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Give People Money by Anne Lowrey (used paperback)

Regular price $10.00

Really important book about universal basic income and why people need money specifically, not stuff. Here's something I wrote about it:

Universal basic income (UBI) would be the quickest way to end poverty. That would mean giving every single person a stipend every month ($1000 is the discussed amount). Effective immediately, no one would be cashless.
So many government programs dip into certain demographics–single mothers only, disabled people only, unemployed but recently employed people, tax returns for those who are working, etc. What about everyone else? What about the group as a whole? This all relates back to the falsehood of identity politics. Policy others certain groups of people and then bias and bad treatment of that group follows. In reality, the biggest thing most of the population has in common is a lack of capital.

UBI pilots have been implemented in different locations with all positive results. Most people, it turned out, weren’t useless bums but rather potential business owners with no start-up money (i.e. capital). One main reason giving cash is better than giving stuff is because you don’t know what these people really need as well as they do. Toms shoes, for example, give a pair to poor countries when you buy one, but those shoes aren’t good for every climate and situation. Furthermore, it ruins the market for any other local shoemaker. As Lowrey points out, shoes don’t do much for a person who can’t afford school fees or water or food. It’s the same concept for different welfare programs that only give you items, not money. Some single mothers might not need more groceries that week. They need to pay their light bill or they want to save up for a car or or or.

This book frames a lot of this discussion around the rise of robots and the way they threaten jobs, but this is also obviously relevant to coronavirus conditions–not everyone can work but everyone deserves to have their basic needs met. A UBI would mean people could quit the minimum wage job they hate. It would mean they can care for a sick relative or afford childcare or do their art. We should be leaning into technology–get people off cash registers and out of terrible warehouse jobs. What is the point of technology if not to make life better? We’re holding back just for the sake of making people prove their worth through working meaningless jobs. One major step, however, is getting the public on-board. You’d think everyone would love the idea of getting $1000/month every month with no strings and no guidelines about spending. But we have been indoctrinated into believing that our worth is determined by the means which we produce. We have to earn our living.

This system of beliefs is tied tightly to racism/sexism/etc. Lowrey mentions that in one country, most people were pro-UBI until they heard immigrants would also get the check too. In the U.S., our racial divisions define our ideas about welfare even though every single person is technically on welfare (welfare only means government assistance). But political identities were created for profit. The government freely admits that they use lots of red tape and complicated applications and stuff to deter people from getting aid from existing programs. The whole concept of UBI, then, is similarly about morality not numbers. We could “find” the money if we wanted to–whether that means taxing, removing other welfare programs in place of a UBI, or just doing what the government always does–spend the money and find it after.
-Rachel Wagner