That might be true. Though, actually, in the places where it's been trialled, it appears that that is not actually the case. People on universal income continue to work. But they are healthier. We all know mental health impacts our physical health. Imagine a world where it's possible to fail at something without it destroying your life. Imagine failing; falling down, but the bottom actually still means you can eat, and have shelter. You have the space to breathe, pick yourself up and try again.
One of my favourite things I've seen surrounding the UBI argument that folks simply wouldn't work anymore is the simple response of, "Good."
And it had me thinking a lot about what makes a person valuable, and, to narrow the scope, what makes me valuable. In short, if UBI was a thing, and if I was a recipient, what would I do? How would I exist in the world if the continual stress of not having money, and having no job whatsoever, didn't persistently keep me up at night, or sobbing at random intervals in the day?
Would I work?
Well, yes. I would work for an hourly wage part time, probably in the service industry or in administration, I think, because I feel like I could use the interaction, have the appropriate skills, and I genuinely enjoy being helpful.
I would certainly continue to teach martial arts. It's a passion, and I really enjoy it.
I would use the rest of my time to try and build up my custom, luxury handmade leather items business. It would be a struggle to get it off the ground, but I would be afforded the time to work carving and sewing leather, drumming up business and attending markets. It isn't work that would, at first, bring in an awful lot of income, but it might, one day, if I'm afforded the time and resources to work at it.
I would continue the work of writing fiction. This, too, is not work that generates a lot of income (yet? Ever, likely), but it is work. Just because I'm not paid well for the work doesn't mean I'm not working. Is my worth to society really nothing because most of my labour in this sphere is unpaid?
But my contributions wouldn't really end there. With a little extra time on my hands, and my mental health not overly burdened by financial stress, I'd have the capacity to volunteer. I'm not just talking about the time here. My ability to cope is finite. I can't handle the burden of volunteering (particularly for difficult volunteer positions that require a great deal of empathy and emotional energy) if I'm also bursting into tears every three seconds because I'm stressed about not having a job, and wondering if I'm going to be homeless in the next little while.
I would continue my work as an artist. Currently, despite folks relying so heavily on the arts in these times as a means to cope, some think that the arts aren't a worthwhile thing to invest time into, being seen as frivolous or a luxury. But it absolutely is necessary. Both the practice of it and the consumption of it are the only things keeping many people sane in these times, as well as in better times. That has value. It should be valued. And who knows? With UBI, folks might have a bit more money to invest in art and artists, and it wouldn't be seen as a waste of money - particularly if people don't have to choose between paying their rent or buying a piece of art that speaks to their souls.
All of these things are work. They're work that I either haven't the capacity for now, or won't have the time or energy for once I'm gainfully employed again. These things are work that don't currently pay much, or at all, in the case of volunteering.
Truly, I do not think I'd be alone in this regard. I do think that more people would be employed - part time positions don't cover the bills, but are often the only work folks can get, and any income generated by them negatively impacts whatever shoddy financial support people do receive. And if folks don't need to work all the time, there will be greater capacity for volunteering. I expect I would see an uptick of volunteers if UBI was implemented. People do want to contribute to the societies in which they live.
Anyway, would what I'm describing here constitute as gaming the system? Would I be taking advantage of it? Some people might say that, yes, actually, I totally would be. But I don't think that's the case. A person is worth more to society than whatever income they can drag in from their employment. And just imagine how wonderful it might be to have a world in which folks can fearlessly pursue their dreams, volunteer in their communities... and imagine how much money could be made for the economy if folks went out to lunch with friends a little more frequently because they had both the time and the funds to do so, or if they could take a trip to a local market to support local farmers and artisans that might have set up there, because they had both the time and funds to do so.
I know UBI is a pipe dream. The current situation permits employers to treat and pay their staff terribly, knowing that many will feel too trapped to quit for fear of failing and falling into ruin, and those in power like this arrangement far too much.
But I'm seeing a better future, where communities prosper, and folks are healthier and so much happier. A pipe dream, I know. But it's currently all I have.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go have a good sob.