Two micro-comments on Universal Basic Income and bad jobs, if I may

It seems to me that many discussions about guaranteed income or/vs guaranteed jobs keep missing a couple of points.

Two micro-comments on Universal Basic Income and bad jobs, if I may /img/bullshitjobsboom.jpg

The last example I found of this trend is the article title “Universal Basic Income vs. Job Guarantees: Which Would Help More People?”. That article defines the two alternatives as follows:

“job guarantee:” “The policy generally involves giving a $15 per hour full-time job, complete with benefits, for anyone who wants a job working for the federal government”.

Job guarantee sounds like “a means of guaranteeing employment for all who want it, fending off the worst effects of job losses as a changing economy relies more on automation. A lot of these jobs would involve taking care of the very young, as teachers’ aids or enrichment counselors, or the very old, as our population ages.”

universal basic income (UBI): just cut the inefficiencies of having to employ people and simply cut everyone a check. Advocates for a basic income argue that giving everyone a fixed monthly wage… could provide people with better economic freedom and avoid trapping them in bad jobs.

Two comments, if I may:

Whether UBI is physically/mathematically feasible is an entirely different matter. Ditto for other side effects of UBI that I and everybody else may have missed. Also, this post is not an endorsement, a denounciation or anything in between of any candidate, in USA or elsewhere. It is just a reminder of a couple of facts, to improve general discussion of these issues:

  1. UBI would free everybody from bad jobs, not just the people having them
  2. UBI may be much more compatible than guaranteed jobs with the laws of physics

A real UBI would not free from bad jobs only the people actually trapped in bad jobs. It would free everybody else from going through resource-draining activities that are useless, except as excuses to give someone else a UBI. Banalizing: next time you waste your time and money waiting in line to file some paper instead of emailing it, remember that UBI would eliminate that line, whereas guaranteed jobs would increase it. “Guaranteed jobs” is, by definition, a guarantee that some of those jobs will be unnecessary ones. In the “taking care” sector this could, in extreme cases, be just harmful. If the right number of nurses in a hospital it 100, 100 it must be. Not 50, as it is today, but not even 150. You don’t want the frailest people to be assisted by:

  • nurses who rotate so frequently that they can’t establish a human relationship with each patient, and nobody knows what’s going on, or
  • people who simply are NOT good as nurses, but showed up anyway

only because there MUST be 150 nurses, or more.

About laws of physics: on a large scale, UBI surely minimizes work, that is consumption of energy and raw resources. Guaranteed jobs would, again by definition, aim to do the opposite. Which approach is more consistant with the challenges of our time?

Image source: The Bullshit-Job Boom