This month Silicon Valley Bank defaulted causing the biggest bank failure since Lehman Brothers in 2008. The US government helped in finding a solution to stop the depositors from losing their money. The main reason for the bank’s failure was a bank run because of the bank’s inability to raise enough capital after miscalculating its investment strategy and not preparing enough for the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes. Credit Suisse also faced a lot of trouble which caused the Swiss government to pressure UBS (Switzerland’s biggest bank) to acquire Credit Suisse. Those two incidents might seem irrelevant to a UBI, but such events show us the importance of UBI now.
The current economic and political scene is unstable. There are a lot of tensions between the main actors USA and China on the global stage as well as the conflict in Ukraine in combination with the aftermath of the Covid crisis which hurt the global economy and supply chains. Especially Russia’s attack and Ukraine and the resulting trade war with Europe caused a supply shock in the Energy sector which led to global inflation hence rising poverty and forcing the Fed to raise interest rates. Those hikes in interest rates, slowing economic growth, and an underperforming tech sector are causing a lot of economic instability and caused recent bank failures. But the question is how that is connected to UBI.
To understand why recent events, show the importance of a Universal Basic Income it is important to think about the potential worst-case scenario. The scenario that happened to SVB and Credit Suisse might repeat. Bank depositors might fear the repetition of such a bank failure in different banks and cause more bank runs as the whole banking sector is based on trust and there is no single bank that would survive a bank run without government support. There is also doubt in the current political climate how much possible bank bailouts are politically doable especially as most people will feel that the government supports the banking gamblers with their tax money while leaving the normal average people who didn’t do anything wrong alone when they struggle because of different reasons.
So, the first connection between UBI and the current banking problems is that the implementation of UBI would increase the population’s trust in the government as people will now feel seen and protected by society and will be less negative towards a potential bank bailout. Although possible bank bailouts would have to come with increased regulation to avoid giving the banks the feeling that they can do whatever they want, and the government will protect them while they screw the people’s money.
Another reason why the current economic situation makes UBI more necessary than before is that in a climate of increasing interest rates and declining trust in banks people will draw money from the economy, hence decreasing demand. Decreasing demand will lead to decreasing supply and will increase unemployment. A lot of economists like Larry Summers confess that and say it is a bitter pill to take to reduce inflation. Let’s assume that’s correct although I’m not sure that this is the best way out of the current situation that would mean that society is sacrificing jobs and hence the wealth of a lot of people to reduce inflation for the rest.
Such action is morally wrong, especially if people aren’t given a social net that protects them after losing their jobs to provide for themselves and their families. And we have to remember that the sole reason for them being unemployed will be that the FED and other Central Banks in other countries decided that higher unemployment is necessary to reduce inflation. This would make those people and their families suffer a lot financially and mentally and they might not find a way back to bring back structure in their life without support that relieves them of the stress of having just lost their livelihood. UBI would be the perfect measure to achieve that
The third argument which highlights the importance of UBI now has to do with the real economy and supply and demand. While a huge part of inflation is caused by the supply shocks from the Ukraine war it can’t be denied that it is also caused partly by a demand that might be higher than the current supply especially as supply chains haven’t recovered completely yet. And while many people might assume that this would be an argument against UBI as UBI would most probably increase demand we have to look at it from the other side too. Giving people a Universal Basic Income would mean giving people more flexibility and more control over their lives. People will choose the jobs they want to do instead of just taking any job. This dynamic might be crucial in overcoming the current crisis. It is expected that UBI will have a positive impact on entrepreneurship and small investments and such effects have been seen partly in previous pilot programs. Giving people a UBI would hence increase supply as smart entrepreneurs will see the gap between supply demand and work on filling that gap to make profits. This will mean a virtuous way out of inflation instead of a vicious way out of inflation. It would be also a way of directly supporting the victims instead of rewarding the gamblers
While a bank crisis is still avoidable, the current situation shows the importance of UBI on multiple fronts to help people in those difficult times. The government has tried to rescue the economy through trickle-down measures often and now it’s time to give people the chance to rescue the economy themselves by giving them a fair chance and promoting entrepreneurship by introducing a UBI and following a spirit of capitalism that left and right will be able to agree on.
Written by: Ahmed Elbas