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Jordan Peterson’s remarks on UBI

Jordan Peterson, cultural critic, psychologist, and member of the Self Authoring online service, gave his remarks on Universal Basic Income. His concerns seem to be largely drawn from a similar issue critics have with the idea, primarily in the face of leisure time: will people become lazy and unmotivated? Can people handle a life with none of the traditional burdens we normally face with work as it is? Where will people map out meaning in their lives?


All of these are fair questions, and Peterson seems to be open to the idea. A concern Peterson addresses is the rise of relative poverty in developed nations, which has been given terms such as “the precariat,” a term coined by Guy Standing. In addition to this, the rise of technology has made it so that many people who are not tech-savvy are poised to be left behind in this changing climate. This is coupled with the conservative myth that there is an infinite supply of jobs for everyone, and the liberal myth of retraining as a solution, both of which Peterson challenges directly. People might be phased out of the labor force, which is one of the general concerns automation forces us to examine.


In regard to UBI being proposed as a solution, Peterson seems to make some strong assertions. While he admits that a UBI is possible as something we can do, he remains unsure of “what would it do” to help people. In addition, Peterson makes a very strong claim that people in North America do not have issues with starvation due to a lack of income. Children go to bed hungry rather often, so Peterson’s remark doesn’t seem to be substantiated by any current facts or statistics. The most striking remark Peterson makes is perhaps a core view of his entire life’s work: he believes people are at their best when they are “burdened” by something. While one can sincerely entertain the possibility of struggles helping people become better versions of themselves, must it really be because one might not be able to add economic value due to factors beyond oneself, as Jeremy Howard argues? Is this an acceptable burden, given the scope of the problem?


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  • Tia Carter

    There is an infinite amount of jobs for everyone. Strip back regulation and there will always be a job for everyone. The reason I don’t have my house cleaned everyday is because I can’t afford it. The reason I can’t afford it is because the market sets the rate at how much a cleaner costs. The market rate is set by the people willing to do the job. Since cleaning is a low skill job anyone currently unemployed could undercut my cleaner and be employed. However instead we have millions of unemployed people who are not willing to do the job. There is an infinite amount of jobs for everyone, people choose not to do them.

    • Andre Coelho

      Hi Tia,

      David Graeber has coined the expression “bullshit jobs“. It would probably help the debate if you got more informed on today’s job market. The truth is that many jobs today are so lousy that only desperation gets people to accept them. And that happens because there’s no basic income in place to prevent it. The fear of distitution keeps things as they are, which currently means low wages, degrading working conditions, little time to spare but to work in jobs and exploitation in general.

      I guess we can always imagine more jobs. It can also be instructive to watch this awarded video.

      But I see it more liberating to ensure the income, and let people decide what they want to work in their lives.

      Best regards,


    • Jeremy

      @Tia – Theoretically, that seems fairly reasonable, *but* the choice not to do most of these theoretical jobs for the price they demand is the market at work. The cost-benefit of doing the job skews toward not doing it. If you can go clean toilets, but to get the work, you have to offer the services at below living wages, then you probably are going to decide that there are more fruitful ways to spend your time. Heck, even being unemployed is better than doing the aforementioned ‘bullshit job’ because you aren’t busy being miserable while you are destitute; you’re just destitute. Further, you can spend your time looking for a ‘good’ job or training or pursuing relief via welfare programs.

  • Quiddam

    He’s clearly not open to the idea, since he never met someone that meets his own definition of having a meaningful life without being coerced into it. There is some truth to it, but that is because of the way we think and let the society organize itself. Its certainly exaggerated in many ways. What does it matter to him that someone might sleep at times he disapproves of, or do something that is not economically useful to him? or that gets its approval? plenty of people disapprove of him and his life, does it mean he is worthless as a human being? well he thinks so, and it pushes him into bouts of alternative narcissism and depression, and this is all of his own doing, taking on burdens he is not suited for.

    Now, what could be solutions to the idle problem? its not really complicated, and original Christianity solved that problem long ago, so there is a blueprint there. They also distributed things, and in fact more thoroughly than we do, but they also thought idleness was a problem, as people that are idle tend to do mischiefs. The ways they solved it is manifold, but I will target a few of them:

    Regular social activity, which in this case was the mass. It has to put neighbors together and form a communal bond based on some shared activity, in this case, mostly teaching virtue and how to live a good life. It allows people to communicate and plan things together, as well as making friends and so on. It can even be forced to some degree, but it tends to create resentment, but the option should be there.

    Some central organization based on the idea of vocation. Now, this is probably the most important thing. Someone with power and jobs, needs to take responsibility and know people, and ask them to do something, not in a coerced way, but as a suggestion, and of course, it has to be suitable to the person. Because there are jobs, and things to do, but if money is your only incentive, UBI certainly diminish it. If money is no incentive at all, as in an equal society, then it is the only way. Just like a parent asks a child to help out around the house. Same thing. We simply lost that idea, and now ask people to beg for a job, or beg for money and ask them to be grateful, while really we should be asking them for help, and be grateful if they accept. The principle has to be put back in its right place, where the leader is a servant, not the master. Just the same as the parent should be grateful for their children, and not the only way around. Peterson preaches the opposite, so it is no wonder he is against UBI, it is against his values.

    Then it is about teaching the value of work, sharing, and love of neighbor (even if they are bad and useless), and this can be done in the gathering easy enough, and help put it in practice, by making shared activities and so on. This is in contrast to Peterson’s own values: money, greed and hate. Its about loving the poor, not hating them, and not valuing people on their usefulness, how much money they have, or can help you make, or even how much they cost you, because other people always cost something in a real community, it is inevitable. Some cost more than others, some are more useful than others. So it is impossible to be treat people equally by having those values, only a few will be valued, while the many will be devalued, and then the strangest of thing, the rich becomes jealous of the poor, and want to stop him from participating, having resources, having status and so on and so forth. If the poor tries to help himself, the rich takes it away.

    Those are the problems we are facing, but the solutions are easy, they exist already, it is just a matter in teaching them and putting them into practice, like it was done in the past. It worked when people were a lot poorer, there is no reason it would not work now. It should be easier and a no brainer. The wealth we accumulated as a society, is based on burning fossil fuel and free energy. There is not reason that freedom should not be shared, it does not belong to anybody in particular. So a minimum of sharing that communal wealth equally is a no brainer. It does not even take out the greed aspect and all that, people can still compete and pay each others if they want, or it can be done the way I described, or both at the same time. What is for sure, is that it opens up possibilities. Some others might be even better, but this would work, because it did in the past.

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