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Wouldn't a basic income just be stealing from those who earned their money?

Scott Santens
Scott Santens
3 min read

This kind of question is built on the assumption that all money earned is earned fairly and justly, and all money taxed is both unfair and unjust.

Here's the thing, that idea of private property we take for granted as the foundation of just about everything? Perhaps we shouldn't just take it for granted. Now, by not taking it for granted, I'm not suggesting the idea of private property shouldn't exist or that it shouldn't be enforced. But I am suggesting that by enforcing it as we do, we create a situation that wouldn't exist naturally, and therefore perhaps ethically requires that we compensate for it in some way.

Think of it this way. 3... 2... 1... I own everything.

This is fair, because I called dibs, just like our ancestors did long ago. Because I control access to all resources on Earth, you are no longer allowed to live on it without my permission. Oh sure, if I didn't own everything, you could just pick an apple off a tree, or plant some vegetables, or hunt some deer, or even eat food out of trash cans, but too bad. I own everything.

You aren't allowed to live without my permission.

In order to live, you will need to prove your worth to me. Don't worry, as long as you pull your weight according to my eyes, I will give you enough access to my resources to survive.

What's that? It's not fair that I own everything? Why not? I called dibs. That's totally fair.

What's that? I didn't create the planet so why should I own it? I should only own the added improvements I make using the natural resources no one made?

Hmmm, actually, that's a good point. I suppose we should adjust our rules to acknowledge that shouldn't we?

If you build a chair out of a tree, until that moment in time that tree was available to everyone else. People could sit under it, eat apples from it. It cleaned the air by taking in carbon dioxide and putting out oxygen. It would have continued to grow and maybe in another decade it could have been more than a chair. Or maybe someone else could have used it along with other trees to build a house?

Wow, come to think of it, that tree had a lot of potential uses by a lot of potential people, all born on the same planet, none of whom made the tree. And yet, you felt that tree was yours when it wasn't. It was all of ours. So what's that called?

Oh right... stealing.

But shoot, I want a nice chair, and I want people to be able to make chairs. Don't you? So how do we get around this moral quandary?

Well, we could compensate everyone else who lost access to the tree by your turning it into a chair, by slightly increasing their access to all remaining resources. That sounds fair doesn't it?

But shoot, how do we do that? Hmmm, maybe we could tax the chair, and acknowledge this tax as the compensation for the theft we allow in order to make trees into chairs, and split this tax among everyone? Or maybe we could charge you for the tree in the first place instead of letting you just take it for free and share that among everyone?

Either way, great idea!

Let's call it basic income.

You may also want to read my posts about basic income as basic resources: Part 1 | Part 2

This line of thinking is inspired by my reading of Karl Widerquist's book, Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income. You can now read the chapter about this online for free.

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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; editor; Fund for Humanity board member