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Douglas Rushkoff Warns That Universal Basic Income Is Just Silicon Valley’s Latest Scam

Credit picture to: CC(Paul May)

In an article published on Medium, “Universal Basic Income Is Silicon Vallaey’s latest Scam”, Douglas Rushkoff maintains that “The plan is no gift to the masses, but a tool for our further enslavement”.

Rushkoff was once a supporter of universal basic income (UBI), he says, but during a talk at Uber’s headquarters, with Uber management itself bringing up the possbility of UBI, an epiphany occurred to him and he changed his mind.

“The real purpose of digital capitalism is to extract value from the economy and deliver it to those at the top”, he says, and digital companies act by enacting a revised, perfected version of primitive accumulation. At this excels Amazon, by being an “automated wealth extraction platform”, through the control of the retail market and partially on the production of goods. But it becomes a problem when all the value is extracted from the market, consumers become too poor to pay for services or can’t buy enough goods, and even their data loses value.

In Rushkoff’s view, financing UBI through money creation or through corporate taxation would be a mean to keep consumers spending, a shortcut for ensuring that capital continues to accumulate at the very top. His words are harsh: “UBI really just turns us from stakeholders or even citizens to mere consumers.”

Silicon Valley’s support of UBI would, in Rushkoff’s view, be motived by a will to keep people from considering more enabling possibilities, which could challange the status quo: rather than asking for an allowance, we should ask for an ownership stake, as inequality rests on uneven distribution of assets. Assets that have been successfully appropriated by big corporations, which, unable to put money back in the economy, now ask for government intervention.

Rushkoff’s solution is, rather than UBI, a form of universal ownership: Universal Basic Assets. To support his view, he mentions the case of Denmark, where people have access to a share of the nation’s resources and consequently the social elevator works properly. This lends itself closer to the Commons concept, an ancient form of organizing societies but which has almost completely disappeared from today’s globalized and digitized society.

“A weekly handout doesn’t promote economic equality – much less empowerment. The only meaningful change we can make to the economic operating system is to distribute ownership, control and governance of the real world to the people who live in it.”

More information at:

Douglas Rushkoff, “Universal Basic Income Is Silicon Valley’s Latest Scam”, Medium, October 10th 2018

Article reviewed by Dawn Howard.

About Daniele Fabbri

Daniele Fabbri has written 22 articles.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

11 comments

  • Dear reader,
    UBI is not a gift or handout

    Since “free democracies” had stopped creating their own currency, people are losing $trillions per year in the form of interest, debt/dispossession, and loss of ownership to private banks.

    Giving bureaucrats first dibs on newly created currency is as bad as banks.

    Do we permit this robbery to continue, or return the money to the people?

    Please see this short article:
    governingtaxfree.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/how-to-pay-for-universal-basic-income

    Thank you

  • I thought that UBI is indeed a dividend, or can be considered a dividend based on each citizen or resident having an equal share in the government, in the sovereignty over the country’s assets., whose “profits” come from taxation. The objection in this article reduced simply to the question of how this dividend should be funded and how the amount should be determined. Ideally, the amount should be based on the poverty level, and the tax to fund it, the government’s “profits” adjusted accordingly.

    • Eugene Neufeld

      “based on poverty level”; Absolutely NOT. That only cements in the pernicious degrading means test

  • Why can’t UBI be considered a dividend, based on a share of ownership in the country’s shared assets?

    • In order to get a dividend one has to buy a share of the ownership in the company. Those who buy a bigger share get a bigger dividend and those who don’t buy anything get nothing. Going by the truth, those who pay the highest taxes should get the maximum benefit out of it and those who pay the least taxes should get little. And those who do not pay any taxes get nothing out of this dividend. Rewarding laziness is a sure way to get into more poverty. If you are rewarded for just being a citizen who will work and pay taxes to share their hard work with lazy citizens. Everyone wants to be lazy and just collect the money from their rogue governments.

    • @Sukanth: It can still be a dividend as there are in democratic cooperatives. Your arguments suit well into the narrative of the 20th century and it quite normal for an above average conscientious, competitive, and intelligent person lacking compassion. Truth of the matter is with accelerating technological advancement a fair share of the population cannot provide labor productivity at a market pay rate that supports a living. Now, you gotta decide whether you want their families still to live a life in dignity or whether you want them to needlessly suffer. What’s your choice?

  • John Hodge

    UBI + LVT = UBA

    —or, at least, it could, if there was goodwill among all parties. Which, there is not.

  • Kenneth Waynescott

    So he’s just saying he wants communism…

    • Michele

      From Andrew Yang’s page:
      Isn’t this Communism/Socialism?

      No. Communism is, by definition, a revolutionary movement to create a classless, moneyless, and stateless social order built upon shared ownership of production. With Socialism, the core principle is the nationalization of the means of production – i.e. the government seizes Amazon and Google. UBI is none of those things and actually fits so seamlessly into capitalism, it is projected to grow the economy $2.5 trillion in eight years.

      Really, UBI is necessary for the continuation of capitalism through the automation wave and displacement of workers. Markets need consumers to sell things to. Universal Basic Income is capitalism with a floor that people cannot fall beneath.

    • Michele, Kenneth was accusing Rushkoff of wanting Communism in the way that Rushkoff is *rejecting* UBI. You replied with a defense of UBI. As far as we know, Kenneth is a UBI-proponent who dislikes Rushkoff’s UBA preference.

  • Ya, this article just described communism. We do live in a very socialist looking world right now, from FDR to the present. Maybe one day we will find ourselves living in a communist/syndicalist type world. Even the so called right, today – is fairly socialist.

    I think UBI is a way of slowly transitioning into a post-work society. CORRECTION: post-human production society into something else – that something else could be a situation like Elysium where the silicon valley barons and their AI’s live as overlords or it could be a culture like society were we all live under benevolents gods.

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