I’ve been in San Francisco meeting with various leaders and entrepreneurs. We had our first sighting of a bumper sticker in SF which was a thrill. I’m speaking at a public event on Tuesday the 17th. I will be in Los Angeles on Friday — tell your friends in SoCal!
My book was featured on the front page of the New York Times Book Review this past weekend. The reviewer, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, said, “To the rest of America, a U.B.I. may seem like a pipe dream, but from my vantage point some form of it seems inevitable.” I agree.
I was also featured in a great interview with Psychology Today. I was excited to do it. Psychology and the Freedom Dividend, in my opinion, go hand in hand. My brother is a psychology professor, and I believe that the Freedom Dividend would be one of the very best things we could do for people’s states of mind.
Right now, most Americans operate in a perpetual state of scarcity, living from paycheck to paycheck. This saps mental energy. One study by psychologist Eldar Shafir and economist Sendhil Mullainathan found that simply reminding people of their own financial scarcity caused a decline of about 13 IQ points in terms of their ability to function on a test. They similarly found that people who are preoccupied by scarcity have less bandwidth to eat healthy food and act civilly.
We often reverse the causal relationship — we sometimes think that poor decisions cause poverty. It’s more likely the reverse: that resource scarcity causes bandwidth constraints that hurt decision-making and behavior. Shafir, the psychologist, observed, “There’s a very large proportion of Americans who are concerned and struggling financially and therefore possibly lacking in bandwidth. Each time new issues raise their ugly heads, we lose cognitive abilities elsewhere. These findings may even suggest that after the . . . financial crisis, American may have lost a lot of fluid intelligence . . . they don’t have room for things on the periphery.”
We’ve all been there — when we are starved for time or food or money we are more likely to ignore our child, scarf down a muffin, or bark at someone who does not deserve it. That is the circumstance that most Americans find themselves in each day; 59% of Americans cannot pay an unexpected $500 bill and income volatility is as high as 30–40% each month for the majority of Americans.
This is one of the core problems of this age. Having the world’s information at our disposal isn’t making us, on average, any smarter. If anything it’s kind of the opposite. Most of us find ourselves struggling with scarcity of time, money, empathy, attention or bandwidth in some combination. It is one of the great perversions of this era that just when advancing technology should be creating more of a feeling of abundance for us all, it is instead activating economic insecurity in most of the population. As steady and predictable work and income become more and more rare — 94% of jobs created from 2005 to 2015 were gig economy or temp or contractor positions — our culture seems to be becoming increasingly impulsive and perhaps more racist and misogynist due to an increased bandwidth tax as people jump from island to island trying to stay one step ahead of the economic tide. If you’re busy jumping all day you’re not thinking.
In my view, it is essential for a democracy to do all it can to keep its population free of a mindset of scarcity in order to make better decisions. We are witnessing epic dysfunction of our politics in part because people have less and less capacity to make quality decisions for themselves and their families, much less to weigh and deliberate on big policy questions.
Investor Ray Dalio recently observed about the rising economic inequality, “I think that a national emergency should be declared . . . unfortunately it’s more likely that nothing . . . will be done and, in the next economic downturn, the haves and have nots will be at each other’s throats, fighting . . . rather than working together to make plans to make most people productive . . . for that reason I’m worried about the health of capitalism and democracy.”
The health of our democracy starts in our minds. The Freedom Dividend would address our most extreme needs and make us capable of better decisions. It would begin to reverse the social and political dysfunction that is weighing us down and allow us to look up to tackle the big problems. It would make our society more just and fair and rekindle our sense of commonality.
Let’s make it real together. If we make the Freedom Dividend a reality we’ll all breathe easier and think more clearly for it.