Universal Basic Income would de-commodify our lives

For me the most important thing about a universal basic income is that it begins to de-commodify our lives – it breaks the link between income and wage-labour. Experiencing life as a commodity to have the maximum possible profit squeezed out of us in competition with our fellow humans – like a Nokia or an iPod – is economically and psychologically abhorrent.

Economically, it drives growth at any cost in a system that values GDP above the things we actually need as a society. This creates a warped system where rather than technological advances making us more free – as John Maynard Keynes predicted nearly 100 years ago when he stated that his grandchildren would work 15 hours per week – it increases labour market competition, pushing some into unemployment and making others work longer and harder to get by. The planet literally cannot survive the logic of commodification – while the appetite for growth may be infinite, natural resources are not.

Fife Council are looking at introducing a basic income pilot scheme, and together with Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland are hosting a free event in Kelty on the 28th January to explore the idea further, open to anybody interested in learning more about the possibilities and realities of a basic income scheme.

Psychologically, commodification alienates us from ourselves and our fellow humans. We work harder than we need to or even want to because we feel like we have to just to keep up. We buy things as short-term remedies that give us no real inner satisfaction. This ‘rat race’, as Jimmy Reid described, has led to a mental health crisis in western societies. What humans require to flourish is compassionate relationships and a healthy, balanced lifestyle – things that the stress and anxiety of a commodified life do not provide.

Basic Income is no magic bullet. If it is not combined with other measures to de-commodify our lives – such as more control over our workplaces, shorter working week’s, bringing community spaces into ‘the commons’, de-financialisation to deal with excess personal debt, and universal public provision of key services – it’s impact on the economic and psychological problems of a commodified world are likely to be limited.

But it would be a vital step towards seeing the value of human life in it’s own right, with no strings attached. Free of the judgement of others in a more advantaged position, which in the benefits system so readily lends itself towards stigma. Anyone who has spent any time on unemployment benefit (as I have) will know what I mean.

This ambitious social purpose and vision is required to put a spoke in the wheels of a system that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  • Ben Wray, Head of Policy and Research at Common Weal, @Ben_Wray1989

2 thoughts on “Universal Basic Income would de-commodify our lives

  1. John Bodi Mize

    Hallelujah Ben! I could not agree more. Thank you so much for your reminder and advocacy for what it truly means to be human.

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