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Citizen's View: In changing society, basic income can help stop our downward slide

There’s talk these days of giving everyone a basic income, say $1,300 per month, as a way not only to alleviate poverty, but also to reduce the bureaucratic costs of welfare, food stamps, unemployment, school lunches, etc. Of each person’s Universal Basic Income (UBI), $300 would go to medical insurance, so we’d finally have universal coverage. Should such a proposal come to pass, the expectation is that there’d be fewer homeless, less crime and a healthier nation overall.

Why would anyone object?

For one thing, many taxpayers resent giving handouts to those they consider slouches, leeches, no-goods and bums. “I’ll go broke and so will the country,” they whine, even though the numbers show that a UBI is a far less expensive way to keep those on the margins from engaging in costly criminal and uncivil behaviors. It’s also the humanitarian thing to do. And just as important, a UBI gives people the freedom to creatively solve social problems that offer no financial reward.

The initial impetus for a UBI was economic. Many manufacturing jobs have gone overseas, and in America, we have more things than we need. Often what we need we can find at garage sales, flea markets and Goodwill. So producers see no need to expand their plants. We need to admit: Many manufacturing jobs are gone forever, which shows in the slow economic growth since 2000 in the U.S. and other developed nations. A UBI acknowledges this reality and provides a remedy.

Also, a UBI is environmentally beneficial. Since the major causes of pollution are making things and using things, an economy that is two-thirds dependent on making things and using things is one in which we, in essence, pay people to harm the Earth. The results are obvious: a hotter planet, polluted water, rising seas, dying species and thousands of square miles of impervious asphalt and concrete. Isn’t it time we thought about the advantages of paying people to not build malls and parking lots?

When human population was small compared to the resource capacity of the Earth, manufacturing was necessary for expansion. The amount of pollution caused was comparatively small. But once human manufacturing and consumption exceeded Earth’s ability to replenish herself, then the health of the planet — and the health of the economy — began a downward slide.

We can stop the slide by recognizing that the definition of work changes. In a sustainable economy, who we are — that is, efforts we put toward the well-being of others, society and the living system — becomes more important than efforts toward making the boss rich. On an overpopulated planet, there is an ever-increasing need to understand ourselves and our relation to the rest of Life. By contrast, there is an ever-decreasing need for more stuff.

Stated another way, if we simply committed as much money to families and children as we have committed to weapons, we may no longer need weapons.

Certainly, some people will squander the freedom a UBI gives them. I am certain this would be a small number compared to the many who would then have the time to engage in beneficial work, like raising children, assisting the ill and needy, getting an education, participating in the democratic process and protecting the environment. On balance, we’d win.

For examples of how women in particular use the freedom to innovate, go to http://paidpost.nytimes.com/toyota/mothers-of-invention-presented-by-women-in-the-world.html.

Peter Wright is a resident of Lake Oswego.