Tickets please

From this morning’s Creepbook for Business feed (the author’s name removed to save their blushes);

Well, yes but….

Using the same logic, a bus driver should receive about a quarter of the salary of the pilot of a 777 passenger aircraft.

The ground crew responsible for connecting the air bridge to the aircraft should probably get a “not killing people” bonus for every successfully alighted passenger too.

Also, every car driver giving a lift to 2 passengers should receive a payment of around a 15th of the bus driver pro-rata to take in to account that it’s not a full time job.

In addition, we might make an argument that there should be a “not killing people with a vehicle” bonus offered to all potential jihadists whenever they get behind the wheel.

Ok, those were facetious examples but they illustrate the point. We don’t pay people commensurate with the risk that they might kill others; it is surely a consideration but there are multiple other contributing factors which determine the value we place on a profession.

Some other elements which we use to determine the VALUE (to use the original author’s stylistics) of a profession;

  1. Rarity of the skills required
  2. Danger of activity being undertaken
  3. Entry costs of joining the profession
  4. Availability of similar or adjacent services or products

 

(1) and (4) are closely-related; if I need to fly between New York and Washington, I could purchase the services of an airline pilot, a train driver, a bus driver or rent a car and drive myself.

The airline pilot has the most complex training, entry costs to the profession and highest level of regulation to comply with but this doesn’t result in their salary being the highest in the country.

Why?

Because we have alternatives to their service which match our appetite for risk, cost, comfort and speed. If, to pay the pilot’s salary, the airline needs to charge $10,000 a ticket for a short round trip between two cities, most people would choose to take the train, bus or drive themselves. Heck, for ten grand, you could buy a secondhand car specifically for the journey.

The author of the comments on the news article above is not asking the right question. The interesting question is not, “shouldn’t we pay bus drivers more money because they could kill 30 people in one crash?” but, “given that bus drivers can kill 30 people in one crash, why are the salaries of bus drivers the world over consistently lower than other professions?“.

Bill’s Opinion

Bus drivers get paid at the rate they do because;

  • It’s a commodity skill that literally every sane and able-bodied adult can master by attending a short training course, exam and subsequent re-testing.
  • Not killing people by negligence or malice is a fundamental axiom by which we expect everyone in society to comply. You don’t get a prize because you didn’t kill anyone at work today.
  • By choosing to drive a bus for a career, you have consciously concluded that  neurosurgeon, barrister, airline pilot, internet entrepreneur, engineer, professional soccer player, international assassin, etc. are all out of reach of your capabilities at this time, all of which pay better than bus driver.

 

What we are prepared to pay for individual professions is determined by the VALUE (sic) we judge the profession to provide, a judgement made against multiple factors not just the fact that they could have killed us but but managed not to today.

Is Universal Basic Income just Marxism by another name?

There is a steady stream of mentions in the media of a concept called Universal Basic Income and a general view that it is “a good thing”.

Definitions of what is actually involved in implementing a UBI or critical analysis of the concept rarely accompany these references to it.

We intend to undertake this missing analysis here.

Definitions;

UBI is variously described as;

  1. a non-means tested guaranteed “wage” to all citizens of a country to cover basic shelter and food needs, or
  2. as above but for all residents of a country, or
  3. as above but globally, i.e. every human

 

The last option falls apart quite quickly upon analysis, so let’s clear that up first;

Option 3. How would we fund and distribute a global UBI?

There would need to be a global collection method, an agreement between all major economies (as they would presumably be the main net contributors) on the level of income per capita and whether or not there would be sliding scale based on relative cost of living in each location.

Then we would need to solve the problem of distribution, taking particular care not to consolidate power or increase the opportunity for corruption which would prevent the funds reaching the intended recipients.

Put simply, there would need to be some level of world government to siphon off the money and redistribute back to every human alive. This sounds very familiar to the well-documented previously failed experiments in central planning and control. To paraphrase P. J. O’Rourke, “socialism works very well within the boundaries of my house; it’s just failed every time anyone has tried to scale it up beyond that”.

Option 3 is pure Marxism, in other words and should be called out as such at every opportunity.

Option 1 and 2. How would we fund and distribute a national UBI?

This is a more nuanced question. Tim Worstall suggests that a national UBI could have significant personal and national benefits, possibly resulting in a higher standard of living for all. Tim’s analysis relies on a major assumption to fund the UBI, however; it will need replace all other forms of government largesse to the population, so no welfare state, no medicare/medicaid, no state insurances, no tax breaks for business, etc.

Those familiar with the concept of the Overton Window will quickly realise that, although Tim’s analysis might work mathematically and perhaps have a good grounding in economic theory, the blending of what is essentially a proposal for a method of central redistribution to result in a “small government” would require the voting public to accept a range of political ideas with a level of nuance not previously documented. In effect, they are being asked to accept the concept of blending the collectivist preference for a benevolent state with the Libertarian preference for individual freedom and responsibility. It completely challenges the almost genetically-accepted idea that left and right are at opposite ends of a political spectrum.

This isn’t to denigrate the intelligence and subtlety of the average voter, but to simply recognise that they are unlikely to invest the time out from their day to day lives to fully engage with the idea of a UBI that replaces all current state-distributed safety nets. This is likely to be mainly a failing of the communication skills of political class, underpinned by a very solid undercurrent of distrust and loathing from the voting public.

If Tim Worstall’s version of UBI is so very unlikely, are there any other proposed method of implementing it?

The Socialist Party of Ireland suggests that a UBI is only practical if all major industry is taken into state control, which simply proves the axiom that, to a man with a hammer, the entire world looks like a nail.

Socialist Appeal (“the Marxist tendency of the movements of workers and youth in Britain“) are deeply sceptical of the concept unless it is is also accompanied by major tax increases. Obviously, this completely contradicts the economic analysis of Mr. Worstall and, again, refers us back to the hammer/nail analogy.

Bill’s Opinion

To answer the original question; “Is Universal Basic Income just Marxism by another name?“, the answer is clearly, “yes, if you ask a Marxist“. The answer will be different if you are discussing it with a proponent of smaller government.

Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. How about the following;

Is a UBI likely to be ever successfully implemented in a democratic nation?

Not a chance; the definition of and implementation of a UBI has such a myriad of options that each will see in it only what their personal agenda desires. To reach a broad political consensus on what the best and most feasible solution is to implement would require more agreement across the political spectrum than has ever been witnessed before.

Anyone who presents it as an option should be challenged to show how the major political and economic ideologies can have their differences reconciled before being allowed to waste any more of our time suggesting the concept.