The best argument for Universal Basic Income? The laws of physics

What is the worst that could happen if robots actually took all jobs? Not getting a salary anymore, or getting one just to screw the world with it?

The best argument for Universal Basic Income? The laws of physics /img/ubi-flying-carpet.jpg

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.” Today, I saw an article arguing that UBI may be good for the average tech entrepreneur or investor.

UBI because entrepreneurship?

UBI would be good for entrepreneurship in this way:

  • “there’s a correlation between low entrepreneurship and low savings rates”, and even in the “developed” world rates of new business formation have, in recent years, fallen below business closings.
  • "[UBI will] fundamentally change people’s lives. [Once] they have a continuous stream of basic income they can depend on, they can start small firms, invest in assets that give them better incomes and wealth"
  • examples provided include one older man on welfare, who decided to end his own unemployment by starting an online business after receiving his UBI, and a woman who, only thanks to UBI, got “the mental space needed to work through her issues, and took the steps necessary to become a good business owner”

UBI because dignity and freedom?

The article also cites what, in my humble opinion, may be more than enough to seriously try UBI: the fact that UBI “can ALSO BE FRAMED as an argument for basic human dignity, and a world that exists for more than just work… [for example] we have a lot of women who say, I’ll quit my marriage to my stupid husband because I’m not dependent on him anymore”."

“ALSO”? If real UBI is feasible that is a necessary and sufficient reason to go for it, not an additional one. But never mind, because…


The entrepreneurship argument for UBI described above is simple: UBI could be very good for business (that is, by implication, for economic growth), because it could give many more people concrete opportunities to become entrepreneurs and start new companies.

This would be real change for sure. Too bad that, at least in already industrialized countries, it would also be half dangerous, half physically impossible in most cases. The best argument for UBI may be hidden in plain sight in the laws of physics, and I really don’t understand why this is not discussed everywhere:

  • Tesla expects global shortage of electric vehicle battery minerals. They say that it is because of “underinvestments”, but:
  • We humans extract around 60 billion tonnes of resources from Nature each year (80% more than just a few decades ago), with “per capita demand for materials four times more in high- than in low-income economies.”
  • The International Resource Panel Report had already said that extraction of raw resource “may more than double from 2015 to 2050”
  • 20th century style manufacturing is becoming physically impossible because we are running out of many raw resources, from water to concrete, [as well as] accessible rare metals for electronics and renewable energy (for the latter point, see also here)

Translation: forget starting new businesses with UBI

I am convinced that the main reasons for UBI should be its effects on minutiae like personal dignity and freedom. But this is not even about UBI. It does not matter where they would get the money. There are simply not enough energy and raw resources on the planet to empower more people to “start new businesses”. At least of the type that increases GDP, which is a terrible, dumb idea anyway. Entrepreneurship IS good! But the current status of the world is exactly the result of too many “entrepreneurs” encouraged to do whatever passed through their heads, long-term consequences be damned.

If UBI will happen, it is much more likely to happen just because it is the simplest, if not the only way to make enough people bear what they would have to do anyway. If affordable raw materials are getting scarcer, and this is how things stand now, “starting next Monday, an awfully big lot of people worldwide should really just sit still and smell the roses."

The “end of growth” for physical limits really seems to me what is going to impose UBI on society. Much more than automation, and much sooner too. Again, I do not understand why this is not the first and most common argument for, or even against UBI. Do you?

Image source: “Universal Basic Income: A Primer”