The Socialist Case For a Universal Basic Income | Luca Delpippo

June last year, an edition of the economist had a lengthy piece on the case for a universal basic income and at the time I was happy that a supposedly right wing news magazine was supporting a supposedly left wing policy. “Finally”. I thought. Something we can both agree on! However, in my naivety, I did not see this was not the case, in fact the opposite in my opinion. Recently, much debate has sprung up for the Universal Basic Income (UBI) with the idea gaining support from both the left and the right. Although I believe this emergent economic idea along with the massive advances currently being made in the realm of bio genetics, if not handled properly, could lead to a dystopian ultra-capitalist technocracy. Or, it could lead to a better standard of living for all of us and provide a solution to many of the problems humanity faces today. The choice is ultimately ours, as the youth that will inherit tomorrow’s society.

Before all the left wing pro-UBI folk start going off on one with the countless socialist arguments for the UBI let me say this: The idea of the UBI originated with the far right economist, Milton Friedman, who saw the UBI as a way to undermine the welfare state. Despite this my problem with UBI lies not with the idea of guaranteeing a decent standard of living for everyone but with the inevitable repercussions and modern capitalist reasoning for a UBI. Let’s start with the latter, the *real* reasoning behind the capitalist demand for a UBI. With silicon valley, much of the capitalist commentariat as well as numerous right wing economists openly in favour of the UBI, a policy that by any traditional standards they should be against, it is important to look at the reasoning for such a backing.  The typical argument appears to be that this provides the solution to the inevitable mass job losses that will come with automation of industry in the near future. This shows clearly that capitalism is desperately trying to reconcile the contradictions inherent within it, contradictions Marx famously predicted would occur. While on the one hand we have technology that, increasing productivity incredibly, has the power to free people from labour and leave them to lead a leisurely life, in capitalism this would actually lead to job loss subsequent social obscurity and potentially poverty, diminishing the productivity of labour. The UBI attempts to reconcile this contradiction, by guaranteeing life and a decent standard of living for all people, regardless of whether or not the income is as much as one would have earned working or whether the income set is even close to the profits the, now automated, enterprise is making. In theory, this is tolerable however the foreseeable repercussions of a UBI in a capital-dominated economy are stark.

Imagine this, a factory employing 1000 people becomes fully automated leaving one or two people to look after the machinery and the other 998 to stop working and live off the UBI, so goes the logic of the capitalist argument. No one gets hurt and that’s 998 people that don’t have to work anymore. Great, but the problem with this is staring us right in the face: Inequality. My god, you have 998 people out of a job, accepting whatever the UBI is at that time meanwhile there is one person or a small group of shareholders who are reaping record profits as they are no longer paying anyone anything. Is it so unforeseeable that with this profit, the same person or group decides to buy up more businesses for automation over and over again with countless workers joining an increasingly growing group of people who are quite content with the UBI? Meanwhile you have an appalling level of inequality via the cycle of ascending capital and ultimately an ultra-concentrated capital distribution in the hands of a few bourgeois! Such capital in the hands of so few would inevitably lead to a political system that protects the status quo and overall, as profits fall (given eternal growth ISNT possible), would most likely lead to a steady decrease in the UBI. Then what, it’s not like you can strike for a better UBI or have much influence on politics at all as the political system will inevitably concern itself with those who produce in society.

Having said that, this level of inequality in itself is not even my primary worry. No. My primary worry lies with the little talked about rise of bio genetics that allow humans to play god and engineer life to their wants. Increasingly, bio genetics are going much further than curing illnesses and helping people and are stepping into the realm of “design your own baby” in which a paying customer can decide if they want their child to be sporty, academic or both by modifying the genetic makeup of a child. This emergent technology will take hold in capitalism with or without the UBI but it is the economic consequences of the UBI (extreme inequality and concentrated wealth/potential technocracy) combined with the technology of biogenetic modification (available only for the rich who can afford it, presumably) that should be cause for concern. Call it far-fetched but if we implement both UBI and allow capital to dominate the technology of biogenetics is it that difficult to see a world in which the rich are genetically superior? What this would lead to is speculative but what is certain is a society would exist in which a small group of people form a skilled elite that own the world’s capital and to top it off are genetically positioned to be more athletic, smarter and immune to illnesses. For these reasons we should be suspicious of both the idea of a UBI and Bio genetics existing in a capitalist economy, with the purpose of benefitting only those with capital.

However, as I’ve already said, we shouldn’t write off either of these ideas, rather we should write of the system that would use them to subjugate the many at the expense of the wants of the few: capitalism. I hope that you agree with me when I say that these two ideas present us with a T junction, we can go down the rational road: One which uses bio genetics to fix illnesses and cure diseases and a UBI that seeks to free people from their labour while maintaining non automated industry in worker ownership. Or we could go down the road that uses bio genetics to create a wealthy class that is genetically superior and a UBI that creates a system of subjugation and socioeconomic disenfranchisement. The choice is ours, the youth, we inherit the future.

Luca Delpippo is a writer for Student Voices and member of the Scottish Youth Parliament. 
Twitter: @lucadelp1917 
The Socialist Case For a Universal Basic Income | Luca Delpippo The Socialist Case For a Universal Basic Income | Luca Delpippo Reviewed by Student Voices on 16:29 Rating: 5

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