Ch 23: On Handouts and Welfare · Ch 25: Helping Locally and Globally

But Who Will Pick Up the Garbage?

If there is a guaranteed basic income for everyone in the world, then who will be motivated to pick up the garbage, repair the plumbing, or grow the food?

One of the primary arguments against a guaranteed income for all is that if people have enough to survive, no one will be motivated to do the messy, necessary tasks that keep all of us alive. Is this a sound point of debate? Not in my books.

Why? I currently work for free on the messy, necessary tasks of growing food, caring for the landscape, repairing plumbing, and collecting and transporting garbage. My dad always did likewise. Why? We enjoy it.

Now, would I want to spend 40 hours per week collecting garbage? No. There is little, if anything, I would want to spend 40 hours per week doing. I like variety. But I’m perfectly willing to do my share of physical work, and I genuinely enjoy cleaning up a mess. As a teen, I seriously considering training as a professional plumber, because the work fascinated me and seemed to align with my values and quirks. Today, I volunteer as garbage collector and farmer, and do small plumbing repairs in my rented home and for neighbours. In a given week, I do a host of other things (unpaid) as well. Currently there are thousands of volunteers around the world actively seeking opportunities to do unpaid farm work.

To me, the issue doesn’t seem to be, “No one will pick up the garbage, therefore we have to pay people to do that.” It seems to me to be: “Few people want to dedicate 40-60 hours of each week, long term, to one environment and activity.” Humans are just more interesting, interested, curious, and complex than that model acknowledges.

We have to pay people more for a hyperfocused, narrow, restricted lifestyle because in this, most people are naturally motivated to (i) “make up for” the hours they spent working, via a weekend of high cost homes, recreation, and other luxuries and (ii) retire as soon as possible.

Moving “mucky” tasks to part time, flexible hours is the gamechanger. Guaranteed income for all is workable. The garbage will still get picked up.

2 thoughts on “But Who Will Pick Up the Garbage?

  1. I like to think of a guaranteed income as a guaranteed minimum. So if I could choose between $30 000 per year for doing nothing, or $30 000 per year for full time stressful garbage picking up, I’d choose nothing over the inflexible option. To get me to choose to be an inflexible full-time garbage worker, you might need to double my income. But to get me to work part time checking out groceries, you might just need to let me have a chocolate bar each shift.


    1. So well said, Jen! Plus it made me laugh with happiness at your acceptable pay 🙂 I, too, will work for chocolate. I often offer to work for free and if people insist on payment, my preferred one is meal cooked by anyone who is not me!

      Liked by 1 person

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