Universal Basic Income for Philosophers

The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) is currently being much-discussed in Europe and elsewhere, in part–or even largely–because of Rutger Bregman’s extremely readable and well-argued presentation of the UBI idea in Utopia for Realists.

Here are Bregman’s ideas and arguments in a nutshell.

  1. UBI means that every adult person gets a decent living income (say, 25K USD per year) with no strings attached.
  2. Wherever UBI has been tried in the past, it has had good all-around benefits for everyone involved.
  3. UBI could be easily funded by rich countries, e.g., by taxes on money-managing transactions and other high-earning bullshit jobs, etc.
  4. UBI would end world poverty, if implemented worldwide.
  5. The UBI idea primes us to think seriously about the nature and purpose of work, and about why anyone should be doing bullshit jobs if they don’t have to.
  6. The primary barriers to UBI are (a) cognitive illusions about poverty (in particular, the classical invidious, ideologically-driven distinction between “deserving” and “undeserving” poor) and (b) neoliberal ideology.

Bregman also has some interesting and important–although less well-worked out–ideas and arguments about universal open borders (UOB) and a 15-hour workweek (FHW).

But leaving Bregman’s own ideas and arguments aside, I think that we can significantly extend them, as follows.

Suppose that we combined UBI not only with UOB, but also with universal free healthcare (UFH) and a 15 hour workweek for doing understaffed non-bullshit jobs (FHW for UNBJs), so that people can use their UBI to pursue creative, meaningful activities of all kinds and ALSO earn some extra income by doing understaffed real, productive jobs part-time.

If conjointly implemented in the real world, then UBI + UOB + UFH + FHW-for-UNBJs could substantially change the world for the better.

So let’s call that idea radical utopia for realists.

Why not do it?

Against the larger backdrop of this radical realistic utopian vision, then, my specific interest in this edgy essay is UBI for philosophers (UBI-for-Ps).

The UBI-for-Ps idea says:

  1. Shut down professional academic philosophy altogether.
  2. Put all the money saved into a single fund.
  3. Use that fund to provide a basic UBI-for-Ps (25K per year) to anyone who wants to pursue real, serious philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling.
  4. Also use that fund to provide a further UBI-for-Ps-Who-Teach (25K per year) to anyone (i) who has already taught (say) 24 philosophy courses at a college or university or online, (ii) who is already pursuing real, serious philosophy as a full-time, lifetime calling, and (iii) who also wants to teach philosophy, by offering regular free online lecture-courses &/or free online small-seminar courses, in introductory-level philosophy, advanced-level philosophy, or research-level philosophy, to anyone, anywhere.

Given the sad fact of the collective stupidity of professional academic philosophy and also given the further sad fact that professional academic philosophy, precisely insofar as it professional and academic, is a bullshit job, whereas the able, committed teaching of philosophy itself is a creative and meaningful activity, then why not do it?

Not only that.

Last week, Nicolas Berggruen, the philosophically-minded billionaire, gave Charles Taylor a million dollar prize–as it were, a philosophy Nobel Prize, presumably to be awarded to a different famous philosopher every year–to indicate the importance of bringing philosophy into the real world.

OK: I do think very highly of Charles Taylor’s work.

But I also think that, instead of giving a million dollars to an 84 year-old who has already been showered with laurels, Nic B. could have spent his money much more constructively in accordance with his own aims, by providing 20 real, serious philosophers with 50K income per year (basic UBI-for-Ps plus UBI-for-Ps-Who-Teach), as a pilot program.

I’d be more than happy to be part of the pilot program.

Hell, I’d even run it pro bono, over and above my basic UBI-for-Ps and my UBI-for-Ps-Who-Teach.

And I’m pretty sure that Chuck T. wouldn’t mind donating the first-year funding for the pilot program from his prize.

Hey guys, shall we get together for lunch next week to talk about this?

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