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  • Writer's pictureMartin Schmalzried

Another way to argue for Universal Basic Income (UBI)

When discussing UBI, very often, the debate spins around dogmatic ideological confrontations (Free markets vs. Socialism) or around concepts such as justice, morality, ethics and equity, all of which will resonate differently depending on the point of view.

But maybe there is a way to advance the idea and circumvent these eternal contradictions.

Instead of discussing about UBI, the debate should move towards the premise on which UBI is built: we are headed towards a society which will gradually fail to provide jobs for everyone.

UBI is an old idea and its necessary implementation was justified using many different arguments: moral, ethical, legal (human rights)… Nowadays, UBI has re-emerged specifically due to automation and the threat of labour displacement and eventual replacement in some more or less distant future.

A way to start the debate around UBI would thus be the following: instead of advocating for or against UBI, one should start with asking whether there is agreement on the premise, namely, that advances in technology will not be compensated via job creation and that we are headed towards unsustainable mass unemployment. If there is no agreement on this premise, then there is no point going any further and the debate should focus on clarifying this point.

If agreement cannot be found on the premise of a future jobless society, then we can ask the following: in presupposing that the premise is correct, how would you propose that the economy would function? Or in other words, if the premise is correct, what are your alternative proposals to UBI? If a majority of people cannot find work, how would the economy function? This forces opposers of UBI to argue as if the premise was correct. The usefulness of this rhetoric exercise is on the one hand to force them to formulate alternative proposals to UBI should we move towards a jobless society, and on the other, if no alternative proposals can be formulated, to demonstrate that should the premise be correct, UBI is, at this time, the most viable alternative. Also, imposing this thought exercise might be useful in identifying better alternatives than UBI.

Of course, this is setting aside all alternatives which involve highly immoral and inhumane choices like exterminating the poor or jobless, forbidding the poor from reproducing, imposing limits on the number of children etc…

With this line of reasoning, if we postulate that UBI is the only rational solution to a jobless future society, most of the research should go into proving and demonstrating that the premise of UBI is correct rather than defending the idea of UBI. Once we have found enough evidence and proof that jobs are disappearing and are not being replaced, UBI should become self-evident.

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