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Work is an integral part of American culture, if not all of society. From a young age, children are taught to perform well in school in order to be have successful jobs in the future. College age students’ academic curriculums revolve around the area of expertise they wish to enter for a profession. There are various reasons for why people participate in certain careers. One of them is because the job is enjoyable, it’s easy, it’s their passion, etc. However, the most important reason people have jobs is to make money. Money presides over the economy; it is the only way to gain property and to survive. Because of this simple fact, it is logical to acknowledge that those without jobs will have virtually nothing in a material sense. There is a large disparity between the destitute and the extremely wealthy. Welfare and other public assistance aside, there is another social security system that is receiving popularity as of late. Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a financial assistance that is granted to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status, according to Tim Worstall (2015). There is a lot of discussion whether UBI on a large scale is possible, logical, or even moral. Whatever the case may be it is important to examine how historical figures, namely Mary Wollstonecraft and John Locke would view and whether they would agree or disapprove of UBI.
Universal Basic Income is not exactly a new and innovative idea. According to Judith Shulevitz, Thomas Paine had the idea of supplying young adults with financial assistance (2016). In doing so, the financial disparity between those who owned land and those who did not, would decrease. UBI is an attractive social support service such that a sum of untaxable money would be provided to every inhabitant, unconditionally, on a regular basis. There have been certain instances in the 1970’s when UBI was implemented experimentally in the United States and Canada that generated positive results (Schulevitz, 2016). More recently, Finland and Germany are planning to implement something very similar to UBI. Finland is currently working on a proposal to enact a law that provides 800 euros to each its citizens (Worstall, 2016). Although not at a national level, a small number of people in Germany are receiving $1,100 a month. The recipients of the compensation in Germany find favor in the experiment (Kirschbaum, 2015). Seventy percent of Finns approve of the prospect of having a UBI.
Despite the apparent support for a UBI to be put into place, there are many arguments against UBI. One prominent argument against UBI is that it will decrease the funding in other services, such as education and healthcare (Matthews, 2015). Another argument against UBI is takes away the value of work and labor. According to Henning Meyer (2016), work does not conclude in simply making an income. “…social interactions takes place…there is value in preserving the social aspects of work”. Lastly, it is perceived that UBI will take away the incentive for people to work (Gaffney, 2015). This can have negative effects on work ethic, production (Matthews, 2015), and on the economy in general (Kirschbaum, 2016).
Just as there are various against, proponents also have arguments supporting UBI. An argument for UBI is that it will compensate mothers and caretakers who are essentially working for free (Shulevitz, 2016). Another argument for UBI is that it will give more autonomy to the worker rather than the employer. According to Matt Breunlg (2015) many workers feel compelled to work, even in bad environments, simply because they desperately need the income. With UBI, there is more flexibility to choose when to work. Many supporters see UBI as a better alternative to programs like welfare and social security since it is an extensive process to receive benefits (Shulevitz, 2016). With UBI, everyone would receive the same benefits without any conditions. Lastly, UBI would greatly distribute the wealth no one is left with nothing, and everyone has something (Matthews, 2015).
It is difficult to determine whether John Locke and Mary Wollstonecraft would agree or disagree with UBI as a whole. However there are certain aspects of UBI that they would find favorable, according to their ideals. Contrastingly, there are other aspects of UBI that they would find fault with.
One of the main underlying themes in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government is the gain, protection, and maintenance of property. Locke stated that once a person puts in their labor to produce something, it became essentially their property. Locke uses an example that the fruits a person cultivates from a tree, by natural right, becomes his (Locke, 1952, p. 18). In addition, Locke states that no one else has the right to someone else’s property: “Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself” (Locke, 1952, p. 18) that being said, Locke would not be in favor of the redistribution of wealth that would occur as a consequence of UBI. It can be argued that money is included in the property Locke spoke about in Second Treatise. If UBI was implemented, people would be taxed at a higher rate to supply the basic income (Matthews, 2015). That being said, Locke would find fault with this since that money is product of a particular person’s labor, and no one else has the right to it. To add on, Locke argues that the government’s responsibility is to protect the citizens’ property (Locke, 1952, p. 57). If UBI, according to Locke is the act of taking away people’s property, the Locke would also believe that the government is not performing its duty.
Locke may completely disagree with UBI. Wollstonecraft, on the other hand may have a more complicated view on UBI. Wollstonecraft wanted women in society to be more autonomous and have goals that went beyond just being a wife and a mother (Wollstonecraft, 2004, p. 28). She would appreciate the fact that women would be included in receiving a basic income instead of just men. In addition, Wollstonecraft was a big advocate for the proper education of young girls (Wollstonecraft, 2004, p. 79). Poverty can have an adverse effect on educational attainment. According to Shulevitz (2015), Indian girls who had no access to money were less likely to go to school. However when those girls had access to money, they went to school more. Wollstonecraft would agree with UBI as a way for the poor to be able to receive proper education. Wollstonecraft would disagree with UBI if it meant that people would work less. She stress the importance of hard work and labor in Vindication of the Rights of Women (Wollstonecraft, 2004, p.54). Wollstonecraft would not appreciate the decline in work ethic that may emerge if UBI was executed. Even though it is unlikely that people will quit their jobs out of sheer laziness, (Breunlg, 2015), it is possible that Wollstonecraft would find fault with any sort of inactivity that could have been put toward something useful.
Wollstonecraft’s and Locke’s times were before the prominent present day capitalism. Therefore it is difficult to gauge exactly how they would appraise UBI. Given their idealisms from their works, coupled with certain features of UBI, it can be concluded that Locke would be completely against UBI; Wollstonecraft would be for UBI, but with certain features eliminated. Wollstonecraft and Locke would agree, however, that the current plan for UBI needs to be reformed. Whether UBI is logical on a large scale, it is an enticing concept. It can be argued that the way the current economy is situated is ineffective. There is an unmistakable distinction between the wealthy and poor that the capitalism is not addressing. In fact, capitalism may be making matters worse. The debate deciding to fix the ever-increasing gap continues with no resolution in sight. Maybe, in order to find a solution, one must look to historical figures and their ideals to explore the endless possibilities.
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