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What would I do if everyone had a basic income?

Scott Santens
Scott Santens
5 min read
What would you do if you had an unconditional basic income?

I regularly ask people this question, because the answer is the true definition of basic income. Basic income isn't really about the money. It's about what money enables us to do in our lives that we'd otherwise be prevented from doing without enough money to meet our basic needs, and without enough time to really live, due to all of our time being spent just trying to stay alive.

I already have a basic income via crowdfunding, which I use to advocate for basic income for everyone,  so a question people ask me is what I would do if tomorrow everyone had basic income. I've answered this question a few times in various interviews, but I've never written about it. So here's my answer.

I'd write more.

More specifically, I'd write more science fiction.

Even more specifically, I'd write more science fiction screenplays.

I've always loved writing. As a kid, I'd love to just find a quiet place with a stack of paper, and just write. In school, I loved writing assignments that involved writing fiction. One of my favorite experiences back in elementary school was writing a story inspired by Airplane!, and reading it in front of my fifth grade class. It was absolutely absurd, but I wrote it to make me laugh, and it ended up making the whole class laugh too. It was such a great feeling to imagine something into existence, and for that creation to then reach the minds of others.

A few years later, one of my favorite experiences in high school was an assignment in German class to write a short story in English and translate it into German. I took that assignment and ran with it by using my story (and my love of computer animation) to create a computer animated short film. That was an even greater feeling, to imagine something into existence, and for that to be transformed into something people could watch. Sure it was just an animated short about 7-Up's Cool Spot bringing to life a Listerine bottle Frankenstein-style inside a castle that ended up in a battle between Hershey's kisses and Life Saver Minis set to the song "Line Up" by Aerosmith, but it was something I imagined that became real enough for other people to enjoy too, and that to me was an amazing feeling.

Years later, in 2011, I decided to write my very first screenplay for a full-length feature film, purely for the fun of it. It involved months of research, and months of writing, a total of nine months actually. It wasn't all day every day of course, but it was something I worked on pretty much every day, for at least a few hours a day. The best way to learn something is to just do it, right? So that's what I did. I didn't take any classes or read any books on screenplay writing. I just studied the screenplays of movies I loved most, and tried to make my own using them as a blueprint.

The result was a 120 page screenplay I titled, "The Stories Within." (Click the link if you'd like to read it.) Here's the logline I wrote for it to give you an idea of what it's about.

A New Orleans writer's work of science fiction involving the two greatest conspiracies of the 1960s unknowingly makes him a target for his own assassination.

It's written as a story inside a story inside a story, where each layer is meant to have a different style on screen. One layer kind of makes fun of Hollywood and is full of common tropes, while another is meant to be more reflective of reality in contrast to those tropes, and another is docudrama style. The docudrama layer looks at the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission, and depicts two new conspiracy theories for each that I created myself for the purpose of the story. It's science fiction. It's thriller. It's fun. It's the kind of movie I'd like to see, and that's why I wrote it.

I wrote this spec script over a span of almost a year, over six years ago, and in that time it's probably been read by maybe a dozen people. I did it for the pleasure of writing it. I did it to learn something new. I did it to create something original. For those who choose to read it now, I imagine some of you will quite enjoy it and wish it actually was a movie you could watch. Others, especially professional screenwriters will probably loathe it as a poorly written excuse for a script that deserves to be burned with fire. To me, it doesn't really matter, because the fraction of my life I spent writing it was for me. It was work. It was creation. And it was meaningful.

Getting better at something takes time. It takes doing it over and over and over again. Thanks to my basic income, I've been free to focus on writing for the first time in my life really, and I feel my writing has not only improved as a result, but that I've been slowly developing my own style. Years ago, I would have thought it crazy to be told that one day my writing would be used to help teach college students how to write, but here I am now with pieces in multiple college textbooks. For someone who originally went to school for a degree in engineering physics, I never thought I'd be where I am right now, absolutely free to spend entire days writing absolutely anything.

So what would I do if everyone had a basic income? I'd write even more. I've actually got a second screenplay that's been halfway complete for years that I'd absolutely love to get back to, and many other story ideas waiting to be written, but I just feel writing about basic income is too important to write about anything else.

Now that you know what I'd do if you and everyone else had a basic income, consider for a moment how many other people are out there with ideas just sitting there, due to simply not having the time or energy to work on them in a world without basic income. Imagine what you yourself have a passion for that you'd do far more of, or instead. Imagine the tsunami of creativity that will be unleashed once everyone is free to spend their lives working on the things that they're most passionate about instead of what they're essentially forced to do, simply to "earn a living."

More than anything, I want that world to exist for us. We can create that world together by making sure everyone has an unconditional basic income. And that's not science fiction.

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Unconditional basic income (UBI) advocate with a crowdfunded basic income; Author of Let There Be Money; Senior Advisor to Humanity Forward; BasicIncomeToday.com editor; Fund for Humanity board member