What is the Point of Universal Basic Income?

Poverty, Inequality, & Post-Scarcity

Oshan Jarow

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This is an essay about Universal Basic Income (UBI) in the same way that arguing with your spouse over leaving dishes in the sink is really about the dishes. Sure, the dishes matter. But there are deeper, subliminal forces at play. Those are what really matter.

UBI spearheads a resurgent utopian energy to ground economic policy in radical, pragmatic visions of a better world. UBI matters, but coaxing that renascent energy into bloom really matters. The conviction behind this essay is not that we need a UBI. Rather, we need a fitting policy framework to guide utopian energy back into mainstream economic thought.

In search of the right framework, we’ll detach UBI from its underlying utopian conviction as if removing the spearhead from its shaft. The full essay will scrutinize UBI every which way. We’ll create a taxonomy of alternatives, each contrasted against UBI to show productive differences in both their imagined futures, and means of realization. The result will be a landscape of possibilities, each suggesting their own mobilizing vision of the future. What matters is finding the right fit between spearhead and shaft, between policy frameworks and utopian projects of directing social evolution towards better lives.

Where Have Our Utopias Gone?

Over the past 50 years, we have progressively lost a coherent utopian vision to guide social evolution. Though Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 provocation that we’ve arrived at the end of history isn’t aging well, its echoes persist. They now inhabit our institutionalized economic mentality. Consider Fredric Jameson’s infamous quip: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism”.

These echoes aren’t waning, but amplifying. They inform Mark Fisher’s 2009 work on Capitalist Realism, and led authors Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams to ask in 2015: ““Where did the future go? … in this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.” What happened?

The last coherent utopia grounding popular economic policy was John Maynard Keynes’ vision that an “objectionable capitalism” was the best way to achieve a post-scarcity society. The…

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Oshan Jarow

Interested in many things, like consciousness, meditation & economics. Sure of nothing, like how to exist well, or play the sax (yet). More: www.MusingMind.org.