By Jhon Sánchez
Before the Coronavirus outbreak, the first reaction I heard from people when I explained to them about the Universal Basic Income was, “Is this communism?” My listeners seemed to enter in a trance-like state as if they were watching live a congressional hearing during the McCarthy era. “It doesn’t seem right to give free money to people,” some of them said. Others said, “I don’t want to give money to women who don’t work and only raise kids.”
Andrew Yang called it, ‘Freedom Dividend’ during his candidacy to the Democrat nomination, arguing that [“b]y 2015, automation had already destroyed four million manufacturing jobs, and the smartest people in the world now predict that a third of all working Americans will lose their job to automation in the next 12 years. Our current policies are not equipped to handle this crisis.”
It is neither automatization nor an atomic bomb that has called our attention and, more likely, the implementation of the UBI in the United States. It is a virus, so tiny that it’s invisible to the human eye, but has sent millions to their homes, shut thousands of businesses, and embarked all of us into a recession.
In Congress, Mitt Romney has called for the implementation of the UBI, “Every American adult should immediately receive $1,000 to help ensure families and workers can meet their short-term obligations and increase spending in the economy.” Senator Romney’s call has been joined by Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, Tulsi Gabbard, and Bernie Sanders who has even proposed $2,000 during this crisis.
On Tuesday, Steve Mnuchin, the Secretary of Treasury, announced, “We’re looking at sending checks to Americans immediately. What we’ve heard from hardworking Americans is many companies have shut down, whether it’s bars or restaurants.” And he added, “Americans need cash now, and the President wants to get cash now. And I mean now in the next two weeks.”
Regarding his view on the possibility of economic crisis and the now pandemic, Andrew Yang says in an interview for Politico,
[w]hat the pandemic has done is accelerate those circumstances in an incredibly compressed time frame where it has literally sent tens of millions of Americans home all at once. I was talking about an evolving automated economy that would affect more and more of us home over time. And it’s become painfully obvious that putting money into our hands is the only commonsense solution to keep our families afloat.
But the calls for the UBI are not only within the USA but also from around the globe. The Independent posted a video backed by a list of 500 worldwide politicians who support the UBI in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic.
This sudden urgency appears now because a tiny virus shows us the weakness of our economy. The ups and downs of the Dow Jones doesn’t matter if the population doesn’t have a safety net, if we cannot buy groceries, pay rent, or get medical attention. It doesn’t matter that we have the money to buy a cheap cellphone, an Indian-made shirt, or a French wine if the manufacture of these products is shut down on the other side of the world. But at the end of the day, we’re talking about medicines and other basic things whose shortages may be caused during the outbreak. CNN reported that “[n]inety percent of prescriptions dispensed in the United States are generics and the US buys a wide range of Chinese-made generic drugs, including antibiotics, birth control pills, cancer treatments, medicine to fight HIV/AIDS and diabetes, and drugs for Parkinson’s disease, among others.”
I don’t want to sound apocalyptic, but what would happen when millions would lose their entire salary, the ones that survive check by check or even worse the ones who survive? Are we going to be able to keep the social order? Would parents remain at home when they have children to feed? I’m not talking about the ‘social distance’ to be safe without the virus. I’m talking about the possibility of riots in places where there are not any social programs for the people.
We should implement the UBI as one of the measures that would allow us to face this global crisis as well as other personal crises. For example, how likely one of us would need time off to take care of a sick relative? We should implement the UBI to allow people to be free of poverty. We should implement the UBI to maintain the social order.
The UBI seemed impossible a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t have money. We saw it as immoral. We saw it as communism. Not. It’s not communism. It’s the understanding that my safety and well-being also depends on the others from the community. I’m not safe just because I run, and I am the first one in crossing the line, but because I run along with others.
Jhon Sánchez: A Colombian born, Mr. Sánchez, arrived in NYC seeking political asylum where he is now a lawyer. His short stories are available in Midway Journal, The Meadow, Newfound, Fiction on the Web, among others. In February, Teleport published his short story ‘Handy.’ The DeDramafi, was published on The Write Launch, and Storylandia will reprint it in issue 36. He was awarded the Horned Dorset Colony for 2018 and the Byrdcliffe Artist Residence Program for 2019. In 2021, New Lit Salon Press will publish his collection Enjoy Pleasurable Death and Other Stories that Will Kill You. For updates, please visit the Facebook page @WriterJhon