I talk a lot about Basic Income, the concept that everyone should be provided a minimum guaranteed income to provide for basic human necessities (food, clothing, shelter). All over the world it is currently being considered as a more efficient effective alternative to traditional welfare. However, as soon as I bring it up, people are quick to label it “naive”.
People think it’s inherently wrong to hand out or receive something for nothing. They think it’s unnatural. They say there’s no such thing as a “free lunch” or “something for nothing.” But that’s just not true. Our whole world revolves around something for nothing.
Here are six examples:
Even before food stamps, food fell into the something for nothing category. The sun feeds plants that creates fruit and vegetables that we can eat. Sure, we’ve put effort into improving agriculture and food productivity. But we didn’t make the Sun. We didn’t make the seeds. It’s a free lunch courtesy of Photosynthesis.
Currently the US gives subsidies (free money) to people just for owning land. The landowners did not create their own land. It was likely handed down to them from family. And it was likely given to their family by the government. (Seriously if you live in the Midwest in all likelihood your ancestors were given their land for nothing courtesy of President Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead Act.) And wouldn’t ya know it, the government itself got the land for free too. By murdering and stealing it from Native Americans.
Of course there is one other way to acquire land (from people who got it for nothing, from family, the government, or murder.). Buy it. With money. But as it turns out, money itself is also something from nothing.
While money used to be created out of rare metals like gold and silver. Today 97% of all money only exists in digital form, on a banking server somewhere. Where did it come from? How did it come to existence? Somebody simply typed the digits into a computer. It was created out of nothing. Freaky isn’t it? But the process of banks creating money out of nothing goes back even before the digitization of money. Since President Richard Nixon’s ended the US dollar’s convertibility to gold in 1971 it became what is known as “fiat” money. The term comes from the Latin word meaning “Let it be so” (out of nothing).
You came into this world helpless. You couldn’t talk, walk, or feed yourself. If your mom (or somebody else) didn’t care for you. You would be dead. You didn’t do a damn thing to earn that love and care as a baby. You just took, and took, and took. While your mom gave her time to you. For nothing. She just wanted to. She wanted to give you that care. And it’s not just the work of parents that is given for its own sake. All meaningful work is.
In 1879 Henry George put it well:
“The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it for their own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or wear, or display. In a state of society where want is abolished, work of this sort could be enormously increased.”
The saying “We stand on the shoulder of giants” is cliche. But it’s true. Even when you create something new, you do so with all the knowledge and inventions that came before you. That you did absolutely nothing to earn.
For example, I could not be able to create this article at the moment if it were not for the Internet, my computer, and the Alphabet, all inventions which I had no hand in making, and which in turn could not have been created without working from the technologies that preceded them. (Phone lines, the typewriter, and hieroglyphics?)
Our entire universe was created out of nothing. Not only do all the world’s religions understand that our world was created out of nothing (by one god or another) but science can also prove mathematically that our universe was in fact created spontaneously out of nothing.
Life itself is something for nothing. Does that make it immoral? Does that make every living creature a freeloader? Don’t be ridiculous. Let’s debate how basic income might cause inflation and other issues. But do not tell me basic income can’t happen because “there’s no such thing as something for nothing”.
That’s just being naive.
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