Those born between 1997 and 2012 represent the first generation growing up with smartphones – and are considered by some not to be big fans of (hard) work.
If true, they’d surely welcome the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI) – a monthly payment handed out to everyone, independent of employment – but loud voices argue against it: enforcing a UBI would be unrealistic, they say, and our descendants shouldn’t be so lazy.
However, the fact that such a payment could solve various problems is consciously overlooked by the political sphere.
The Age-Old Question of Universal Basic Income
The idea of a basic income (or ‘minimum security’) dates back to the 16th century. In Europe, poverty served as a reason for mercy, which, by the 18th century, had transformed from charity and benevolence into a political responsibility to provide for the needy from public funds. This charitable action was seen as a good, godly deed, creating a functional relationship between the two sides of the social divide: the rich served as the destitute’s salvation from poverty, while supporting the poor stood for the wealthy minority’s redemption and entry into the kingdom of Heaven.
Although paying for your ticket to paradise is fortunately no longer relevant today, the discussion about a fair distribution of monetary resources is all the more pertinent.
“Tax the rich” has been on everyone’s lips – especially since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s appearance at the Met Gala in 2021. It’s a call for a (more) just distribution, which more and more affluent individuals are joining to put an end to growing global inequality.
I’d like to point out a fact that is often mentioned and deserves to be repeated: by the end of 2022, 1.1 % of the world’s population owned approximately 45.8 % of global wealth, while 52.5 % of the world’s population owned just 1.2 %.
So, how could UBI contribute to a fairer world?
Benefits of Universal Basic Income
Well, it’s actually quite simple. If everyone was to receive a monthly amount of, for example, €1,000, it could cover many of their fixed costs. These include rent, utilities, and groceries.
Depending on one’s lifestyle and situation, it could also cover part of the costs for clothing, recreational pursuits, internet, television, phone, insurance, loan repayments, etc. It could prove to be an enormous relief for many people and practically guarantee a decent minimum standard of living (a human right). Perhaps it would even be possible to afford the charges that care or educational institutions levy – the right to education too is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Bridging the Gender Pay Gap
Speaking of human rights, article 23 states that all people have “the right to equal pay for equal work without any discrimination”. We women know how this looks in practice. Which brings me to the next point: UBI cannot solve the gender pay gap, but it at least can support those who are disadvantaged by it.
This sexist disadvantage is exacerbated by the fact that in families with children, the woman/mother tends to more frequently work part-time to be able to take care of the offspring. Since child-rearing is still not considered “work” and therefore not remunerated, UBI can be seen as a salary for individuals with these and other caregiving responsibilities. It’s better than nothing and can also help make up for the lower pensions that women tend to receive because of their reduced time in employment over a lifetime.
There can be no talk of independence when one’s standard of living is no longer financially viable without the support of a man. In summary, universal basic income represents a small compensation payment where companies neglect equal treatment of their employees; a relief for caregivers of children and dependent family members; and a prevention against old-age poverty and financial dependence.
For those who might now be thinking, “I am not a woman, I am well-paid, I don’t have children or caring responsibilities, why should I care?”, keep reading!
First, set aside your egoism. It’s not about you individually but what’s best for us all. Second, even you could face a stroke of fate – literally. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but everything is possible. A heart attack or accident is enough to suddenly halt how you move through life from one day to the next. These don’t necessarily have to be physical limitations. As seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, suddenly losing your job and income can worsen your lifestyle. In such cases, wouldn’t it be nice to have a financial cushion to absorb the shock? Unless you have an impressive inheritance waiting, the answer is probably “yes.”
Work Practices Are Change – Deal with It!
But back to the aforementioned Generation Z, often accused of not wanting to work and having too high expectations of their employers, I would like to address two points regarding this.
First, who can blame them? Older generations like to complain about how hard they toiled and how much they hated what they did in their jobs. Moreover, they often regret not having had enough time for their friends, families, and themselves – as summarised in Bronnie Ware’s eye-opening memoirs.
One cannot be genuinely surprised about the youth not wanting to be exploited and risking their mental and physical health. As the case may be, this could include a workweek of less than 40 hours. For those who think there are enough jobs to go round, and that the economy will collapse if all young people work part-time, I would like to refer to an interesting book. In ‘Bullshit Jobs’, David Graeber claims that, due to productivity and technologies, we could easily work only 15-20 hours per week. ALL OF US.
This brings me to my second point: The (working) world is changing. Digital innovations and technological advancements allow for automation and, therefore, cost savings in many areas. Some professions will become scarce. Eventually, they might completely disappear. This not only poses a significant challenge for educational institutions to impart the necessary skills needed in the future but would also leave many people unemployed. This is a fact that Generation Z is well aware of, and it naturally influences their career choices and impacts on working hours – whether we like it or not.
How UBI Can Really Work in Practice
By now, it should be relatively clear through the arguments presented that a universal basic income would bring many advantages. But I understand that there are objections, especially regarding the feasibility of a minimum financial security for everyone.
Thankfully, many intelligent people have already dealt with this question and continue to work on calculating various approaches to make UBI a reality. The Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, investigated this in 2018 and used the available data to present a working scenario.
In summary: A universal basic income – €1.000 for adults and €500 for children under 18, each month – could be viably financed through just 4 taxes: consumption tax, export tax, financial transaction tax, and a wealth tax; the latter would also be, as already mentioned, an important step towards financial equality. And the rich are asking to be taxed themselves – and yet, the government will not do it. Am I the only one who is confused?
Need is Increasing. It’s Time to Respond
Sticking with Austrian data: with approximately 9 million inhabitants and around 4.5 million employed, one working person already supports one unemployed person, through some of the 157 existing taxes that Austria loves to struggle with. The unemployment rate is just 4.8%, so the supported half includes children, pensioners, and those unable to work.
Considering the ongoing digitalisation – leading to more automated jobs, the globalisation enabling the export of cheaper goods, and a healthily aging and increasing population – these numbers will tighten in the future, reaching an expected ratio of 1:4.
A solution is most certainly needed, also outside of Austria. At least one country was brave enough to take a step towards a more just future and implemented – at least some kind of – a UBI already. Since 1976, the “Alaskan Permanent Fund” has collected revenues from local oil drillings and pays between $1,000 and $3,000 dividends per year to its citizens, no matter their age, occupation, religion, gender, etc. They simply have to apply for it. Of course, this is way too little to live off, but considering the theory, it is exactly what researchers expect of a universal basic income.
Science and research already have concrete and feasible suggestions to create a better and fairer life for all; once again, it’s up to the governments to build on them. So, who is going to tell them?