What would you do, if you could do anything? I have a few ideas…
David Graeber (of “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” fame) has a great interview on PBS about the need for a guaranteed basic income to replace our current system of complex, dehumanizing bureaucracies. He says:
The problem is that we have this gigantic apparatus that presumes to tell people who’s worthy, who’s not, what people should be doing, what they shouldn’t. They’re all about assessing value, but in fact, the whole system fell apart in 2008 because nobody really knows how to do it. We don’t really know how to assess the value of people’s work, of people’s contributions, of people themselves, and philosophically, that makes sense; there is no easy way to do it. So the best thing to do is just to say, alright, everyone go out and you decide for yourselves.
I agree, so hard, with his critique of bureaucracy. From personal experience with unemployment benefits, I can tell you it’s a little bit soul-crushing to have to keep proving, week after week, that you’ve done enough job-hunting to deserve to pay your rent; and that’s just the tip of the government-benefits iceberg. There are so many poor and working-poor people for whom navigating the bureaucracies of food stamps, housing assistance, heating assistance, welfare, etc. is a full-time job of its own. See, for example, this piece about the ridiculous, invasive, confusing hoops that food stamp recipients have to jump through in order to eat.
Let me be clear: right now, while there is no alternative, we need those bureaucracies. We need to defend them against attacks from the Right, and push to expand them when possible. Right now, food stamps keep people from starving.
But in the big picture, in the long term, we can do better. I envision a society in which a guaranteed basic income is considered a right. I envision a society in which no one has to justify themselves, a society that doesn’t divide people into “deserving” and “undeserving”–a society that doesn’t make people jump through hoops for their basic human rights. A society that recognizes that, by virtue of being alive, everyone deserves enough money to live. (For what it’s worth, there’s plenty of empirical evidence that giving money directly to poor people decreases poverty and has other positive effects.)