A frequently asked question regarding Universal Basic Income is whether free money is going to cause another population explosion, further burdening an already dangerously overpopulated planet?
The short answer is “No.”
UBI does not have a significant impact on population explosion, and data are showing it does exactly the opposite.
But let’s discuss this a bit more and also mention some of the other risks that are involved, then give some proposed solutions to tackle those risks.
First, in order to address the above question, we have to relate a few things: nature, global warming, population, economy, UBI, automation, AI, and property markets, as they all are mutually dependant.
From the perspective of nature, diversity, and global warming effects, less people means less energy (resulting in smaller CO2 emission looking from the civilisation dependent on fossil fuel perspective), less land necessary for crops and stock feed (will also result in using less energy, less water, and consequently smaller methane emissions), giving a chance to other organisms important for keeping the balance of the ecosystem and maintaining the long survival of life on the planet.
Therefore, it is obvious we have to find a non-violent way to reduce the Earth’s population and keep it on a sustainable level in the future. From that perspective, the question is, “Will sponsoring couples with UBI incentivise couples to have more children?”
At this point, we have to ask the following philosophically ethical questions:
- Why do couples have multiple children, if they cannot support them?
- Is someone else’s child — my, your, someone else’s, society's or the parents’ — responsibility?
- From the point of view of the selfish gene, why should anyone gain a competitive advantage in nature by allowing them to breed more than others?
- If we are trying to promote equality, shouldn’t everyone have equal breeding chances and limits?
- Is it acceptable to create your own clone?
- If everyone could clone him- or herself, and then have the ability to do it infinite times — taking into account that we live in a limited space — how many copies of a person should be allowed? And who will determine the limits?
- Furthermore, should it be acceptable for a single woman to be artificially inseminated?
- Or, is it acceptable for a single woman to decide to keep a pregnancy, even if she’s not 100% sure who the father is and/or does not want his help/involvement?
- If medicine allows it, would it be acceptable for a single man to get pregnant and to have his own child, choosing a random egg donor or even converting his own sperm cell into egg?
- On top all of this, there is Elon Musk’s view about imploding population, due to an inverted population age pyramid — how do we address that?
For now, I will leave all these questions open, and I will discuss them some other time, in some other post. For now, let’s keep our focus on UBI and possibly encouraging a population explosion, with all these population questions lingering somewhere aside.
Hans Rosling, in his 2006 Ted talk, “The best stats you've ever seen,” explained that data are showing that there is a clear correlation between developed countries and having less children, so, if nothing else, by providing Basic Income to people and taking them out of poverty, it will likely decrease the birth rate.
As prosperity and education levels rise, population is decreasing. Reasons for this are many. The first is that, in undeveloped countries people tend to have more children to ensure their offspring will survive, as the poor health and medical conditions mean the survival rate of children can be quite low. The next reason is that people use children as a form of security for old age; data has shown that, when lifelong pension is introduced, birth rates have dropped to a sustainable level. The next reason is that women in undeveloped countries do not have choices and cannot choose education; as soon as they have the ability to choose the way of life they want, demography changes. Also, data are showing that more secularly-inclined countries have lower birth rates as a result of better education, so, in that way, the combined effect of science and medicine can decrease birth rates. In developed countries, people choose personal life over family life and their personal enjoyment over having families (especially in societies that have high divorce rates).
Unfortunately, things are not as simple as they seem. Many of the population-reducing effects in developed countries we can grant to economy and a stable job market. The question is what will happen when people do not need to work anymore, in order to survive? Will they dedicate more of their free time to having children, as, without work, they may shift their purposes of existence from work toward caring for their own children?
Additionally, from what we know about carbon emissions, we can see that the biggest polluters in the world are developed countries. Therefore, by introducing UBI, by solving one problem (poverty), we could create another one, as raising the existing population out of poverty will create additional pressure on consumption and natural resources. Good thing is that this problem can be solved — it is just a matter of strategy. For now, I will leave that solution for a separate post.
Apart from those issues, there is one more potentially dangerous issue, as people are known to test system boundaries, in order to gain their own advantage. One possible situation connected with child UBI can be an “age exploit.” Age exploit is a situation where parents or guardians are attracted to the idea of having multiple children, in order to gain more money. This can either promote baby boom behaviour, as happened with UK teen mothers, or it can create “Oliver Twist” types of fraud, where children in foster homes or orphanages are kept in terrible conditions, so that their “patrons” can enjoy a wealthy life.
How to address these issues?
Scott Santens, in his post “Why should adults with kids get more basic income?” gives a good answer on this dilemma by saying that the question is “whether we look on children as a human being or a choice,” but this problem is not that simple. Further down in the text, Scott is proposing a viable solution that is very similar to the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) solution, in which children receive significantly less money according to their needs. In that way, the age exploit could be avoided, as a child would receive half of the money calculated as the yearly need for one child.
Undeniably, one thing is certain: all humans should be treated equally, and, in order to satisfy the basic requirements of UBI (in its purest form), we must distribute income to all living human beings and treat them equally, satisfying their basic needs of survival.
That being said, the second method for avoiding a population explosion would involve piling up or investing the full amount or a portion of the child’s money into the property or education schema for the time when the child becomes an adult and could have his/her own space to live and the freedom to decide what to do next.
Some argue that giving a huge lump of money to an 18 year old wouldn’t be such a good idea, as, at that age, many of them still have have not learned to be responsible — although I personally do not agree with this approach, and I would go the full libertarian way, this issue can be solved in different ways.
One way would be either to avoid giving money and instead giving property that cannot be sold before age 25 or offering free college or university without the ability to actually spend that money any other way, therefore avoiding unwise decisions.
We can speculate that a schema like this could help solve housing problems and situations where the middle class cannot afford properties any more, as wages have stagnated for too long in a continuously inflating property market, which has increased prices of the properties above the average household affordability price.
In conclusion, unsustainable population growth on a finite planet with finite resources is a huge issue, and, in some sense, Basic Income can be effectively used with proper strategies and policies as a tool for “controlling” population numbers.
And, on the question of what we are going to do regarding the problem of the inverted population pyramid Elon Musk is mentioning, wait for the answer in the next post.
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In the meantime, consider reading about my Patreon project that aims to create a blueprint for a faster implementation of Basic Income while fighting Global Warming.