Utopia Within Our Grasp? Or Not?

Photo Credit
  • The End of Poverty and Universal Basic Income (UBI)
  • End of B.S. Jobs
  • Open Borders

The World is Rich (On Average) and Has Different Problems Now

Per Capita Income is 10x what it was in 1850.

“Man needs, for his happiness, not only the enjoyment of this or that, but hope and enterprise and change…It is not a finished Utopia that we ought to desire, but a world where imagination and hope are alive and active.”

- British Philosopher Bertrand Russel

While capitalism has helped us achieve our current level of wealth, he pushes us on, what kind of world do we want going forward? And certainly, undirected capitalism will not be sufficient to solve those problems and achieve those goals.

Poverty and Scarcity

In his TED Talk and book, Bregman talks about the scarcity phenomena: namely that when a resource is scarce it pre-occupies the mind and causes individuals to make poorer decisions. The poor are particularly in this mode — where food, money are scarce — and they are constantly context-switching and juggling mentally how they are going to make their daily lives work. I wrote about similar brain science behind poverty in an earlier blog.

Universal Basic Income

Enter UBI. This is the big assertion of the book and Bregman’s thesis and admittedly the one I was HIGHLY skeptical of. The highlights are:

  • historically UBI always seemed like a logical conclusion for the evolution of capitalism — even supported by Richard Nixon and almost came to law!
  • we can eradicate the nanny and paternalistic “surveillance” state — everyone knows the government is not the most efficient execution body, let’s get them out of the business of welfare and monitoring individuals.
  • direct payments work. there is ample evidence to support that direct giving to poverty is the most EFFECTIVE way to remove people from poverty. If you want the short version his TED talk is great.

UBI and Redistribution

As a proud American Capitalist, I had to ask myself why is it that I have a problem with UBI — with the concept of “redistribution”? Even writing the word strikes fear in the capitalist in me. The reasons I told myself are that a) we want a world where people are incentivized for work b) good things don’t happen when people get things for free and c) socialism doesn’t work — we don’t want a lazy uninspired society.

My Take

Broadly speaking, the concepts raised by Bregman all point to the need for a more active public policy arena: namely to shape a society we want to see, we need to set out those societal goals and smart policies will be necessary to help achieve those. And here, I agree, the free market is not sufficient to solve all problems and it is absolutely worth exploring improvements and evolution from that system. I wrote more about this in “Winners Take All”.

References

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Zubair Talib

Zubair Talib

Loves Technology, Startups, and Tacos.