Give People Money

Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World  - Annie Lowrey

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This is more an introduction to the topic, I think, than a fully-developed treaty on how exactly a UBI (Universal Basic Income), but it remains an interesting book no matter what. While heavily focused on the USA, it also considers other countries, so it’s definitely not just US-centric with no mentioning the rest of the world (examples from Finland and India, for instance, are included).

The idea itself (giving a basic sum of money to everyone, every month, so that their basic needs are ensured) is not new. Lots of people will tell you “money can’t buy happiness”, but let’s be honest: when you don’t have to worry about when (when, not if) power will go out in your home because you can’t pay your electricity bills, when you know you can give your children the food they need, it makes life better all around—and also allows you to focus on finding a job and other needs, or simply help you not getting sick all the time, or any other issues one faces that lack of money can cause.

Of course, it clearly opens the way to many disagreements, including fear that “if people have money, they’ll become lazy and complacent”. Which is, 1) I guess, very specific to “work hard, thrift societies”, 2) not necessarily true, 3) why should the “American way” (that false assumption that if you only work hard, you will be successful no matter what) be the only valid one? Most people want a job, especially since our world in general values a human life according to whether it’s “productive” or not—another issue we’ll need to address sooner than later, since automation and incoming AI are very likely to make us redundant when it comes to jobs, and we’ll need to rethink ourselves in other terms.

Is it doable? Possibly, I think… provided governments think about it the right way, and provided people don’t consider it in terms of “something that should only go to a certain class of people”, or “welfare queens will abuse it”, or “those people will only buy drugs with it”, or “it’s good if it’s for us, but we don’t want immigrants to have it” (apparently, the more diverse a society, the more this question reveals rampant racism: “we want it for US, not for THE OTHER”—and sadly, I wouldn’t even be surprised if that was a wide-spread opinion).

The book considers these questions, as well as others and what they really entail, such as giving supplies, clothes etc. to people rather than money: it’s all well and all, but we don’t think about all it implies. One of the examples involves giving shoes to people in a poor village, with two unwelcome effects: what they need is not necessarily shoes, but, for instance, clean water; and doing this also deprives the local shoe-making economy of customers. If those people were given money instead, they could help that economy (by buying shoes, by buying a cow and starting their own farm/business...) AND get the water they need, too. To me, it makes sense.

On the other hand, the way the book is currently laid out doesn’t show references well enough. And while the ideas developed here are definitely food for thought, I believe they stand better as an introduction, as stepping stones for more in-depth research and reading, rather than as sturdy research. I wouldn’t call that an issue, because it does pave the way to opening up to the idea of a UBI, and to really thinking about it, about what’s trickling down from it and how current demographics may influence it (in a good or a bad way). I simply wouldn’t take the book as THE work of reference about it.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. Clearly a good starting point if you’re getting interested about this subject, and aren’t sure how to approach it.