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Give us a universal basic income

By Stacy Shores

Raising kids is the single most important thing anyone can do.

Personally, it perpetuates your genetics (admittedly diluted somewhat with someone else’s but that’s practically unavoidable right now) and your values. It expands the pool of people who will probably love you (as long as you don’t screw it up too badly).

And that’s about it. We no longer live in a world where we have multiple generations of family living together and pooling resources and effort. We don’t care for our aged, impoverished parents and grandparents the way that we once did, favouring a life of fulfilment of personal whims. When you look at the benefits of child-rearing to an individual, biological imperative is really the only thing it has going for it these days.

From society’s point of view, however, raising the next generation of labourers and consumers is absolutely crucial. Without this continuous influx of new blood to carry on the cultural traditions of overwork and overindulgence (or, even – in a slightly less dystopian world – necessary labour and modest consumption to drive it) our way of life would simply collapse.

As much as we try to believe all the “personal gain for personal effort” rhetoric, and as much as we try to convince ourselves that everyone can lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, no one ever does anything meaningful on their own. We are incredibly intertwined with other humans despite some people trying to convince us otherwise to justify themselves taking a larger slice of the pie. We rely on the effort and patronage of the community around us to thrive in today’s world.

We should stop pretending otherwise.

If our civilisation relies so heavily on the creation and nurturing of children into adults, to the point where even (especially) people who don’t have children require it to happen, I have one simple question:

Why wouldn’t we pay people to do it right?

And while we’re at it, let’s consider paying people for all the other (currently under- or un-remunerated) ways in which they contribute to our society through volunteer work, aged care, coaching local sports, generating cultural content (music, art, stories), etc.

Society has been getting a free ride for as long as I can remember off the backs of our inherent desire to improve the world that we live in. It is now wealthy enough to pay for the privilege. So why shouldn’t it?

The time has come for us to start talking seriously about a Universal Basic Income.


Also by Stacy:

Hippocrates of Canberra


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  1. Miriam English

    This is a really interesting way to put it, Stacy. Thanks.

    A universal basic income will have to happen. The alternative will be some degree of social collapse when artificial intelligence and robotics will render much of normal employment unnecessary.

  2. Deidre Zanker

    “Basic universal income”. Say that out loud and you will give treasurer Morrison a heart attack. Probably the whole cabinet would collapse in shock at the thought.

  3. John Kelly

    Well put, Stacy, except that it isn’t society who have been getting the free ride. It is the super wealthy who have taken the largest slice of the pie and not put back anything to help improve the lot of those who have made them so. They are the ones who benefit from the rewards. They are the ones who will lose out if a universal income became a reality.

  4. Patrick Dodgson

    Thank you. I started thinking this (as a guaranteed minimum income) was a good idea over 40 years ago. A quick Wikipedia search attributes it initially to Abu Bakr 573-634 CE. What will it take for common sense to work its way down to our political classes?

  5. king1394

    This failure to remunerate people for what they do is deeply embedded in our social and economic system. The gross domestic product has always overlooked individual co-operative activities; an easy example is if two families organise to help each other with child minding, this is valueless, but if they pay for formal childcare it is part of GDP.
    Where families are able to manage care of their children, their aged, their sick or disabled members within the family setting, this has been taken for granted by society, and expected as duty. This attitude overflows to certain underpaid jobs include Aged care and Child care, and to some degree teaching and nursing, where workers are expected to be ‘dedicated’.
    Likewise many much needed activities and services which are kept alive by ‘volunteers’, such as arts and sports administration, environmental work and community events, are really exploitative of those who work to make society a better place.
    The freeloaders in our society are often those who dedicate themselves to money making.

  6. kerri

    The time has come for us to stop regarding taxes as a punishment and see them for the benefits they provide!
    But of course there’s no hope of that with this government!

  7. Florence nee Fedup

    Guaranteed minimum income under many names has been suggested for many decades must sense.

    All get minimum amount to live on.

    No pensions, no benefits no handouts, Not needed,

    Big government savings and social security departments won’t be needed.

    Most of what the wealthy get, will be clawed back in taxes.

    People will still work,as the greed in us drives one.

    People will have more control over their lives, Taking time out for a baby and kids. Time for study.

  8. Wally

    I don’t disagree with the concept but personally I think it is more/just as important to restore our living standard to the point where a family can manage on a single income. It is impossible for the average family to pay a mortgage and raise a family on 1 wage. One thing I hear from unemployed people is that working for the minimum wage leaves them with less money to live on than the dole. By the time they cover the expenses to attend work (fares, fuel, meals, work wear, childcare) they can barely pay the rent let alone put food on the table.

    The LNP often talk about incentive but the way wage growth has been stifled over the last 15 years the word incentive has become a hollow dream without any relevance for the masses.

  9. Miriam English

    John Kelly, “the super-wealthy… are the ones who will lose out if a universal income became a reality.” I’m normally in 100% agreement with everything you write, but in this case I have to disagree. I’m sure the super-wealthy think they will lose, but in fact they will gain immeasureably from it, as most of the rest of us will too. We already see the beginnings of how good this could be for humanity.

    A bare twenty years ago if you’d told anybody that most of the world’s new videos, computer programs, music, and written information would be given away free, nobody would have believed you.* Look at all the new content on YouTube and Vimeo and DailyMotion shared by people just because they want to. Look at all the free software which is given away by its creators because they can (these days it’s often superior to expensive software). Nowadays many writers freely share their books and short stories online (I do). Sites like this one share many excellent written pieces that find no outlet in the paid-for world. Project Gutenberg makes tens of thousands of books available free and large numbers of people volunteer their time and skills scanning and proofreading books for it. The urge to create and share is a strong one and we all benefit from it, even the super-wealthy.

    We need the conversation to change, especially in government, to see the changes coming and assist the transition period as painlessly and positively as possible. Instead of a future where people are victimised for being part of structural unemployment and where sharing is seen as a social evil, we finally have almost in our grasp a future envisioned in countless utopian dreams where we all have access to a life of leisure and sharing — a world where we can make the world better because it is simply what we want.

    It is already happening, whether our backward-facing politicians and gluttonous uber-wealthy want it or not. We all stand to benefit from it, even they. We can embrace it and ease our entry to a new day, or we can fight it and make the transition a horrible experience… but it is coming, regardless.

    • Well, some would have believed. The free software movement has been around almost since the beginning of personal computers.
  10. dcr1959

    Sad to see judgementalism enter the UBI arena. It’s either Universal, or it’s not. What is advocated here is a Conditional Basic Income with the unworthy excluded.

  11. Miriam English

    dcr1959, I’m puzzled… where do you see anybody arguing that universal basic income shouldn’t actually universal?

    I’ve looked back over the replies thinking I might have missed something, but nothing jumps out at me. Perhaps you think people decrying the selfishness of the uber-wealthy means that they should be excluded from universal basic income, but as you say, that means it is no longer universal. One of the major motivations for universal basic income is that it requires no threshold, nobody to sit in judgement, thus eliminating one of the big disincentives to work, or at least to declare income, by those on social security benefits.

  12. 5ime0n

    Is there any relationship between the circumstances which make a Universal Basic income necessary, and the development toward a Resource Based Economy?

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