Basic Income, Bullshit Jobs, Poverty and Military Spending

To begin with, basic income would give us all genuine freedom. Nowadays, numerous people are forced to spend their entire working lives doing jobs they consider to be pointless. Jobs like telemarketer, HR manager, social media strategist, PR advisor, and a whole host of administrative positions at hospitals, universities, and government offices. “Bullshit jobs,” the anthropologist David Graeber calls them. They’re the jobs that even the people doing them admit are, in essence, superfluous.

And we’re not talking about just a handful of people here. In a survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission. Another recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a bullshit job.

A study conducted at Harvard found that Reagan-era tax cuts sparked a mass career switch among the country’s finest minds, from teachers and engineers to bankers and accountants. Whereas in 1970 twice as many male Harvard grads were still opting for a life devoted to research over banking, 20 years later the balance had flipped, with one and a half times as many alumni employed in finance.

Nowhere are there as many bullshit jobs, however, as in Silicon Valley. A survey of 5,000 software developers and engineers last year found that, in the words of The Economist, “many of them feel alienated, trapped, underappreciated and otherwise discombobulated.” Only 19% of tech employees say they are satisfied with their jobs. A mere 17% feel valued. Or, as a former math whiz working at Facebook lamented a few years ago: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” …

The second argument for free cash is that it would wipe out poverty once and for all. As an investment, its potential is nothing short of spectacular. A 2013 study estimated the costs of child poverty in the U.S. at as much as $500 billion a year. Eradicating poverty, by contrast, would cost only $175 billion, according to economist Matt Bruenig’s calculations. That’s roughly a quarter of the U.S. military budget. As a matter of fact, all the world’s developed countries had it within their means to eliminate poverty years ago.

Why free money beats bullshit jobs