How the Universal Basic Income Stifles Human Flourishing
Billionaire Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks UBI is a fantastic idea. Here's why he's wrong.
Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave the commencement address at Harvard University, where he advocated the Universal Basic Income (UBI), a concept in which the government gives every adult a check — not for working, but for merely existing. Following his trip to Alaska this week, Zuckerberg announced that the UBI is a “bipartisan idea” worth exploring. But is it?
Zuckerberg is a Harvard drop-out billionaire who made his money from a technology concept that leverages the basic human need to be heard by others. It thrives upon social pressure and the desire to prove oneself and one’s worthiness to the world.
He attributes his success to “luck” and wants others to have access to capital via the UBI as a “cushion to try new ideas” so that they might achieve their dreams. Yet rather than starting an entrepreneurship training organization, or contributing his own billions to a UBI fund, Zuckerberg tasks this job to the government. “People like me should pay for it,” he did say, but through taxes that he can pay accountants to avoid.
Zuckerberg essentially wants a pension system, without one basic requirement: a pension fund. He fails to acknowledge a core problem — that the government has no money. The only way the government makes money is to tax those who work hard.
American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar Charles Murray, a conservative, also advocates the UBI — as a replacement for current subsidy programs like Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, welfare programs and the agencies that manage them. Murray believes that the UBI will get rid of bureaucracy, but the real way to get rid of bureaucracy is to just get rid of it, not to create a new, different agency.
Murray advocates that an annual stipend would begin at age 21 with $13,000, $3,000 of which would be required for health care. $10,000 could then be spent freely. The stipend begins to lower once the recipient earns $30,000 or more per year. The lowest yearly stipend would be $6,500 per year for those who make $60,000 per year. In addition to being extremely expensive, the plan rewards the lazy and penalizes the hard-working. It subsidizes vice, rather than promoting human flourishing through hard work.
Murray also supports the UBI because he fears that people will lose their jobs to technological innovation, and that the great technological shifts will make many Americans jobless. However, historically people shift as technology shifts. Take, for example, the whaling industry. In the 19th century, most of the world burned whale blubber for fuel — for lamps, lights and lighthouses. With the invention of electricity, no one needed whale blubber anymore, and consequently, no one needed whalers or lighthouse keepers. The whalers and the lighthouse keepers had obsolete jobs, but did that mean they needed a check from the government? No, the people in those jobs found new jobs and history moved on.
This concept also assumes that people freed from the slavery of work will simply act in love and charity, or as Fortune’s Kevin O’ Marah says, have “the freedom to realize our personal best.” The key flaw in this thinking is that work somehow stifles our personal best, while leisure allows us to achieve it. However, if work presented a barrier to altruism and realizing one’s “personal best,” then public housing communities would be places of love, safety and entrepreneurial ventures. Instead, they are cesspools of violence, disintegrated families and crime.
Zuckerberg decries income inequality as wrong and suggests a “new social contract” including a UBI as a solution. Taken to its logical conclusion, however, the “solution” to income inequality involves everyone having the exact same life. There is, in fact, an existing system in which people are all given the same clothes to wear, fed the same food, and given the same life. It’s extremely fair. It’s called prison.
The Founders of this country pledged their “lives and fortunes” not for the prison of lifestyle “equality” but rather for the opportunity to work diligently and to achieve their dreams through ingenuity and hard work. Holding fast to the concept of America as the place of opportunity, rather than the land of subsidies, reacquaints us with the core values that make this country and her people truly flourish.