Social Security for All – to help save the planet

I ran across this long-form blog post yesterday, which I really encourage you to read in its entirety:

While making people work shitty jobs to “earn” a living has always been spiteful, it’s now starting to seem suicidal. So perhaps it’s time to reclaim job-killing environmentalism, this time not as a project that demonizes workers, or even work — but rather, as one that rejects work done for its own sake. Instead of stigmatizing, criminalizing, and imprisoning the unemployed and “non-industrious poor,” perhaps we should see them, as David Graeber suggests, as the “pioneers of a new economic order” — one where we all work and consume less, and have more time for other pursuits.

Jude and I had a seemly-radical discussion a few years ago about the concept of a universal basic income, or what would essentially boil down to making Social Security payments to every person in the country, regardless of age. Newborns, old people, poor people, rich people, everyone gets a check for the same amount once a month. Coupled with single payer healthcare, it’s a thing that small-government supporters should absolutely love, because it means a lot of government assistance programs could just go away. Unemployment? TANF? WIC? Make the checks a reasonable enough size to cover basic existence and poof, you don’t need those anymore. You also don’t need a minimum wage regulation! Minimum wage is “don’t have a job”!

A universal basic income means that people aren’t shackled to jobs they hate, either. The old advice of “if you hate your job, leave it” is plausible again, not because there are other jobs you might not hate, but because you’re not exclusively reliant on your job for things like heat in the winter and food on your table and having that table in the first place. Jobs will still need doing – and people will still want to do some work so they can purchase small luxuries – but the Keynesian prediction of a 15-hour work week suddenly becomes much more plausible.

We’re at the point as a society where there’s a limited amount of shit that actually needs doing, and too many people trying to do it. Particularly – as the post argues – if we want to start being actually environmentally friendly, we’re going to be consuming less. That means we’re going to need to produce less, and we need to account for that somehow. But also:

Proposals to shorten the workweek are often defended on the basis of giving people more time for what they will — to spend time with friends, family, and loved ones, start a band, write a novel, cook a meal, and so on. But calling those activities “leisure” diminishes their importance in making a life with less stuff a worthwhile and fulfilling one. Likewise, the word “leisure” doesn’t credit the fact that strong communities are as important for surviving natural disasters as strong seawalls. If we’re paying people to build the latter, shouldn’t we also pay them to build the former?

Emphasis mine. When you’re not spending your entire life behind a desk or sweating over a machine in a factory so your kids can eat, when you’ve got the additional help of a monthly check for every person in your family, you have the time to go meet your neighbors. You have the time to organize that kickball league in the park down the road. You have the time to make the park in the first place. And then, if Shit Goes Down, it’s not some anonymous family from across the cul-de-sac that you never see because you’re just too tired after fighting with corporate all day and you just want to watch American Idol and pass out, it’s the Robinsons and the Ramirezes and we need to help them because they’d help us.

I thought, when Jude and I first talked about this a few years ago, that this was a crazy radical idea that would never get any traction anywhere. I’m really heartened to see that it’s becoming a thing that more and more people are willing to say this is a thing we need to seriously talk about.

5 thoughts on “Social Security for All – to help save the planet

  1. MichaelF says:

    I skimmed the article you link to, recently read the Rolling Stone essay, and remember a Counterpunch article from several years ago saying much the same thing…and I think Jay Ackroyd at Eschatonblog also had something recently. Of course, and unfortunately, you’ll elicit howls from the wingers by merely suggesting that work be re-evaluated in a world dominated by automation and mass production. I think there’s a spite element in those howls–misery LOVES company–and a religious component (God sentencing Adam to hard labor in the creation myth — of course, Jeebus famously says the opposite in the Gospel, but wingers never let that get in the way of demanding someone suffer).
    I don’t know how to overcome those arguments — maybe suggest that mindless work, in addition to being mindless, can promote reckless behavior (rushing madly and dangerously through traffic, for example)? I think you’re onto something by pointing out a cash stipend eliminates the need for a lot of bureaucracy…but of course that bureaucracy is more beloved by the wingers than they let on (they want the bureaucracy to deliver a great big NO when the poor apply for help).
    If history truly progresses, maybe that’s something that could happen in the future…provided, of course, global warming doesn’t drop us back into another dark age…

  2. iceblue2 says:

    I thought of so many ways this could be good or bad, but it ultimately came down to one reason why it wouldn’t work. Power, as in control. Ultimately we end up in the same place we are. Because we are human beings.

  3. Hobbes says:

    @iceblue2 – Care to expand on that a little? I’m not entirely sure what you mean by control in this context.

  4. iceblue2 says:

    In my simple mind, when you give folks the money (or security of a home etc) to be, there will always be those in power who judge the fairness of it all. Repression would still exist, as ‘they’ make the simple things become once again, unreachabe for the masses. I know its way more complicated than that but on its face I see a replication of today, just on a different level. The communists may have provided for the masses in bare necessities, but they were corrupt to their core. Thr idea works, except it’s got to be managed by humans.

  5. pansypoo says:

    SS for kids for sure. they need to eat as much as the elderly.

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