Guten Morgen! Today I read some more about universal basic income, which makes a whole lot of sense on an intuitive level to me. However, I realized that I am not always the best at communicating my feelings, so I’m going to try to explain to you what I think here. This got a bit lengthy though, so it’ll be divided into parts.
I have spent quite some time studying economics in college, but far more importantly, I have also thought deeply about economics. In the last macroecon class I went to, the well-meaning prof referred incessantly to the policy of quantitative easing about to be implemented here in the eurozone, but had no good answer to the question posed by a student from Eastern Europe ‘why are developed countries so intent on economic growth?’.
My mind fully developed around the time of the 2008 crisis, and I remember reading the Economist about then and wondering what the fuck hedge funds were. I decided to study econ in much more depth because there are so many strange financial mechanisms that I didn’t understand, and apparently all of this weird terminology was the reason why almost everyone I knew was worried about the future. Now I can say with complete confidence that the future is likely to bring…more analysts who come up with boring shit like quantitative easing. Instead of, you know, talking about what is actually going on.
So I’m going to take a stab at the question of why growth in developed countries? And my answer is, the same reason as in the developing world: to achieve freedom from material wants for all humans. The thing is, though, we have enough wealth (not the same as money, which is make-believe and actually a symbol for debt) already in the Western world, and with further developments in job automation and AI, we will really, REALLY have enough.
Textbooks teach that humans are rational, autonomous economic agents. We make predictable decisions in the face of scarcity, and therefore a decentralized economy is cool cuz each person will do what is best for themselves. I invite you to question your own assumptions about people. Do you believe this is true?
Are poor people rational? If so, why are they poor? What about mentally ill people? They’re crazy, right? Surely, crazy is the antithesis of rational. Crazy is wild, crazy is lost in a swirl of emotions. Crazy is different from us, the normal ones…right, guys? Amiright?!?
This is where I find the dichotomy of rational vs. emotional breaks down. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. According to this, poverty is per definition to suffer from poor mental health. The stress involved with economic hardship can lead to similar development of mental illness and learning disabilities in children as abuse and chronic neglect (http://developingchild.harvard.edu/key_concepts/toxic_stress_response/). The emotions involved with poverty are not separate from the supposedly detached reasoning of the economic actor we harp on about in econ textbooks. When you are poor, you can’t realize your potential. When you are beaten by your parents, higher-ups in the military or your fellow ‘economic actors’, your way of coping with the stress will possibly be labeled as mental illness, even though to react this differently would, in fact, be irrational. When you are poor, you don’t have time to worry about making a contribution to society. The fact that people do so anyway is why I still believe in humanity.
More to come, thanks for reading!