Basic Income & Soylent


An article on Universal Basic Income…and Soylent:


As much as I wish I could like the idea of Universal Basic Income, the idea is just too dumb to work.


I definitely go back and forth on UBI. I have read quite a few things on it, and some of the time I think it sounds idiotic while some of the time I think it would be better to have a basic guaranteed income to take the place of the current state+federal welfare programs.

There are several libertarian arguments on governmental inefficiencies which make the idea sound at least plausible. (1, 2, for example)


Some more trials are ongoing or upcoming, so we should have some more information on it soon:

There’s a kind of pro case made here:

And something of an anti-case made here, although it seems like it basically comes down to “people would work less, and that’s empirically bad!”:


For those that associate money with happiness, it seems the magic number is around $70,000 to $80,000 a year. This is where one study says happiness “plateaus” and may actually decrease as the salary increases. I suspect this is because perceived competition heats up and responsibility (well, the potential to be blamed) increases.

UBI would be difficult to provide for someone who, for example, doesn’t care at all about their finances. In essence you will end up providing some people more than they want, which takes away from the minority of folks who want more than the average “happy” salary.

I’m not entirely against UBI, but there are many technical faults that jump out at me.


I guess, although I don’t think universal basic income is generally proposed at the $70,000 happiness-maximising level.

Speaking of which, interesting article here about Gravity Payments (which does something to do with credit card payments? I dunno) a year after it decided to pay all of its staff $70,000. Some people moved closer to work, and some people seemed to decide to have kids.

And I can’t find where I read this, but I believe two people quit, specifically because they thought it unfair that they now weren’t earning more than other employees.


I am glad they are experimenting with it. I remember reading about a California-based company (Y-Incubator) who was also running a test, albeit much smaller than the ones you linked to.

It is always good to be able to see the data from real-world experiments. The fact that so many places (Ontario, Finland, etc.) are putting this to the test should answer the question fairly definitively whether it is a good system or not.


The guy in the Soylent/UBI article above was talking about a $1000/month (~$12K/yr) amount.

Obviously for people high-cost-of-living areas, that wouldn’t be enough, but I feel confident I could survive on that amount in my area if I absolutely had to, especially if I pooled my resources with a roomate or more.


I remember that story! Very interesting.

This is my biggest peeve about UBI. Perhaps if it were branded “Universal Income” people couldn’t complain that some were getting more than necessary/desired. Or suppose it were “Basic Income” but you don’t qualify if you already have significant financial assets. Either of these would yield better results, systematically and by way of public opinion, but by claiming to provide “everyone” with a “basic” income, it seems suspect. People are too different and want very different things.

I could understand a more literal version of UBI. For example:

You own a grocery store. Fella comes in skinny as bones. You will give him free food.

The thing that worries me is this: because a government is probably going to be enforcing these policies, there will probably be penalties for not falling in line. It would be yet another case of trying to fix a broken system with punitive justice. We need a system that’s elegant, that doesn’t need to fall back on extortion/threats, that everyone agrees on enough to not protest.

I would also hope the review intervals for any attempted system are not too far apart, lest an error come up that can’t be fixed because everything is set in stone for another X years.

Of course the only reason UBI is even being discussed is because so many people fall through the cracks. Maybe the focus should be on quality education, healthcare and public services so that the world is not eventually burdened by mostly mentally ill, unfit to work homeless populations. UBI is solving a problem after it has occurred.


Yeah maybe, although I could imagine giving a few people in an economy some money every month might have different effects from giving everyone in that economy some money every month.


Sure, but Universal Basic Income doesn’t claim to give everyone what they want. It just gives everyone some money, regardless of whether they need it or not.

See, that’s not universal, because only skinny people get free food; but crucially, it’s not income, because food isn’t money. It’s easy to think of money as a resource, like food, but it’s not — it’s a somewhat-arbitrary human-devised system for keeping score.


Which is why I used the word “basic” and not, for example, “preferable”.

I’m worried that, within the group that agrees UBI is needed, people will disagree about what specifically qualifies as a “need”. The concept itself I understand.


Right right, I think I understand what you’re saying.

The UBI proposals I’ve seen kind of mostly seem geared around simplicity — everyone (or mostly everyone) gets the same amount of money, and you attempt to set that amount at a level where people can live on it, and not much more.

As you say, there’s huge scope for disagreement even just about what that level should be. The Tim Harford article above pointed out that, just as one example, a severely disabled person probably needs quite a lot more money to live on than an athletic 20-year-old.

But I can imagine a UBI having benefits even if it doesn’t cover subsistence for literally everyone. The system we have now is, give or take, money rules everything, and you start with zero. UBI is the same, but you don’t start with zero.


Being given stipends every so often is little peace of mind if someone already has a large sum of debt. The problem is even more complicated when you look at global outstanding debt.

Collectively the world has much less than it makes. Zimbabwe’s outstanding debt has been estimated as “low” as 200% of their GDP. A cash allowance for everyone in the country would be just enough for them to survive - that is almost entirely without roads or medical facilities or a trained police force.

No matter how much it’s set at, it’s gonna be crumbs. It’s gonna be enough to breathe without it hurting basically. It’s just depressing that it’s come to this.


I was very back & forth on the subject myself for quite some time, but I’ve largely settled on being against it. While it would probably be better than the current state+federal welfare programs, that’s a pretty low bar. Ultimately I think it’s best to compare it to raising the minimum wage & why that never works. My other big problem with it is that it makes people more dependent on government aid instead of making them more self-sufficient.


What’s the right level of self-sufficiency then? I presume you don’t build your own roads.


Questions about funding of roads (along with schools, libraries, etc.) are the most common questions posed about libertarian ideas. On the questions of roads in particular, there have been quite a few responses.


It’s always funny to me how the big-government liberal types always cite roads as the first example of things that can’t be privately owned, yet in any other conversation they demonize roads & the private & corporate transportation systems that use them.

Government overspends left & right because they have strong unions & rely on taxes, not profitability, to make money & no matter how hard they fuck-up, there’s basically no punishment. I know this because, I work a union job in my county & have seen plenty of people who should be fired get little more than a stern talking to.


The thing people don’t seem to understand is that the government is supposed to have only one purpose: to protect the individual rights of its citizens. Laws are for determining when someone’s right are being infringed by someone else, military & police enforce the laws.

That’s it. The more power we give it to build things funded by tax money, to create the welfare state, to create agencies to spy on everyone, etc. the more economic growth slows, the income gap expands & the closer we get to being a fascist hellhole like China or Venezuela.


I think part of the motivation behind UBI is that technology is getting so good that it’s going to make more and more jobs obsolete and thus people will need some kind of income. And it also seems to dent the problem of low wages because low wages are a lot bigger problem if people have to live on them. Of course, whether a UBI if feasible is another question. Using round numbers, if we pay 300 million people $20,000 per year we need $6 trillion per year, which is something like 1.5 to 2 times the entire current US budget.

It’s nice to say “Just pay people more” but if machines can do a job for less are we going to outlaw machines? Some people want fast food workers to get $15 per hour but even at their current lower wage they’re starting to be replaced by robots. If fast food restaurants were forced to pay employees even more then they’d be replaced by robots that much sooner. But if those people already had basic cost of living paid then losing your job to a robot wouldn’t be as big of a problem.