An Idea Whose Time has Come

The purpose of this blog is to document my thoughts regarding my leaving of Evangelical Christianity. But I am starting to realize that deconversion from Christianity has traveling partners. Growing up in the South, at the tail end of the Cold War, any idea that had even a whiff of socialism or communism about it was condemned as un-American, un-Christian, and just plain wrong. The US so reviled communism that we had not only spent decades on a hair trigger with Russia, but we had actually fought in two wars in Asia in an attempt to beat back the “spreading cancer.” We were willing to build an arsenal that could wipe out all life on our planet just several times over rather, and could not countenance the idea that there were those who may actually choose a socialist state as the best hope for their health and happiness. Closer to home, there was the abhorrence of the Welfare system, food stamps, and government housing. Now, I am not so naïve as to think that the Cold War was solely an issue of differing economic philosophies, nor that the complaints about Welfare were anything other than thinly-veiled racism, but casting our minds back to the pervading attitudes of that time is helpful in understanding where we find ourselves today.

My wife and I moved to England in 2003. She grew up here but had lived in the States for a few years. As our relationship grew I became acquainted with a different view of things, so that, by the time we arrived, I had a good understanding of the NHS and was able to hit the ground running when it came to understanding the social support framework of the UK. Here was a Western democracy that, while not perfect, provided for people’s needs in a way unfathomable to the American mind. Not perfect, and not without debate, but at work in people’s lives. People were worthy of help simply because they were people. Government policy may change, but the philosophy remained.

In 2008, my dad had worked as a mechanic on large construction equipment at the same company for over 15 years. He was respected, had a longstanding career, and worked in construction in one of the fastest-growing areas of the country. He bought property with some of his retirement money as down payment and had his heart set on doing some improvements and selling it for profit. And then the financial crisis hit and destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people. Construction stopped. Demand for repairs on construction equipment stopped. My dad lost his job. On top of that he now had a mortgage he couldn’t afford on a property he couldn’t sell. Along with millions of other Americans that would rather have done ANYTHING else, my dad had to file for unemployment. I don’t say this to shame my dad. Rather, I think of him as an example in my own family of what the whole country did. En masse the country had to face the reality that sometimes good, hard-working, honest people need help, and very quickly the public stigma associated with Welfare, food stamps, and government housing evaporated.

It is now twelve years later and we are in the grip of a different kind of crisis. Covid-19 has reshaped societies all over the world. Here in the UK, in the first lockdown, a miracle happened. Several miracle, actually. We suddenly found the will, as a society, to house every single homeless person. We reaffirmed the truth that society means looking after each other, doing things we normally wouldn’t do to help others. We stayed home from work. We stayed home from school. We stayed off the road and out of shops. And the government found the money to make sure people stayed fed and could pay their bills. The result? People began to focus on family and health. They took up new hobbies and dusted off old musical instruments. Very briefly, the environment began to heal. Again, far from perfect, but it worked.

And then something terrible happened: things went back to normal. Not completely normal, but normal enough. All the stress came back just like the traffic. But did it have to go back to normal? Could we have not made intentional, societal, forever changes that would have benefitted everyone? Could we not do it now?

I have several points I could make, but the one I had in mind for today is this:

It is time for a universal basic income.

We could decide today that making sure everyone has their basic needs met is the next logical step in a civilized modern society. Everyone housed, everyone fed, everyone with healthcare, everyone with heating and clean water. With everyone’s needs met, they would then be free to meet their wants to whatever degree they chose to work for. People would still get jobs, pay taxes, and keep the economy going. But they would be free to do great things as well. Things like volunteering for worthy causes, looking after the elderly and vulnerable, and a million other things that remain undone because of work commitment. People would be free to start small businesses and follow their dreams, passions, and talent without the anxiety of losing everything if the venture fails. What if people could do what they want instead of what they must? Mental health issues instigated by poverty would evaporate, leaving much-needed healthcare money free to go to other worthy uses. Instead of being the authoritarian bear of our Cold War nightmares, would that be true freedom?

To recycle a phrase from earlier, I am not so naïve as to think it would be simple. There would be those that would take advantage; there always are. But that happens on both sides. For every benefit cheat there are ten corporate millionaires that like things just fine the way they are, thank you. Some would try to do the least possible, but they would have less in the end. Some would try to engineer the system to get rich dishonestly or get a choice place in a position of power. Doesn’t that happen now?

I believe a universal basic income is an idea whose time has come. We must debate and refine it, but it is the only responsible way forward.

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