Tender

Tender

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Motivation and Clawbacks

I've been thinking about the "Basic Income" experiment in Ontario. The goal feels...off.

What if we aren't trying to lift people out of poverty? What if we are helping all citizens feel motivated to live a full life, and making sure they have what they need to do that? How will things change?

To feel motivated, people need to feel they have the capacity (emotional, time, health, support) and resources (money, credit, support) to handle the challenges they are likely to face in pursuing their lives.

I have observed, over and over, that the intrinsic nature of humans is to try to better their position from wherever they find themselves. Motivation in humans appears to require only two ingredients: a strong desire for something, and the belief that action can result in fulfillment of that desire. When either ingredient is lacking, we see Motivation's opposite: Apathy. Or, worse, we see his evil twin, Anger.

I can't care about whether someone is lazy while I work for the betterment of myself and society - who am I to judge their choices when I don't know their lives? I do care that they don't cause problems in my happy life or the pursuit of my motivation. So, I'd rather some people be lazy than criminal, than obnoxious, than resentful, than desperate, than afraid, than angry, than in despair, than under pressure. All of which, whether we believe it or not, become significantly alleviated when one stops worrying about having something nutritious to eat and somewhere safe and stable to live.

Here's the important crux: I don't think we actually have to worry about the lazy bums getting by on our dime. After much exploration and observation, I have come to the conclusion that they are edge-cases or ill; in the first instance, allowing them to coast costs little, and in the second, effective supports become important. But the vast majority of people would find their way to motivation if they didn't have to worry about rent. It's a real opportunity for community building. Nation building.

And so, to the Government of Ontario, I say:

The beauty of a basic income without clawbacks is that it distributes the dividends from our shared resources in such a way as to cover the very minimum requirements to stay alive and participate in life, at all. Work, after that, is tied directly to motivation, allowing motivation to become an individual choice based on life stage and needs. It does so while eliminating a great deal of bureaucratic tracking and enforcement. 
In Canada, we have an opportunity to try the Basic Income. We have a chance to show that when the basics are met, most people can find their motivation for what's next, will innovate and grow. But instead, we're squandering our chance with clawbacks that turn it into a welfare increase and fail to take advantage of process efficiencies. 
Worse, by calling this a Basic Income pilot, we are ruining the good name of Basic Income by not really doing the experiment we said we would. The point of a Basic Income is not to distribute money to poor people. The point of a Basic Income is to provide hope. It's to say, this is the floor that's holding you up, now you can stand and walk around; don't worry, we won't pull up sections of floor behind you. 
It's wrong to claw back. It distorts the spirit of the experiment. The lack of claw back is the whole point. If you're afraid people won't like it, try using your welfare and disability budgets to give the Basic Income universally. See how many people want it canceled after a year. See how much more money is flowing through the economy. See how many fewer road rage incidents occur. 

For the rest of us...

Rather than prescribing what motivation must look like, allowing each person to find motivation means covering off Maslow's bottom rung. There's a lot we need to adjust to as we realize just how far off course we've allowed things to go, if our goal is to have a relatively happy life that doesn't come at the expense of other people's misery and the destruction of our planet.

Many people say they want happiness for all, but they don't believe we can do it. So many people holding that belief is why we can't. I do believe we can do it, if we set a goal, honestly try, and give it enough time. At least, that's how I choose to try to live. I find it more encouraging than apathy and anger.

(thoughts on the 46th anniversary of the day I joined this planet)



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