A pragmatic upgrade of a Universal basic income – the dynamic happiness income

26 July, 2017 300 views 1 likes

In an earlier article, I built a case against the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), even though I’m in favour of the principles and values on which the idea is built. Does this sound paradoxical to you?

The reason is simple though. We can craft a solution to take the best a UBI has to offer (freedom and security), and then combine it with other elements to increase the quality of our lives even further.

A very important bonus is that it will also reduce the resistance which so many people have against the idea of a UBI, because it will reduce inequality even further and will cost less.

A dynamic happiness income: a pragmatic upgrade of a UBI

What if our society could guarantee that everybody would have sufficient money to live a good life from birth onwards? This would be a dynamic happiness income.

A dynamic happiness income is an income that guarantees to support the quality of our daily lives to the utmost extent. It is rooted in the idea that we can have the basics of our survival covered, and also that we can all live a truly abundant, high-quality life. It also looks into the real needs of every individual.

A dynamic happiness income is more about enabling you to enjoy life in all its dimensions than it is about preventing the struggle of survival. In a sense, it is even more ambitious than a universal basic income.

You may have noticed that the typical characteristics such as equality and universality found in a universal basic income are absent. This is not because they are forgotten; it is because they are not there, and with good reason.

A dynamic happiness income, a pragmatic upgrade in fairness

Fairness is central to our actions, and is something that we can even see in our ancestors, the primates.

Without any doubt, a UBI takes many steps to reduce inequality between people. The good news is that we can have even more of it. If we give everybody the same unconditionally, we reduce inequality. However, we will still be confronted with a situation where inequality will be at a level that we don’t want.

Studies by Dan Ariely, a well-known behavioural economist, show that the differences we considered to be ‘just’ are much smaller than those we are facing now.

The truth is that our system isn’t fair. The reality is that the majority of people need to go to work to pay for the bills just to meet their basic needs. More and more people are subsequently struggling and individual differences are becoming ever bigger.

Assuming that we want a ‘just’ system, we need to adjust the idea of a universal basic income, so that it fits our current reality. Accepting these differences enables us to turn the imminent problems we are facing into an opportunity for a high-quality life, because, unlike what you may think, there has never been more potential to upgrade our world for the better.

How dynamic happiness income differs from universal basic income

To achieve increased fairness, to reduce ‘waste’ and to align more closely with those things that drive our happiness, a dynamic happiness income introduces the following three adjustments to the universal basic income:

  1.     It is not for everybody;
  2.     It is not the same for everybody;
  3.     You cannot spend it freely.

Pragmatic upgrade #1: It is not for everybody

A dynamic happiness income does not make abstraction of the inequalities we have in our societies; it embraces them, even though that tastes like a nasty syrup.

A dynamic happiness income is therefore not for everybody. A dynamic happiness income takes into account your current income level and its source. If you earn a sufficiently high income that is not linked to your time, i.e. a passive income, such as an income from a house rental or financial products, you are not receiving anything or at least not the full amount you would get without that passive income.

Because you already have the means to live a high-quality life without having to work a full-time job, you already have the sense of security and the freedom to choose how you spend your time. Good for you!

That’s fair, right?

Pragmatic upgrade #2 – Personalised, not the same for everybody

As George Orwell said in Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. (Vol. 5. sage, 1980), “All societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others.” That is why we need a system where the income we give to people is dynamic.

The hand we’re dealt with to play in life is different for all of us. You may have married a rich specimen, or maybe you inherited a house. Maybe you live alone, maybe you don’t. Maybe you have an illness or maybe you’re just five years old. All of these things impact the amount you are receiving.

That’s why a dynamic happiness income takes into account our differences and situations throughout our lives.

Taking into account individual differences is essential to achieve a system that maximises the potential for abundance for all of us. When we focus on the real needs a person has and adjust the amount to those needs, this strengthens our sense of fairness, and consequently increases efficiency. We spend money where it is needed and avoid spending where it is not.

Pragmatic upgrade #3 – You cannot spend it freely

Firstly, we cannot create happiness. Happiness comes from within, and the best we can do is to try to maximise the circumstances for happiness. We can only craft the scene for us to have the potential to live a high-quality life.

Therefore, the question is, “How should this scene look?” This is where, as a society, we can choose to set standards. Just as a staff member sets the stage, we can use a dynamic happiness income to support those needs that drive the well-being of people, even if those people do not value them as such.

That is why you cannot spend the dynamic happiness income freely. To be clear, this choice is made to support freedom, rather than curbing it. We can use a dynamic happiness income to drive choices that support the well-being of all of us, making it possible for us all to thrive in our own unique ways.  

In case you still find this hard to accept, let me ask you this: “Are you happy that a single person would spend his or her universal basic income on cigarettes and excessive amounts of alcohol, things the person uses to numb insecurity and which destroy their health?

If you think it is more desirable to use this income to give this single person safety, basic comfort, decent food, access to healthcare, even if he or she doesn’t really value these things, then we are on the same page. The only limitation to freedom people should be willing to accept is to those things that science has shown to drive our well-being.

Don’t forget to keep your eye on the prize

Although the idea of a UBI has been discussed for centuries, it is still not here. Don’t let the experiments currently running in The Netherlands and Finland fool you. They do not capture the essence of a universal basic income. Yes, they are valuable in their own right, but they are temporary and the amount is too low to ensure that people feel at ease.

So, here we are. Will we wait for a couple of centuries more to install a system providing security and freedom or will we install a pragmatic and fairer upgrade of a universal basic income?

Let’s not forget that the original reason we invented an economic system in the first place was to increase the quality of our lives. A dynamic happiness income offers us a tool to do exactly that, and in this lifetime.


Want more?

Curious how we can upgrade our economic system so it supports the quality of your life and of those you care for?

In the book “Happonomy, Roadmap to Utopia”, Bruno Delepierre takes you on a 300 page journey to explore how work, money and technology impacts the quality of your life. Expect insightful analyses, intimate portraits and 35 daring recipes for upgrade. Interested? Take a look!

Happonomy boek NL

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Categories: Feel at ease, Financial Security


Socially inspired entrepreneur, organizer of TEDx in Leuven, friend of M.I.T. Happonomy alchemist.

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