Switzerland will vote Sunday, June 5 in a referendum on a modest -- $2,500 a month for adults, $625 for minors -- universal basic income (UBI). The UBI is gaining a toehold in public debate now that it is becoming apparent that remunerative, meaningful work for the masses is a thing of the past.
A pro-UBI statement by Daniel Raventos and Julie Wark can can be found in "Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe"; a con-UBI pronouncement is available this morning by The Times' Eduardo Porter in "Why a Universal Basic Income Will Not Solve Poverty."
Porter, believe it or not, makes some cogent points, foremost is one borrowed from Marxist ontology, that work is how we communicate our being. People need work in order to live meaningful lives. Warehousing people in favelas with access to high-speed Internet sounds more like The Matrix than a post-scarcity Utopia.
Then there is Porter's assessment of the cost:
Its first hurdle is arithmetic. As Robert Greenstein of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it , a check of $10,000 to each of 300 million Americans would cost more than $3 trillion a year.
Where would that money come from? It amounts to nearly all the tax revenue collected by the federal government. Nothing in the history of this country suggests Americans are ready to add that kind of burden to their current taxes. Cut it by half to $5,000? That wouldn’t even clear the poverty line. And it would still cost as much as the entire federal budget except for Social Security, Medicare, defense and interest payments.
Thinkers on the right solve the how-to-pay-for-it problem simply by defunding everything else the government provides from food stamps to Social Security. That, Mr. Greenstein observes, would actually increase poverty. It would redistribute wealth upward, taking money targeted to the poor and sharing it with everybody, including you and me.
As Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and one-time top economic adviser to President Obama, told me, paying a $5,000 universal basic income to the 250 million nonpoor Americans would cost about $1.3 trillion a year. “It would be hard to finance that in a way that wouldn’t burden the programs that help the poor,” he said.Raventos and Wark come to the UBI from a completely different direction. They see it not as a replacement for work but as a guaranteed income, a buffer and bargaining aid for the increasingly pauperized average worker. It also helps solve the problem of demand in an economy that is increasingly one of automation.
If the Swiss pass their modest UBI on Sunday that will be a wonderful first step. I am skeptical it will pass. I think citizens of the West are just beginning to get a glimpse of the dystopia barreling their way and are not yet willing to put their shoulders to the paradigm shift wheel.
Though sales are up so far this year, the dream machine is beginning to sputter. Brooks Barnes reports in "‘X-Men’ and ‘Looking Glass’ Disappoint at Weekend Box Office" that:
Bombing was “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” which cost Walt Disney Studios $170 million to make. It took in $28.1 million, according to comScore, which compiles box office data. “We’re obviously frustrated and disappointed,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s executive vice president for distribution. “Alice in Wonderland” arrived to $127 million in domestic ticket sales in 2010, after adjusting for inflation.
But the misgivings in Hollywood extend beyond one disappointing weekend, even one as important as Memorial Day. A troubling box office trend started last summer and has only become more pronounced: The riches are not flowing evenly — four of the six major movie factories are struggling — and only expensive event films seem to be drawing crowds, with many general purpose, middle-tier movies being virtually ignored despite aggressive marketing.
What seems to be succeeding are familiar and liked brands (Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War”), bold interpretations (“Deadpool,” “The Jungle Book”) or movies that are events for a particular audience (“Miracles From Heaven,” “The Angry Birds Movie”). Increasingly lost in the mix are films aimed at older audiences or designed as alternatives to effects-driven spectacles: “The Nice Guys,” “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” “Money Monster,” “Mother’s Day,” “The Finest Hours,” “The Boss,” “How to Be Single,” “Hail, Caesar!”
Studios have long fought through hits and misses. The worry is that audiences — unhappy with rising ticket and concession prices and increasingly bivouacked in their living rooms — seem to be saying that an entire section of studio output is no longer viable in theaters: Unless it’s a must-see movie, we’ll catch it on Netflix.The superhero blockbuster is all we are now willing to gather together to celebrate. We have a great longing for justice and transcendence. But for the most part we prefer the solitude of our personal big screens.