Give People Money by Annie Lowrey
Anyone interested in changing the world, addressing poverty, or fixing the ills of capitalism.
In a nutshell:
What would the world — or just the US — look like if every single person received money every single month. Regardless of need. Regardless of ability to work. Just to keep them at a baseline level of existence, out of poverty.
Worth quoting (so much – sorry!):
“We no longer have a jobs crisis … but we do have a good-jobs crisis, a more permanent, festering problem that started more than a generation ago.”
“…we find no evidence that cash transfers reduce the labor supply, while service sector workers appear to have increased their hours of work.”
“Providing the poor with those steps might mean seeing them as deserving for no other reason than their poverty — something that is not and has never been part of this country’s social contract. We believe that there is a moral difference between taking a home mortgage interest deduction and receiving a Section 8 voucher.”
Why I chose it:
The train to a friend’s wedding was delayed, so we had some time and I hadn’t brought a book (damn tiny fancy purses). Said fuck it and bought this. I met said friend in a philosophy program where I first heard universal basic income even mentioned, so it seemed appropriate.
This book is FASCINATING. I was expecting an examination of Universal Basic Income (UBI) and how it can help in places in the world where people live on less than $2 per day, and it does offer that. But author Lowrey spends the majority of the book looking at what UBI could do for the US. And after reading it, I’m still a bit up in the air about how it can work in practice, but absolutely on board for it in theory.
Lowrey’s starts by looking at the reality that jobs are going to start shrinking in hours and eventually going away as we become a more automated society. Driverless cars and trucks will put loads of people out of work — what are we to do with them? Some sectors will shrink and disappear (coal mining), and we haven’t necessarily seen the commensurate growth in other sectors. If everyone was guaranteed enough money to survive, then those who do not want to work 40+ hour weeks, or those who can’t, wouldn’t be subjected to life lived homeless.
But that’s not the main point of Lowrey’s book. We don’t need UBI because some jobs are going away; we need UBI because it can help address numerous societal wrongs right here in the US. Her chapter on racism and how US policies over the years have kept people of color from acquiring wealth and a rate anywhere near that of white people is brilliant, and a chapter I will be referring back to often. She also explores how the care economy and the work that women overwhelmingly do is completely undervalued, and a UBI could raise those workers up. And of course she is deeply interested in the overall poverty rate in the US. I think this is an absolutely true and desperately sad statement:
“The issue is not that the Unites States cannot pull its people above the poverty line, but that it does not want to.”
Lowrey is not oblivious to the problems of implementation. We already have a serious issue in the US of people disparaging and looking down upon people living in poverty; if benefits programs were re-organized and some of the benefits middle-class people have become used to getting go away, that resentment will build. Plus, if everyone in the US gets UBI, how we decide who qualifies? Only citizens? Legal residents? What will that do to a country that is already so deeply fucked up when it comes to immigration?
Finally, she looks at how we might pay for this, and this is the one area that I wish she spent more time on (and what brings this from a five-star to a four-star book for me). I have zero problem with giving people money for existing. I don’t think we should sentence people to lives without homes or health care because their ability or desire to work doesn’t match mine. But the money has to come from somewhere, right? Taxes on workers? Businesses? Carbon? ROBOTS? (seriously, it’s an interesting idea).
There is not enough political will for this to be a real thing in the US right now. But I think it deserves serious examination. There is no reason why anyone in the US — let along the world — should be living in poverty. No reason. We just have to have the courage to make some real changes.
Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it (and buy copies for other people)