The purpose of this open letter is to invite you to consider whether the goals of Basic Income can be attained more effectively and more sustainably through the provision of Universal Services.
First, let us say that we heartily agree with the basic objective of moving forward to the next evolution of social organization, and that we find the historical precedents that you cite in support for Basic Income are indeed the very same that support Universal Services. There is not the width of a hair between our visions of a peaceful society, in which each individual can fulfill their potential and use their unique skills and abilities to contribute to the whole in a way that honors their freedom. We both recognize that the empowerment of the individual is the basic fabric of our common society, and that it provides the foundation on which to rebuild a new economy.
Furthermore, the distinctions between our mechanisms for achieving the same goals can be seen as quite subtle, even muted. The basic mechanism of providing a structure within which each and every citizen is guaranteed the bare necessities to sustain life is common to both of our approaches, and it is this commonality that drives us to believe that we are sufficiently of one mind as to be able to bridge our differences and join forces in the pursuit of our common goals. Our differences do not separate our intentions, our commonalities define our opportunity to work together.
The primary difference between Basic Income (BI) and Universal Services (US) is whether or not money is provided to citizens. This is not a difference in intention or objective, it is a distinction in the mechanism used to reach the same goals, based on the same principles. We have studied the fundamental economics of modern, monetary systems and concluded that the most important rebalancing that must occur is to return to the social sphere those costs that are social, and that this is necessary to develop a sustainable economy. If we do not socialize our social costs we cannot make the books balance and we cannot preserve the value of currency.
We recognize that the development of our societies and commerce over the last centuries has left us with an unconscious assumption that monetary instruments are the appropriate, and often only, way to measure and account for value. It is a natural extension of this assumption that we think of welfare and opportunity in terms of monetary values. However when we use money to pay for what is actually a social cost we are both devaluing the currency and creating unsustainable accounting, because we cannot monetize the social benefits that would be necessary to balance the books.
In the US model the same objectives of BI are achieved: every citizen is availed of the basic necessities to sustain life, and the opportunity to develop their contributions to themselves and their society. No one is obliged to “work” to receive the services, and they can use the services as they need them. The level of universal services provided is dependent on what that society can afford, in the same way that the size of the BI grant varies based on the wealth of the society. Many of the enhancements to the functioning of the labor market as well as the environmental benefits are the same with both US and BI. However there are important differences in both the practicality and the impact of US versus BI.
The biggest advantage of US over BI is that it is affordable (and therefore more practical) because it “pays” for the “cost” of the services by socializing the labor portion of the cost of delivering the same services. BI does not change the fundamental accounting practices at the base of the modern capitalist system, which are crumbling under our feet as we speak. US removes the subsistence portion of labor costs from the monetary transactions in the economy, and in so doing balances the economic accounting by constraining the use of money to value only economic assets. The impact of BI is the reverse, it encourages the fallacy that monetary accounting can balance the world, that social good can be paid for and that social costs need to be measured in currency.
The second most important reason why US is preferable to BI is that it enables the development and growth of a microeconomy that can supplant capitalist enterprise as the primary economic fabric of our societies, and this is a fundamentally more sustainable foundation for our society. By removing cash payments from the social support system US effectively enables the provision of micro services rendered for micro payments. When citizens seek to supplement their US in order to afford “luxury” items that are not included in the US they can meet those needs by providing services, products or labor according to their skills and abilities at prices that are effectively the marginal value added. This creates a rich ecosystem of micro transactions that creates a micro economy that meets needs more directly and accurately at lower cost and with less waste. With BI the transactional value of any service, product or labor is increased to a level that is defined by the value of the BI grant more than the value added by the service, product or labor.
Admittedly BI is presented as a supplement to social security, not a replacement, but it is inevitably perceived as an alternative and in practice it would be almost impossible to separate the two. This problems leads to many of the structural issues that BI has difficulty addressing, such as:
- the incentive gap
- effectiveness (size of BI grant)
- appropriateness (differentiated needs)
- and finally the most significant: we still need a social safety net.
The BI community has been extremely inventive and diligent in working to overcome these objections and problems by developing mechanisms that seek to redress these issues through different implementation processes, however this has led to overly complex constructs that further detract from the practicality of BI.
We are fundamentally of one mind regarding the necessity of moving forward to a better socio-economic model that incorporates the unassailable truths of freedom and individuality, and we share the same heritage and the same goals. We hope to unite with such a caring and thoughtful community as you have built around BI, and we would hope that this letter can serve as an introduction to the possibility of uniting forces around a cohesive vision for our common futures that will bring your and our communities together to fight for a better future.
Please consider this an open invitation for engagement and discourse that will yield a common platform incorporating the best of both of our approaches. Check out the framework described in a fair degree of detail at www.standardsoflife.org and let’s get moving forward together.
The Standards of LIFE Community