Or How to Spot Disinformation in a World of Propaganda
In April 2019, a report titled “Universal Basic Income: A Union Perspective” was paid for and published by Public Services International (PSI), a global trade union representing 20 million workers employed around the world providing public services. This report was authored by Anna Coote and Edanur Yazici of the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a British left-leaning think-tank. They concluded that providing services to all is better than providing income to all. In the paragraphs to follow, I intend to explain how this report, and how it was rolled out, is a prime example of a disinformation campaign designed to manipulate public opinion against the idea of universal basic income, and in doing so, I hope to increase the critical-thinking skills of readers to better spot this kind of shameless propaganda in the future about anything, not just UBI.
How to Propagandize Step 1: Titles
It’s an unfortunate reality, but in this age of social media we’re in, most people stop at titles. It’s all about the title. Titles don’t even need to faithfully represent what’s in the actual article. It just needs to be something that engages readers enough to click that “like” button, or that “share” button. It’s also smart to leverage search engine optimization (SEO) strategies so that people more easily find what they’re looking for, and in the case of disinformation, the goal is for people to easily confirm their existing biases.
For example, if you’re looking for evidence that vaccines cause autism, you’ll do a search for something like “vaccines cause autism.” Through the magic of the internet, you’ll immediately find disinformation to confirm your beliefs that you can then spread like measles to others. The trick is putting the disinformation right in the title. This is exactly what Anna Coote did when she wrote her opinion piece for the Guardian about the report titled, “Universal basic income doesn’t work. Let’s boost the public realm instead.” By putting the disinformation right in the title, it’s easy to find for anyone seeking confirmation bias for the belief “universal basic income doesn’t work.”
“Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.”
You may notice I’ve done the exact same thing in devising the title for this article you’re reading right now. This is because I too want people looking to confirm their beliefs that basic income doesn’t work, but with the intention of people discovering this article instead of a flaming garbage fire.
How to Propagandize Step 2: Deception
Many of us don’t take note of details like authors and their bios. We just read the article. When I first read Anna Coote’s article, I already knew who she was, and I already knew she’s been an active opponent of basic income for years, but even I missed something extremely important in my first read of her Guardian article, and I missed it because of the way she chose to write it.
The article appears to be written in the voice of a journalist describing a report they just read. The very first sentence reads, “A study published this week sheds doubt on ambitious claims made for universal basic income (UBI).” A very small percentage of readers will notice that Anna is herself none other than the author of the study she’s writing about. She wrote an opinion piece about her own report in a way that deceives the reader into thinking of her as being an objective messenger. Not only that, but her opinion piece is also an extremely slanted representation of her own report. She actually further spun what was already spun.
Here’s one example: The report cites multiple sources across multiple countries that the net cost of implementing UBI would be 0% of GDP in a revenue-neutral design, 0.28% of GDP in the UK (for a small UBI), 3% of GDP in the UK and US, 5% of GDP in India, and between 20%-30% of GDP according to an ILO estimate that used gross instead of net costing. Yet in the Guardian, she neglected to mention any of the low estimates. She instead stated, “The cost of a sufficient UBI scheme would be extremely high,” citing only the ILO gross estimate.
Why is it so important we differentiate between gross and net cost when it comes to UBI? Because the gross cost of a program that provides money to everyone that everyone pays money into tells us nothing about the cost. Think about it. If everyone paid half of their incomes to receive an income that is equivalent to half of their incomes, what’s the cost of that in terms of GDP? Is it 50%? No. It’s zero. There is no cost to GDP because everyone got rebated what they were taxed. The only meaningful estimate of the cost of UBI is thus the net cost, and the net cost of UBI in terms of GDP is right around 3% in most countries for a poverty floor amount, not 30%, and in revenue-neutral designs where a small UBI is introduced purely through welfare and tax reform, it’s as low as 0% of GDP because no new taxes at all are required.
What’s so frustratingly dishonest is that I know Anna knows this stuff. How? Because not only is it included in her actual report, but it’s been proposed by none other than her own think tank, in a report they published only one month prior titled, “Nothing Personal — Replacing the Personal Tax Allowance with a Weekly National Allowance.” In this report, the NEF concluded that a UBI of £48 per week (about $266 per month) could be implemented without raising any new taxes at all, by simply cashing out the cash allowance portion of the tax code, and taxing people on their first dollar instead of waiting until after they reach £12,500 of earned income.
This is the most mind-boggling part for me. The NEF proposed a revenue-neutral plan for universal basic income, claimed it’s not UBI even though it is (except for the fact they exclude the top 1%), and then published Anna’s report concluding that UBI plans are too expensive. Both can’t be true.
How to Propagandize Step 3: Claims to Authority
Think tanks and those with the deep pockets who fund them have been utilizing this strategy for decades and it’s a proven strategy. It’s how neoliberalism managed to unseat Keynesianism, so it’s no surprise to see left-leaning think tanks engaging in the same tactics to push whatever policies their funders are paying them to push. In the case of Anna’s UBI report, it’s pushing Universal Basic Services (UBS) for a union that would be representing the workers performing those services. It’s no different than the Koch brothers funding a report pushing for more drilling as an alternative to sustainable energy.
If a think tank report benefits who paid for the report, it doesn’t automatically mean the report is false, but it does mean we should question its veracity. This is where knowledge of the scientific method comes in. The beautiful thing about science is that it’s a way of evaluating the world around us. It’s the most powerful critical thinking tool ever devised. I can’t describe it any better than Carl Sagan, so I’ll just defer to him here:
“Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then, we are up for grabs for the next charlatan (political or religious) who comes rambling along.” — Carl Sagan
Key to the scientific method is right in the name — the method — so every scientific paper requires showing one’s methodology so that others can repeat it and see if they can duplicate the findings. That’s another key to science, being open about the how, not just the what. Who cares what you conclude if how you concluded it is the scientific equivalent of pulling it out of your ass?
The NEF report lacks any methodology. It begins with its conclusions, goes on to discuss what UBI is, the arguments for and against it, how much it would cost, and before discussing proposed alternatives like universal basic services and job guarantees and concluding the alternatives are the way to go, it includes five pages in chapter seven summarizing twelve “examples of UBI in practice.” These five pages are the “evidence,” upon which this 48-page report is based, and it’s really nothing but another op-ed.
The NEF Report
First, the report starts by asserting that because universal basic income doesn’t exist anywhere yet, it’s hard to draw any conclusions about it based on any of the evidence, because the evidence is from trials. This is like saying there’s nothing to learn from experiments at all, ever, about anything, because they’re only experiments. That’s an unscientific and nonsensical assertion. If the manipulation of a variable in experimental conditions results in a statistically significant effect compared to a control group, that’s something to learn from, not ignore as pointless because we didn’t observe it for 50 years among a population of 300 million people.
Next, it claims that save for Alaska and a few others, all of the experiments are actually conditional. The logic here is that negative income experiments target the poor, which is a poor understanding of NIT and UBI. NIT experiments that provide a full amount to those earning $0 and then claw back 50 cents for each dollar earned are effectively modeling a fully universal basic income paired with a 50% flat tax to pay for it. The net amount received is unconditional in that there’s no work requirement and no control of how the money is spent. One could argue that NIT experiments actually do a better job of modeling UBI in practice because any national UBI would have net receivers and net payers because of the taxes imposed to pay for it.
Furthermore, it claims that the UBI experimentation in India wasn’t unconditional because it required that people open a bank account to receive the funds. Ignoring the fact that the tribal experiment didn’t do that and only the general experiment did (there were two experiments in India), this is a laughable definition of conditionality, especially when the result was that 95.6% of recipients were banked before the experiment began, and the remaining 4% were banked within the next three months, and getting banked was something everyone was helped with to make the experiment possible. In India, 100% of the experimental group comprising entire villages received basic income and yet the NEF report claims it tells us “nothing about the impact of making cash payments to all regardless of income or status.” Does that sound true to you?
Not only is it not true, but again, it’s unscientific to make such a claim that there’s nothing to be learned even when conditions are applied. For example, the report mentions Malawi which provided cash, both conditionally and unconditionally to girls on the condition they stay in school. What I found so interesting about the Malawi study when I first read about it years ago is not mentioned anywhere in this report, which is what happened to those who didn’t meet the conditions compared to those without conditions. It turned out that the unintended consequence of withdrawing income from girls were higher rates of teen pregnancy and HIV. Does that result tell us nothing about the impact of unconditional income that when compared to conditional income it reduces the rates of HIV in teens?
Another claim the report makes is that in developing countries with few existing safety nets, providing cash is helpful but “it calls for a shift in power relations so that the same individuals can control what happens to them, to their families and neighbors and to their environment over the medium and longer-term. They need structures for shared decision-making as well as access to essential resources.” This quote in particular really jumped out at me because the basic income experiments have these results. In experiment after experiment, basic income shifts power relations to those who have the least power. Individuals have more control over what happens to them because they have more agency as individuals with unconditional incomes, and shared decision-making is exactly what we see more of in basic income experiments. As I’ve written about before, an extremely common result is people pooling their basic incomes to make collective decisions.
The report also claims that because the effects of basic income seem to fade once the experiments end, that it’s potentially unsustainable, before going on to conclude that in developing countries, there’s a choice between services or cash, that both can’t be done at the same time, and thus services are better. This argument is nonsense on two accounts. First, basic income is the logic of insulin. Is insulin a bad idea because it needs to be a permanent part of people’s lives? Of course not. Insulin saves lives. The same is true of universal health care. Is universal health care a bad idea because if it ends, the effects of health care fade? Of course not, so their logic contradicts itself. Second, there is no real choice between cash or services. Both can and should be provided. The authors simply want to put the two choices against each other as a tactic.
In the section on UBI in richer countries, this part is especially noteworthy:
There is not yet any clear evidence about the possible impact of UBI on individuals struggling to cope with penny pinching, stigmatising welfare regimes, or with fast-changing, increasingly automated labour markets. It would be unwise to read across from trial results in poor countries where the context is entirely different. The Mincome and New Jersey trials took place in another, pre-internet era. The Alaska Fund offers an annual dividend from shared wealth: a model with real potential, but one that currently makes payments that are far too small to address either problem. Elsewhere, the idea of UBI has failed to win sufficient political support to test its potential. This is most often because it is considered unaffordable without huge tax hikes that would not win votes.
There is in fact clear evidence for anyone with any understanding of the scientific method. It is indeed wise to read across from trial results in poor countries to rich countries, because human beings do actually react in identical ways to identical stimuli. As the behavioral economist Dan Ariely replied when asked if what is being learned in GiveDirectly’s 12-year UBI experiment in Kenya could be applied to the US, “If you think about the fundamental aspect that you’re testing, people are people.” Anna Coote appears to believe that people in India and Kenya are fundamentally different than people in the US and UK, and also that people alive today are fundamentally different than people in the income guarantee experiments of the 1970s. She’s wrong.
Over and over again, in experiment after experiment, when income is provided unconditionally, and people are relieved of the fear of starting at zero each month, stress is reduced. This reduction of stress was seen in Dauphin in the 1970s where it led to 8.5% fewer hospitalizations. It improved both physical and mental health. The same effect has been observed in poor countries, and the same effect has been seen in the present day. Finland’s experiment just showed this, as did Ontario’s experiment. It is an observable fact that unconditional basic income reduces stress. This fact is indisputable. It should also be nothing less than absolute common sense. Of course stress is reduced when people no longer fear not being able to meet their basic survival needs. It’s human biology.
As for waving off Alaska’s dividend as being too small, it too has had notable positive impacts despite its size. A 2018 study concluded that the Alaska dividend has created thousands of new jobs, increasing part-time employment by 17%. In a separate study, Alaskan researchers found that provided a $1,000 dividend, women in Alaska work one hour less and male employment increases by about 2% because of 2,000 new jobs in the three months following the dividend. Can we apply this to the concern of technological unemployment? Absolutely, because consumers create jobs as a result of having money in their hands to spend. In this way, the size of Alaska’s dividend actually underestimates the amount of new jobs UBI creates. Alaska’s dividend has also been shown to improve birth weights due to improved maternal nutrition and during the 1990s and 2000s the dividend helped Alaska become the only US state in which equality rose rather than fell. Alaskans also love their dividend so much they’d prefer to pay more in taxes than lose it. Alaska is a treasure trove of stuff to learn about UBI.
The report even claims Switzerland as evidence against UBI, because they voted against implementing it, and presumes cost was the reasoning. Two things here: first, can you imagine claiming as evidence against recognizing women’s right to vote, a country’s vote against it? Switzerland wasn’t ready to recognize female suffrage in 1959 either, but they did in 1971. UBI will likely follow a similar path in Switzerland. Second, although 40% of those who voted no in Switzerland were concerned about cost, that concern was based on a high UBI, and without an understanding of net cost, as discussed previously. Either way, including Switzerland in the evidence section of a summary of UBI evidence is about as unscientific as one can get.
Now let’s talk about what was left out of the report.
How to Propagandize Step 4: Lying by Omission
A truly tried and true way of lying is to simply not mention key facts. One of the most fascinating things to me about Anna Coote’s NEF report is the evidence it simply omitted. The only way to catch propaganda like this is to be able to spot what’s missing, and that’s much more difficult to do because it requires a time-consuming knowledge base of sufficient size. Most people don’t have that and so rely on “experts,” and experts know that. Among the most glaring pieces of evidence in this case is Namibia’s UBI pilot, all the experiments in the US in the 1970s other than the New Jersey experiment, and the Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth. There’s more excluded than these, but to leave these out is mind-blowing.
The Namibia UBI report is one of the most fascinating of all pieces of basic income evidence to read. I recommend reading all 103 pages of the report. You won’t be disappointed. As a quick background, in January 2008, the Basic Income Grant (BIG) pilot project commenced in the Otjivero-Omitara area of Namibia, where for two years, 930 people received N$100 per person per month, without any conditions being attached. It was the first experiment in the world where a flat amount of cash was provided universally, monthly, and for long enough to study its effects. The results were profound.
The percentage of people living below the food poverty line dropped from 76% to 37%. The percentage of people engaged in income-generating activities rose from 44% to 55%. Self-employment dramatically grew by 301%. Child malnutrition fell from 42% to 10%. School dropout rates fell from 40% to 5%. Average debt fell from N$1,215 to N$772. Overall crime rates plummeted by 42%. There was less need for women to engage in transactional sex, and aside from the very first payout, alcohol use did not increase.
It was also determined that the cost to implement UBI in Namibia would be under 3% of GDP and because Namibia could handle taxing over 30% of GDP and were only taxing 25%, that UBI would be entirely affordable in Namibia by just bumping their VAT rate and introducing a levy on natural resources.
It should be clear now how absurd it is to have excluded Namibia from the NEF report, but also understandable why they chose to dishonestly omit it.
The American Income Maintenance Experiments
Another odd exclusion is everything learned in the US in the 1960s and 1970s experiments. There were actually four different experiments: the New Jersey Graduated Work Incentive Experiment from 1968–1972 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the Gary Income Maintenance Experiment (GIME) in Gary, Indiana from 1971–1974, the Rural Income Maintenance Experiment (RIME) in North Carolina and Iowa from 1970–1972, and the Seattle/Denver Income Maintenance Experiments (SIME/DIME) in Seattle, Washington and Denver, Colorado from 1969–1982.
Each of these experiments tested different amounts of income and different clawback rates in different population groups. The largest of all the experiments took place in Seattle and Denver where 4,800 people compared to New Jersey’s 1,200 received guaranteed income, some for as long as eight years compared to New Jersey’s three years, and thus excluding it from the NEF report is another alarm bell. Why exclude the largest longest experiment about guaranteed income that the US has ever done?
I don’t have an answer to that question, but I can tell you the general findings which is that men barely reduced their hours and when they did, it was a per year reduction where they spent more time looking for jobs between jobs. New mothers decided to use the money like paid maternity leave, and young students decided to focus on going to school instead of augmenting family incomes with wage work. The former effect is great for wages and productivity, and the latter effects are great for society. Those were the effects on work. There were also other effects observed, but they were not the focus of the experiments. Here is how Karl Widerquist has summarized the non-labor-market effects:
The experimental results for various quality-of-life indicators were substantial and encouraging. Some studies found significant positive influences in elementary school attendance rates, teacher ratings, and test scores. Some studies found that children in the experimental group stayed in school significantly longer than children in the control group. Some found an increase in adults going on to continuing education. Some of the experiments found desirable effects on many important quality-of-life indicators, including reduced incidents of low-birth-weight babies, increased food consumption, and increased nutritional content of the diet. Some even found reduced domestic abuse and reduced psychiatric emergencies.
The NEF report mentions none of this and instead only refers to the entirety of the American experiments with a single sentence in the main body of the report in the evidence section: “The Mincome and New Jersey trials took place in another, pre-internet era.” That’s it. That’s all there is outside of the appendix in regards to lessons learned from 14 years of experiments involving 8,624 Americans.
The Great Smoky Mountains Study
Perhaps the strongest piece of UBI evidence of all outside of Alaska’s annual dividend is what began in North Carolina in 1996 and exists to this day where members of the Cherokee Nation receive around $12,000 per year in dividend income. This is valuable on its own for research purposes, but what puts this into the category of scientific experiment is that a long-term study of impoverished kids was already ongoing when a percentage of the parents suddenly started receiving the no-strings income. Those kids whose parents did not receive any dividend income became the control group, and to this day, more and more is being learned about the results of kids being raised by parents receiving basic income.
According to a 2010 peer-reviewed study, behavioral problems for the children lifted out of poverty by the dividend income fell 40%. By 16, they were 22% less likely to have a criminal record. By 21 they gained on average one additional year of education. Personality tests showed improvements in conscientiousness by 43% and agreeableness by 31%. For context, people who lack conscientiousness tend to lie, break rules, and have trouble paying attention, and those who are more agreeable tend to be more comfortable around people and have more aptness for teamwork. Both traits are strongly correlated with more life success and happiness. All these positive results on the kids were found to have happened mostly by alleviating the stress of their parents. Less stressed parents were able to create better home environments where they spent more quality time with their kids, and those are the kinds of changes in a child’s life that can make all the difference in the world.
Another fascinating finding from this natural experiment was by Randall Akee, an economist whose analysis revealed that the dividend income net reduced expenditures, meaning the amount of poverty eliminated was actually worth more than the total amount of dividends disbursed, by way of reduced criminality, reduced need for psychiatric care, and the savings gained by kids not repeating grades. In other words, the basic income saved more money than it cost. It even increased voter turnout rates.
So why was what we’ve been learning in North Carolina for over 20 years also excluded from the NEF report?
I hope it’s clear by now just how irresponsibly dishonest and poorly done the NEF report is, but to make it absolutely crystal clear, it’s also important to see what an honest and well-researched report actually looks like.
How to Propagandize Step 5: Misdirection
Propagandists rely on misdirection. By showing people falsehoods, using sleight of hand, what’s true goes unseen. It takes time and energy to figure out what to trust and what not to trust. If you’re reading this, you may or may not already trust me, and if you aren’t already familiar with my work, that’s wise of you. Make up your own mind, and to help you do that, I’d like to point you to two reports that like the NEF report both analyze a large collection of experimental data, and you can decide for yourself if they seem more trustworthy: one looks at 16 income guarantee trials, and the other looks at 165 studies of 56 cash transfer programs across 30 countries.
The Gilbert Review of Evidence
In 2018, Richard Gilbert of Loyola Marymount University along with four other co-authors published a comprehensive review in the peer-reviewed journal Basic Income Studies titled “Would a Basic Income Guarantee Reduce the Motivation to Work? An Analysis of Labor Responses in 16 Trial Programs” Among the 16 programs looked at were the basic income trials that NEF included as well as the Namibia experiment and the three American Income Maintenance experiments that NEF omitted.
If you take the time to look at the methodology they used, you’ll find they focused solely on work effects and filtered an initial set of 1,400 papers down to a data set focused on the impact of cash guarantees on adult work rates, which they then coded so as to isolate variables for analysis. Income guarantee sizes were made comparable to each other across countries by benchmarking against average national income figures in order to examine whether there’s an association between the proportional size of an income guarantee and subsequent labor impacts.
Statistical tests on the resulting coded data showed that 71% of the data on labor force participation rates supported the hypothesis of a small or no increase in labor force participation, and 100% of the working hours data found reductions of less than 1 to 4 hours of work per week assuming a standard 40-hour work week. When the LPR data and hours worked data were combined:
“The results indicate that 27 out of 29 results, or 93%, support the prediction that a basic income program would have a limited impact on work activity when the criterion is set at between a 2.1% and 5% decline in labor force participation or less than a 1 to 2 hour reduction in a standard 40-hour work week.”
The results of this meta-analysis cannot be overstated. A data set representing a sample size of 105,000 recipients of guaranteed income across 12 nations in the developed and developing world found no evidence to support the widespread assumption that basic income would cause humans to do anything more than slightly reduce their time spent working. In fact, increases in work were found in Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Namibia, and Uganda.
One caveat for these results is that the average annual income across all 16 trials was 6.8% of the national average annual income, and thus may underestimate work reductions where small work reductions were seen. For example, 6.8% would represent a basic income in the US of $285 per month. A basic income of $1,000 could have the same negligible impact of 38–39 hours worked per week on average, or it could look more like 34–37 hours worked per week. Or the impact of increased consumer spending could lead to an average increase in work. All that we can really say with certainty is that basic income is extremely unlikely to lead to significant work reductions with a poverty level amount.
The ODI Review of Evidence
The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is an independent, global think tank focused on research and analysis. In 2016 they published a massive review of the evidence from 56 cash transfer programs all over the world that happened between 2000 and 2015, titled “Cash transfers: what does the evidence say?” The exhaustive 300-page review looked at the impact of cash on monetary poverty, education, health and nutrition, savings, investment and production, employment, and empowerment. The key findings were reported as follows:
- Monetary poverty: Cash transfers reduce monetary poverty.
- Education: Cash transfers raise school attendance, but do not always lead to improved learning.
- Health and nutrition: Cash transfers stimulate health service use and improve dietary diversity, but there is less evidence that they affect the height and weight of children.
- Savings and investment: Cash transfers can help foster beneficiaries’ economic autonomy.
- Employment: Cash transfers are associated with a reduction in child labor. Most show either no effect or a positive effect on adults working.
- Empowerment: Cash transfers increase women’s decision-making power and choices, but do not always reduce emotional abuse.
It’s harder to apply such a large look at cash transfer programs in general to the prospect of a fully universal and unconditional basic income, but certain clearly universal results stand out. When people are provided income, they don’t waste it. It tends to buy things that you too would buy, like food. It supports education systems and health care systems. It increases savings and functions as capital. It empowers women, reducing physical abuse and increasing their choices. And again, it has little impact on work and can even increase work.
The evidence does not suggest that cash transfers generate work disincentives. For more than half of the indicators measured in this outcome area, employment outcomes were not affected by receipt of the transfer (e.g. 9/14 studies for adults’ work participation find statistically non-significant results). Most of the studies reporting a significant effect on adults of working age found an increase in work participation (3/4 studies) and intensity (4/6). Where a reduction in work participation or work intensity was reported, this tended to involve the elderly and those caring for dependents, or reflected reductions in casual work.
Both of the aforementioned evidence reviews are clearly in a different league than the NEF evidence review and point to nothing but support for basic income. Cash clearly has positive effects when provided to human beings to spend as desired. It also clearly does not lead to people becoming couch potatoes, and it also clearly functions to improve investments in services like education and health care.
Meanwhile, the critique that basic income is too expensive ignores that the only meaningful cost is the net cost, ignores the savings gained from effects like improved health and reduced crime, ignores all the tax expenditures that can be converted into cash, ignores the impacts of increased economic activity and productivity, and ignores that the only thing preventing the abolition of poverty amid vast wealth is a lack of collective will for economic justice.
People like Anna Coote and think tanks like NEF would have you believe that basic income and basic services are enemies, but basic income should instead be seen as a foundation for better functioning services. If 60% of health outcomes are related to income, it makes no sense to only treat health outcomes with expensive treatments downstream when treatments could be entirely avoided by investments in incomes upstream. If people suffering poverty and insecurity can’t focus on school, it makes no sense to only fund schools instead of boosting incomes so as to improve the ability to learn. Lack of sufficient income and lack of economic security are the causes of far too many problems to not address them, and all the evidence points to addressing them directly through cash as the most efficient and effective solution.
With all of the above said, I’d like to make one last point, and that point is the entire reason for my writing this lengthy response in the first place. I actually hate writing response pieces like this, but one thing I find unforgivable in our world is the abuse of trust.
Conclusion: The Erosion of Institutional Trust
Before I began researching the idea of basic income back in 2013, I enjoyed learning about a very diverse range of topics. I just love learning. It’s fun. It’s always been fun for me. I liked to learn a little about a lot of things, but never a lot about one thing. It was only when I finally found one thing I wanted to explore in massive depth that I discovered how absolutely full of shit many trusted experts are. It angered me. It viscerally angered me to discover how many people pretended to know things about stuff they obviously didn’t. It’s not just the lying that angers me so much. That’s upsetting, but what bothers me the most is the impact on society as a whole.
Trust in institutions is eroding all around us. Trust in experts is dying. Trust is fading to the point that increasing numbers of people no longer even trust their own doctors about vaccines, or climate scientists about climate change. The story of this loss of trust is a story about the loss of social cohesion and also the effects of the profit-motive. Too many people do things for money, and too many people know that. Every time another expert misuses the authority they have to make a buck, or gain fame, or make people believe what they want them to believe, regardless of whether it’s true or accurate, social trust is eroded, and what’s actually true is harder for people to believe.
When Anna Coote wrote her report for a check signed by Public Services International, and when she then wrote her op-ed in the Guardian that she disguised as an objective editorial, she violated what I consider to be a sacred trust. I care about what’s true and what’s real. I care about the scientific method and critical thinking. I care about a society that values reality. What I will not stand for is someone misrepresenting scientific experiments, portraying ideologically-driven opinions as evidence, and trying to manipulate society into believing what they self-servingly want society to believe.
I hope this article helps readers in some way better differentiate between what can be trusted and what should be questioned. I also know that time will still always be a factor. We only have so much time to apply to figuring out what we can and can’t trust, and so our lack of free time will continue proving to be a major obstacle. This of course is another argument for unconditional basic income, but that’s something I’ve already written about.
If there’s one final thing I’d like you to take away from this article, it’s to take a microscope to anything claiming there’s evidence basic income doesn’t work. The evidence for basic income is a large and growing pile, and if you want to know what that pile is telling us, I suggest reading some of the actual studies yourself, instead of just taking anyone’s word — including mine — for what’s in them.
I also recommend reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark to help build and strengthen your charlatan detector so that articles like the one you’ve just finished never have to be written in the first place.
“Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us — and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along.” — Carl Sagan
Explore the Basic Income Evidence Yourself
- Dauphin, Manitoba Mincome Experiment (1974–1979)
- Seattle and Denver Income Maintenance Experiments (1969–1982)
- The Rural Income Maintenance Experiments in North Carolina and Iowa (1970–1972)
- The Gary, Indiana Income Maintenance Experiment (1971–1974)
- The New Jersey Graduated Work Incentive Experiment (1968–1972)
- The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend UBI (1982-NOW)
- The North Carolina Cherokee Dividend Natural Experiment (1996-NOW)
- The Social Security Notch Natural Experiment (1972–1977)
- The Mothers’ Pension Program (1911–1935)
- Belgian Win for Life Lottery Natural Basic Income Experiment
- Dolly Parton’s My People Fund in Tennessee (2016–2017)
- Liberia Social Cash Transfer Pilot Program (2009–2014)
- Lebanon Winter Cash Assistance Program (2013–2014)
- Iran’s De Facto UBI (2011-NOW)
- Namibia UBI Pilot Project (2008–2010)
- India UBI Pilot Experiment (2011–2013)
- Finland Basic Income Experiment (2017–2019)
- Ontario Basic Income Pilot Experiment (2017–2019)
Special thanks to: The Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity, Haroon Mokhtarzada, Steven Grimm, Andrew Stern, Roy Bahat, Floyd Marinescu, Larry Cohen, Aaron T Schultz, Robert Collins, Stephane Boisvert, Justin Walsh, Daragh Ward, Joanna Zarach, Ace Bailey, Albert Wenger, Victor Lau, Athena Washington, UBIVisuals , Peter T Knight, Danielle and Michael Texeira, Jack Canty, Paul Godsmark, Rachel Perkins, Chris Rauchle, David Ihnen, Michael Hrenka, Natalie Foster, Reid Rusonik, Daniel Brockman, Carrie Mclachlan, Michael Honey, George Scialabba, Che Wagner, Jess Allen, Gerald Huff, Will Ware, Jan Smole, Joe Ballou, Gray Scott, Myi Baril, Elizabeth Corker, Max Henrion, Arjun Banker, Chris Heinz, Chris Smothers, Janos Abel, Kai Wong, Jill Weiss, MARK4UBI, Elizabeth Balcar, Georg Baumann, Bryan Herdliska, Jessica Wales, Kirk Israel, Valentina Petricciuolo, Meshack Vee, Timothy P O’Connor, Kev Roberts, Chris Boraski, VilliHaukka, Michael Finney, Casey L Young, Tim, Oliver Bestwalter, Thomas Welsh, Walter Schaerer, all my other funders for their support, and my amazing partner, Katie Smith.
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