In an article published on medium, with the title “How Not to Bungle the Revolution”, Conrad Shaw, who is working at the Bootstraps project, a docu-series following the stories of 21 Americans receiving an unconditional income supplement for two years, explores the evolution of the discourse surrounding universal basic income (UBI) in relation to the Federal Job Guarantee.


Shaw addresses progressives, warning them that the Federal Job Guarantee (JG), an idea presented as an alternative to Basic Income, is actually misguided.Answering some common questions about UBI, he tries to demonstrate that what makes JG a more appealing solution is mostly appearance. This appearence is given by the perception that it would let people gain purpose from their job, wouldn’t make the government as huge as UBI would, wouldn’t subsidize bad jobs, wouldn’t create inflation, wouldn’t give money also to the wealthy and, mostly, that it is more politically feasible.


Shaw examines the former statements, explaining how UBI isn’t a free handout of money, because it’s a redistribution of what it has been gained through the use of common resources, how it doesn’t subsidize bad jobs, but gives contractual strength to employees. In Shaw’s words: “UBI is like an individual strike fund for every worker.” According to Shaw, it wouldn’t boost unemployment, because, among other reasons, it is within human nature “to grow, to live comfortably, to have new experiences, and to thrive. Nobody wants to stare at a wall in a crappy apartment for 80 years, eating cheap grocery food, just because it’s possible.”


Even if UBI is also directed toward the rich, he continues, it actually acts as a mean of redistribution from the income top to the bottom, and whilst JG would make people dependent from the government, UBI is a mean to make bureaucracy extremely leaner. A FG, on the other hand, would mean a great deal of increase in bureaucracy, and most importantly, leave a lot of open questions about the actual possibility of matching skills with jobs.


Shaw gives particular attention to the subject of political feasibility. JC, he says, may sound as more feasible, but it the mere continuation of an existing paradigm, since it hasn’t the innovative strength of UBI. It must not be proposed as an alternative to UBI, because it lacks its transformative power and wouldn’t bring the same degree of change. However, there is nothing forbidding their combination. UBI nonetheless needs to be the first step, the foundation of safety  on which to build, to which later on possibly add the job guarantee, as their combination would not lead to additional costs, because they partially overlap, but would allow for the leveraging of the benefits.


He predicts that given the growth of the movement supporting UBI, it will be one of the main themes at the elections in 2020, and as more trials are completed and the problem of automation becomes clearer every day, the discourse supporting UBI will only gain momentum. Given that, he recommends not to compromise, as accepting a FG in lieu of a UBI would wreak that momentum.


More information at:

Conrad Shaw, “How Not to Bungle the Revolution”, Medium, June 12th2018

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