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Greece's Former Finance Minister Explains Why A Universal Basic Income Could Save Us

With robots coming for all the jobs, why shouldn't everyone get some guaranteed support?

Greece's Former Finance Minister Explains Why A Universal Basic Income Could Save Us

chuckchee via Shutterstock

Next time you're having an fight with somebody who doesn't like the idea of a universal basic income, you might employ some of these arguments from Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's former finance minister. In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, he not only refutes the usual arguments against the concept that the government should give everyone a minimum check every month, but he makes them sound quite ridiculous.

The interview was published ahead of the Switzerland's vote on a universal basic income (or UBI) in June. If successful, all Swiss adults would get $2,500 per month, and kids around $625 per month, whether or not they have a job. Here are some of Varoufakis's best answers. First, on the need for a UBI:

For the first time in the history of technology more jobs are destroyed than created. Technical progress means that more and more high-paying jobs will disappear and thus shrink the middle class. This will in turn cause a further concentration of income and wealth in the upper classes. That's why I fight like a basic income for sociopolitical reforms.

The robotization [of work] has long been underway, but robots don't buy products. Therefore, a basic income is needed to offset this change and stabilize a society which has an increasing wealth inequality.

Asked if a UBI encourages unemployment, Varoufakis pointed to experiments in 1970s Canada that show people not only don't sit at home all day, but they don't even leave their jobs. Also, "In Switzerland, to my knowledge, only 2% of survey respondents have said they would stop working."

As an example, he gives this zinger:

In Switzerland there are already many people who do not work, or hardly work: the rich.

Then, on why you need a UBI if you already have a good job:

What good is a well-paying job, if you are afraid to lose it? This constant fear paralyzes.

The interviewer then asked Varoufakis about a statement from Swiss corporate union Economiesuisse, which warns that the Swiss people would quickly turn to idleness.

It's just a shame that the trade association has such a negative image of the Swiss people. And apparently Economiesuisse has no problem if, for example, children of rich factory owners and managers turn to "idleness" thanks to their inherited wealth.

They don't work in order to survive, but in order to realize themselves. For example, by engaging in foundations, to work on projects, or to continue their education at first-class schools. Why aren't children from less privileged backgrounds allowed a fraction of these opportunities? Less competition and angst will make people more creative, thus creating new wealth.

Varoufakis agrees with one problem—with $2,500 a month on the table, wouldn't everyone move to Switzerland? He advocates for regulation, which is almost certainly what will happen.

The Tages Anzeiger interviewer then veers off topic, into a discussion about immigration, refugees, and xenophobia, but if you're looking for clear answers to the questions most often asked about a universal basic income, the first half of the article is fantastic, and well worth a read.

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