Polo players on a field


I support a Universal Basic Income, or UBI, and this may be due to fundamental differences in my mindset and approach to social status.

I have no desire to be wealthy. Trying to understand why people do is difficult for me. 

Intellectually, I know that many people feel that wealth will lend them a certain status, it will make them feel like they are worthy of admiration and respect. Money makes them better than those without it. They are the ones opposed to a UBI. Wealth is a way to social climb, with every financial gain being one rung on the ladder. These are the folks who enjoy the tangible and intangible things money buys. 

I do understand the actual cause and effect of that part of having wealth. 

What I don’t understand is the enormous investment people make to get those things, the value they place on the opinion of other people. I sometimes wonder if high social value has more meaning when you are devoid of an internal moral compass. I mean, sure the attention must be nice, but why make that the means to your ultimate identity?

Couldn’t you garner attention by doing great things in the world like a UBI? 

At least use your wealth to better the planet. Instead, it is usually hoarded, as if they need it to stuff some gaping money-shaped hole in their soul.

It seems, like being famous, some people are willing to sacrifice everything to get it. The accumulation of great wealth means you are willing to force others to make sacrifices, like knowing there are kids that don’t have decent shoes so you can buy your third yacht. That is the part I don’t get. This is where I lose my tentative grasp on their point of view.

I have seen people destroy their health, their families, their futures for simply the appearance of wealth. The “fake it until you make it” approach to success confounds me the most. It is so important to appear successful that some will risk ever achieving it just so they can pretend they have it. I am at a loss to understand these people.

It is like the friend who goes into crippling debt to drive a car they cannot afford so they can feel like they look cool sitting in traffic on the way to a soul-sucking job they can’t quit because they have an unmanageable payment. This makes no sense to me, like they make knee-jerk decisions outside the context of their entire lives. It is as if they are wearing a coat of hair made of someone else’s opinions. It is ugly and uncomfortable, but it is in style and they never consider simply refusing to buy the damn thing.

When you don’t care about your phone, a UBI makes sense

I am not content with possessing material objects. I couldn’t pick the latest iPhone out of a police lineup. As long as my vehicle is very reliable and not embarrassing, I don’t care if it is a Mazda or Maserati. I don’t need heated seats, rich Corinthian leather and I don’t care if people see Matthew McConaughey chauffeuring me around. None of those things are going to be worth less time with my family or even my hobbies. 

I do not wish to be owned by my possessions.

My identity is not tied up in how others view me. I value what I do every day and my own good opinion more than what I own. In light of this, a UBI makes sense to me.

This pisses off a lot of people

I understand my worldview is very troubling for those who are heavily invested in their image and use money as their measure of their own self worth. I get why my approach makes them so uncomfortable. “Don’t you care what people think?” No, not really. They see a UBI as a handout and undermining the game they have spent so much time mastering.

What I want to derive from my economic situation is to be secure and have the freedom, time and resources to pursue my interests. A UBI provides a means to do this. I view wealth as a tool. It is something I need to get to have the life I want. It is not the goal.

I believe there is a sizable number of individuals who probably feel the same way I do. Having to compete each day at a job I hate, for things I don’t want but need in order to support that job I hate, feels like hell to me. Society calls it capitalism, I call it indentured servitude. 

I don’t know who it belongs to, but this so-called American Dream is not mine.

While I acknowledge that I am extremely well off by global standards of living, in America I am not. I could be, I have been in the past, but wealth and the accumulation of possessions are simply not priorities for me. And the older I get, the more I focus on doing things while I still have time. 

I think our society dangles financial success like some sort of carrot, but the stick part is that if you don’t play, you are going to be homeless or destitute. For those of us that aren’t enticed by the promises of riches, that fear can be a strong motivating factor. There is no in-between. You choose to compete or you live on the fringes of society. Pick one. 

This means that in order to survive, or at least not suffer, you must play the Wealth Accumulation Game™. They insist you play, too. The system is designed to force you to compete in the monetary dick measuring contest. This must be hell for people who want to create art, or pursue something that requires enormous investments of time during a specific period of their life like athletics or dance. At least my desired activities can be done on the side or as I age.

Capitalism works well for keeping score — a UBI does not

People use wealth as a measure of worth among their friends or to determine where they stand in society. These people need a starting point, like a roadmap and a final destination. It is the stuff of the prosperity gospel movement, multilevel marketing schemes, and labor exploitation.

I believe the threat of unraveling this system underlies some of the opposition to a UBI. It isn’t that people might stay at home playing video games all day, it is that they are not participating in the financial hierarchy. Someone must lose for others to win and the classes beneath you are people who are beneath you.

What happens when, “I finally made it” doesn’t mean anything to half the people around you? Or worse, when you are heavily invested in the game for your sense of self worth, what do you do when the accumulation of wealth is viewed negatively or even as a symptom of a mental disorder?

When your identity is tied up in easily quantifiable measures like, “How much money do I have,” removing a large section of players from the rankings means people must compete on some other level — a level many people in power are ill-equipped to handle. They don’t care that the other players have been forced to play a game they hate and this has been the system for generations, they desperately need to win.

A UBI will change the game, and it rewrites the rules. If you have been cheating, you are going to lose in this new system. Worse, those who lost under capitalism, people with an internal sense of self worth, will now win. And in the competitive world of a capitalist culture, if someone else wins, you lose. 

And that maybe the biggest obstacle to implementing a UBI. 

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Shelly Fagan

Shelly Fagan is a freelance writer living in Arizona. She is passionate about American politics, business, universal basic income and worker rights. Follow her on Twitter @FaganWrites or on Medium at https://medium.com/@shellyfaganaz

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