Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Guaranteed Minimum Agriculture: Why Basic Jobs Might Fare Better Than UBI (medium.com)
96 points by simonsarris 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

You're essentially paying people to dig holes and fill them back in again. Modern agriculture is a highly skilled job done with millions of dollars of capital equipment. Unskilled laborers are more hindrance than help, and will be sent off to the "back 40" to indulge in mindless busywork.

And you expect people to get "Social responsibility, sense of purpose, community, meaningful ways to spend their time" from that?

Meaningless jobs invariably turn into that special sort of hell you get when your ability to do politics and to step on the guys below you are much more important than any actual skill or ability.

How about necessary and meaningful jobs, like taking care of the elderly who do need help in their household, or building accommodations for and helping the homeless?

The number of elders will only increase in most of the world over the next few decades and no automation could replace the human touch, or even physical dexterity, in the near term. Granted the people performing the job would need training and perhaps some supervision from professionals, but much of the work requires the skills like empathy and physical agility that most humans are endowed with (despite being left dormant from lack of practice by some).

The same sorts of skills are needed as part of a program that would be useful for mitigating the homeless problem as well.

This was actually done in Argentina (it was called plan jefes e jefas). Then they converted it into a basic welfare scheme with no requirement to do the jobs (which was mostly stuff like "help the infirm and elderly").

The majority of people continued turning up to work afterwards because they found it intrinsically rewarding.

That's very interesting. Do you have any good links?

Also curious why they converted it to no requirement?

This has all the details:


They didn't realize that it would be so popular with women.

I believe they withdrew it because government thought that the program was providing jobs to women who should be at home instead of working.

Would be interesting to see something similar and also fulfills the goals of meaningful work.

Perhaps with smaller companies this would work better and not conjure up ideas of digging and refilling holes on some soulless corporate farm.

Imagine a single-person company that sells homemade organic jam at a farmers market. As a one person doing everything, surely this person is overworked and couldn't possibly think of hiring someone until years later. What if this person was part of a program that allowed them to hire from a pool of candidates where the company pays a portion of the wage and the gov program subsidizes.

This person hiring really needs the help. The person being hired wants the job doing fulfilling work. The money assigned for the person through UBI is reassigned to this program.

Probably just a pipe dream, but could be similar to the incentives companies get for hiring ex-convicts, etc.

> How about necessary and meaningful jobs, like taking care of the elderly who do need help in their household, or building accommodations for and helping the homeless?

I would prefer that families provide these services (and, therefore, the state focus on the formation of strong families). The market is too brutal for most of this work and the state, in addition to general incompetence, lacks the moral authority to do so, especially when hard decisions must be made (e.g. when homelessness is driven by mental illness.)

Pay a stable, living wage to build strong families, allowing one person to stay at home and provide for the domestic economy in a sphere they have natural authority in.

I would prefer that families provide these services (and, therefore, the state focus on the formation of strong families). So, under your plan, I should dread getting old.

I have no children. I have never wanted them, and it is a relief that I shouldn't have any (medical wise). Besides, it'd be risky at my age anyway. I have a spouse, but otherwise have no family on this side of the Atlantic. My father died, my mother is getting older, and my siblings both have families that include children. I'm supposed to burden my family with my care? I'm not sure immigration would let them come over here and if I go there, I have no health coverage. Sure, my spouse would take care of me. But at what cost? Quit his job and actually make less money, right when medical expenses go up? What if he's already died or disabled? Well... I'm screwed.

I'll add this: I did a lot of care for my ex. It was mental illness, but still. And I felt freaking trapped, and it took longer to leave. My grandmother married a man who had a stroke a year later. He became abusive, but she was scared to leave due to getting in trouble for abandonment (this was in the late 90's). She was stuck for a while. Your plan does nothing to help the folks that are in bad situations. Sure, you might want strong families, but the reality is that not every family is going to be that way.

The market is too brutal for most of this work and the state, in addition to general incompetence, lacks the moral authority to do so, especially when hard decisions must be made (e.g. when homelessness is driven by mental illness.)

Sorry you live in such a country, and glad I no longer do. The country I live in tries to do these things for folks, provides healthcare and elder care. It isn't perfect or anything, but they are doing more than the states did and they are trying to improve things slowly. The state doesn't have to be like that, and you can change it. Vote for different people. And if they don't do the stuff, vote them out of office.

There are a number of problems with your proposal. For example, many elders do not have family members living nearby because of career and other obligations. Some do not have children or living relatives who are young enough or have enough free time to help out (if there is only one breadwinner and two elders, for example).

In addition, changing culture takes generations but the number of elders who needs help will grow quickly in the upcoming decades. Japan is already facing the problem [1] and the rest of the developed world are following closely behind.

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-31901943

(Note: I didn't downvote you.)

> Modern agriculture is a highly skilled job done with millions of dollars of capital equipment. Unskilled laborers are more hindrance than help, and will be sent off to the "back 40" to indulge in mindless busywork.

I think the point being made in the original post is that modern agriculture has a lot of problems and this is a way to address some of those. Producing local foods in a sustainable way requires more labor and a more distributed structure, with many more individuals involved directly in the process. Market gardeners around the world produce high quality foods without millions of dollars of equipment. Anyone can be taught enough to be highly useful in this role.

Just as someone who's had to do the whole Farmer's Market thing for a while, (on the Capitol Square in Madison Wisconsin), I think I should point out that many many organic farmers do indeed use some fairly high tech tools and techniques to simplify the work. Different producers are using everything from the ultra high tech sort of "farm in a shipping container" systems inside of an area like Madison, to greenhouses that integrate natural climate control techniques out in places like Verona or Sun Prairie area, to gps assisted tilling out in areas like Spring Green. I think people would be surprised at how high tech agriculture has become.

The original poster is correct when (s)he asserts that there would not be much meaningful work for an unskilled laborer in most sectors of modern agriculture. But that's not a bad thing, that's a good thing.

The unskilled work that does exist in agriculture is highly seasonal - mainly picking and processing fruits and vegetables that are too fragile for machines to handle. You might be able to find jobs for a couple of hundred thousand people during the peak of the harvest, but what do you do with them for the other nine months of the year?

> like Switzerland, where 55% of farmer income comes from the state

Paying half of farmer's wages to make small scale farming more tenable and accessible is not digging holes and filling them again.

In New England, there are lots of hobby farmers who would love to do it full time but cannot support themselves + a few employees to scale it into a full time thing. This might not create farmers from scratch where there are none, but it could make New England farmers + farms more like the Swiss: Small scale but still viable, distributed, and well, subsidized.

> Paying half of farmer's wages to make small scale farming more tenable and accessible is not digging holes and filling them again

It's paying them to cast a specific ballot. Farmers are politically powerful in most cantons.

So you're digging 55% of a hole. In order to subsidize someone's hobby.

You’re missing the point.

This article is proposing an alternative to UBI, where you are just giving no strings $$$ handouts to all citizens.

Clearly basic jobs won’t be as efficient at producing e.g. agricultural products as the free market. But that’s not the goal with UBI or UBJ - it’s to deal with societal inequality in a world where increasingly most jobs are eliminated and those who control capital (the robots) have 100% of the wealth and everyone else is starving. That is the world many feel we are heading towards.

There is a good track record of government jobs programs during times of severe unemployment, e.g. the Great Depression:


One advantage UBJ over UBI has is that it is something you can transition into; it doesn’t require a societal level disruption to put into practice.

> So you're digging 55% of a hole.

No, you're subsidizinng agricultural production to preserve your production capacity or else when the next war breaks out your country is unable to feed itself once your safe imports from south america and africa aren't safe anymore.

In the same way that a startup incubator subsidizes hobbies, yeah.

Startup incubators provide private investment with the hope of future return that covers their initial investment.

That is a sustainable business model.

Continuous subsidy - using public funds - of an activity that will not generate profit and overall return is not sustainable.

It's only sustainable if you can pick winners.

In my opinion, people will get more "Social responsibility, sense of purpose, community, meaningful ways to spend their time" playing Call of Duty all day under some sort of BI program than they would from a UBJ job.

Man, you'd think - with all that extra time on their hands - they could pick a good game to play. :P

That seems a bit ridiculous. Being paid UBJ to clean highways, with incentives to be on time and not miss days would vastly improve one's health and build effective job and time management skills, something that playing video games all day wouldn't.

Who the hell wants to clean highways for a living?

Isn't it used as a punishment for some offenses?

Video games are a social life killer, unless you're already good at socializing. Nothing comparable to being forced to go out and actually socialize, whatever the circumstances.

Some holes that were dug with an agency designed explicitly to give job guarantee in the 1930s:

* Triborough Bridge

* Griffith observatory in LA

* LaGuardia


Is this really worse than those market-driven jobs created to harass people to pay debts, build McMansions where nobody wants them or create social networking sites for dogs?

Add some more - anything built by the CCC or WPA. I've enjoyed many things built by this kind of labor, and I've always wondered why we couldn't bring it back or make it permanent. We certainly need more of this kind of work done than we currently have people doing it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_Conservation_Corps https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration

The CCC and WPA are very effective means of dealing with short-term mass dislocation of labor where the private economy employing it is likely to return in the near term I substantially similar form.

But, weren't a significant number of people who went through those programs essentially given skills and experience that made them more relevant? Even if those programs didn't give them an education, several years of experience in building things definitely beats nothing. Notably, California still has this kind of program.


Ironically enough Milton Friedman was one of those people.

The key part of that sentence is "in the 1930s".

Civil engineering has become massively mechanised, so the vast majority of jobs in the industry are highly skilled. A job that would have needed 200 men back in the '30s is now done by three men and a giant machine.

Make-work is make-work, however you slice it. We could choose to build bridges and roads like they did in the '30s and create millions of jobs. We could also impose vast tariffs on imported cloth and ban automatic looms, creating millions of jobs in the textile industry. Philosophically, it's no different to paying people to dig holes.

Actually, they get done by 50 men watching 3 men and a giant machine, because of unions afraid of automation causing unemployment.

And I say that as someone who is generally pro-union.

That is not the key part. The jobs didn't get automated out of existence. They just didn't get done at all:


Severely restricted fiscal spending got converted into tax cuts for the wealthy. Necessary work didn't get done. Robots were made a convenient scapegoat for that process, probably because of their natural immunity to pitchforks.

The US is getting leapfrogged by poorer countries like China on infrastructure largely because of this process.

> Civil engineering has become massively mechanised

And yet the Empire State Building was erected in a year. Faster than any comparable modern structure.

Every body you add to such a project today would cost well over $100K per body. Not only are you paying the worker, you need a manager for that worker, a manager for the manager. And then you'd have to pay more because unskilled labour today would slow the project down significantly.

The alternative is UBI, which should cost under $20K per body, and would give people an alternative to accepting a BS market-driven job just to put food on the table.

Difference is that a "basic job" costs up to $100k per head for the number of people who need money enough to be willing to dig a hole all day for it. Let's be generous and assume that's all 4.3% of the working age population registered as unemployed and actively looking for work in the UK, even though some of the might be more disinclined to register as looking for work if they were required to accept work digging holes. So taking your unusually high staff cost ratio of 5x salary, that's $100k per head for 4.3% of the working age population.

UBI might only cost $20k plus admin costs per recipient, but as you're paying it to well over 20x as many people it's well over 4x the cost. And you don't get the hole...

I'm not convinced Basic Job programmes are a fully scalable welfare replacement, or that agriculture or construction work would be a particularly good focus for a more limited workfare programme, or that advocates of such ideas have necessarily considered the risk of crowding out paid work at proper salaries, but the idea that indiscriminately doling out money to people irrespective of whether they've indicated they might want it is cheaper than welfare state alternatives is palpably false.

If you're paying a worker and 2 managers, that's 3 bodies. Not one.

Even if we accept your figures (personally I find them dubious), the cost of paying UBI to everybody will outweigh the cost of paying for JG for the minority actively seeking work unless more than 1 in 5 are actively seeking.

Modern agriculture is more varied than that. There are large scale farms with minimal unskilled work, yes. But there also is plenty of harvesting work still done by unskilled migrant workers, especially in Florida and the Southwestern USA.

So make it Universal Basic Jobs and Education.

Education needs massive reform as well anyway.

What you are doing is giving up your time for others. If you don't do that then unsurprisingly the farmers will use the increased productive technology to stop working on Tuesday rather than working the rest of the work to keep you in 'leisure'.

Ultimately you don't know how to farm, so you need the farmers working a full week. Adam Smiths rules of specialisation still apply.

You need to give up your time so those you rely on to produce stuff will give up theirs. Or they won't bother.

> Modern agriculture is a highly skilled job done with millions of dollars of capital equipment.

While there is definitely truth in this statement, there is still a spectrum of work to do on modern farms and plenty of it isn't highly skilled. This is especially true on farms that are optimized for high margin vs. volume. For example, organic or local farm to table places.

Modern agriculture is a highly skilled job done with millions of dollars of capital equipment. Unskilled laborers are more hindrance than help, and will be sent off to the "back 40" to indulge in mindless busywork.

Subsistence farming that's augmented to produce a little surplus can be an only somewhat skilled job that can be done by everyone with relatively little capital. Pre-potato famine Irish peasants and many pastoral peoples throughout history demonstrated that subsistence farming can be done for basically nothing.

Unskilled laborers are more hindrance than help, and will be sent off to the "back 40" to indulge in mindless busywork.

If granted land, such unskilled laborers could probably satisfy most of their needs. The Pareto principle would rear it's ugly head again, and the top 20% of such farmers would out-produce and could be paid to "redistribute" food.

From the article: From some psychologists’ points of view, one of the worst things you can do to someone who is suffering from addiction or loss of hope is to give them no-strings-attached money, when what they really need is regularity and the responsibility that comes from having a purpose, even if its simply a job or a station.

Another thing that the an early 1800's Irish model might indicate, is that such a model might have serious problems. There is a far cry between the culture of German expatriate famers or the self-reliant farmer of colonial New England on the one hand and the early 1800's Irish peasant from the same time. Huge social problems accompanied the potato famine Irish diaspora. Up to and including unimaginable squalor, neighborhoods where sewage and garbage sat stagnant and out in the open, where police were afraid to travel in groups of less than 6, and the rule of law was abridged by shadow criminal/terrorist governments that could even conduct their own trials and executions.

From the article: This is not the kind of thing you can catch with a UBI pilot, but it is the kind of thing that you can answer by asking a more obvious question: Are wealth and poverty inter-generational? Of course they can be. As a society, we should be careful to not put a system in place that accidentally entrenches poverty when the initial goal was to alleviate it. A child growing up in a Basic Job household almost certainly has a better shot at life than a child growing up in a UBI household, with parent(s) who might have never worked.

The article might be putting the cart before the horse. People who have been given the right human capital through their culture can pull themselves up in a few generations. (This is the case for Chinese immigrants all over the world throughout history.) People who do not have that human capital must then gain it through a process of cultural transmission or assimilation. This assimilation does not have to be complete, and the group can still retain their cultural heritage and distinctiveness. Again, the story of the Irish diaspora is a good model for this. The power of culture is tremendous, and the cultural transformation will not be easy.

What happens if you don’t show up to your UBJ? Do you starve... or do you get... UBI anyway?

The point of the U in UBI is that you can discard the expensive bureaucracy. The article proposes keeping it as well as UBJs! Literally missing the entire point. But providing lots more jobs for bureaucrats to administer both...

>The point of the U in UBI is that you can discard the expensive bureaucracy.

Has there been any research into how to set up UBI that actually remains politically/bureaucratically stable? It seems like any implementation would be extremely vulnerable to media cycles highlighting the plight of some poor single mother who didn't spend her UBI wisely and now can't feed her kids, or a rich billionaire who pocketed his UBI rather than giving it to charity. It doesn't matter how infrequent these cases are, it would happen a nonzero amount of times and that's enough to get media stories trending about it. In the face of that, people would start wanting to build in exceptions or adjustments, at which point you end up with the expensive bureaucracy again.

Part of the answer is to make it a fixed percentage of the GDP. That would make it politically harder to change, while having a natural fail-safe if it turns out UBI kills productivity

There's an argument made by some psychologists that human satisfaction from earning a wage rather confers irreplaceable benefits and would result in better outcomes of self-sufficiency over living on handouts at an even higher monetary value. I'm not saying your point isn't valid, or that I even disagree with it, but the article does raise this issue, and claims there is data to back it up.

I've often seen that argument in articles about UBI, but the supporting examples are usually unconvincing. If "people suffer from lack of work, not lack of money," why are the examples offered e.g. communities full of impoverished people subsisting on disability, not luxury retirement communities? Surely the residents of the latter are deprived of weeding a field all day with hand tools, too. If not-having a boss directing you to perform tasks is what's ailing the unemployed, and money is secondary, then Jim Moneybags should be roughly as bad off as Joe Welfare, so long as neither Jim nor Joe go to work each weekday.

I don't think it's true that "people suffer from lack of work, not lack of money."

I do think it's true that "people suffer from lack of work AND lack of money." That is, if you just give people enough money to survive, and nothing to do, they still suffer.

It's not really valid to compare the experiences of old retired people and working age people (or younger). Age is a major complicating factor. And, at least in the U.S., we already give money to old people; it's called Social Security and Medicare.

The question is, what do we do with 22 year olds who can't find work? What will the rest of their life be like if they go on the equivalent of Social Security and Medicare at 22? Anecdotally I think we all have a sense of the potential for problems when young people are too idle.

If I were to play devil's advocate, I'd say that the retirees as a sub-community can be found anywhere not working. They're old, and they are enjoying their senescence basking in their life accomplishments and family. Also, those retirement communities are supported by a network of health care and leisure industry workers, which are paid for out of value the old people saved from their productive activity during their working years.

Then maybe we should raise the estate tax to 100% to make sure everybody get's these irreplaceable benefits regardless of who their parents are. We're depriving those poor Walden's knowledge of an honest days work.

Why do you want to steel all the possessions of any dying man? More importantly, why do you believe such petty policies benefit society?

Also UBI let people do what they wanted. If someone wants to study cockroaches they can without worrying how to monetize it. If they have to spend all day at their UBJ

And if people want to do drugs all day ? In Belgium there's no time limit to unemployment benefits and the government doesn't really check if you're looking for work. The result is a lot of people who have spent decades unemployed, spending most of their time drinking and watching TV. The result hasn't been a scientific & creative boom, but a massive social disaster.

If your life is bleak enough that you'd rather anesthetize yourself than live it out, stopping you is cruel. The fix is to make better lives possible so that fewer people choose this.

> And if people want to do drugs all day ?

They’ll need to find a job, since drugs tend to be expensive luxuries.

Absent the markup from prohibition, a day's supply of drugs would be cheaper than a day's supply of food. Though if prohibition stays you're right.

If people freed from the necessity of work can't figure out anything better to do with their lives than consume entertainment and get high all day, I find that rather sad. It's still not as sad as forcing them to LARP at obsolete agriculture on arable land that used to be productively mechanized. At least if people who can't be matched with genuinely productive jobs stay on their couches all day they're not actively sabotaging the productivity of the remaining market economy.

I'm ok with governments employing people to do productive tasks that still require human labor -- many others have mentioned elder care or fixing aging infrastructure, for example -- but I think that the specific agricultural proposal floated in the original article is terrible. Unlike the author, I'm also not anxious on behalf of other people who might end up "deprived" of a time clock and obeying a boss 5 days a week. I'm not going to tell them that I know better if they think that games are more enjoyable than farming like it's 1899.

> At least if people who can't be matched with genuinely productive jobs stay on their couches all day they're not actively sabotaging the productivity of the remaining market economy.

You're forgetting that these people can still vote. I can imagine a lot of ways that promises of bread and circuses could be used to form them into a dangerous voting bloc.

Any more dangerous a voting bloc than if the government gives them the same stuff but makes them perform a worthless pseudo-job to get it? If there are jobs that actually need doing by human labor, and the able-bodied unemployed can do them, having government guarantee jobs to the able-bodied unemployed seems better than guaranteeing income detached from labor. But sending people to perform work that machines plus skilled operators do faster or better, to busy their idled hands, is a cure worse than the disease.

There are a lot of cases where introducing untrained human labor into an existing production process has a marginal productivity less than zero. Adding random people to a process that doesn't need more people, or needs people with specific skills, isn't just poor value for effort. It's negative value for effort. Every additional hour that somebody who doesn't know what they're doing tries to "help," they're destroying more.

These caveats only apply if people are assigned pointless jobs that they're not even good at. It's destructive to replace high-productivity mechanized agriculture with random unemployed wielding hand tools. It's safe, though still IMO insulting and a bad idea, to make people perform some pointless but harmless pseudo-white-collar job like adding up columns of random numbers with pencil and paper. It actually adds value (though perhaps not a lot) if governments can assign jobs that people can actually perform competently and that machines aren't great at yet, like collecting litter.

> Absent the markup from prohibition, a day's supply of drugs would be cheaper than a day's supply of food.

Which would be a rebuttal if doubling food cost wasn't an expensive luxury in context; people choosing drugs without food is a self-limiting problem, and most optimistic (and, unreasonably so, in my view) near term UBI proposals barely hit the federal poverty line for a one-person household.

Much cheaper than a day's supply of food, not just a bit cheaper. Synthetic stimulants and opioids are about as costly to synthesize at scale as those vitamins or OTC drugs that currently retail for $20 in a big bottle at supermarkets.

You probably still can't get cheap cocaine, since it doesn't have a cheap synthesis route yet, but every major class of recreational drugs at least has potent, cheap-to-manufacture synthetic or semi-synthetic members. In the case of weed it's probably not even worth pursuing synthetic analogs to THC given how easy it is to grow.

IMO choosing to indulge in some of these drugs, without medical need, may be akin to a slow-motion suicide. But I'm not in favor of outlawing suicide either.

I'm not against UBJ that pays somebody to study cockroaches all day, so long as they do that.

UBI (or uncontrolled UBJ) that lets somebody do drugs all day makes society worse.

You starve.

If you're totally incapable of work, the US has a program for that today, its called SSI, Supplemental Security Income. Not to be confused with Social Security or SSDI, this program is paid for with income taxes, not social security taxes. There are ~5 million people in the US on SSI.

You're going to let little kids starve because their parents refuse to do your shitty government assigned job for the rest of their lives?

Are you looking forward to your mandatory assigned job? Or are you imagining that it's just for other people?

Where did you get mandatory?

Imagine a future that includes the options today + a few additional options for employment. That is all I'm describing.

Very few people starve in the US: https://twitter.com/Noahpinion/status/937204945379454978

> Where did you get mandatory?

You were the one coming up with government-mandated jobs for people who are deemed unable to work. If you frame your policy as government jobs for those who have no alternative, what else would you call it?

> Do you starve... or do you get... UBI anyway?

And the people who misallocate their UBI and can't afford food? It seems what UBI supporters truly desire is a maternal figure in their lives.

And the people who misallocate their UBI and can't afford food?

At the end of the day, there has to be some personal responsibility, true.

It seems what UBI supporters truly desire is a maternal figure in their lives.

Not really; if I had UBI I'd almost certainly donate it to charity while I was working. My interest in UBI is as a low-overhead, efficient mechanism for social stability.

There might be a point to "basic jobs" involving people signing on for community service type things which are (i) usually chronically underfunded or entirely voluntary and (ii) often in areas where automation can't eliminate the need for humans even if it does in other areas. Agriculture, which hasn't really required large numbers of workers in the West for over a century now, is a strange choice of "basic job" when you've got millions of old people suffering from lack of human contact, museums, arts centres and libraries on the verge of closure and no shortage of proper registered charities that could use some sort of volunteered time. Latter sectors probably also involve more in the way of personal development and satisfaction as unskilled, untrained casual work for subsistence income goes.

I prefer "Guaranteed basic equity" - everyone should own shares in the overall economy, particularly wrt. land and other natural resources and monopolies, and which pay a UBI-like dividend.

"Fake jobs" have been tried before, and usually end up costing more than the benefit they provide, and are often mandatory and stigmatized, so don't necessarily improve the prospects of participants.

I create a company, I issue shares expecting to get paid in return, but now I have to give them out for free. So I will not issue them.

I own shares that have already been issued. I've paid a certain price for them. I will not give my shares to someone else for free, and I will not tolerate more shares being issued for frre because that will devalue my own shares.

This idea of freely distributed shared equity ownership is a nonstarter since equity is only created when people pay for it.

This idea of shared equity ownership is a nonstarter since equity is only created when people pay for it

No, this is equity in real things: land, timber, minerals, clean water, road access, electricity etc. Your company wouldn't owe anybody any shares. Your land value taxes, however, would be distributed to everybody equally. As would the proceeds from your utility bills.

Ideally, you would pay back exactly your share of the net externalities your company benefits from. That may be very hard to calculate in practice, though.

You can't distribute most of the recurring revenue systems in question. The roads & infrastructure systems need that revenue to sustain themselves, to operate, upgrade, etc. The land/property taxes are a critical revenue source for most local governments.

This all just takes you right back to where we are today: you have to tax the top 1/3 heavily to pay for the money you're taking away from utility companies or infrastructure (and redistributing to everyone).

You could allocate shared ownership into currently non-utilized land, mineral rights, spectrum, etc. That also simply takes revenue away from government that would otherwise receive that money, which you then have to tax back away from the population afterward to replace it.

There are many ways to make this work, eg When you create your company, the govt automatically get 30% share, and 30% of future dilutions, perhaps instead of taxes.

But I'm thinking especially about things that that we all should have a natural claim on, like land, minerals, radio spectrum, etc, etc.

If not for land ownership, why would anyone improve it?

If I take out a mortgage on 40 acres, I might log it to generate revenue, and then plant it in hay grass to make (or help make) the mortgage payments, which in turn lets me build equity that I can leverage to acquire additional capital. That's a lot of work. Why would I ever go log, plant, and harvest public land when I don't substantially benefit from it?

You most likely wouldn't log it, you'd sign away rights to a company that wants to log it, and they pay you a percentage of profit, or more likely stumpage fees. This would mean that public land would work the same, companies want to use those resources to turn a profit and the fees would pay out to the public for using public land.

The profit one stands to make of improving the land is always going to be the driver to do it in any system. The difference is this is taking "public land" and making it pay out to the "public" directly (supposedly). Unless one veers too far into socialist territory and removes property ownership completely, none of this precludes private property owners from continuing to profit off fees for land use, or even profiting off developing the land they own same as before. If one does take private ownership off the table, you're dealing with a much larger social change and impact than this particular discussion.

The current situation is that you can own land (and pass it on to countless generations), and even if you do nothing to it, the value of the land may increase due to the rest of the economy, or if the people next to you build skyscrapers, etc.

That's doesn't seem fair, or productive, so I think the land itself should be owned collectively to some degree, but you would still own your improvements, and even 'own' the land in the form of a lease or whatever.

Why are you assuming you wouldn't benefit?

It would be done through a public investment bank, so you would be paid for the shares. That, or you pay equity in lieu of taxes.

I agree that worker ownership of the economy in which they labor would lead to better outcomes for all.

This article seems to assume a particular archetype of unemployed person, a sort of romanticized peasant who's good at working with dirt but unsuited to industry. Most writings about UBI seem to fall into similar traps, where they pick some particular type of people (struggling musicians, say) and design a perfect system for them.

But there are lots of different types of people. The system has to work for all of them. That's why you need large-scale studies, to figure out whom a given system works for and whom it doesn't. Nobody can do this in a thought experiment, because nobody can conjure up every type of person and predict how they will interact with the system.

This is a good criticism, but this is also why I started with "piloting" and the ability to try something else if it doesn't work as big plusses over UBI.

It's true some people are unsuited to industry, and some people are unsuited to child care or elder care. These still are not getting done nearly at the levels we'd like, though.

I imagine this is probably much like what the initial propaganda for the Khmer Rouge must have sounded like.

"Let's just send all these people to work on farms!" - TFA literally says that this would be an attempt to solve a lack of "Social responsibility, sense of purpose, community, meaningful ways to spend their time"

If anyone isn't familiar with the WPA (mentioned in the article), it is worth reading about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration

It doesn't have to be agriculture. I support having the government act as an employer of last resort for people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits and can't find a job. But doing productive agricultural work requires specific skills, there is no shortage of agricultural workers in most areas, and there are few farms where most unemployed people actually live.

Instead of agriculture we can create part-time minimum wage jobs doing other productive things like cleaning up litter and graffiti, trail maintenance, coaching youth activities, etc. This will help to maintain basic employment skills until they can find something better, and give them a stake in the community.

The thing about these ideas is they seem to presuppose starting from a blank canvas as opposed to starting from the current system of corrupt governments and corporate influence. Any implementations of Basic Jobs/Basic Income would be as rotten as the foundations they're built on, it's not going to go all rainbows and pixie-dust all of a sudden. Lobbying, self-interest, need of a hierarchy to rise up in and look down from...

Apologies for my cynicism. Workfare in the UK hasn't been very fluffy.


http://www.boycottworkfare.org "Workfare provides free labour for businesses and charities, enforced by benefit sanctions."

http://www.solfed.org.uk/catalyst/the-great-workfare-scandal "What boss would want to employ a worker they have to pay, when the government will give them someone off the dole to do it for free? The aim of workfare is simply to drive down wages.”

Distributism, protectionism on the local level to ensure widely distributed ownership of capital by labor, advocates for this sort of thinking across the entire economy:


It's also worth noting that there is a narrative (as with most historical narratives, difficult to prove or disprove) that the national socialists created an economic miracle in Germany by guaranteeing pay for any and all labor.

Is there a massive difference between this and having a large public sector? I guess the guaranteed jobs would need to have low to zero skill requirements..

Was actually watching this last night on Deep Winter Greenhouses:



Some interesting findings. What happens if its just a matter of putting the technology together to make local produce actually cost competitive for the consumer, profitable for the producer and more sustainable and secure for society.

The key is to focus on high value winter crops for high end restaurants (micro greens, asian greens, arugula, beets etc.).

Some more links:



How is this different from advocating for feudalism? The wealthy get to continue with unchecked power and advantage, while the poor are now serfs?

This is identical to a person's "present day" options plus one additional option: New jobs supported by the state.

How is adding one more option feudalism?

Because the modern American economy with its tenuousness and inequality is already pretty close to feudalism? Without structurally changing anything, you’re just compounding this problem.

You can get yourself thrown in prison and have guaranteed housing, healthcare, and a job. That option doesn’t make the dynamics of power in the system any less feudal.

My city is full of trash and graffiti and blight. I think urban renewal is another huge opportunity for basic jobs.

China tried something similar in the 1950's. It sent all the people it considered surplus out to farm. But they didn't know how to farm. Guess what happened.

It's the reason parents until recently would tell their fussy kids, "Eat your food, there are children starving in China."

Having the UBI conversation in the context of the US is frivolous. The US has no populist or labor presence. We'd need 5-10 years of building that presence before we could even begin to talk UBI, and even then there'd be a lot of obstruction.

> Having the UBI conversation in the context of the US is frivolous. The US has no populist or labor presence. We'd need 5-10 years of building that presence before we could even begin to talk UBI, and even then there'd be a lot of obstruction.

(1) You are strategically wrong, in that having policy goals (e.g., UBI) and talking about them front and center has always been instrumental in building labor/populist movements.

(2) You are factually wrong about the current context, in that the US has substantially and political relevant populist factions (both the energization of the one on the right and the alienation of the one on the left were key factors in the 2016 election.)

There may be populist factions on both sides, but the one on the left is not very powerful, and the one on the right gave rise to Trumpism, which very clearly would not be in favor of this at all.

I think the idea behind contemporary UBI discussions is to prevent exactly that kind of populism from congealing. The plan has to be something like introduce UBI as a short term panacea while the wealthy further consolidate their power. Once the stranglehold is in place, take it apart in all the same ways Americans have destroyed their safety nets in the past (means testing, welfare to work, etc). Exactly what they did with healthcare “reform”/Obamacare.

If somebody's going to do anything like this, I'd think it should be "guaranteed minimum education." As long as you're in school and getting good grades, you get a basic living stipend.

Paying people to create value

You dont just make people create value. Creating value is the hard part - and the problem is, it becomes harder for humans than for machines.

Workfare and "bullshit jobs" are not solutions.

UBJ requires a huge bureaucracy that UBI does not. The real basic jobs will be the people administering the program, rather than the poor who were initially targeted.

Isn't this just a variant of the broken window fallacy?

It's a variant of protectionist policy. At least farm subsidies mimicking the European way of doing things are.

> like Switzerland, where 55% of farmer income comes from the state

Farm subsidies often have a national security origin.

Norwegian farming subsidies for example to date still is based on a principle of food security that first gained widespread support in Norway as a result of the British naval blockade of Denmark-Norway during the Napoleonic wars that caused occasional famines.

The importance of this was driven home again during World War 2.

So protectionist, yes, but widespread support has largely boiled down to food security rather than caring particularly much about farmers.

Except that security is total bullshit the way the economy works today. You don't just need agriculture, you need every other industry that agriculture depends on.

Yes, I mention this in the article.

Government should have less power, not more. This is a terrible idea, just like UBI always was.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact