Universal Basic Indifference

It appears that the political and economic establishment have no practical solution to the rise of populism. Europe’s far right in particular seems only to be being diminished by Trump’s first few months in office. In the Netherlands, and with my limited Dutch, I can see the same pattern being repeated as in the US and UK. The media and politicians point out the failures in the particular far right candidate, rather than proposing practical solutions to the underlying issues that cause people to vote for these parties.

When Trump and Brexit won, many were shocked at how their country had become ‘racist’. Yet is it fair to blame the economically marginalized for digesting the message they’ve been fed for the majority of their lives? Economic misfortune can be given an easy scapegoat in the form of immigration and globalisation. It’s easier to look at the factories which have moved abroad and decry the government and system that oversaw such a move, than to articulate to the voting public that the nature of global capitalism is instead what is to blame.

Governments have blamed the results of failed foreign policy on immigration and the inequalities resulting from international capitalism on supranational institutions, bad deals and a loss of sovereignty (Farage’s EU, Trumps NAFTA). Western unity and the prosperity of the few is under threat. Yet governments still cling to the norms with which they have become accustomed, and in doing so, risks further escalating the rage being expressed by the people.

So what could be the solution? I believe that this lurch to the right will in some way be solved by the implementation of Universal Basic Income(UBI). Terrorism can be (ineffectively) fought through mass surveillance and a concentration of military might. Economic marginalization, the arguable crux of dissatisfaction, will prove more stubborn. One possibility is that those who decry immigration might feel less inclined to do so if they have the means to live in comfort and the full financial ability to lose themselves in the trappings of the age of information. There have been murmurings. The media is mentioning the system, its implementation is being trialed, darling technocrat Elon Musk has spoken and whilst it is currently but a marginal idea decried by certain ideologues, statements of the past have never yet held politicians to account. UBI would give comfort to the economically uncomfortable of today. It is certainly an attractive solution, especially those for those looking to prop up capitalism, but what would a post UBI world look like?

Though the effects of the rising right may be disastrous, could its surge be interpreted as a positive force? Perhaps 2016 will be looked upon as an awakening of the politically disenfranchised to the reality of the unfair system in which they exist. However, is UBI too tempting and simple a solution? Perhaps we should worry about its long term effects (Though it’s important to clarify liberation from work is not a negative).

If we are given the means to insulate ourselves from the decisions of our leaders, is it then not an all encompassing pacification of political engagement? UBI could be an all too comfortable baseline, with which an even larger proportion of the population may be happy to ignore the negative externalities created abroad, by the foreign and economic policy used to push for further ‘progress’.

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