Lindsey Dearnley; Brave New Benefits

A few days ago, I came across a Guardian article reporting that areas of Fife and Glasgow may become the first places in Scotland to trial a new Universal Basic Income scheme.

Advocates claim the idea is a revolutionary shift in the dynamics of society. By giving unconditional “free money” to every citizen, those struggling around the breadline will be liberated from poverty, crime will be reduced, and stagnating parts of the country will flourish with creativity and new enterprise like a desert in bloom. Once people are freed from the daily grind, so the logic goes, they will be free to achieve their true potential. I happened to read the article on the same day I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Later, I watched a TED talk outlining the positives and negatives of a B.I. The first major obstacle was how such a scheme could be financed. The second concern was that people would simply become lazy and quit work.

The speaker outlined various methods of funding, claiming that schemes conducted elsewhere in the world (in obscure locations on minuscule amounts of people) had been successful. The second concern—that a guaranteed income would see huge numbers of people quit work and become lazy— was simply wafted away.

“Put your hand up if receiving a basic living wage would cause you to quit your job right now. I bet 99% of you wouldn’t” He said to the audience of middle class post-grads.

The idea that the state should pay citizens simply to exist is nothing new, it was first proposed 200 years ago by Thomas Sowell, but no convincing model to fund such a monumental shift in economics has ever been created. Economics however, it not my strong point, but I do have considerable first hand experience on the matter of laziness and poverty.

I am the kind of candidate who would truly benefit from a universal income. It would solve all my current problems. I would no longer have to worry about scraping enough money together to pay the rent, I could stop worrying about the future. I could free myself from day to day concerns. Yet I do not want a basic income, not for myself, not for anybody.

The spectre of poverty is a real entity. I know it well. Like a Dickensian ghost, it floats somewhere just behind me, a dour chaperon, dolefully shaking it’s head at every frivolous suggestion. A night out? Absolutely not. Another hour in bed? It taps its wrist. If I try to ignore it, it pokes a cold bony finger into my thoughts. You’ve no time for this! You must do more, you must try harder, you must! It terrifies me, but it terrifies me into action.

If anybody is desperate for the tranquilising effects of basic income, it is me. But despite everything, I don’t want to see the spectre, my voice of reality, dissipate. Who will prod me awake and demand I seek a way to better my lot? Who will tell me that no job is beneath me and force me to fill out the application forms? Proponents would tell me that if I had money, I wouldn’t need to worry about these things, I could concern myself with loftier goals, but I have not found this to be true.

I look at the shelf full of elves, penguins and mice that I recently made. In my jobless desperation I managed to create an income simply out of a single pile of wool. I spent days felting together creatures and when one animal didn’t sell, I created another, and another. Soon I had wolves and tigers to add to the stock, then fairies, gnomes, pugs and foxes. I made enough to set up a Christmas stall and I scraped through. I earned less than I would have if I had drawn benefits, but there is something else that it gave me, and it is this ‘something’ that is precisely what the basic income would sedate. I garnered a sense of pride in my ability to learn a new skill, and a comfort derived from a self-assurance that I could look after myself independently.

Basic Income already has a nationwide trial run in the form of long term benefits. I know a good number of people on them. Whether they are genuine candidates or not however, once their lives become funded by the state, the mental deterioration is the same. They don’t notice it themselves, but I see it when I visit them at intervals. When they worked, they were animated and sharp, even those with genuine illnesses. Conversations were lively and varied, and left me energised.

But then the Benefits came and whatever illnesses they had before pales in comparison to the sickness that long term purposeless inflicts upon them. Especially men who live alone. The first sign of benefits sickness is a flattening of the voice, then the face loses expression and the eyes become distant. Over a period of months the lack of stimulation eats away their thoughts, outlook, self regard and ability to look after themselves. They become dishevelled and hopeless. The conversation overly focused on personal trivialities as the outside world shrinks in their awareness. Even the smallest of obstacles appear loom insurmountably to those with benefits sickness. Where once they were eager to get back into work, now, any attempt to change their routine is met with excuses and eventually they leave the house less and less. The days merge together, the clocks break and are not restarted. The afflicted sleep at irregular hours, until there is no point in opening the curtains at all. I know the sickness, I’ve felt its stultifying creep. Thats why I now prefer the company of the spectre.

The Basic Income is created by a class of people who regard manual work as beneath them. Therefor it must be beneath everybody. They fail to grasp that freedom comes to the individual through hard work itself, which is not just a means of securing money but also of engaging in the wider society. Full state support is the opposite, it is homogenising, stultifying, and robs the individual of the pride and confidence that work, any work, can bring. Huxley predicted the liberal utopia accurately, the BI is on the path to state ownership of the individual. Everybody belongs to everybody else.

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12 Comments on Lindsey Dearnley; Brave New Benefits

    • Or, as the people of England of all classes, from Queen to pauper, would respond (if they answered honestly) to the question: “So what do you do?”
      “As little as possible, as often as necessary”.

  1. Sickies, and the endless chant of “work to live, don’t live to work”, are quite substantial evidence that for most people a Universal Income would be a license to slob; spending all day drinking special brew/wine, smoking weed, and playing on the playstation.

    Where people no longer have to “work” in order “to live” they will generally choose not to work. Work ethic, with the idea of duty, of living to work, and of us owing the world a living rather than the other way around, is comparatively rare.

    There will, of course, be exceptions. Those few who are either driven be vocation or self-improvement (both laudable) or avarice (not laudable) will of course seek a means of doing and/or gaining more than the basic minimum, but those driven by easily pleased pleasure-centres will be content with a day of booze, games, tv, weed, and sex (no doubt breeding the next generation of wasters to replace them).

    Benefits should be for the disabled, not for idealogues to create a new age of decadence.

  2. What to do with a large unemployable mass of poor people getting poorer by the hour? The answer surely to Roger From Florida is nuclear war to reduce population size. Ecologically sound, especially if neutron bombs are used thus preserving the infrastructure, and Chernobyl has shown life can flourish even after serious radiation doses. The problem is that there are not enough Muslim fanatics equipped with suitcases, they might only take out a mere 20,000 and the explosions would not be ‘clean’. We need a really serious nuclear professional exchange to get rid of two thirds of the worlds population. Donald Trump’s peace overtures to Russia do not bode well in this respect. Also Roger has not dealt with the problem of AI having taken over nearly everybody’s job, no taxes can be raised and there won’t be any shoppers.

    • You know you really ought to leave the comedy to the professionals, or at least the competent. Economics isn’t your strong point either is it? There is a viable theory that now money (currency) is released from its link to the gold standard relic, the treasury department can issue whatever amount of currency it deems suitable for the economic conditions that pertain. Robots don’t pay taxes for the simple reason that they are not paid wages, all they require is maintenance and software/hardware revisions. They do however create value, that value can be purchased with currency that the Treasury issues to people directly. I am not enough of an expert to predict whether such a scheme will work, however it is clear that Govts. have issued irredeemable amounts of debt and that the taxes that they raise are becoming less and less relevant to actual levels of expenditure, so why levy taxes at all?
      As I said in my comment; some very fundamental questions need to be addressed.
      As for the over population issue; the Earth’s resources are finite, it is impossible for the living standards of the billion or so in advanced countries to be given to the six billion or so surplus, so there will be a huge die off, unfortunate yes, but inevitable.

  3. It will fail miserably for the same reason that communism, socialism, and even left-of-center liberalism always fails—it does not take human nature into account.

  4. There is another aspect of this debate that needs to be considered; that is the rise of robotics, AI, automation and the development of software algorithms that will, within a few decades, render unnecessary some 70% of current human employment. This may not be apparent in a culturally low productivity and rather technologically backward country like Britain, but the work going on in the US and Japan, and increasingly in China is quite fantastic.
    The implications of this are profound; we may actually be on the cusp of replacing ourselves as a species. Billions of the people living today have no human capital value whatsoever, they are breeding, eating and defecating machines and very little more.
    Some very fundamental questions are going to have to addressed.

  5. Give people free money as a ‘basic income’ and they will become lazy and even more entitled. They will become bitter about how small the income is, whatever it’s size, while losing any sense of obligation or gratitude. This is guaranteed to create bitter, feckless people with no sense of purpose, living in a constant present, with no concept of purpose or a future to work toward. We know this because we can see the effects of long term dependence on benefits. (and I’d love to know where Fife and Glasgow propose to get the money to give to its citizens.)

  6. Ms Dearnley,
    You open a real can of worms re: social questions, about people, work, attitudes, human behavior, etc. If the article is about you specifically then jolly good show, you are a trouper! If the article is about our society generally you are way off the mark. The problem comes down to one single issue; there are far too many people on this planet for a western style life to be enjoyed by any but a tiny fraction of them. Without considering the population explosions that are occurring in the ME/North Africa, Sub Saharan Africa and the Indian sub continent. Every western style economy except Japan has a surplus of people. The Japanese have very sensibly refused to compensate for their declining population by importing immigrants or economic refugees; they are maintaining their economy by increases in productivity particularly through automation and robotics.
    The concept of “Universal Basic Income” is already well established through the welfare system. In the US for example the value of benefits available to a single mother of four equate to an annual income of approximately $65,000.00. The only change would be to end the means testing and hand out the windfall to everyone. Whilst many would still work and maintain some ambition, most will sink into the apathy you describe. The effects of the benefit lifestyle are on full display in many formerly industrial areas of the US; chronic drug and alcohol abuse, addiction to pornography, collapse of personal standards of dress, cleanliness and manners. This is typically accompanied by rising crime, particularly drug and human trafficking related activities.
    The alternative to the above scenario is even worse: Widespread poverty and squalor, even to starvation, crime and violence at a war zone level (this is found today in Brazil for example, where helicopter commuting across cities is common due to the dangerous nature of the streets below).
    Given the choices it is probably easier for the productive few to hand over whatever wealth is required to keep the worthless quiet, if not happy. How this will be accomplished within the parameters of traditional financing is difficult to see, it is quite possible that an entirely new system of societal money management will have to be developed.

  7. First proposed by Thomas Sowell 200 years ago? It won’t work (accordong to the author) because said author reckons it isn’t punitive enough to give her and others of like mind enough impetus to focus on finding a job.

    Might not giving people an income to cover food, housing and other essential bills encourage them to take responsibility for their day to day lives. And, at one stroke an army of welfare bureaucrats would become surplus to requirement.

    Moreover, the reduction in a mountain of paperwork used to “assess” welfare claims would also save a few tree’s. The question we need to ask is not whether Lyndsey and her friends will be less inclined to go out and find work under a basic income scheme, but whether the cost to the tax payer is less or more than it is under the current system.

    I’m not sure the author has addressed that question.