Against guaranteed services, and jobs

(just a collage of things already said…)

I am against “Universal Basic Services (UBS) instead of Universal Basic Income (UBI)” because, in my own opinion,

  • certain “services” should be present in any decent society anyway, before ever discussing income and jobs.
  • other “services”, instead, make infinitely more sense if “provided” only through a UBI

I am also against “jobs guarantees”, regardless of UBI and UBS.

Against guaranteed services, and jobs /img/ubs.jpg

This post is just a slightly edited patchwork of comments I made on the points above in several, unrelated online discussions. I have collated those comments here just to save time, the next time I come across similar discussions. This also means that I may edit/update this “collage” as times goes by.

Therefore, please do not take this as a real, complete summary of my position on these matters. Whether UBI or UBS are good or feasible is another discussion entirely. The topic here is only (only, OK?) that, if they are good and feasible, they can only be such if they do not overlap, and complement each other as described below.

For a much more refined presentation of these and strictly related topics, please see this other paper of mine. To allow me to make and share more research on these and related topics… please support me as explained here.

The starting points: a review of “Deficit Myth” and “Why UBS is better than UBI”

A review of “The Deficit Myth” by Stephanie Kelton that explains Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) mentions, among other things, how the MMT tradition:

About Universal Basic Services (UBS), this article on Medium (*) is one of several that explain why UBS would be better than Universal Basic Income (UBI):

“there are some points that make UBI less preferable than its less flashy alternative: universal basic services (UBS), which, as its name suggests, entails that all necessary basic services (defined differently by every proponent, but could include healthcare, housing and utilities, transportation, education, and a meal plan) be publicly funded and made free at the point of service."

Personally, I strongly disagree with both positions. More specifically, whether UBI is possible or not is anothere issue. For the sake of this post, let’s assume UBI is feasible. What I argue is that:

  1. “Guaranteed jobs” are bad, period
  2. It makes no sense, both ethically and economically, to put UBI “against” UBS, as in “you can only have one of them”

On guaranteed jobs:

I still have to form a final opinion on MMT as a whole, but… In or outside MMT, “guaranteed jobs” seem to me a terrible, dumb, totalitarian and physically impossible thing to do, way way worse than UBI.

On the ethical/human level: How can you GUARANTEE a job to EVERY adult, without ending up forcing many people to meaningless, soul-killing equivalents of digging holes just to fill them?

On the laws-of-physics/environmental level: if everybody MUST work using modern means (machines, computers…) even in “immaterial” services that have a huge footprint anyway, this increases pollution and depletion of resources, which is the opposite every group of 8+ billions RATIONAL beings should do, on any finite planet with, regardless of the ecology, plenty of opportunities for gepolitical conflicts.

Without modern technology, then yes, it is possible to “guarantee” serf-like labor, I mean jobs to everybody, by farming as in the 18th century. To that I say thanks, but no thanks.

In the context of MMT, then, I would appreciate answers to this question: if MMT is good, does it really need to include “guaranteed jobs”?

On UBS “instead” of UBI

The “either UBI or UBS” choice is a false, misleading choice.

Housing and food managed as UBS instead of through UBI would be devastating. The rest, OK, because at least healthcare and education should be free, or as close as possible to free"at the point of service”, in any decent country. And indeed they are, in places like Italy. But housing and food… no way.

The shortest reason to say no to housing and food provided as UBS is simply “Because we need to have more choice in our housing and food” than any centrally administered plan may ever provide.

Add to that the fact that (not everywhere, but true in at least most of Europe, and many other places too) there already is plenty of housing for a diminishing/stable population, it is just empty, and too much overconsumption of soil.

That is a problem that needs solving as soon as possible regardless of UBI and UBS, and by far the easiest way to go at it (less polluting, less expensive etc..) is to tax empty housing, much more than long term rental contracts.

Providing as unconditional UBI the average cost of renting a room leaves people to live, move and arrange their life as they wish or need, e.g. sharing a bigger apartment or house in the area that matches best their own averaged needs and interests. And it is way, way more simply and cheaply done than any top-down affordable housing plan.

As for food… let’s not mix practical problems, and those problems with human dignity.

Food that is inherently useless and toxic (sodas, or more sugar than anything, most industrial chips…), or more polluting to produce, or to ship halfway across the planet… should be taxed more regardless of UBI, UBS or any combination of both.

That’s universal healthcare, that as I said is basic feature of any decent society, before any discussion on incomes.

Let’s talk feasibility: calculating the cost of eating simply but healthily as average over the population of a whole state, or province in worst case, and then just handing out that cash each month period… is literally thousands times easier and less expensive than any form of state-managed diet by state-managed food suppliers.

Any “food as UBS” plan should have hundreds of thousands of exceptions, and a bureaucracy to handle them, way costlier than the food.

About dignity, and enjoying life in general: UBS or UBI are not prison reform proposals. Yes, of course even inmates have human dignity of course, but allow me to synthesize here.

Food as UBS is a “Meal Plan From Above”. But a meal plan from above is what inmates get. Free citizens who never harmed anybody deserve as much choice as possible. If two pasta recipes with very different ingredients are equally healthy and expensive, and one needs spaghetti and the other rigatoni, everybody should be free to decide if and when to eat one or the other.

And when we say universal, it should really be universal

I have also seen comments that “There is probably also a difference between women and men spending patterns etc…” and that, consequently, there should be different UBI levels for women and men.

To this, I answer that, even if there were a difference in spending patterns…. it should be ignored. If UBI can work is only by being really universal, without distinctions, and SIMPLE as possible, as in “impossible to misunderstand or abuse”.

Whether UBI is feasible or not is, again, another issue. But surely it can only work if everybody (OK, every adult) gets the same amount period.

This is an age in which the definition of woman and man, the number of genders etc… keep changing, AND an age in which people are entitled, or ask to be entitled, to define their gender themselves (and that is another entirely different issue that I will NOT touch because it is simply irrelevant here).

If there were a “different UBI for every gender” there would be endless quarrels about how many gender there can be as far as UBI is concerned. And there would be people declaring a different gender, just to get more money. Again, no, thanks.

(This post was drafted in July 2020, but only put online in August, because…. my coronavirus reports, of course)

Image source: “Labour for UBS”