A basic guaranteed income in the context of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

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Of all the articles I've written, this is the one I treasure the most. It is also one of the most read articles on my blog, The Digital Firehose. I offer it to you here for your enjoyment, and for a more permanent home on Steemit. 

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There has been some discussion lately of a guaranteed basic income. Instead of welfare, everyone, regardless of age or wealth will receive a check from the government as basic income for a year.

A guaranteed basic income is mainly a liberal idea and has actually been around a long, long time. It is surprising to see even some conservatives giving serious consideration to the idea. But given how low skill jobs are slowly disappearing at the hidden hand of automation, as a culture, we need to remember that not everyone is an expert. It just isn't humane to let people starve because they missed the boat, or were not gifted investors with friends in the right places.

Despite the conservative rhetoric that a basic income guaranteed (BIG) would create further dependence on the welfare state, there is significant evidence to the contrary. Radio host and humanitarian Thom Hartmann has taken note of the benefits of a BIG:

A paper published in 2013 looked at two groups in Uganda: one group that received a no-strings attached grant equal to their annual income - about 380 dollars per person - and a control group that received no grant. And what did the unemployed youth do when they were “paid not to work”?
The group that received the grant worked on average an extra 17 hours in comparison to the control group. And they showed a 41% increase in earnings four years after receiving the grant. They invested in skills and businesses. Individuals were 65% more likely to practice a skilled trade two years after receiving the grants. 

Interesting, isn't it? That looks to me like once the basic needs were met, people were free to starting thinking about and acting on what they really, really wanted to do. Consider this chart of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:

This is a concept I learned about long ago. Back then I wanted to be a therapist, but then I learned about the abysmal pay of social workers, so I got into IT instead. Anyway, the chart shows where we start with meeting our needs. Throughout our lives, we are primarily focused on meeting the bottom two, physiological and safety needs.

As we create a stable environment for ourselves for physical and emotional safety, we start looking for love and fellowship. That builds esteem and as we build esteem, we begin to think of who we really want to be and how we can contribute to our culture and society.

When people are faced with the choice to work a dead end job just to keep things going or starve, they will invariably find work, even if they don't like the work. But that way of life is a life of constant fear and self-loathing. "Hey, the money's good, but I really hate my job." Without that guaranteed income, it's hard to take a break, step back and get a job to love rather than hate.

Knowing that BIG is there means being able to invest time and effort into new skills. It also means being able to choose a job to love rather than just taking what comes next. When we're doing what we love, that builds esteem to the point where we are self-actualized. What, exactly does that mean?

There are some slightly differing opinions about what self-actualization is, but it is described in the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article on the subject as follows:

"Expressing one's creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society are examples of self-actualization." (emphasis mine)

Think for a moment about what this means. If our basic needs are met, then we are more able pursue work we enjoy. I once had a video production teacher who said, "Love what you do for work and never work a day in your life". People who love what they do work to give, not to receive. Look at every great actor, songwriter or artist. All of them do it because there is a drive, a force, that compels them to do it. It's just not that easy to make a living as an artist unless you're one of the best.

That's why for many centuries, artistic works were commissioned by the wealthiest alive throughout history. Anyone who has ever seen the J. Paul Getty Museum will know what I'm talking about.

A guaranteed basic income would create a culture where more people are doing jobs they love rather than have to do for survival. They're thinking about the work, not the money. That leads to more productive people, happier people, lower turnover. That would also make employers more accountable, maybe even more polite, for fear of turnover. Turnover is expensive.

The current capitalist system reduces life to a fight over a sandwich. An eye for an eye and everyone is blind. But Darwin said that the fittest shall survive, not the strongest. A country filled with men and women who are doing what they love will outperform any another country filled with men and women who have been foreclosed of every opportunity for advancement (where we've been headed for 35 years).

A basic guaranteed income means we can let go of the basics and work on self-actualization. We can work to give rather than work to receive. We can think BIG.

Originally published on The Digital Firehose, July 15, 2015.

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