The Pursuit

5/26/2015

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I saw something the other day that disturbed me. There was an article about “basic income” entitled “I will now write an article about Basic Income.” If you were like me, you are probably wondering what that means. Taken from the article; “An Unconditional Basic Income is when a government gives a set amount of money, enough to survive, to all its citizens. It is essentially a promise the government makes to everyone. A promise saying, ‘you deserve food and shelter, because you’re a human.’

I think there is a very real danger when people use the terms “deserve” and “rights” and build a doctrine or philosophy based on it. Do we as humans have intrinsic value? I believe so, yes. Should that value have to be forced on others based on some monetary evaluation? I don’t think so.

There was an accompanying video with this article which explained that the entire point of this “great idea of the twenty-first century” is to give everyone a base line amount of money to cover survival costs, such as food, shelter, and education. This money is for everyone and is unconditional, unlike welfare.

Wait a minute… Since when is it the government’s responsibility to make sure its citizen have basic income enough to survive? I’m fairly certain the Declaration of Independence states; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” Notice that it said the pursuit of happiness, not that happiness itself was a right, let alone a right the government is responsible to fulfill.

Yes, I acknowledge this document’s admission that all men are created equally and that all men have inalienable rights. This is not my discrepancy. But I take issue stating that the government is responsible to insure its citizens survival costs. I’m fairly certain that the responsibility of any government, including our own, is to ensure order and to protect its citizens. I can see a long shot point being argued that providing monetarily to ensure the survival of its citizens could fall under “protection” but I think that idea is far-fetched at best.

How would the government obtain the funding to execute such a plan? More taxation? We are already taxed rather highly and have an enormous national debt to show for it. But say for example we obtain more efficient people in Congress that make better National financial decisions and raise the level of taxation high enough to implement this idea; then what do we have? Is that not getting close to socialism?

What does the first part of Section Eight of Article One of the Constitution of the United States of America say? “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;” Could it really even be argued that they have a right to raise taxes to give everyone basic income? Somehow I don’t think “general welfare” is a sufficient enough justification for distributing money to every citizen just for being alive.

If you actually read the entirety of Article One, Section Eight, the only thing that comes close to what is being proposed in this article is; “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” but even that is limited and not inclusive to all citizens. So, from a Constitutional standpoint, there is no basis for this “basic income” to even be considered a viable option.

Reading further into the article, the author is angry and he admits it. He seems to cast a picture that the current culture is some great antagonist which forces people to live against their wills just to survive. He believes that people are wasting their time and potential simply to make money just to continue existing.

He does have some valid points here. I have met several people who are unsatisfied with their station in life, or at the very least, their job. In fact, I do not think it would be outrageous to say that most people are not content with the work they do. Is this a problem? Absolutely. Is this the government’s problem? I cannot see how. Is it now the government’s responsibility to make sure every single citizen has the job he or she wants?

Even further into the article, the author states that our culture and economy reward people with money for their willingness to submit to someone who has money. He presents the idea of working for money in a negative light by saying you are submitting yourself to the will of someone who has money, just so they can give you money so you can survive. Basically, he would have his readers believe that actually working for your money is voluntary servitude. He then states that a result of “chasing money” is the fear of not having money.

Is our economy voluntary servitude? I guess that depends on your own disposition and perspective. And if that is even a negative thing is also completely objective. Personally, I agree with a passage of Scripture that states; “if a man does not work, neither should he eat.” Would I want that legislated? No.

Is there a very real fear of not having money? Yes. When people do not have the essentials to live, it seems crime, theft, and vandalism follow. I agree this is an issue. I would even be willing to settle that if these same people had the essentials to live, poverty and crime would likely decrease. Does that mean I support how this article attempts to rectify the issue? No.

I think there is a greater issue here concerning “rewards” and “money.” An eschewed view may see the ability to work and the resulting paycheck as a right rather than a privilege. I’m not aware of a single place where the Federal Government states that American citizens have a right to a paycheck or to be gainfully employed.

However, I could see if someone thought it was a right to receive a paycheck then considering that paycheck to be a reward would be offensive. Those who see it as a right would not agree that simply earning enough money to survive is a reward. But if you understand that being able to participate in our economy is a privilege and the resulting earnings are a reward based on our willingness to invest into our economy, then the reward system works as intended.

I believe that in our culture and our economy, we are rewarded with greater pay based on our value to our economy. If we are not willing to make ourselves more valuable to our economy, how can we expect our economy feel bad if we remain in poverty?

Personally, I do not believe it is anyone else’s, let alone the government’s, responsibility to make sure I have the basic needs (food, shelter, education) for myself; it is my responsibility to prioritize my time and efficiently utilize my resources to pacify the requirements of my continued existence. Does that mean I may have to perform jobs I don’t like to get where I want to go? Perhaps. And anyone who knows me can testify that I have.

But if I’m not willing to train hard for the race, do I deserve the prize of winning? Or is simply being born sufficient enough to be a winner? Is that to say that if you don’t win the race, you have no value? No. Maybe we should stop looking to others for affirmation of our worth.

I think the issue lies in the separation between our economy and our government. Do we really want to create more instability in our economy by issuing more regulatory legislation? There typically is not a positive economic result from such regulations, historically speaking. The fact there is even a minimum wages has negatively affects our economy, for I imagine if there were no minimum wage, there would also be less or no unemployment. Every time there is some economic legislation, prices increase surrounded that piece of legislation.

Probably the most prominent point this person makes in his article is that if people are given basic income, it will free people from doing jobs they hate so they can start doing jobs they love, which would increase productivity. He listed what he would consider examples in his article, but I personally failed to follow it logically to its conclusion, for his conclusion isn’t a stated solution, but a hypothesis stating that we will figure out a solution because we are “smart people.”

Let me first say this is not an “us versus them” debate. Most of those who support the idea presented in this article seem to be antagonistic toward those who are perceived as “conservative.” In fact, one such person, when asked why they thought this would be a controversial idea, said; “Because conservatives don’t value all people…”

I find that interesting, for it has been my experience that most who are considered conservative are so because of their moral or religious beliefs. More specifically, most are Christian, and the majority of Christians tend to be evangelical in nature, which is a completely selfless and pro-people stance to take. Why would people devote their lives to deliver the Good News of salvation to others if the soul and well-being of others is not a primary concern to them?

Now, I realize that work became a negative thing in the garden. It was our punishment when we fell into sin. It is hard. It is not fun. We don’t like it. Are there jobs even in this day and time and society that we don’t like? Absolutely. Maybe we are spending more time trying to get out of work than if we just went ahead and did the jobs we don’t like.

I have jobs, and I’m paid for what I do at those jobs, but my value is not limited to the paychecks I receive. Nor is my ability to be self-confident rooted in other people’s valuation of me or in their ability to recognize my worth.

The interesting thing about this article is that the author seems to believe that if we have our basic income that covers our essentials, we will pursue jobs and careers that we want to do, rather than slaving away at what we have to do to earn an income. One of the points against this theory is that if people don’t have to work because their basic needs are met then they won’t work at all. I think that is a very high possibility but I’m not even going to touch that point.

I agree that it sounds nice to be able to focus on the job you want as opposed to pursing jobs just to earn enough money to survive. It really does. As a musician and a writer, I would prefer to be a full-time musician, touring around the world, or being a full-time writer, rather than being an engineer. But that just is not how it is currently. Why? Either because engineers are in higher demand in our economy than musicians and writers, or I am simply more efficient at being an engineer than I am at being a musician or writer. Perhaps even a combination of these possibilities.

I know there are a lot of artists out there. And I know there are even more people who “think” they are an artist. Let me explain. If the goal is to create an economy that is more efficient because people are doing what they love, then for that to take place people would have to transition toward doing things at which they are more efficient.

There are a lot of people who never make it as an artist. Could this be because they are working so much creating a livable wage that they can’t develop their artistic ability, or spend time creating, or getting their name and/or product out there? It is possible that’s the case for some. But I would say for the vast majority of them it is because they just aren’t good enough. As a musician, I can say I have met people who swear they are musicians, but in my humble opinion, they should never pick up an instrument. They are the ones who go to Guitar Center to play. There are people who draw and paint, but no one would ever by their “art.” There are people whose acting ability makes Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker look magnificent.

Is that too harsh? Am I too critical? Ask Simon Cowell. Just because you are passionate about something does not make you good at it. Just because you are drawn to something doesn’t make you efficient at it.

My point is if this idea, or plan, liberates people up to do what they want or what they love, who’s going to do the real work that our economy needs to thrive? Not everyone can be a painter or a comic or a rock star. The author of that article stated that marketing and advertisement could go away because there would be no need.

The economy operates on supply and demand. What happens when the market is flooded? If everyone is free to do whatever their heart desires, would not all the easy, fun jobs quickly become filled? And what happens then? Those jobs that everyone is seeking become less valuable. As a result, the market tanks, and our economy collapses.

Yes, on the surface, this utopia sounds good, but looking at the bigger picture, it makes about as much sense as raising the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour. The bottom line is, if you want to be worth more in the eyes of the economy, then spend the time to make yourself worth more. And just because the economy may not place a high value on you (based solely on your wage) doesn’t mean you have no value to the nation, the government, your community, or our society as a whole.

Personally, I do not believe the end goal is a higher wage or mere survival; I want to live. I want life and liberty and I find that in my pursuit of happiness. And that pursuit is inclusive of my job, my hobbies, my extracurricular activities, and my interests. The value of my life is not limited to what is found written on my paycheck and I hope yours is not based on what’s written on your paycheck either.

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