Why Joe Biden Is Wrong About Universal Basic Income

Everybody deserves a blank check. Except Biden.

Politics Features Joseph Biden
Why Joe Biden Is Wrong About Universal Basic Income

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it. — William Munny, Unforgiven

What is Biden’s problem with Universal Basic Income?

What UBI means is that everyone in America shares the wealth: you get money, just by the value of being a citizen. You get enough money to live a decent life, just because you’re a person with dignity and worth.

UBI is beloved by both left and right, for different reasons. What counts is the disease that it’s treating: automation and artificial intelligence will eventually take away all the manufacturing jobs. Soon the metal beasts will be cranking out all our toys. Human hands no longer required.

You can guess the result: vast hordes of laborers will be thrown into the unemployment line. That’s grim news for any functioning society. What is the solution to this brave new world of mechanized toil? What will happen, when every day is track suit day? The online magazine Quartz explains:

… the best solution would be in the form of a universal basic income. UBI, an economic proposition in which a sum of money is regularly paid to a population, could be a vital bulwark against the unintended consequences of automation in the workforce. Companies will profit significantly from workforce automation, so the private sector will be able to afford shouldering this burden, while at the same time still making greater profits

Who could disagree with this? Biden. Biden could. According Axios:

Former Vice President Joe Biden tomorrow will push back against “Universal Basic Income,” or UBI, one of the most popular suggested solutions to the massive eradication of jobs that’s feared because of automation. UBI is a check to every American adult, but Biden thinks that it’s the job that is important, not just the income. In a blog post tomorrow timed to the launch of the Joe Biden Institute at the University of Delaware, Biden will quote his father telling him how a job is “about your dignity. It’s about your self-respect. It’s about your place in your community.”

Twitter went to work on Scranton Joe:

Your dignity. Your self-respect. You know what does wonders for dignity? Not going bankrupt from medical debt.

“It’s about your place in the community.”

The former Vice President would know about place. He was a help-meet to the corporations of Delaware since his salad days in the Senate. As ProPublica pointed out in 2008, “Over the past 20 years, MBNA has been Biden’s single largest contributor.” From a Times article that same year:

During the years that Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. was helping the credit card industry win passage of a law making it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcy protection … The financial services industry began seeking relief from Congress in the mid-1990s from an increase in bankruptcies that was cutting into its profits. Its initial support came from Republican lawmakers, who repeatedly introduced bills to make it more difficult for consumers to erase their debts. During that time, executives at MBNA, which was bought in 2006 by Bank of America, began donating heavily to both major political parties and many national politicians, including Mr. Biden. … Consumer advocates say that Senator Biden was one of the first Democratic leaders to support the bankruptcy bill, and he voted for it four times — in 1998, 2000, 2001 and in March 2005, when its final version passed the Senate by a vote of 74 to 25.

I have my doubts regarding the Vice President’s love for the working class. But what about Biden’s argument? According to his position, guzzling Advil for headaches would rob you of your dignity. But why stop there? Go further: buying insurance for your car guarantees you’ll always get into drag racing. Having an ER just encourages people to take idiotic risks. And so on.

This argument is called moral hazard. Moral hazard is the first line of defense conservatives use whenever anybody wants to extend protections for the poor and marginalized. It’s strange that moral hazard puts such store in challenging work, since it’s the single laziest philosophy available to the public since Ayn Rand died whilst waiting for the free market to rescue her. Of the many bewildering delusions of our society, the notion of deserve is the strangest. The idea of deserve is a dangerous, Calvinist trap.

“Dignity” comes from being a person. No paycheck can give it. If capital delivered dignity, then Trump would be the peer of Gandhi, instead of King Lear with Duplos.

It’s also inherently contradictory. If we believe in rights—inherent and undeniable—then deserve never comes into it. If you honestly hold that human beings have rights, then human beings have them regardless of what they do, have, and say. Morality merely makes “deserve” irrelevant; abundance makes it criminal.

In this country, we have so much wealth, Midas would suicide himself by self-gilding. The old Utopians had this dream, that one day there would be such advances in technology that none of us would have to work. Well, we’re here: we have computers and robots to do our lifting and building, or welding and making. Only God can make a tree, but it takes a factory of army of soulless robots to turn out Land Rovers. As it should be.

Look around you. Most of us work in a non-productive capacity. We work for a rigged system, built for an age of pillage and oppression. The spoils still go to the top—and that’s the place they belong least. In reality, we have more than enough for everybody everywhere to live a life of ease. The UBI is recognition of this fact, the ground-floor foundation of a system where everyone shares.

If Biden hates unearned income that much, why didn’t he criticize his former boss Obama, when he performed in front of the pillage-and-plunder crew?

Last month, just before her book “What Happened” was published, Barack Obama spoke in New York to clients of Northern Trust Corp. for about $400,000, a person familiar with his appearance said. Last week, he reminisced about the White House for Carlyle Group LP, one of the world’s biggest private equity firms, according to two people who were there. Next week, he’ll give a keynote speech at investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s health-care conference.

Funny, how these guys never seem to have a problem with the wealthy shirking the “dignity of work.” Why is that, I wonder?

Simple: it’s a made-up condition to chain people to factory jobs. You can tell, because these preachers of the strenuous life never bring wealth into it, nor do they mention underappreciated work such as home labor. There’s a reason for that: the dignity-of-work-hustle serves the system.

For most of human history, we lived as hunter-gatherers who spent about fifteen-to-twenty hours a week gathering supply and the rest just hanging out. Even after the beginning of agriculture, most human beings had free time. The world was ruled by the seasons, not by the clock. That left time to attend other matters, on and off the farm: peasants still had plenty of time to feast on fermented pears, or stone witches in town, or eat bread in the shape of your favorite saint—you know, typical small-town stuff. This notion of human beings as interchangeable cogs in a giant factory exploited for maximum efficiency only came about when it was useful for the factory owners to propagandize it, in the 19th century.

That’s what the dignity of labor means in the Biden context: forever breaking your back so someone else’s son can get frog-punched at Choate. The idea of “deserve” is obscene in a country where Bill Gates could buy every house in Boston, and the Rockefellers have not done any useful work in a hundred years. You can always tell where power resides by who doesn’t get targeted. Biden sings about the dignity of work, but it is workers that give dignity to labor—not the other way around.

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