Responding to Left-Criticism of UBI

A criticism of the universal basic income from the left (Roberts 2016).

Roberts claims that a UBI does nothing to alter the class power relations in society (technology owners will remain owners), and that the right-wing would support UBI only if it lowers the cost of labor. On the latter point, it will be a struggle to define a UBI that is sufficient for the necessities of life, while still enforcing strong wage claims on those still in employment. The counter-argument would be that UBI would raise the reservation wage, which suggests an upward rather than a downward pressure on wages. We’ll just have to see where the chips fall.

On the first point, I would also question the current power structure, but being discontent with current ownership structures is NOT an invalidation of the UBI. We might say that under technology-nationalization the UBI becomes more independent of the political ruminations of the current private owners to willy-nilly refuse tax payments, which could undermine the financing of the UBI regime. But the second best option of retaining private property and have a technology tax finance the UBI is still technically feasible. But both objections are not substantive enough to undermine the benefits of UBI.

Roberts has a strong preference for work shortening and full employment, which suggests that a UBI would not be his immediate priority. But the libertarian inclination in me, which suggests that people are supposed to be have the freedom to reject an abusive or bad employer, would prioritize UBI, though I will never oppose full employment and work-shortening proposals. Either way, full employment and UBI would have to lower the current asset mountains of the 1%, which is indubitably contentious.

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