by James Corbett
July 21, 2018
As you may or may not know, depending on how much anarchist sci-fi literature you consume, "TANSTAAFL" is an acronym meaning "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." But while TANSTAAFL may have been popularized by Robert Heinlein in his 1996 classic, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, at base it's just a reformulation of the age-old historical wisdom that nothing advertised as "free" is ever really free. As anyone ever suckered into a high-pressure timeshare pitch on the basis of a "free weekend getaway" offer will know, there is always a hidden cost to any "free" item.
So when one particular "free lunch" idea is being pimped by a rogue's gallery of tyrants and billionaires—from Nobel Warmonger Barack Obama to rabid eugenicist Bill Gates to Facebook founder Mark Zucker-borg to serial scammer Elon Musk—you might want to ask yourself what the real cost of this manna from heaven is.
And which "free lunch" idea am I referring to, exactly? Why, universal basic income (UBI), of course.
For the few people reading this who've never heard of UBI, it refers to a program in which every* citizen receives a periodic payment from the government with no strings attached* (*more on these asterisks in a moment). The idea is promoted by organizations like the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) as a means of promoting "liberty and equality, efficiency and community, common ownership of the Earth and equal sharing in the benefits of technical progress, the flexibility of the labour market and the dignity of the poor, the fight against inhumane working conditions, against the desertification of the countryside and against interregional inequalities, the viability of cooperatives and the promotion of adult education, autonomy from bosses, husbands and bureaucrats."
In other words: Free lunch is served, everybody!
Although the idea of a UBI has been around for decades, it never really caught on until everyone began fearing that the rise of the robots and the automation of everything will leave masses of people unemployed and angry. Now it's the hottest discussion topic for technocrats and tyrants of all stripes, from the literal transhumanists of Futurism.com to the pampered plutocrats at the World Economic Forum. And as BIEN and their like-minded basic income proponents will tell you, it's not just an idea. Universal basic income programs are already being trialed all around the globe!
. . . Well, OK, not universal basic income. That's still not being trialed. But small-scale studies involving thousands of people are being done in Finland, Canada, Kenya, Brazil. A UBI-type program is now even being proposed in Chicago (with Obomber's blessing, of course).
But perhaps you are a tad incredulous that a government program to "unconditionally" rain helicopter money down on everyone will really solve poverty or end unemployment. If so, then give yourself a cookie. The proposal is a scam on every level, one being proposed by economic illiterates who truly believe they have found the secret to poverty eradication hiding out in plain sight. "Just give everybody free money!" Oh, of course! Why didn't I think of that?
Now you might think that there is some nuance here that is being missed. "Come on, James," you rejoin. "Surely the UBI advocates aren't arguing that giving everybody in the US $12,000 a year will raise everyone to the federal poverty line and thus eradicate poverty, are they? I mean, they know about inflation, right?"
No, you don't understand. That's exactly what they're arguing. Go on, listen. This is literally the same level of economic understanding that I had when I used to discuss these ideas with my friends in elementary school. I mean, really, if giving everybody $12,000 a year would end poverty, why stop there? Give everybody $1,000,000 a year and everyone will be a millionaire! Awesome!
But this is not an economic argument. If it were simply a case of some well-meaning but mathematically challenged do-gooders trying to end poverty with magical money from the government printing press, that would be one thing. But it is much worse than that. It is yet another case where the eugenicists and technocrats are using the good intentions and naïveté of the masses to forge the next link in the chain that binds the people to the powers-that-shouldn't-be.
Remember those asterisks in the UBI description above: "every* citizen receives a periodic payment from the government with no strings attached*." Let's interrogate those propositions, shall we?
Will every citizen receive this payment? Yes, absolutely . . . I mean, as long as they have a bank account that the government can deposit funds into, obviously. And who doesn't have a bank account these days?
Oh, how about the vast majority of the poorest people on the planet? Well then they'll just have to get banked! And to help that process along, why not create a government program to mandate biometric identification for every citizen in the country that can then be tied directly to their bank account and taxation records?
Sound far-fetched? It's already been done. It's called India's Aadhaar program, and it has enrolled 1.2 billion Indian residents in the world's largest biometric database (with only a couple of minor hiccups along the way). When discussing the UBI idea from the Indian perspective at Davos last year, Amitabh Kant—the CEO of the Indian government's main policy think tank—actually bragged that Aadhaar would make Indian implementation of UBI a snap. Now if only the rest of the developing world would catch up and get their citizens biometrically scanned and databased we could get them out of poverty, too!
Which brings us to that other asterisk. You know, the "no strings attached" claim. The idea would be that everyone receives the payment automatically. No forms to fill out, no hoops to jump through, no bureaucracy, no exceptions.
. . . Except. Well, I mean there may be an exception here and there, right? You wouldn't want to give a UBI to a criminal, would you? Or a terrorist. Or someone who might potentially use the funds to undermine the state.
Think of how UBI might be implemented in China, for example. A country where a growing biometric control grid is feeding into an already sprawling surveillance state. A country where every citizen receives a social credit score to reward "good citizenship" and where that score is already being used to determine whether someone should be allowed to travel on trains or planes in the glorious socialist paradise of the People's Republic. Do you think it just might be possible that President-For-Life Xi and his ChiCom cronies might tie a "guaranteed" government income to the social credit score, too? Is it within the realm of possibility that those who fail to genuflect to the party flag might be flagged for political wrongthink and left off the roles of a Chinese UBI?
"But that's communist China, James. Such a thing wouldn't happen in the land of the free!"
Oh really? Then why are the participants in the World Economic Forum's UBI discussion all talking about tying the program to "civic responsibilities" like national service and mandatory vaccination and compulsory voting? What happens to those poor comrades who don't wish to worship at the feet of their government or legitimize the state in the charade of voting? Will we, too, be left out of this glorious socialist experiment? (Spoiler: Yes. Yes, we will.)
This is the logic of the "free" lunch. It's completely and totally free! . . . As long as you're willing to pay.
UBI proponents will pretend that anyone who disbelieves their fairy tale is in favor of the status quo or is a heartless libertarian monster who wants poor people to die (so why were Hayek and Friedman both for forms of guaranteed government income?). This is a strawman.
Poverty and unemployment are obviously real problems, but the roots of these problems are not a lack of bank-created, debt-based "money" being sloshed into people's electronic bank accounts each month and these problems will not be solved by magic government printing press pixie dust. They are caused by an erosion of the non-governmental civil institutions that once provided for the poor and sick within the community and the rise of the cradle-to-grave welfare state mentality where only the government can help the poor. They are caused by the banksters who create the debt treadmill that undergirds the monetary system itself, the politicians who foster public dependence on the state, the corporate cronies who weaken the public in order to sell their snake oil "remedies" to the poor and downtrodden, the technocrats who are all too happy to administer the system for their paymasters, and the kind-hearted naifs who believe that more government is the answer to the problems that more government has caused.
And the answer? The only true answer lies in us. As it always has and always will. And it involves turning away from the phoney-baloney monetary system that has been engineered around us, the technocrats that administer it, and the political puppets that run the show for their bankster string-pullers.
Sadly, that is not an easy task. It will require the painstaking labor of generations of dedicated, concerned individuals to build up the viable alternatives to the status quo, just as the erection of this bankster-ruled oligarchical nightmare took generations to put in place. And in that time, many will be lured away by the siren call of the hucksters offering their quick and easy fix of free money from on high.
But at least now when people go around ringing the lunch bell and assuring you it won't cost you a dime, you'll know exactly what to retort: TANSTAAFL!