Freudian Slips and Billionaire Guilt Trips

Bernie Sanders recently taught us, when billionaires speak, we listen… especially when they’re talking about universal basic income. Over the past few years, many prominent, moneyed men have made headlines through their support of UBI.

Their reasoning often centers on the coming AI insurrection, or the indignity of income inequality, or even that a safety net is essential to allowing creative minds to flourish and create the disruptive technologies of the future.

The cynic in me wonders if these men-of-means are truly sincere. There seems to be an obvious contradiction in their concerns about the hypothetical replacement of human labor through technology, while actively pursuing that reality. Not to mention anything about the rampant use of tax havens in face of state insolvency.

The billionaires that have put their money where their mouth is often peddle a perverse form of UBI. For instance, Chris Hughes, of Facebook renown, believes every working household making under $50,000 ought to be entitled to a monthly rebate of $500, unless you make under $6,000 – in which case you’d only be entitled to a match of your previous year’s earnings.

This carrot and stick approach to poverty reduction is ostensibly to instill a sense of the dignity of work. Hughes writes in his book, Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn, quoted by splinternews.com, “People want to work, and that if you work, you should not live in poverty.”

The obvious point to make here is that no one deserves to live in poverty, including those that don’t work. But it goes beyond that, and feeds into a psychological defense of meritocracy: those that work hard enough should always be rewarded.

In speaking about the future of redistribution, Hughes is obliquely speaking about his own fortune, and how there’s no guilt in keeping it.

By Daniel Kuhn