Panel held to discuss the future of public policy and the Universal Basic Income

By Rebecca Duke Wiesenberg

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts hosted a panel to discuss the benefits and consequences of implementing a universal basic income (UBI) on Monday, Oct. 16.

Held in the Commonwealth Honors College, the event was introduced by Nicholas Xenos, UMass political science professor, director of the Amherst Program in Critical Theory and moderator of the event. A discussion and Q&A session with the panelists followed.

The panel was comprised of Connie Razza, Co-Director of Policy and Research for Demos, a public policy organization, Elizabeth Rhodes, Research Director at Y Combinator Research and Seth Ackerman, Executive Editor of Jacobin Magazine.

In his introduction, Xenos explained that due to the 2008 financial crisis, the shift in the job market and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), UBI has become an increasingly popular vision for the future of public policy. Rhodes argued that one of the reasons to implement a UBI is because of the high rate of income volatility.

“55 percent of Americans have a 30 percent month-to-month change in income,” Rhodes stated.

Razza referred to the implementation of a UBI as “what a new vision of what it means to be able to provide and thrive in the economy [will] look like.”

“We often talk in a language that really naturalizes these things. It’s happening, the economy’s doing this, and we’re headed in that direction,” Razza said.

Razza hoped that the implementation of a UBI would “tighten the workforce,” redistribute power and resources and guarantee “our right to leisure or our right to recreate.”

Ackerman added that a UBI is supported across the political spectrum, from socialists to conservatives to libertarians. The reason for right-wing support is due to a UBI’s ability to “eliminate bureaucracy” and social welfare programs.

“This [UBI] would allow you to gradually eliminate that [financial support] and eventually replace it with a check,” Ackerman stated.

The panelists also addressed misconceptions about UBI. One misconception was that UBI would be the “silver bullet” that will solve the nation’s problems.

“Even if we give people cash — what seems like a significant amount of cash – people…will still have structural inequality [and] institutionalized racism,” Rhodes said.

Razza felt similarly, and added that the history of racial inequality in the United States was so extensive that the money brought by the UBI would not solve it.

“So even if we all have the same amount of money — in fact, the same amount of wealth, we don’t have access to the same numbers…we don’t have access to the same opportunities,” she said.

Another misconception addressed was that it would be a replacement for work. Rhodes countered that “it’s a cushion more than a ceiling.”

According to Ackerman, this concern is based on society’s “perverse” tendency to control people’s lives.

“Everyone is forced to organize their lives in accordance with their jobs,” Ackerman contended.

He also disclosed that he personally agrees with a UBI because it would allow for more personal freedom, and that “UBI would allow people to organize their lives the way they’d like.”

The panelists were well-received by students, and Dominique Altamari, a senior psychology major, found the event to be informative.

“I think one of the most important pieces of the lecture was talking about the implications of using this as a replacement to the welfare state,” Altamari said. “There are many important social programs and while they don’t function perfectly, I think replacing tangible resources with a lump sum of money to ‘cover’ those needs is not a well-thought out idea.”

Andres Garcia, a sophomore political science and legal studies major, said he thought that the panel “touched on many points that were very good and very important to talk about,” although he offered a critique as well.

“I think one point they didn’t talk about enough was artificial intelligence – AI – purely because they talked about how a jobless future isn’t possible,” Garcia said. “However, thinking about AI and how close we are and how advanced [AI] they can be, a jobless future isn’t totally out of the question.” 

Rebecca Duke Wiesenberg can be reached at [email protected]