Zoltan Istvan was on The Stark Truth to discuss his plan for a California State Basic Income (to be paid for by developing and monetizing federal land.) While I like Zoltan and think he probably would have been the best choice in the last presidential election (among the candidates running,) it goes without saying that I think this is a terrible idea. Not that I oppose the idea of a basic income. I am sympathetic to UBI generally, but I oppose this particular scheme for the following reasons:
1. It would be a shame to see any more of California’s beautiful land be ruined by commercial development. Many people believe that much of what has been developed already has been a mistake. What are they going to develop anyway? More social media ad agencies, useless phone app startups and overpriced McModern apartments? Zoltan’s argument for why this all would be bad for the environment is a bizarre stipulation that the “land would be leased not sold and would have to be returned to it’s previous condition or better after the lease.” This might sound nice but makes very little practical sense. This isn’t going to be like when the Black Fortress disappears without a trace in Krull. If a company leases the land and later goes bankrupt or fails in some way, they’re not going to have the money to demolish all of their buildings and magically regenerate a fully mature forest overnight. This just isn’t realistic. It will be bad for the environment. The increased developments will require more natural resources to sustain, resources which California struggles to harness a sufficient amount of, even now.
2. California doesn’t even care to enforce borders of any kind currently. Most of the larger metropolitan hubs are basically sanctuary cities. A “basic income” can only be mathematically viable if strict population controls are kept on the number of of people residing in that particular area. It requires draconian measures like breeding restrictions and militarily enforced boundaries. Merely having strict residency requirements in order to qualify isn’t enough, because pretty much anyone who lives there can vote. Massive amounts of people who live in California but wouldn’t qualify, can still elect officials that will assert their electoral power to loosen requirements, cut deals or file legal challenges based on trumped up charges of discrimination, etc. Developing and leasing millions of acres of federal land might provide some limited revenue for a basic income, if we were dealing with a stagnant population, frozen in time at current levels. More than likely though, increased development will lead to more people flocking to the area for tech jobs and housing, more Indian programmers and wealthy foreign investors finagling their way here for jobs and real estate investment opportunities. A bigger pie but minimal to no increase in the size of the average slice. Basically, nothing leftover for a basic income.
3. California has frequently struggled with budget deficits in the past. If the projected revenues to fund the California universal basic income do not materialize through this land leasing scheme, the people who are expecting the money will be pissed. Which do you think is more likely, that politicians up for election will spend the state into massive deficits to attempt to deliver people the basic income they were promised, or that they will tell millions of voters “Oops sorry, looks like we can’t afford to give you each 25k a year after all” and face the wrath of betrayed angry mobs. Both of those gloomy scenarios seem highly plausible if this plan were to ever move forward. Those left to foot the bill for this tab will likely flee the area in droves.
4. There is a little too much Utopian optimism with this idea. It kind of reminds me of when you see stoners arguing that legalizing weed will solve nearly every social, economic and military problem in the world “just think, we could tax it, and it would pay off the national debt!” This strikes me as similar, wishful, pie in the sky thinking. There are just too many variables and wildcards involved here.
So anyway, everyone’s a critic right? After reading all that you might be thinking, “Okay, well what is your plan for universal basic income then?” My plan is extremely simple. You form a secluded micro state with a very tiny population and heavily fortify it. This microstate earns revenue through some kind of shared natural resource or industry (could be anything from genetically engineered crops to rubber band manufacturing to Scientology auditing classes.) People would receive a meager basic income by working in civil or community service. Pretty simple but only has a chance of working with a delicate population balance which must be maintained and understood by all participants. I have no clue whether my plan could be viable in practice (for one thing, people would have to actually be interested in my ideas.) That’s the rub with radical futurism. In our grand visions of the future, we often lose sight of the fact that we’re stuck dealing with people the way they are and the world the way it is.