March 20, 2018

A Universal Basic Income has much more to do with being able to say, “Yes, here I come!” than with a freedom to say, “No, I prefer to stay in bed”.

I refer to Tim Harford’s conversation with Rutger Bregman on the subject of a basic income, while bouldering. “Rutger Bregman: ‘Basic income is all about the freedom to say no’” March 20.

Sir, look at Venezuela. Believe me when I say that 40% of the poorest of my homeland received less than 15% of what they should have received the last fifteen years, had our net oil revenues just been shared out equally among all Venezuelans. And then you might beguine to understand my deep resentment with any redistribution profiteers. To bypass this kind of profiteers, in abundance all over the world, is in itself a reason more than enough to justify a Universal Basic Income.

That said, in 2012, before I was censored in Venezuela, and based on the lack of jobs I had begun visualizing in 2003, I also wrote an Op-Ed titled “We need decent and worthy unemployments”. That de facto calls out for a UBI, before it is too late and our social structures break down in favor of the many aspiring Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro of this world.

But Bregman argues: “OK, so basic income is all about the freedom to say no. That’s a privilege for the rich right now. With a basic income, you can say no to a job you don’t want to do. You can say no to a city in which you no longer want to live. You can say no to an employer who harasses you at work . . . that’s what real freedom looks like.”

And there I have to say no! That sounds to me like a spoiled brat’s view about what a basic income should mean. Such a Universal Basic Income becomes, almost by definition, financially unsustainable. I argue instead for a UBI that provides you with an assistance to get out of bed in order to reach up to whatever the spreading Gig economy has to offer you; but not so large so as to allow you to stay in bed, because that will sure make others refuse to pay for what the UBI might take.

Sir, every time I hear someone offering more than what a UBI can sustainably offer, I feel I we could be in the presence of a redistribution profiteer out to sabotage it, all in order to defend the value of his franchise.

PS. The article has that “A basic income [could be handed out] through the tax system as a negative income tax.” Not so. A tax credit that you start losing the minute you step out of bed to work, is not an unconditional Universal Basic Income.

PS. When Rutger Bregman opines “What’s the biggest injustice in the world right now? It’s pretty easy to see. It’s borders: apartheid on a global scale.” I would have asked. If there are no borders, how much in UBI do you think your homeland would accept to pay to any immigrant?