Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

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Shem
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Shem » 05 Sep 2019, 11:57

JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 06:52
This is a tax on growth to the extent growth requires lots of people trying hard things, which I believe is the case.
If that's what growth requires, then we shouldn't have the growth we have, because the overwhelming majority of our population isn't people trying hard things. It's people doing necessary maintenance work on the machinery of civilization, while a small number of people attempt to solve the problems that inhibit growth. How is a guy running a cash register at McDonalds an improvement against the Burgertron 9000 doing his work instead from a growth perspective? In fact, the drive to replace the man with the Burgertron is more of a driver of growth than making sure that the man is occupied doing "useful" tasks. This whole argument is like Mercantilists in the 19th century demanding that protectionism continue because it's the basis of the global economy. The fact that it is in fact the basis of the way things are doesn't mean that it constitutes some universal truth about humanity, or that it isn't possible to generate a more successful system by moving to encouraging people to solve problems that are meaningful to them rather than forcing them to work to keep society running in order to live.
JD wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 10:22
Shem wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 02:55
Historically, almost none of the advances in society happen because someone wants more access to material goods. Mostly, they happen because the person doing it wants to be recognized by those around them for one psychological reason or another.
Hm. Can you give some concrete examples?
Polio vaccine. Newton's laws of motion. Einstein's theory of relativity. Almost no scientific breakthroughs occur because someone wants to make money off them. You can tell because usually, the means by which they'll be monetized aren't immediately obvious. They happen because people want to satisfy some other need; the desire to help humanity, the chance to be remembered, the glow of their colleague's admiration, something. It's why reducing everything to the profit motive in human interaction is such a limited way of looking at things. It's an economic McNamara Fallacy: "this is what we can measure, so this is the only thing we're going to pay attention to."
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 12:31

I guess I should add to my list of concerns that I get nervous removing the coordinating value of the price of labor at the low end. "Seeking opportunity" has implications when opportunity is chained to value produced by the price of labor. There are a lot of activities that are fun but don't really create much value for anyone else. Those activities are the set of things you grow out of when the market signals to you to find something that pays better. If you have housing and food and basic entertainment covered by doing actual nothing, why not just keep trying to be an actor? I get that some people think that's a better world, but I'm way on the other end of that. Something important is being lost and not just aggregate economic output.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JD » 05 Sep 2019, 12:46

Shem wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 11:57
JD wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 10:22
Shem wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 02:55
Historically, almost none of the advances in society happen because someone wants more access to material goods. Mostly, they happen because the person doing it wants to be recognized by those around them for one psychological reason or another.
Hm. Can you give some concrete examples?
Polio vaccine. Newton's laws of motion. Einstein's theory of relativity. Almost no scientific breakthroughs occur because someone wants to make money off them.
Fair enough, but I think that's only true if you're limiting yourself to fundamental scientific breakthroughs, which is a small subset of "advances in society". For example, the invention of the laser was pure science, but what made it useful to society was the applied engineering, which was not done just for egoboo.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 12:50

Shem wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 11:57
JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 06:52
This is a tax on growth to the extent growth requires lots of people trying hard things, which I believe is the case.
If that's what growth requires, then we shouldn't have the growth we have, because the overwhelming majority of our population isn't people trying hard things. It's people doing necessary maintenance work on the machinery of civilization, while a small number of people attempt to solve the problems that inhibit growth. How is a guy running a cash register at McDonalds an improvement against the Burgertron 9000 doing his work instead from a growth perspective? In fact, the drive to replace the man with the Burgertron is more of a driver of growth than making sure that the man is occupied doing "useful" tasks. This whole argument is like Mercantilists in the 19th century demanding that protectionism continue because it's the basis of the global economy. The fact that it is in fact the basis of the way things are doesn't mean that it constitutes some universal truth about humanity, or that it isn't possible to generate a more successful system by moving to encouraging people to solve problems that are meaningful to them rather than forcing them to work to keep society running in order to live.
If you have UBI earlier in the timeline, do we still have industrialization? If you have it later do we freeze in an industrial production economy and not transition to information economy? Should we stop now?

This is a narrow view of innovation. Innovation is a micro as well as macro process. There's this tendency, especially right now, to act like if it isn't Big Bang technological innovation is doesn't count. Inside firms, people on the lines are making small contributions in process, quality, service levels etc that roll up to something significant. Related, there is a tendency to act as though once some piece of technology comes to bear on a specific element of the economy there's nothing else to do in that space. New real needs are created and new possibilities emerge and you need a motivating force to realize those possibilities. Our disagreement here is pretty broad, but I think a lot of it is how much we respectively see the "work is over" horizon. My view is not even remotely close if ever.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Shem » 05 Sep 2019, 13:13

JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 12:31
f you have housing and food and basic entertainment covered by doing actual nothing, why not just keep trying to be an actor?
Who said anything about entertainment? In my ideal system, food, a very basic set of clothing, and shelter would be guaranteed, but nothing else. If you want more, you have to find your own way to get it.
I get that some people think that's a better world, but I'm way on the other end of that. Something important is being lost and not just aggregate economic output.
But you can't seem to explain what that is, or why it's of greater value than what would be gained. That's why it's hard not to see a lot of your argument as being moral rather than practical. I mean, it's not hard to imagine a JasonL in 16th century Pisa talking about how if only that Galileo would stop screwing around with pendulums, he could do something worthwhile with his time.
JD wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 12:46
Fair enough, but I think that's only true if you're limiting yourself to fundamental scientific breakthroughs, which is a small subset of "advances in society". For example, the invention of the laser was pure science, but what made it useful to society was the applied engineering, which was not done just for egoboo.
It's easiest to observe in breakthroughs, but it comes up everywhere. If material goods are the primary driver, why don't people stop when their material needs are met to a level beyond what they could consume? Why keep innovating when you have more money than you need? Why have hundreds of any item when you can only really use a couple of them on any regular basis? Why go for name partner at your firm when you make more than enough money to live a life of plenty as an associate, with significantly less stress? As soon as you leave the needs of basic existence behind, people find motivations that have nothing to do with meeting those needs. Rather than trying to maintain the threat of the loss of those basic needs as a whip to force people to continue to produce, we should be trying to find ways to motivate them to produce out of their own free will.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Painboy » 05 Sep 2019, 13:34

Shem wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 13:13
JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 12:31
f you have housing and food and basic entertainment covered by doing actual nothing, why not just keep trying to be an actor?
Who said anything about entertainment? In my ideal system, food, a very basic set of clothing, and shelter would be guaranteed, but nothing else. If you want more, you have to find your own way to get it.
I get that some people think that's a better world, but I'm way on the other end of that. Something important is being lost and not just aggregate economic output.
But you can't seem to explain what that is, or why it's of greater value than what would be gained. That's why it's hard not to see a lot of your argument as being moral rather than practical. I mean, it's not hard to imagine a JasonL in 16th century Pisa talking about how if only that Galileo would stop screwing around with pendulums, he could do something worthwhile with his time.
JD wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 12:46
Fair enough, but I think that's only true if you're limiting yourself to fundamental scientific breakthroughs, which is a small subset of "advances in society". For example, the invention of the laser was pure science, but what made it useful to society was the applied engineering, which was not done just for egoboo.
It's easiest to observe in breakthroughs, but it comes up everywhere. If material goods are the primary driver, why don't people stop when their material needs are met to a level beyond what they could consume? Why keep innovating when you have more money than you need? Why have hundreds of any item when you can only really use a couple of them on any regular basis? Why go for name partner at your firm when you make more than enough money to live a life of plenty as an associate, with significantly less stress? As soon as you leave the needs of basic existence behind, people find motivations that have nothing to do with meeting those needs. Rather than trying to maintain the threat of the loss of those basic needs as a whip to force people to continue to produce, we should be trying to find ways to motivate them to produce out of their own free will.
These aren't the people that are going to be on UBI. Galileo and the people like him are self motivated. They're going to strive for their passion almost regardless of their means. The concern is what happens when say 20-30% of the population isn't self motivated to improve things and has a free ticket to just hang at home watching Netflix everyday? A lot of grunt work is about freeing up time for others who are best at creating wealth and innovation. We want to give Galileo as much time as possible to do the things he's best at. If his time is chewed up just trying to deal with the mundanities of life he's not going to get as much accomplished as he would otherwise. This ends up hurting everyone down the line and slows down the rate of any possible progress.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Ellie » 05 Sep 2019, 13:36

I'm inclined to agree with Shem that people work harder for status/appreciation more than money and that a lot of times when it looks like they're working for money it's not for the benjamins qua benjamins but because getting a lot of money for their work signals, in our society, that they should/will get greater status and accolades.

I have nothing to back this up beyond my armchair psychologizing, but there you go.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by thoreau » 05 Sep 2019, 13:40

JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 06:52
My concerns are the employment and more generally effort sensitivities to the level of UBI. If the dial is turned juuust a hair to high, I think many people who could significantly improve their lots through effort - training, relocation, and maybe most importantly shifting identity - simply won’t do that. UBI, net of the effort required to change their lives materially, is good enough. It is a job with infinite vacation. It is possible you could very suddenly collapse employment for low skill jobs.
Why is it a threshold? There are a whole bunch of people who are kind of on the margins of the labor market now, sometimes using public benefits, sometimes sponging off relatives, sometimes working more-or-less-full-time. Some of them have side hustles that they loudly mention when relatives ask why they aren't working more. Why would the wrong level of UBI collapse their wave function to permanent sponging? If all they did was permanent side hustle on top of UBI, the actual amount of work they do in a year might not budge, but the money the state spends monitoring them might drop substantially.

Yes, some would abandon even their side hustle, but I think it's a sliding scale. It's not like at one dollar amount they all do at least some work and with a small increment none of them will do even that. Just calibrate it to local cost of living so that UBI sucks no matter where you live (otherwise the cheapest parts of the country become magnets for UBI spongers, setting off local downward spirals).
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 13:52

Shem wrote:
JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 12:31
f you have housing and food and basic entertainment covered by doing actual nothing, why not just keep trying to be an actor?
Who said anything about entertainment? In my ideal system, food, a very basic set of clothing, and shelter would be guaranteed, but nothing else. If you want more, you have to find your own way to get it.
I get that some people think that's a better world, but I'm way on the other end of that. Something important is being lost and not just aggregate economic output.
But you can't seem to explain what that is, or why it's of greater value than what would be gained. That's why it's hard not to see a lot of your argument as being moral rather than practical. I mean, it's not hard to imagine a JasonL in 16th century Pisa talking about how if only that Galileo would stop screwing around with pendulums, he could do something worthwhile with his time.
You aren’t arguing for childcare? Full healthcare not just catastrophic? Internet connections maybe? The argument isn’t going to become in modern days “need” isn’t the same thing? I mean if I can hold you to that, it falls to my “life has to suck” model and we don’t disagree. I worry about the very next dollars spent.

On the what’s lost front, for one “not just economic output” means you are losing that output and replacing it with dependence on transfers. The other stuff is for example a complete lack of a requirement to prove value in a marketplace for hours of your life. f Market tested activities are not the only things with any value but they are probably valuable in a sense of demand fulfillment. A random assortment of non market activities can’t claim any connection to utility or value in any sense. This is literally the complaint - I shouldn’t have to care what a manager wants, what a customer wants, what anyone else thinks about how I present myself, how educated I am, what skills I have ... it shouldn’t matter. Roll that up across a hundred million people and that’s a shit navel gazing society.


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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 13:54

Again - if I could calibrate “this life fucking sucks” levels, I have no concerns. I personally know a lot of people if they could just get weed and internet would never work another minute.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Hugh Akston » 05 Sep 2019, 13:59

I can see how losing people like that from the employment market would be a terrible blow to society.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 14:08

Hugh Akston wrote:I can see how losing people like that from the employment market would be a terrible blow to society.
It would. You guys have peculiar views of human nature and the economy. It isn’t trash people and geniuses and only geniuses really matter anyway so fuck it. Careers have trajectories and adding some nontrivial number of people to the ranks of those who decide entry level is a waste would be a real problem.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by thoreau » 05 Sep 2019, 14:08

JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 13:54
Again - if I could calibrate “this life fucking sucks” levels, I have no concerns. I personally know a lot of people if they could just get weed and internet would never work another minute.
What kind of apartment will they live in while enjoying their weed and internet? What kind of food will they eat when they get the munchies? I have no illusions about certain kinds of people, but at any level of subsistence there are people who will say "OK, I'm good", people who will at least want a side hustle for more cash, and people who will say "No, I want more, I'm working." It isn't a threshold.

I think we have to accept that ANY social welfare program has a moral hazard, and then ask whether the moral hazard + implementation costs outweigh the benefits (where benefits are measured against your value preferences). The basic argument for UBI is that it lowers the monitoring costs while improving labor market sorting and shifting decisions about work vs caring for children and elderly relatives. The basic arguments against it are (1) bad calibration could lead to huge moral hazard and (2) we might not actually lose the monitoring bureaucracies. I agree with both, but the moral hazard issue is not a threshold issue.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by thoreau » 05 Sep 2019, 14:08

JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 14:08
Hugh Akston wrote:I can see how losing people like that from the employment market would be a terrible blow to society.
It would. You guys have peculiar views of human nature and the economy. It isn’t trash people and geniuses and only geniuses really matter anyway so fuck it. Careers have trajectories and adding some nontrivial number of people to the ranks of those who decide entry level is a waste would be a real problem.
I'm less concerned about whether the labor market needs them, and more concerned about whether the kids in the neighborhood see adult men get off the couch.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 14:17

The threshold to me is at the perceived cost in effort, self examination, relocation of materially improving your standard of living relative to a baseline of infinite vacation and all necessities taken care of by others. I think there are break points in those dimensions. The factory closes but fuck it I’m not moving or going back to school and voila it’s UBI Town. Or the next tier of low skill labor would require investment in training but I can sit here and do nothing.

The nature of UBI is to eliminate the idea of a deadbeat. Nobody’s a deadbeat. Social acceptance would be just fine in a few years.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Painboy » 05 Sep 2019, 14:25

thoreau wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 14:08
JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 13:54
Again - if I could calibrate “this life fucking sucks” levels, I have no concerns. I personally know a lot of people if they could just get weed and internet would never work another minute.
What kind of apartment will they live in while enjoying their weed and internet? What kind of food will they eat when they get the munchies? I have no illusions about certain kinds of people, but at any level of subsistence there are people who will say "OK, I'm good", people who will at least want a side hustle for more cash, and people who will say "No, I want more, I'm working." It isn't a threshold.

I think we have to accept that ANY social welfare program has a moral hazard, and then ask whether the moral hazard + implementation costs outweigh the benefits (where benefits are measured against your value preferences). The basic argument for UBI is that it lowers the monitoring costs while improving labor market sorting and shifting decisions about work vs caring for children and elderly relatives. The basic arguments against it are (1) bad calibration could lead to huge moral hazard and (2) we might not actually lose the monitoring bureaucracies. I agree with both, but the moral hazard issue is not a threshold issue.
I have no problem with a certain amount of people living on their couch if there's a real reduction in the bureaucracy and expense of managing from the current welfare system. The concern isn't if 5% of people take the couch route it's when 20%+ take it. That would be a significant drag on wealth creation at a very large expense to the rest of society. I have not seen any evidence that we have a good knowledge of where that percentage would actually be, and I think that's critical if UBI is going to be benefit over the current system.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Hugh Akston » 05 Sep 2019, 14:35

Painboy wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 14:25
thoreau wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 14:08
JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 13:54
Again - if I could calibrate “this life fucking sucks” levels, I have no concerns. I personally know a lot of people if they could just get weed and internet would never work another minute.
What kind of apartment will they live in while enjoying their weed and internet? What kind of food will they eat when they get the munchies? I have no illusions about certain kinds of people, but at any level of subsistence there are people who will say "OK, I'm good", people who will at least want a side hustle for more cash, and people who will say "No, I want more, I'm working." It isn't a threshold.

I think we have to accept that ANY social welfare program has a moral hazard, and then ask whether the moral hazard + implementation costs outweigh the benefits (where benefits are measured against your value preferences). The basic argument for UBI is that it lowers the monitoring costs while improving labor market sorting and shifting decisions about work vs caring for children and elderly relatives. The basic arguments against it are (1) bad calibration could lead to huge moral hazard and (2) we might not actually lose the monitoring bureaucracies. I agree with both, but the moral hazard issue is not a threshold issue.
I have no problem with a certain amount of people living on their couch if there's a real reduction in the bureaucracy and expense of managing from the current welfare system. The concern isn't if 5% of people take the couch route it's when 20%+ take it. That would be a significant drag on wealth creation at a very large expense to the rest of society. I have not seen any evidence that we have a good knowledge of where that percentage would actually be, and I think that's critical if UBI is going to be benefit over the current system.
This is an extremely important point. At this point it discussions of UBI's impact are nothing but dueling assumptions fueled by ex rectum guessing, moral aesthetics, and strawmen. Large-scale experimentation is needed.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 14:54

I mean one part of that is the cost isn't guessing it's gigantic.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Hugh Akston » 05 Sep 2019, 15:03

JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 14:54
I mean one part of that is the cost isn't guessing it's gigantic.
How gigantic? What is the overall expenditure on a limited-scope UBI? How about full-scope? What is the revenue/expenditure ratio? How do they compare to the current welfare system? What are the income threshold mobility statistics? Specific numbers plox.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 15:12

So big nobody has been able to maintain an experiment because OMG it's expensive just in limited runs. What's your magic number for basic, let's back of the envelope it. $15k? More? Less?

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 15:15

For the record, I would also note that the moral aesthetics thing runs both ways not just against my view. Having to do stuff to get money is an unimaginable horror to some.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Jennifer » 05 Sep 2019, 15:17

Reposted from earlier on this thread, regarding a previous American experiment with a UBI:
Jennifer wrote:
05 Jan 2017, 12:34
Incidentally, here's a NYTimes piece from 2014 about a limited American experiment in basic income: a Cherokee tribe in North Carolina has a casino, and divvies up the proceeds among all adult members of the tribe. Despite Jason and Painboy's fears, this extra income did not inspire the bulk of the tribe members to sit around drinking firewater all day.
...When the casino opened, Professor Costello had already been following 1,420 rural children in the area, a quarter of whom were Cherokee, for four years. That gave her a solid baseline measure. Roughly one-fifth of the rural non-Indians in her study lived in poverty, compared with more than half of the Cherokee. By 2001, when casino profits amounted to $6,000 per person yearly, the number of Cherokee living below the poverty line had declined by half.

The poorest children tended to have the greatest risk of psychiatric disorders, including emotional and behavioral problems. But just four years after the supplements began, Professor Costello observed marked improvements among those who moved out of poverty. The frequency of behavioral problems declined by 40 percent, nearly reaching the risk of children who had never been poor. Already well-off Cherokee children, on the other hand, showed no improvement. The supplements seemed to benefit the poorest children most dramatically.

When Professor Costello published her first study, in 2003, the field of mental health remained on the fence over whether poverty caused psychiatric problems, or psychiatric problems led to poverty. So she was surprised by the results. Even she hadn’t expected the cash to make much difference. “The expectation is that social interventions have relatively small effects,” she told me. “This one had quite large effects.”

She and her colleagues kept following the children. Minor crimes committed by Cherokee youth declined. On-time high school graduation rates improved. And by 2006, when the supplements had grown to about $9,000 yearly per member, Professor Costello could make another observation: The earlier the supplements arrived in a child’s life, the better that child’s mental health in early adulthood....
Tl;dr: the families that were already well off showed no difference but the poor families did: fewer crimes, better graduation rates, better mental health as children aged into adulthood....
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by JasonL » 05 Sep 2019, 15:29

Maybe. I don't even think the Finnish results are particularly applicable to the US, and that result even less so for a host of reasons. I will say, I do believe in basic income as a strategy against extreme poverty. I am involved with Give Directly, a charity which is conducing the largest current experiments in the world on UBI and direct cash gifts in areas of extreme poverty. My views are very much shaped by where you are on the development curve and expectations for what basic means because the threshold I worry about is the point at which the next dollar generates an adequate life that significant efforts to improve are not worth it to lots of people.

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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Hugh Akston » 05 Sep 2019, 15:35

JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 15:12
So big nobody has been able to maintain an experiment because OMG it's expensive just in limited runs. What's your magic number for basic, let's back of the envelope it. $15k? More? Less?
So you're guessing that the cost is going to be gigantic.
JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 15:15
For the record, I would also note that the moral aesthetics thing runs both ways not just against my view. Having to do stuff to get money is an unimaginable horror to some.
Yes, both guessing and moral aesthetics cuts both ways, but there are aesthetics in play than school's out for-ever. The only thing in my reply to Painboy that is specific to you is strawmen.
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Re: Money for Nothing: the Universal Basic Income

Post by Jennifer » 05 Sep 2019, 15:35

JasonL wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 15:29
generates an adequate life that significant efforts to improve are not worth it to lots of people.
Except -- human nature and the "hedonic treadmill" being what they are -- has there ever been a time before when large numbers of people said "I'm so content with how things are, I'll be content with this forever. This is ALL I need"?

What was the name of the late-19th century man who resigned from the US patent office because he said there was surely nothing left to invent? Yet those who lived at that dizzying pinnacle of human technology disagreed -- they still kept finding things to invent and improvements to make.
"Myself, despite what they say about libertarians, I think we're actually allowed to pursue options beyond futility or sucking the dicks of the powerful." -- Eric the .5b

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