always will be with us as technology frees human labor to more (and usually better, more personally satisfying) jobs.  So in my small town, getting anybody to crawl under your house to work on plumbing, or electrical wiring (is AI really going to do that?) is next to impossible, even at good wages.   I remember as a boy the “good ‘ol boys” who would live on the river, wearing nothing but a pair of old blue jeans (no shirt no shoes) and they would have an old beaten down Ford pickup and constantly fish and drink beer.  When they ran out of money, they’d do a bit of whatever they could to make a buck, and turn around and do it again.  You would be amazed at how little money it takes to live a pretty unhealthy lifestyle.  We can’t stop people from doing what I saw in my youth, but we certainly shouldn’t subsidize it.

Work is a gift from God.  What our primary public policy should be looking at is how do we remove barriers that keep people from working.  And part of that is helping people not succumb to their inner couch potato.

At least that’s what I think.  So, what do you think?  The comments are now open.