One of the most fundamental flaws in Marxist ideology is the disincentive to labor to improve oneself and society. If money is taken from those who produce and given freely to those who need but who by choice do not produce, with the resulting distribution conveying little more benefit to the producers than to the receivers, then there is no incentive to produce.
Yet, as human beings, we should care for those around us and help those who cannot help themselves. Unfortunately, the modern welfare state fails either to effectively incentivize work or to effectively care for many who are unable to find work and support themselves.
As technology advances and automation increases, it is easy to foresee the potential for the problem only to become worse. As more jobs are replaced with automation, and more individuals find themselves unable to provide for themselves or their families, the pressure for greater redistribution of incomes and the potential for increased criminal behavior will also increase.
One possible answer may be to combine elements from both the right and the left. The concept of a basic income is that every citizen or legal resident would receive, from government tax revenues, a basic income sufficient for a subsistence level of survival. This would be enough for a basic diet, shared living quarters, and clothing — the basic necessities. The money received would not depend on level of other income. Every individual legally residing in the country would receive the same basic income from the government. However, in order to receive the income payment each pay period, the individual must either present evidence of having worked a minimum number of hours (let’s say 30 hours) per week during the period or must submit themselves for work assignments specified by the local area totaling 30 hours per week. The jobs provided could include many of the needs currently provided by more highly paid government workers such as cleaning or otherwise improving the appearance of streets and parks and public buildings, mowing public grassy areas, clearing snow from sidewalks in the winter, collecting trash, repainting or repairing public buildings and other infrastructure, training others to perform these jobs, and more. Some could be trained to provide the daycare needed by others who otherwise could not work their minimum hours for their basic benefits and to provide transportation to daycare and work assignments. Individuals deemed 100% disabled would, of course, receive their benefits on the basis of disability, and above a set retirement age, say 65, the work requirement would be eliminated.
There can be many criticisms of the proposal, but I believe most are easily dismissed. Here are some of the potential arguments against and my up front responses in no particular order:
- Loss of currently unionized public sector jobs: To this I say too bad. Taxpayers should not be paying top dollar for work that can be done for less. Let the private sector lure those who want to make more than basic income. That is not to say every government job would drop to a basic income level of pay. Indeed, many government jobs require the same skills needed in the private sector. But many do not. It is not the role of government to pay more than a job is worth. The savings from overpaying for currently public sector work would go a long way towards paying for the overall basic income.
- Basic income causing people to become less productive: One of the main arguments against the concept of a basic income is that large numbers of people will stop trying to do more and society will suffer. But because the only requirement in the above proposal is proof of 30 hours per week of work, an individual who chooses not to look for private sector employment or even start their own business is still toiling 30 hours a week minimum and getting no more for it. The incentive, therefore, is for individuals to get private jobs or work for themselves (they must prove they are doing so) and then they make their private wages plus the minimum basic income. Rather than reduce employment, it should lead to greater employment which increases tax revenues as well to pay the basic income. Indeed, the current disincentive to work caused by the loss of benefits when an individual finds work is eliminated. There is no reason not to find private sector work because it will always then be a net gain of income.
- Not enough public sector work to do: Some may argue there is not enough that we can put people to work doing. But that is not so. By decentralizing job assignment and even job designation, we can empower local communities to get creative and find ways that improve their communities that they would never pay for today in the current system. For example, perhaps a community already has enough people keeping the community clean and sparkly, and well repaired. Perhaps they need more shelter for individuals without homes. Perhaps they have a local elderly population who need company or help with basic daily chores/needs. Perhaps they want to provide entertainment and art in the community and have individuals on basic income able to contribute to the local arts scene. And there is no reason an individual could not suggest and have accepted his or her own idea of ways to better the community as their work. No matter how much automation takes over current jobs, there also can always be ways to make our society a better place to live and improve our standards of living. Another beneficial side effect is that a public that takes care of its own community has lower tolerance and propensity to make a mess to start with.
- Fake disabilities: This is an area that is greatly abused today. Part of the problem is the concept of disability currently places unreasonable weight on whether the individual can continue in their existing line of work. While it would be fair game for private disability insurance to continue this practice, the basic income work requirement should not be related in any way to an individual’s past line of work. Perhaps an individual has become physically disabled. There could be work that does not require the physical capabilities to perform the work. Because local communities and the individuals themselves could be empowered to creatively identify work that provides benefit to the community, the number of individuals truly on work-free disability basic income should be low.
- Not enough workers for public sector needs: The flip side of too few jobs to do would be so many people working in the private sector 30 hours per week to earn that plus the basic income that jobs needing to be done go undone. This could, in fact, be the biggest challenge of this system. However, there are a couple ways to handle this. First, for essential jobs, there could be some official jobs treated like private sector jobs that would pay an income in addition to the basic income – essentially being counted as a private sector job. Secondly, the essential services could get top priority for job assignment to those needing assignments to get their basic incomes. Working through the right balance of this aspect of the program could take some trial and error adjustment over time, but I do not believe it would cause the approach to outright fail.