With nearly 162,000 people already on board, we are hopefully short of the one million required for a petition to go through. And yet, it is not just the signatures collected to date that count. There is a wide-ranging debate going on in European schools and universities about why it is the government’s responsibility to provide for everyone.
Young people debate and persuade one another (and themselves) that a life without material worries is their tomorrow. They are tempted by the idea that housing, food (healthy food, of course, made with sustainable technologies) and, surely, internet access must be guaranteed by the EU. Where it will come from or who will produce it all is a question no one asks.
To live without having to work is increasingly being thrown at people as a formula for happiness. True, there is nothing new in this proposition. It is a modern repetition of the communist principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Paradise on earth.
However, it is not that EU citizens are collecting signatures for no reason. They rely on a joint declaration adopted by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Commission back in 2017.
It declares that “the EU and its Member States will also support an effective, sustainable and equitable social protection system that guarantees a basic income”.
Putting the beautiful words – efficient, sustainable, and equitable – together in one sentence with basic income does not mean that they have anything in common.
The advocates of universal basic income refer to the recent experiments in the US, Finland, and Spain. Some people were given unconditional benefits that relieved them from the need to earn their daily bread, and so it improved their mental health, made them calmer, more sociable, and less stressed. Mind you, the benefits of this experiment are presented from the point of view of the recipients.
To evaluate the impact on society, however, one should to climb a higher bell tower. A bell tower from which to look at the origin of things: Where does the money come from? – Printing more? – But then the money will depreciate, and soon it will no longer be possible to live on the basic income.
More money will be needed. And depreciating money will also hurt all those who have earned that money through hard work, savings, and investment. Responsible and prudent behavior will be held in contempt, and idleness will be encouraged. Famine will not take long to arrive.
If taxation is the source of universal basic income, then again, those who work and create wealth will pay for those who do not, so that in the long run – if the experiment is as successful as promised – the share of people willing to work and create wealth will drop, while that of people keen to live on benefits will rise.
Whatever the source of universal basic income, in the end, there will be no wealth creation, so sooner or later, there will be nothing to eat. So much for the promised sustainability.
Efficiency will be no better. As long as the experiment covers a small sample of people or a small area of the world, the precondition of efficient use of resources – a market economy with its institutions of prices and money – is preserved around us.
A market economy real prices and real money – the servants and guarantors of human efficiency. So if money is printed ‘on demand’ and consumption happens without money being earned, the right proportions between the different prices will vanish.
The distribution of resources in the market will be crippled; resources will be wasted, and people will lack what they need. Unconditional income will put all human economy into disarray.
But what about justice? Experiments show that those who receive basic income do not go to work. Meanwhile, many economies around the globe are struggling with a shortage of labor.
Lithuania, for example, is already looking to restructure unemployment benefits to prevent people from falling into the unemployment trap. It has long been known that being jobless ultimately means a loss of social contacts and skills and a sense of responsibility.
Once people’s basic needs are met, there is no motivation to act. It is a great misfortune and injustice for individuals themselves because it is only by acting that we grow and fulfill ourselves.
So justice that provides a carefree livelihood for some people and places the burden of providing for it on others does not really stand the test of justice. The classic definition of justice is “to give to each his due”.
So let me ask you this: What does the future hold for those who have been conditioned from childhood to the idea that life without work is efficient, sustainable, and just?
This article was originally published in IQ magazine.