This paper equates our current economic system with a dysfunctional game of Monopoly™ and proposes Universal Income as a potential solution. It defines Universal Income, and describes the benefits, challenges, and limitations associated with its implementation.
KEYWORDS: Universal Income, Inequality, Redistribution, Social Welfare
Almost everyone in the United States over the age of forty is familiar with the game of Monopoly™, “The Fast-Dealing Property Trading Game” by Parker Brothers. In the days before computers and video games, on rainy days children would play “board games”—which usually involved rolling dice and moving little tokens around a cardboard mat with pictures on it. These were not very exciting times, and most kids only played because their parents would not let them watch TV and they had nothing else to do, and were thus “bored”…anyway I digress…
For those who are unfamiliar with the game, players would roll dice and move their pieces around a fixed game board. You were given a certain amount of starting “money” which you would use to buy “property” when you landed on it. Then you would charge other players “rent” when they landed on your space. You could then make improvements to the property—adding “houses”, or “hotels”—which would increase the rent you could charge.
For those who remember such times, they will recall wrangling with their brothers and sisters over who gets to be the RACECAR, praying to get BOARDWALK, and writhing in agony when you landed on a HOTEL. Who can forget the gleam of avarice fueled glee that filled young faces as they squeezed every last penny out of the competition? It was brutal
A Real Life Game of Monopoly
Back in those days Monopoly™ was often used by parents and teachers to explain economics. They would often modify the rules so that you could finish the game in a single hour lesson, but that was what made it AWESOME. You were given loads more money, and properties were auctioned off at the beginning of the game. It was one of the few times when learning was actually FUN.
However, in real life things do not work the same way as the game. First of all people do NOT start off with the same amount of money, and some start out with none at all. Second, all the property is already owned or leased. And most importantly, you do not get $200 just for passing GO (Unless you happen to live in Alaska).
In the real economy today, some people start out with huge sums of money and property while others have none. Those without attempt to sell their physical and mental energy to the wealthy for enough money to pay back the rent that they demand for living on their property. On top of this, both are forced to pay TAXES to the government, and they fight for political control to force each other to give more money.
An Insane Game
The end result in Monopoly™ is that one person ends up owning the entire board, and everyone else is forced into “bankruptcy”—which means they are unable to play the game. We can see a similar result occurring in the real-world economy, where 1% of the population owns 80% of the property, and the top 0.1% owns HALF of that. Outsourcing, computers, and automation leave 20% of the population without any work (and thus income), and an additional 10% with not enough to survive
Unfortunately, when someone goes BANKRUPT in real life they are not allowed to quit—they are forced to continue playing, by taking out loans, living on charity, or going to prison. The only way out of the game is DEATH.
Not only is this game not very fun to play, but it is also extremely wasteful—with more than one third of the population unable to contribute to their full capacity. It also causes both groups to expend huge amounts of time and energy fighting to use the political system to get control over one another. This in turn expands the government bureaucracy, leading to even more waste.
Changing the Rules
When presented with a game that presents little chance of winning, most sane people would refuse to play. Unfortunately, we are not given this option. However, because we live in a representative democracy (republic), we do have the ability to change the rules of the game. We can create sane laws that ensure fairness and encourage economic growth.
Money is an artificial construct—it was created by man for the benefit of man. The rules of its creation and distribution are likewise artificial and arbitrary, just like the rules in a game of Monopoly™. And, just like the rules of Monopoly™ can be changed to suit the needs of a given set of players, we can change how our money is created and distributed for the benefit of society.
However, to be successful, the rules we create must account for the current situation, and allow ALL players to benefit without losing wealth or status. It is for this reason that “redistribution” schemes will not work. Welfare programs that take from one group and give to another create resentment and conflict. They also breed opportunities for corruption because it gives government the power to choose who will win and who will lose. Such systems are divisive and create worse problems.
Fixing a Broken System
The system that we have currently is broken. Capitalism requires that money flow back and forth between owner-producers and worker-consumers. Outsourcing and automation disrupt this flow, by preventing property-less “worksumers” from earning enough income to pay rents and buy “ownducer” products. Thus wealth becomes trapped and accumulates on the supply side of the equation, while demand dwindles and the economy grinds to a halt.
The challenge is to get money onto the demand side of the equation, without the resentment and conflict caused by redistribution. Consumers need to have income, and producers need to keep their wealth. Ordinarily this would be accomplished through employment, but that is not going to happen in an environment that is increasingly computerized, outsourced, and automated.
One option is for the government to simply create the money and deposit it directly into the accounts of consumers. They can do this through either the FED or the Department of the Treasury. The FED can create the funds digitally and then transfer them to consumers as a zero interest loan with an infinite payback period. The Treasury can do this by minting coins with VERY high denominations, depositing it in a bank, and then writing checks against the balance.
This may sound like magic, but it is a very real possibility. Thanks to computers and online banking, with a few key strokes money can be created out of thin air—literally out of NOTHING. This is already being done, although using a much more complicated process. The problem with the current process is that it requires that a DEBT be created before new money can be minted. This simply shortcuts the process and creates the money DIRECTLY.
Money created in this fashion is no different than the money in your bank account or wallet. So long as the government demands payment and enforces debts denominated in its own currency, this magic money can be used the same as a minted coins or printed bills. If a person refuses to accept payment in the form of currency, then government courts will not enforce the debt.
All money, whether digital, paper, or metal gets its power from government force. It is completely arbitrary. Whatever the government demands for taxes, fines, and other obligations will be used by everyone for money. In addition, they can set the value of money and create as much of it as they think necessary to keep their economy going.
Pass GO, Collect $200
Creating money in this fashion would allow the government to give everyone a steady paycheck —just like everyone collects $200 when they pass GO in Monopoly™. This puts money in the hands of consumers without taking it from anyone else. This income should be UNIVERSAL, meaning that EVERYONE receives it, regardless of wealth, income, or status.
Why should EVERYONE receive this money? Why not just those who need it or deserve it? Because who would make that decision? And who is to say that they will be fair to everyone? The only way to prevent abuse is to make sure that EVERYONE receives the same amount.
However, the question remains—how much money should everyone receive? What is a reasonable base income? It needs to be enough to live off of without working, but not so much that a person cannot significantly improve their standard of living by finding a job. It also needs to be adjusted as technology advances and living standards increase.
Benefits of Universal Income
Universal Income solves the problem of broken economy without redistribution of wealth. Everyone keeps what they have, and NEW wealth is created. Consumers will spend most of the money into the economy, which in turn creates opportunities for increased production. This spurs producers to expand and innovate to increase their output—leading to economies of scale and reduced prices.
When everyone receives income, regardless of employment status, companies can go to full automation without destroying demand for their products and services. This maximizes production, minimizes costs, and increases profit. The rich continue to get richer, but not at the expense of the middle class and the poor. The poor are cared for, but not on the backs of others.
We live in a unique time—a time when machines can bear the burdens of society and provide for its needs with less and less human effort. Automation is rapidly approaching a point where humans are no longer needed to operate them. Machines can increasingly run themselves—which is a good thing, when combined with Universal Income, because it allows us to fully leverage their power.
Challenges of Universal Income
With all its benefits, Universal Income does have several potential problems. First, people need to understand that it is NOT wealth redistribution or a social welfare program—it cannot be funded through taxation and succeed. Second, it needs to be kept SIMPLE, with minimal government oversight and regulation. Third, the amount received needs to be enough for people to live without ANY other assistance. And, finally, people should have to make a minimum contribution to society in order to receive it—Universal Income is NOT UNCONDITIONAL.
People who receive benefits without providing value in exchange tend to (1) Feel guilty, (2) Not appreciate what they receive, and thus (3) Not use it effectively. The vast majority of people WANT to contribute, but an automated world does not allow them to do so through paid employment. Thus any requirement must also allow for voluntary contributions. Also, because of its social benefits, education should be considered a contribution.
These requirements ensure that EVERYONE contributes. However, these contributions need to be MINIMAL—ten hours a week or less—to avoid being overbearing. With advances in technology, this should be more than adequate to meet the needs of society, while leaving people free to pursue their own interests. Many will seek additional employment or education, train in the arts, enter religious orders, or start their own business. Very few would get by on just the minimum.
Beyond GO…More than $200
Even though a person can live on Universal Income, it is human nature to want MORE. This can be seen in the fact that some of the world’s hardest working people inherited enough wealth to live in luxury without lifting a finger. Even those who work their way up continue to work long after they have saved enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their days. Again, most people WANT to work.
We will not have any problem finding workers to fill jobs. In fact, there will continue to be a job shortage, especially as outsourcing and automation move into full swing. People will have to train hard and be the best in their field to get hired for the few positions that remain. There are not many low-level jobs that cannot be outsourced or automated. Companies will have to pay higher wages to fill these jobs, and they will be sought after by ambitious people who have no other option.
However, those who cannot find paid employment have plenty of time to pursue other avenues to earn extra income. They might become an artist, write books, or volunteer for a variety of causes. They might seek scientific understanding, or spiritual enlightenment. In other words they could look beyond money as a motivation and seek a higher purpose. They might see that there is more to life than passing GO and collecting $200.
Not a Magic Bullet
Unfortunately, Universal Income will not solve all of the ills of society. It may make things better, but there will always be problems. People will still hate one another, lie, cheat, and steal. These are not problems that can be solved with any amount of money. However, we will greatly reduce poverty and make life happier for a very large number of people.
There is no such thing as UTOPIA, there is only better. And as we solve one problem, a whole new set of challenges opens up before us. Fossil fuels provided a cheap source of energy for a hundred years, lifting the standard of living for millions of people—they also created problems of dangerous explosions, pollution, and centralized power. However, most people would agree that things are better today than they were a hundred years ago thanks to fossil fuels, not PERFECT, but BETTER.
We cannot predict the kind of problems that might arise from Universal Income a few generations from now. We may revert back to our current system or create one WITHOUT money—like they predict in the Star Trek series. And we cannot imagine the kind of problems they will face in their time. We can only deal with the problems of today and hope for the best.
A Solution for Our Time
Universal Income would not have worked at any other time in history. The technology was too primitive, and the demand for human labor was expanding. The plow and the tractor did not eliminate the need for the farmer and farmhand; nor did the loom eliminate the need for the weaver; nor the automobile for the driver. In fact these inventions created new jobs.
Had Universal Income been introduced in the agricultural or industrial revolutions, the results would have been disastrous. Few people wanted to do farming, coal-mining, or factory work, and there were no machines that could replace them. Thus employers would have had to raise wages, and thus prices—creating INFLATION. In the end people would have been worse off than before.
It was not until the invention of the computer and robotics that Universal Income became possible. And it took the introduction of AUTOMATION to make it NECESSARY. Today, in our modern world, robots and intelligent agents are taking over many of the jobs once reserved for humans. They can think, talk, and learn almost any task a human can perform. Today, the demand for human effort is dwindling.
Shifting the Status Quo
Universal Income changes the status quo, but not as much as someone might think. It essentially lifts everyone in the society by creating a new robot slave class. Everything else in society remains the same—the rich stay rich, and the poor stay poor. Ownership remains concentrated in the hands of a few, and opportunities for employment will continue to shrink.
However, because robots do most of the “dirty work”, Universal Income leaves average people free to pursue higher education, be creative, and start new businesses. Thus it provides an avenue for social advancement. It also increases worker mobility in that they are free to quit their job at any time to pursue better opportunities, even if they pay less money.
In addition, because robots are more efficient at producing goods and services than human beings, the cost of production would greatly decrease over time. Thus money will be able to purchase more, and everyone’s standard of living is shifted upward. The rich become SUPER-Rich, and even the poor could live in comfort.
Few people want to play a game that they cannot win. Unlike in Monopoly™ where everyone starts off equal and has the same chance of winning, the current system is skewed to ensure that one group will succeed and everyone else loses. Imagine starting a game where one person owns half the property on the board and is the only one to collect $200 by passing GO? That would be INSANE! Is it any wonder that pool of winners is shrinking while the number of losers is increasing?
Our system needs to become more equitable. People need to be given a chance to succeed, regardless of their social status. However, history has proven that wealth “redistribution” does not work. It simply breeds resentment and creates worse problems than before. We do not need to exchange one broken system to another. We need a system that will provide opportunity for people to succeed.
Universal Income is one way to provide people with opportunities in a system that is increasingly automated. If done properly, the system will not only reward hard work, but also encourage those without jobs to contribute to society in valuable ways other than paid employment. This is the only sane thing to do in a world of increasing automation and decreasing employment.
A Game Where All Can Play
Universal Income allows a much larger number of people to participate in society. The minimal requirements to receive can be met by nearly anyone—even children, the elderly, and the infirm. Those few who cannot fill the requirements provide opportunities for others to provide valuable service (paid or unpaid), and thus fulfill their own civic duty. There will always be a need for charity.
Unlike in Monopoly™, Universal Income allows people to continue to play even when all the property on the board has been bought up—by ensuring that they receive enough money to pay rent and buy the products and services they need. It also frees people to seek meaning in life beyond making money, and to create value for society through voluntary contributions. Most people want to be useful, and many would do far more work for free than they ever did for money.
When you remove the need to make money, automation and outsourcing become an opportunity rather than a threat. They free people to do the work they truly enjoy. They can develop their innate talents and abilities rather than those others deem profitable. This can lead to great advances in science, spirituality, the arts, and technology. The benefits society reaps from these contributions can be priceless.
The current system is obviously broken—capitalism cannot function in an environment where there are not enough jobs for workers to afford the products they produce. Welfare programs were not designed for ongoing mass unemployment, and redistribution schemes have historically failed and created worse problems. One way to address these issues is to institute Universal Income.
Universal Income provides EVERYONE in society with money sufficient to meet their basic needs, regardless of age, wealth, or financial status. It is NOT unconditional, but requires everyone to make a minimal social contribution—via employment, volunteerism, or education. Earning money does not diminish this income, but one is not required to earn money to contribute.
Money is an artificial construct—created by man for the benefit of man—and in today’s digital world can be created out of NOTHING. Taxes are not needed to provide Universal Income. The money can be created by government and direct-deposited into people’s accounts. This money can then be spent and used to expand the economy.
While Universal income will not solve all the problems of society, it will create an environment in which people can flourish. It will provide the jobless with a living and enable them to find other ways to create value and contribute meaningfully to society. It allows the rich to grow richer, but not at the expense of others. It creates a stable environment in which everyone can prosper together.