Many appear to object to the notion of an unconditional basic income. In particular, of those who would prefer to remain in a job, many seem to resent the thought of others opting out of a job and still being guaranteed an income. Here, I want to consider this attitude in the case of a ‘job or income guarantee’ (JIG), a policy that would give everybody a guaranteed job if they wanted one, or a basic income if they didn’t. Newer readers can find earlier posts on this topic in the ‘Job & Income Guarantee’ category.
I would say this. If there was a JIG, people who opted for the job-guarantee component or chose to remain in a job would be indicating that they want a job. I would see little sense in such people then objecting to others being enabled to opt out of a job and still receive a basic income. People opting for a job would not be making a sacrifice. They would be getting what they wanted. A job. Would they demand that everybody else make the same choice as their own?
If a person did take that position, presumably it would be on the grounds that people in jobs were contributing more to society than those opting for a basic income.
I would dispute that suggestion because the government, just like private enterprise, is not necessarily the best determiner of how individuals could most productively spend their time. Sometimes individuals know much more about their own capabilities and interests than the body politic or capitalists.
I also don’t accept that individuals outside the workforce contribute less to society than those in it. A large percentage of market-based activity is either completely unproductive or of negative social benefit, often immensely so. Another slab is of dubious productiveness, at best. We would be better off without much of what the market evaluates as productive activity. The FIRE sector, advertising, marketing and much more could go without reducing material living standards at all. And much of what the government does is of negative value. Especially war.
At the same time, plenty of activity that occurs outside the workforce is socially beneficial, including unpaid child care, aged care, housework, community organization, freeware development, vocational training, schooling and tertiary studies, self-education, and more. For that matter, socializing is more productive than much of what goes on in the monetary economy. For the overworked, resting would be more productive.
I think it is also worth noting that in the same way as defenders of a job guarantee question the productiveness of individuals opting for a basic income, “free market” types question the productiveness of workers who would take a job-guarantee position. They argue that neither a job-guarantee worker nor a basic-income recipient has attracted a positive bid in the job market. As far as the market is concerned, they are both socially unproductive. Neither of them should get an income!
Needless to say, I consider such a position, which arbitrarily privileges the market over both the government and the individual, superstitious nonsense, as I have argued previously in What is ‘productive’? and Market Mythology Underlying Criticism of the JG. But the prevalence of this type of thinking illustrates, in my opinion, the pitfalls of demanding productiveness as a precondition of receiving a guaranteed income. Being human should be enough.