Why Wouldn’t This Work? Universal Basic Income on a credit card.

A monthly-expiring access to a basic-needs-meeting amount of “cash” in the form of a credit card.

Andrew Yang called it a “freedom dividend” during his 2020 Presidential campaign. Its most often referred to as UBI, and I’ve also seen it as BIG (Basic Income Guarantee.) Discussing and researching the purpose, merits, history, current climate of this concept is fascinating for me. Although I don’t agree with everything that he says, I agree with Elon Musk when he said that not only is he “in favor of universal basic income,” but that “some form of UBI will be necessary over time.”

One talking point about UBI is the question of how to get the money to each individual. Like a check in that mail every month? A direct deposit into an account? A whole new currency?

Here’s what I propose: every adult individual covered by such a UBI program would get a special card. Let’s call it a UBI card. Let’s assume that the program is a straight 1000USD a month. This card, for all intents and purposes, can be used similarly as a credit card. Wherever mastercard (for example) is accepted, this card is, too. There are two catches. There’s an obvious limit of $1000, and the $1000 expires on the 1st of every month. You can’t save-up this money. Whatever you don’t use of the $1000 gets put back into the system every month.

How does that sound?

Let me explain my thoughts.

You can’t easily hoarding or save this “cash”. Sure, you can work another job and save that cash, but this cash would (mostly) go directly back into the economy.

This card could be 100% digital, not dissimilar to how so many people are paying “with their phone.” And the $1000 is just a place holder for the right figure. And the expiring funds could be once every two weeks or once every two months. But this is my general concept of funds that are accessible, can’t be hoarded, have no-strings-attached, and support an individual’s basic needs.

Will people try to cheat the system? Buy items and sell them for cold hard cash? Create some “credit points for cash” laundering system? Move abroad to live quite cheaply in semi-luxury while continuing to receive UBI? Sure. But UBI is to help those who need it the most. There are always going to be cheaters in every system, and that shouldn’t allow a large population to suffer. Consider it a sunk cost. Let them “cheat.”

As already mentioned, the card can be used similarly to a credit card. Can you set it up to automatically pay your bills or rent? Yes, of course! Buy plane tickets? Yes. Online shopping, local pubs, university textbooks, shiny new car rims… There wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be many usage limits.

Local businesses would love these cards. With the knowledge that some customers really need this money and to others its a surplus, they could have a pay-what-you-want-though-there’s-a-minimum for their products or services. This actually works, as Radiohead may have been the first mainstream proof. With an extra $1000 every month, I’d definitely give my little local coffee shop $10 for a coffee every week or so. Why not?

There are so many wonderful artists passionately creating videos, podcasts, literature, and so on with subscription- and/or advertisement-based income. With an extra $1000, the creators could focus a little more on their passion and quality of work. And I know that I, personally, would be much happier to “give $6 a month on Patreon” to a dozen or so of my favorite creators if I had an extra $1000 to spend. More art in the world? How excellent!

For those who really don’t personally need this cash, automatic donations systems would most certainly be set-up and be fully legitimate.

Will some people rush to use the rest of their $1000 at the end of every month? Absolutely. And some of that will be good for local businesses. Some of it will certainly be environmentally disastrous as mindless consumerism often is. I believe most of the novelty of “hurry up and buy stuff before your card zeros out again” will wear off after a few months.

Most importantly, and balancing out any “well-what-abouts” is the fact that those that need it the most would have easy and entire access to this $1000 bucks a month. A life changing amount of money for many individuals.

Both a creative and critical thinker, I am a UX designer based in Japan.

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