January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I blogged, but this was too much to stick into a long twitter thread!

I’ve been looking forward to reading January Fifteenth by award-winning author Rachel Swirsky. In it, she follows the lives of four people on January 15th- UBI distribution day in a future America. I finally got a chance to curl up with the book and I have OPINIONS! (Surprise, surprise, surprise)

Firstly, I really appreciate that she presented a very nuanced exploration of what a future with UBI might look like- it’s neither perfectly utopian, nor bleakly dystopian. It’s very HUMAN, with differing experiences and opinions, and everyone has their own pros and cons about how society works with a UBI. It does skew dystopian, there’s no story in there where UBI has made someone’s life measurably better without drama, but that wouldn’t be much of a story, would it?

She doesn’t shy away from the fact that UBI in any form isn’t a magic wand that makes poverty and challenges go away. In fact, the way UBI is structured in the book makes very clear some of the things that can go *wrong*, if other systemic issues aren’t addressed simultaneously- from religious groups using UBI as a form of control, to eugenic policies in order for someone to ‘deserve’ their basic income, to the question of using UBI as an excuse for not addressing reparations to groups the US government has caused serious harm to. In the ‘skews dystopian’ sense, the status is still quo. There hasn’t been society-shaking change just because a UBI exists. One of the people we follow in the book is explicitly dealing with that- as a former activist, what was the point?

One of the risks she addresses, that I like to talk about myself, is how UBI would have a *negative* impact on the elderly and disabled, if we didn’t also eliminate asset limits and means testing for services. Leaving those in place while adding in a UBI would mean people would lose housing, medical services, in home services, etc etc. Unless we treat UBI as an independent foundation, that must not impact eligibility for other services and needs, then some of our most vulnerable citizens will end up worse off.

I found it interesting that the UBI distribution happens once a year, rather than monthly. It makes me wonder if this was how it was designed in this USA from the beginning, or if it’s been whittled away by beurocracy over the years. This yearly distribution really makes some of the cracks in the system acute- people feel the pinch of increased taxes all year, but don’t get a return on that investment until January 15th, where barriers to distribution have obviously cropped up- mandating people pick up their checks in person (but postal banking!) if they don’t have the resources to have electronic transfer, long lines, propaganda, and all the mess we can throw at the poor. On the other hand, the rich -those people who don’t need the UBI- have developed a culture of either tossing it mindlessly at charity, or blowing the money in dubious ways, even to contests for who can “waste” the money creatively. All while arguing about what is the right thing to do with money that was “taken” from them in the first place.

I think that’s a very real possibility with a yearly UBI rather than a monthly. For the poor, debt and needs would pile up and become a pressure that may or may not be relieved with a yearly disbursement. For the wealthy, it would become meaningless fun money. A consistent monthly payment would be less likely to cause extremes of need and behavior.

In a very real way, this book is a cautionary tale of what it could look like if we don’t implement UBI in a deeply thoughtful, politician-proof way. If we just drop it into the existing system without taking into account all the other shifts that need to happen- like rent controls, localized minimum wage laws, and ending means testing. An unconditional, universal Basic Income absolutely CAN be a force for good- but not if we don’t apply force across our whole society, and use UBI as a bandage.


UBI vs Covid

You know what really bunches my panties about the whole “They’re making more on unemployment, so they won’t go back to work!” thing? THAT’S THE WHOLE GODDAMN POINT.

We’re in the middle of a frakking pandemic. Over 4 million confirmed cases. Almost 150K people that we know of have died just in our country alone, since we started paying attention in March. 1000+ people are dying of this every day, and it’s showing NO signs of slowing down.

We could get a handle on this. Other countries did. Other comparable, ‘developed’ nations have flattened their curve, and have structures in place to address potential waves.  But not the USA.

The US could shut everything down for 6-8 weeks. And I mean everything that isn’t a vital, life saving necessity.  No takeout. No ‘zon deliveries. Groceries are no-contact curbside only. No school, no rent, no mortgages. Just let it all go, because it’s LESS IMPORTANT than not spreading a deadly disease.

Set up a way to make sure that vulnerable populations like the elderly and disabled are taken care of and have what they need to get through weeks of stay at home orders. Get PPE to the people who need it.

Have actual consequences for breaking quarantine. How about everyone who breaks at home quarantine, set them up in a tent camp quarantine in the nearest NFL stadium. Make them stay for the duration +14 days from the last new arrival.

And then you enact a Basic Income- pay every adult human being $1000-2000/month, so they don’t need to leave the house.

Unless they’re providing an actually vital service, no one NEEDS to be working.  They NEED financial stability- and that NEEDS to be provided to us when the good of the whole damn country requires we heavily quarantine.  People can function without a job. Jobs aren’t required for survival. Avoiding a freaking plague, is.

But no, here in the good ol US of A, we’re so OBSESSED with people working, so chained down by “But Mah Freedumbs!” that we literally refuse to do any of the things needed to get Covid in check. A majority of Congress is so very offended by the idea of “paying people to do nothing”, that they’re willing to withdraw support, to force people back into work- even if it puts the entire country at risk.

Economies recover… dead people don’t. People with long term health problems won’t. Families made homeless because we refused to enact rent and mortgage moratoriums won’t. We’re letting the selfish people win.

We are So. Very. Fucked


UBI is about AND, not OR

This is a great twitter thread. Go read it, I’ll wait…
Another ‘services vs income support’ article?

Every article that talks about the ‘limitations’ of #BasicIncome, invariably takes an “or” stance. We can have UBI or we can have services. They almost never look at what can be built when we talk about Basic Income AND services. The truth is that a well-implemented UBI would allow services to be more efficient.

With the system we have now -welfare, unemployment, disability, housing, etc.- the vast majority of their budget and administration goes towards two things: Managing means testing, and cash payouts.

Means testing is the lion’s share of the administrative budget.

The ONLY purpose behind Means Testing is gatekeeping and controlling access to services to those people who “deserve” them. It is entirely based in making sure no one gets a dime more than they should.

It creates a a socially acceptable caste system, making those receiving “help” into second-class citizens.  Citizens that those not currently using social services are allowed to demean, mock and criticize every step of the way for being dependant on someone else’s “Hard Earned Money”.

It is so important to our society that only the correct people get social help, that the border of “deserving” is both horrifically inflexible -step one dollar over, suddenly you lose it all- and often completely divorced from the reality of the collective and individual need.

Vast amounts of bureaucracy go into maintaining this border. It’s a virtual Berlin Wall built of reams of paperwork to track people’s ‘means’, mortared in place by thousands of people paid just to sort and monitor that paperwork to make sure no one ‘cheats’.  That bureaucracy, focused on a single mission of Keep People Out, is replicated over dozens of social service agencies.

Imagine how much money would be saved, how much time and energy retained, if this obsessive system of means testing could be eliminated. 

The second major expenditure is the ‘cash payout’.

Every agency, no matter what other programs they offer, is first focused on a payout; be it in the form of a welfare check, food stamps, an unemployment check, a rent subsidy or some other cash outlay for the recipient.

There are charts and formulas and provisos galore, all (again) designed to tell the agency exactly how much support you “deserve” in the eyes of society. And they aren’t all working off the same formulas, oh no! Each agency has their own esoteric cantrips for how they determine who is eligible and for how much.

Nor do they work together to make sure people are getting the best service coverage possible; most agencies couldn’t tell you what’s available from another (even if they work on the same open-concept office floor), and getting more from one agency, can lead to getting less from another, even if you’re eligible for both.

The amount of time and effort that goes into figuring out how much money, and then getting it to the recipient, takes up a huge portion of agency resources; resources they could be using to create targeted, need based programs.

What could social service agencies achieve, if they didn’t need to focus on getting money into people’s hands?

Enter Universal Basic Income

The first thing UBI does is eliminate means testing. One administration, giving a cash payout to every adult human being in the country, means dozens of agencies not having to screen and test and monitor income under a microscope. It eliminates a layer of bureaucracy that we functionally would not need. 

By giving a Basic Income universally, to all people (with the ‘means’ balancing happening at tax time), we begin to remove the stratification between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’- if everyone is getting the same cash payout, then you can’t lord over someone for getting it. It doesn’t eliminate classism, by any stretch, but it is a start.

Removing cash payouts, and the mountain of resources to manage them, means that agencies can focus on personal and community NEED- what services does this client actually need? How can we actually serve them?

Freed from the necessity of focusing on a cash payout, agencies could start to offer a wider range of services; educational and vocational programs, increasing and improving housing, poverty mitigation, addressing food deserts, transportation options, increasing community resources.

Especially in the case of the disabled and the elderly, we can end the deeply unethical practice of tying their access to needed support services (like housing, medical care and therapeutic care) to their eligibility to a cash payout. No more making the elderly “spend down” into poverty to pay for nursing homes. No more making the disabled have a minimalist asset limit, just so they can have supported living services.

I have yet to hear a UBI supporter say that having a Basic Income means we would’t need housing assistance, or an unemployment agency, or food stamps. What I DO hear, is all the ways that moving to UBI as a foundation, will increase our ability to meet the needs of our communities.

Recurring UBI Themes

This post is compiled from a Twitter thread by @BringBackLevity, who graciously gave me permission to share it:



I’ve been watching a fair amount of the debate between and proponents like . It’s been quite useful for identifying the sticking points. I noticed some recurring themes that illustrate a need for clarification in any messaging around the subject.

1) UBI is not a handout, it’s an investment.
The instinct to attach a work requirement to government assistance comes from viewing the money as a giveaway.  This isn’t a present for people to go have a good time. It’s an investment in their well-being and in their future.

Rather than giving people money in exchange for their time, we should give them money and let them use their time *more* productively than that. People want to live and to do good things. We don’t have to demand compensation from people. We just need to invest in ourselves.

2) The universality of the plan is the only way to stop people from falling through cracks in the system; as millions do today.
No system can factor in all the complexities of American life. Better to offer help to all those not in need than to fail to help anyone who needs it.

Taxation should be progressive. Government programs should be universal, including and especially, financial assistance. If you want to adjudicate relative societal contributions, taxation is the mechanism for that. Attempts to offer assistance unevenly are deeply misguided.

3) The realities of work in the 21st century (gig economy and ever higher turnover rates) mean that even full-time professionals in many fields can suddenly have a bad month and come up short.
     Many have unpredictable incomes. UBI is the only realistic way to give them stability. Federal job programs have their place. They can accomplish a lot. But they should exist on top of a Universal Basic Income. If we start by helping people with food and shelter every month, they will be happier, healthier, mentally healthier, and so, be better members of society.

Often the underlying ideology behind the view that we need a FJG *instead* of a UBI is that people need jobs for a sense of purpose, & so must be required to work for the money. Give them money. They’ll find their own purpose. And it will be far more fulfilling *and* productive.


A Simple Basic Income Stimulus Bill


The Coronavirus Emergency Relief Effort Act

Beginning April 1st, 2020, and continuing in perpetuity during the Covid-19 crisis, with review every 6 months, and regardless of income or assets, each person with a Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number shall receive:
$2000/month if age 18 or over
$1000/month if age 17 or younger

This emergency payment will not be counted as income or assets for the purpose of federal or state taxes, benefits or other means-tested programs, including, but not limited to:

  • TANF
  • Medicare/Medicaid
  • SSI
  • SSDI
  • SNAP

The federal government will recoup costs associated with this bill by implementing for the 2020 tax year, a 50% tax on all personal income and assets over $10M, and a corporate tax of 75% on all income and assets over $100M.

This tax may be renewed yearly in order to maintain the CARE payments, in the event the health crisis continues past 2020, or in the event Congress votes to make the CARE payment permanent.

In order to maintain the simplicity of the CARE provided, no other riders or provisos may be amended to this bill.



“Take care of each other… just not *those* people”

There’s a FB post, made a couple of years ago by one Lori Gallagher Witt, listing all the reasons she’s a liberal: https://www.facebook.com/thethinker42/posts/10155931022478700

It’s making the rounds again, miss-attributed to Ron Howard, and just like every other time it comes around, it gets under my skin…

Here’s #4 in her list:

I don’t believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don’t want to work. I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. Somehow believing that makes me a communist.

And her statement at the close of her letter:

I think that about covers it. Bottom line is that I’m a liberal because I think we should take care of each other. That doesn’t mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money.

Sound familiar?

It’s the usual, expected knee-jerk argument against Basic Income. “We’re supposed to take care of each other, but not those lazy freeloaders who’ll take your Hard Earned Money!”

I do believe that a wealthy, civilized, modern nation should provide a stable financial floor for all of it’s citizens, regardless of their participation in paid employment.  I believe to fail to do so is an abrogation of our duty as a society.  I believe that the health and maturity of our society is based on how we treat the lowest in our midst, not how happy the highest are- and the USA’s ‘health and maturity’ is suffering from cultural Ebola, SARS and Coronavirus all at once.

I believe very strongly that things like “job guarantees” and minimum wage laws, implemented without a Universal Basic Income to support them, are ageist, ableist, and leave out huge segments of the population who are doing things that don’t fit the Real Job paradigm.

The belief that only Hard Workingtm Americans are worthy of societal benefits without gatekeeping, shame or being called a “lazy neighbor” is part and parcel of a long tradition of social conditioning; that adult human beings must participate in paid employment to be valid, to have ‘pride’ and self worth, and to be considered ‘productive’ members of society.

It’s created generations of people who believe they are somehow failing if they aren’t selling their labor to others, no matter what they actually are doing- freelance or contract work, unpaid caregiving, volunteering and civic work; even things with no financial return on investment, because why in the hell is everything in our society based on how much money it does or doesn’t bring in??

This cultural whip-cracking is the source of uncounted hours of mental anguish and suffering- people hating themselves for not having the right kind of job, people staying in exploitative, harmful jobs because they don’t have a functional choice, people neglecting family, friends, themselves because they’ve had it drilled into them from day one that work comes first, and if you’re not working, you are LITERALLY worthless.

And all of that is clearly enumerated in Lori’s post. She’s a liberal, she thinks we should be helping people out… but only the right kind of people. Only those who are ‘contributing’.  Everyone else can bugger right off, because they’re just “lazy”.  It’s liberal… but it’s “I’ve got mine, fuck you” liberalism.


If we are to be truly “liberal” with helping others, we need to understand that the first step is to lay a solid foundation with Universal Basic Income.

Means Testing is Power and Control Based Gatekeeping

The reason businesses get away with paying disabled workers a few dollars an hour, is because there are hard asset and income limits for access to services.

If the disabled get paid minimum wage, they lose not just disability payments, but access to housing, medical care, social supports, etc. Yes, they might be making more *money*, but most of the other services they get are not based on how disabled they are, they’re based on how much money they have- “too much” money = no services. And many of those services aren’t available outside of state disability agencies.

The real problem isn’t (just) greedy corporations, it’s twofold- first, the cultural gaslighting that adult human beings in our society must have a Real Job to be valued and “productive”.

This is so very pervasive that special-ed kids in high school are given “vocational training” for important jobs like…sorting recycling and folding towels.  Emptying the trash and sweeping floors.

Menial jobs, that aren’t being done by anyone else, so we’ll give them to the disabled kids, and by God they’ll feel productive! Like they’re a Real Adult! Someone who can EARN their way, and not just be a drain on society! (/sarcasm)

The second issue is that getting access to disability services isn’t based on being disabled. Although there is a lengthy and often demeaning process to prove you’re “disabled enough”, the first barrier to access is finances- you must be “poor enough” to apply; and you must stay poor, or lose your benefits.

To solve this problem, we need to end means-testing for the disabled.

It should be enough for us, as a wealthy, compassionate society, for someone to say “I need assistance and support existing in this world that is designed for able bodied and neurotypical people”, and we should make sure they get the support they need.

Anything else is demanding that the disabled prove themselves worthy to receive the largesse of society, and a way for the Haves to maintain control over the Have Nots.

Only Basic Income, along with need-based services (rather than means-based services) treats all humans with inherent dignity and worth.

Shame. Shame. Shame.

I’m sure many of you have seen this image going around:


The idea of this, (and similar images, memes and tweets going around), is that the USA already has programs like the ones that the political right are calling “socialist”; and that the politically right states that protest against “socialism” are often the highest beneficiaries of those social programs.

This has been shown to be true- most recently in a study by WalletHub . States that lean right tend to be poorer, have more people on welfare and medicare, and receive more in federal funds than they put into the system.

But there’s something else happening in this meme- something subtle and insidious- it’s shame. By calling out welfare recipients, by implying that they are “too stupid” to vote in their best interests, it reinforces stereotypes. It shames these people for being on welfare, for being a “drain” on the system, for taking more than their “fair share” of federal funds.

And in that way, it says exactly the opposite of the message Basic Income is trying to send; that everyone deserves a dividend of our nation’s wealth, that by being a citizen -regardless of your employment status- you are worthy of having a stable financial floor that keeps you from falling into extreme poverty.

Yes, it is important for us to push back against the “ZOMG SOCIALISM!” boogieman; to point out that we already have collectively funded services, that every other developed nation with a functioning government (ie, not Venezuela) has working, robust social service programs paid for out of common funds that uplift the entire nation.

But it is also important for us not to uphold the image of people on social programs as second-class citizens, or that utilizing social programs is somehow a personal failing or lack.

Social Overhaul Daydreaming

In my Nuke It All & Rebuild fantasy of UBI, we start with a $1000/month UBI for everyone, period, that gets raised yearly for 5 years until we hit a % of GNP; after which it stays at that %, and never drops below $3000. We put this in the Constitution (along with the way overdue ERA), so that it can’t ever get hacked by an anti-social-programs government *cough*GOP*cough*

Then, we stop all payments into Social Security, and everyone, of any age, who paid into it is given a choice of a monthly payment, or putting the lump sum into an IRA (or other stable savings account), with a guarantee that they will get ALL their money back. No more interest-free loans for our government to loot, and then act like we’re somehow greedy for wanting that money back.

Next we overhaul welfare, food stamps, housing and unemployment to have less overlap, less red tape, and less systemic shaming. We make them systems that are designed to serve and support, not assembly line people back into poverty.  (While we’re at it, most child protective services agencies and foster care programs need a hard reboot, too)

While this is happening, we implement national single payer health care, that includes 100% mental, dental and vision health parity, and puts the decision making power back in the hands of the doctor/patient relationship, not bean counters and shareholders. None of this “Pre-existing condition” crap that no other country deals with.  Women’s health, queer health, trans health is covered, all of it, even the parts that squick you. (Oh, and birth control of any type and all vaccinations are no cost to the consumer. Ever.)

This is on top of making post-high school education free and accessible to anyone who wants it- and this includes trade schools, so called “blue collar” education, apprenticeships and other not-college-degree based education. We need to end the stigma of non-college jobs, and quit holding college up as the gateway to financial success, when it is actually causing massive debt, and the job market doesn’t have a place for thousands of graduates.

Once we have a UBI in place that creates a financial floor for everyone, regardless of employment status or employability, then we look to local governments to create minimum wage laws that are reasonable for the cost of living in their area- because $15/hour is going to be inadequate in a place like San Francisco, but might be a huge boost in a place like Bozeman, MT.

Then, we create structures that ensure that the vulnerable of our population- the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, veterans- have adequate, tailored, appropriate services and care. No making them “spend down” into poverty just to get help, no making them justify their existence, no tying their access to needed help and support into their ability to “get a job”. We take care of them, because it it the right and humane thing to do.

“But Ms. W4UBI…” I hear the whining begin “How will we *pay* for it? Why should my Hard Earned Dollars(tm) go to lazy freeloaders?”

How about we start with iron clad, no loopholes anywhere tax rates on income and assets over 1M for individuals? How about we have the same for businesses that are raking in billions a year, and are managing to come out with no tax burden at all? How about we stop letting the rich make money off of our hard work and labor, while we get minimal and begrudging benefits (that we’re paying for anyhow!)? Then we can explore the dozens and dozens of other funding options. We seem to have no problem paying for trillions in military expenditures, why not try doing something functional with that money for a change?

And we do it, even if you think Those People are freeloaders, because we’re trying to be a mature, healthy civilization, not a random assortment of selfish asshats who only care about themselves. Because societies are interdependent in ways that the “I’ve got mine, fuck you” people can’t even comprehend. Because WE CAN DO BETTER.

Basic Income for Human Creativity

Today, I was reading a post by a friend of mine.  They are an amazingly talented artist, musician and playwright, who’s works inspire contemplation.  They are feeling inspired and excited by ideas lately, their Muse is speaking to them… and they are having to ignore their muse, because all of their time and energy is going to bill-paying physical labor employment.

I see another group of my friends crowdfunding so that they can keep their jobs, because they are a small, creative, innovative company in a sea of big fish, in an industry where making one product costs millions, and then you hope it makes enough money to create the next product.

I know so many creative, talented people who would be so much happier and healthier if they could be focused on creating, instead of The Bottom Line.

People who would be happy to occasionally do work for “exposure”, and not have to think about putting a price tag on their human worth every time they make a piece of art.

People who regularly have to spend money self-promoting in the hope that they break even, because there needs to be food on the table.

People who have given up pursuing their creativity, because they need to make rent.

People who’s spark and soul are being crushed by having to take whatever paid employment they can.

What are we, as a species, losing because we demand that human creativity be set aside in favor of paid employment? How many bright sparks are snuffed out because they can’t afford to go to art school, or writing workshops, or learn to play an instrument? How much joy is being sucked out of our existence by denying that creativity is part of the human condition?

Our society has built a narrative around creative people; their creativity is only “worth something” if they are able to fit it into our income=human value framework. Look at the archetype of the Starving Artist:  financially incapable, anti-social, dependent on others, inconsistent and inconsiderate. Oh yes, their art is amazing, but aren’t they pitiful? Their life would be so much better if they’d just start acting like a Responsible Adult, instead!

We revile the artist who turns their back on our paid-employment-centric worldview.  We see them as irresponsible and burdensome- until the moment their art becomes financially valuable, and then we laud their efforts.

Imagine what could happen if artists didn’t have to be “starving” to focus on their art. Imagine if we gave everyone, including creative people, a stable financial floor, so they could make decisions about their time, energy and resources that aren’t based on fundamental survival.  What would we see flourish when we have a society that’s not focused on wealth acquisition and ‘socially acceptable’ productivity?