13 Things That UBI Can't Replace - A Reflection on Universal Basic Income

This is not a knock on Universal Basic Income (UBI). Instead, this post is intended to be supportive of UBI, at least in terms of making sure that we are creating a proper replacement for work. Or at the very least recognizing what UBI can provide and where its short comings may lie so that we can develop other, supplemental solutions. The interest in UBI lies in the belief held by a growing number of people that the advancement of AI and Automation will significantly impact the number of full-time jobs available to people. If 40–80% of all jobs disappear over the next 20–50 years, it follows that there must be a replacement for income for people to survive on and potentially even thrive on.

Recently, Finland has been conducting a two -year experiment with UBI. As part of the ongoing research, a recent news article in the published by Chris Weller in the World Economic Forum


quotes on participant, “ There was this one woman who said: ‘I was afraid every time the phone would ring, that unemployment services are calling to offer me a job,’” Turunen recalled of a woman who needed to care for her parents, and so couldn’t work.

Look, if we remove someone’s greatest fear, the feedback will ALWAYS be positive, I promise and my fingers aren’t crossed behind my back. UBI is easy to get positive reviews for. Here’s a random quote, made up by me to highlight the point, “Wait, you’re giving me a bunch of money for free? no responsibility? no commitment? no waiting in line and filling out paperwork? Yeah, that sounds AWESOME!” said anyone receiving a UBI payment. So it is important to look a lot deeper.

We need to realize that money and a job do not have a small and simple impact on our lives. Instead, they contribute many, many different things to our sense of self and well-being. And those contributions are weighted differently for each person.

Let’s try a few feelings that work gives us:

  1. a sense of purpose
  2. a place for social interaction
  3. a sense of accomplishment (which is different from purpose)
  4. a sense of providing/participating in survival
  5. a place to learn
  6. a place to be away from our families/people we co-habitat with
  7. an ability for upward mobility
  8. our self esteem
  9. a place for positive reinforcement
  10. the resources that allow us to entertain ourselves
  11. security
  12. intellectual challenges
  13. a positive use of time

That’s a lot of things that work may provide you and those things are often pretty important. Ask anyone who has been unemployed for an extended period of time. The feelings of “being lost”, “feeling useless”, “no reason to wake up in the morning”. These are legitimate feelings that weigh negatively on a person. Moreover, we have seen the devastation of a negative feedback loop on a society when unemployment is high. We have all seen the example of the Midwest ghost town when the local plant closed, or the rioting in Greece when unemployment threatened 40%. A substantial loss of jobs creates a terrible strain on society at-large.

UBI doesn’t solve ANY of these 13 problems. It provides money. Money becomes food and clothing and shelter. If there is a little left over it might provide for some small entertainment value. But the amount of money will NOT overcome the emotional losses of work. So advocates for UBI should quickly realize that UBI is NOT a panacea. It maybe a part of a solution but it is not THE solution. I am not discounting the value of a social safety net. the money I just references starts with food, clothing and shelter. So that’s a good start. If we didn’t achieve that goal and the unemployment level was too high we would have violent physical clashes in the street as people’s survival instinct kicked in. But that’s where UBI stops, it eliminates the need to survive. But let’s not forget that, most people are doing FAR more than surviving. But if our society suffers substantial job losses, those positive feelings we have as a thriving economy will vanish.

Over the coming months, I hope to develop some additional ideas and thought on what a UBI world might also need to overcome these 13 positive feelings missing in a world without work. Feedback and suggestions are always encouraged and welcome.

Also, by no means is this list exhaustive, I welcome further input on the feelings we earn from our paid labor. The more comprehensive that list is, the better equipped we will be to meet the needs of the people.

Should the significant amount of technological unemployment occur, consistent with the predictions of an increasing large number of analytics, it will take our collective actions to find suitable replacements for a world without work.