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Utopia For Realists

The Case For A UBI, Open Borders and a 15-Hour Workweek

Rutger Bredgman

For 99% of the world's history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick and ugly. As Hobbes said, life was "nasty, brutish, and short." But in last 200 years, all that has changed. Billions are suddenly rich, well fed, clean, safe and smart, and occasionally, beautiful.

Living conditions in modern Europe pretty close to what any peasant from 1800 would regard as Paradise. Biblical miracles are commonplace - blind can see, cripples walk, and the dead restored to life.

The Industrial Revolution brought longer hours. A farmer worked about 1500 hours a week to make a living (frequent saints day holidays, and limited winter hours). But a factory worker early C19 had to work twice as long to earn survival wages. When Henry Ford introduced 5 day work week, he was ridiculed, but he'd realized that rested workers were more productive, and with days off they had reason to buy a Ford to drive around.

In 1980's work hour reduction trends stopped. Economic growth translated not into more leisure, but more consumption.

"My grandma didn't have the vote; my mother didn't have the pill, and I don't have any time."

This is the contention that is likely to be most controversial. It's not new, and Palmer cites other researchers who have argued it before. However, it's still powerful in an age when the government seems intent on encouraging women back to work soon after they give birth.

British winter of 1973 miners went on strike. Jan 1 1974 PM Edward Heath imposed a 3 day work week to conserve power. Wasn't reinstated until March. Businessman expected catastrophe - productivity would halve, they reckoned. But when they ran the numbers,

2009 identified 13 homeless men in London who were costing over £400,000 a year in police, court and social services. So tried giving them £3000. And that was enough to get them a phone, tidied up and into stable accomodation.

Tried similar expts in Africa. Instead of having social agencies make decisions about what poor needed, and incurring overhead costs (giving people a cow sounded like a worthwhile gift, but it cost £3000 per beast), they just gave them the money. They could buy what they liked. And it turned out they bought motorbikes to take goods to market, they sent kids to school, they bought fertilizer for their crops.

Basically, free cash greases the wheels of commerce instead of the greasy fingers of civil servants.

The present welfare system has developed into a perverse bureaucracy. An army of inspectors and social workers supervising payments and spending. The right fears people will stop working; the left fears they will make bad choices.

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Every new bit of transport, every new mile of canal or railway made it easier for bigger and more efficient firms to compete against small local ones.

In 60's Henry Ford III gave union leader Walter Reuther a tour of an automated factory. "Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?" "Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?"

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1997 a new casino opened on Cherokee territory in North Carolina. Profit sharing gave each tribal member an extra $6000 a year. A mental health unit had been doing an annual study of all kids in area since 1993. The unsurprising results showed that kids growing up in poverty had more behavioural problems. But was this due to nature or nurture? If nature (their genes) predisposed them to crime, then handing over a sack of money would just be treating the symptoms. But if their problems were the result of poverty rather than the cause, then $6000 should be enough to help change.

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And so it proved - behavioural problems reduced to the same level as kids who hadn't been poor. Juvenile crime rates, alcohol and drug use also declined. And the younger the kids were when family got lifted out of poverty, the better their outcomes as they grew up. Genes can't be undone. But poverty can.

Utah launched a program to house the homeless. Numbers showed that a drifter living on the streets cost average $16,000 in police time, social services and A & E costs. Housing them and providing counselling cost $11,000 a year. So should be no argument: homelessness is a problem that can be solved, and solved with money

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