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From Stimulus To UBI: Has The Pandemic Made Basic Income A Relevant Issue?

Sometimes, it takes a big, jarring, and outright awful incident to spark meaningful change. It’s an unfortunate necessity, given the stubborn proclivities of human nature. People naturally resist change. Change is hard, risky, and potentially dangerous. Even when the current state of affairs is awful, we won’t pursue meaningful change without kicking, screaming, and whining every step of the way.

The murder of George Floyd was one such incident. As bad as previous acts of police brutality had been, this one was just too awful to stomach. It triggered a wide range of vocal protests that, while limited in their impact, has made the need for change more palatable. It’s frustrating that it takes this kind of horror to get us to change an objectively flawed system, but that’s just the cards we’ve been dealt.

While efforts at justice reform and tempering police brutality are important endeavors, there’s another major change that has been brewing in recent months. Again, it’s becoming relevant due to something utterly horrific. In this case, it’s the COVID-19 global pandemic that has upended our lives, our economy, and our politics.

Now, let me make one thing clear. This pandemic is fucking awful. It’s killing people. It is, by any measure, doing a massive amount of harm to people all over the world. There is no silver lining that’s worth all the lives that have been lost and all the suffering this disease has caused. From killing thousands to canceling major events, this pandemic is as bad as it gets.

That being said, this might be the big, horrific event that makes Universal Basic Income a relevant issue and a feasible recourse for the future.

I wrote about Universal Basic Income, also known as UBI, a few years back. At the time, I considered it a fringe issue that wasn’t going to gain traction in the United States, or any other country, for at least a couple decades. It shouldn’t be that radical, giving people money directly instead of having them jump through so many bureaucratic hoops. Unfortunately, it was still seen as an extreme by ever political party.

That started to change with the surprisingly successful Presidential campaign of Andrew Yang, who made UBI the central pillar of his bid. That campaign helped expose more people to the idea while making it a legitimate political policy.

Then, as has been the common mantra of 2020, the pandemic hit and everything changed.

Now, with millions out of work and unemployment benefits being incredibly limited, the idea of UBI doesn’t seem so extreme anymore. If anything, it’s starting to feel necessary. That could ultimately accelerate this issue’s ascension to the mainstream much sooner than any could’ve expected.

In America, millions have already gotten a taste of it in the form of a one-time $1,200 stimulus check. It wasn’t much, in the grand scheme of things. It certainly wasn’t going to fix the many problems that were unfolding as millions of people lost their jobs, due to the pandemic. It was still real money that people desperately needed.

I can personally attest to how useful this money was. Like many, I received a stimulus check around mid-April. While I wasn’t in the same dire straits as millions of other working class families, that check still helped a lot.

At the time, I had some back-taxes that I was still trying to pay off from having purchased my current home. I wasn’t in a position to pay it back all at once. I would likely need a payment plan, which would’ve accrued interest over time. Then, the stimulus check came and I was able to pay it all off at once with no interest. I even had enough left over to do some overdue car repairs.

My situation was not typical. Millions of people spent their stimulus checks on a variety of goods and services, but therein lies the key. It still got spent. In economic terms, that’s critical for a functioning economy. While the state may take a short-term hit in its finances, a sizable chunk of that hit will be countered by people buying things and subsequently paying taxes on them.

While economics is an insanely complicated endeavor, most people understand the importance of having money to spend to keep businesses going and communities intact. Other countries are conducting even bolder experiments in this pandemic. The results vary, but the basic trends are the same. When you give poor, desperate people money, they spend it. They have to in order to survive.

If you’re rich, or even upper middle-class, you have the luxury of saving. An extra $1,200 isn’t going to do much. For some, it’s not even a single mortgage payment. However, since most people aren’t that rich, it’s guaranteed that money is going to get spent and push the economy along. It helps poor people and it generates business for the not-so-poor.

It certainly isn’t without cost, but the benefits thus far have been more than worth it. As more people who experience those benefit, the idea of UBI is only going to grow in terms of appeal. It’ll even become more feasible because these recent stimulus checks have proven that the government has the infrastructure to make this work. It just needs the scale.

Even after this pandemic ends, there will be huge upheavals for rich and poor alike. The economy is never going to be the same. Society will never be the same. The continued impact of automation and artificial intelligence is sure to accelerate that change. UBI might not have seemed feasible or necessary before, but 2020 has changed that. Expect more changes before all is said and done.

This pandemic has caused a lot of pain and irreparable losses. If, however, it can be the catalyst to make UBI a viable policy, then we might be able to draw some meaningful good from it. Only time will tell.

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Telework, Online Learning, And What A Global Pandemic Can Teach Us About Both

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In general, people don’t radically change their habits unless there’s a huge incentive and/or a major disruption. By that, I don’t just mean habits relating to drug addiction, exercise regiment, or bedroom kinks. I’m mostly referring to peoples’ overall tendency to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them, even if they have major flaws.

While it’s rare to get huge incentives to change those tendencies, it’s just as rare to face the kind of disruption that would force people to re-evaluate how they do things. People are, broadly speaking, pretty stubborn. It takes a lot of time and energy to abandon old habits in exchange for new ones. There’s no guarantee they’ll work. Sometimes, they’ll fail miserably.

In terms of disruptions, it’s hard to top a global pandemic. There’s just no way to overstate how big an impact something like that can have on a society. Pandemics have changed the course of history, as well as the course of society. They are the million-ton sledgehammer to whatever stable social system we have in place.

The ongoing crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest disruption our society has faced in over a century. It has jarred us all from our comfort zone, to say the least. Between cancellations of major events and concepts like social distancing, we’ve had to reassess how we go about our daily lives.

As frustrating and frightening as it has been, these kinds of disruptions also present rare opportunities. We may never face a situation like this that affords such opportunities, so we would be wise to take advantage of it. In this case, it has to do with how we go about work and school.

We all have this time-tested notion of what it means to have a job and get an education. Having a job means going to an office or work site, doing your work there, and then coming home after a certain amount of time. It varies from person to person, but that’s the general approach.

Going to school is similar. You get on a bus, go to some building across town, stay there for six or seven hours while going to multiple classes, and then you come home. That’s what we think of when we think about getting an education and going to school.

Now, thanks to a global pandemic, this time-tested system has been disrupted. Going to crowded facilities is now a health hazard. Kids can’t go to some big school facility and workers can’t go to some crowded office for a third of their day. Instead, people are having to telework or utilize online classes. For now, this is just a temporary measure while we endure all this massive social upheaval.

At the same time, it also gives us a rare opportunity to see just how necessary it is to go somewhere else to do our work or get our education. It’s a relevant issue that goes beyond our current crisis. These questions are worth asking.

How necessary is it for us to go to some office or school to achieve what we seek?

Is that system really the best we can do?

What are the limitations of telework and online schooling?

What can be done to mitigate those limitations within the current infrastructure?

Can people be more productive with telework and online schooling?

How effective is our current system at supporting these options?

Now, I’m the last person who should defend the current school system. My past experiences with public school give me a somewhat heavy bias in assessing it. However, I doubt I’m alone in saying the current system has room for improvement.

When it comes to telework, I have less experience. In the past, I’ve had instances when I’ve been successful with telework. It depends on the situation and what I’m working on. I suspect that’s common for many jobs. An accountant and a brain surgeon work in very different spheres. One is easier to do at home. The other is a lot messier, to say the least.

It’s worth taking note of just how much we’re able to function over the next few weeks with respect to telework and online schooling. If a sizable chunk of the population demonstrates they can get the job done this way, be it with telework or online schooling, then that’s valuable insight that we should not ignore.

I understand that there are some jobs that cannot be done from home. There are also some things you can’t learn remotely. However, looking back at my experience in school, I’d say about 80 percent of what I learned could’ve been learned online. In terms of work, over half of what I did could’ve been done from home with a laptop and an internet connection.

There’s no reason we should be locked into this mindset that work involves leaving our house or that learning has to take place within a school. There are other ways to do these things and certain people might function better that way.

During a massive upheaval like this, things cannot and should not go back to exactly how things were. We have an opportunity to find a new approach to school and work. I say we take advantage of it as best we can.

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Why EVERYONE Should Work A Lousy Service Job At Some Point In Their Lives

fast-food-job

Talk to any marginally successful adult, be they high-paid executive or a full-blown celebrity, and chances are they’ve worked at least one lousy job in their life. It’s also likely that said lousy job was a service job. Some may look at those days with a fond sense of humor. Some might still have nightmares about them to this day.

We all had to start somewhere in our professional lives. Some people who are my age may still be behind the curve, struggling to get ahead. To those people, I offer my sympathy and support. To those who worked their way up from the bottom, I have a feeling that what I’m about to say will resonate with you.

That’s because I have worked what most would classify as a menial, low-skill service job. In fact, that menial, low-skill service job happened to be my first job . It was not a fun or enjoyable job, to say the least. There were more bad days than good. However, it was the first time I earned my own money. It was the first time I felt like an adult, to some extent.

It used to be I would look back on that job and shudder. When the memories were still fresh in my mind, I could only focus on how miserable I felt working there. As I’ve gotten older, though, I look back on that job with a sense of pride because I feel it made me a better person in the long run.

It made me appreciate what it felt like to work at the very bottom of the totem pole. It also made me appreciate the people who worked those kinds of jobs for years on end, scraping away at roles that most of us take for granted. It also made me appreciate the people who had to work weekends, night shifts, or holidays. To this day, I go out of my way to thank those people because I’ve been in their position.

It’s because of that experience and the lessons I learned that I believe everyone should work a lousy service job at some point in their lives. Regardless of whether you were born into a rich family or grew up in a one-room shack with no functioning toilet, working a job like that doesn’t just establish someone in the real world where you work for your money. It really builds character, albeit not in everyone.

I know I sound less like an aspiring erotica/romance writer and more like everyone’s dad in saying that, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I certainly heard that from my family, but mine was one that practiced what they preached. Talk to any one of my relatives and you’ll find that all of them have worked a menial job like I did at one point.

I have siblings, parents, and relatives that have worked as low-paid waitresses, bartenders, cashiers, dish washers, and fry cooks. Think of any low-level job you’d see at a restaurant or a fast food place. Chances are, someone in my family has worked a job like that and it shows in the kind of people they become as adults.

I see that within my family and beyond. I see it not just in how they value their work. I see it in how they value the others who do work. When my family goes to a restaurant, we go out of our way to treat the waiter or chef nice if they do a good job. Chances are, if you do your job well with us, we’ll tip you nicely. That was a big deal in my family.

Now, as some of my family members have retired from their careers and settled into a less hectic lifestyle, I still see in them the values that working those jobs gave them. It taught them the value of work and the value of treating people with decency and respect. Look at the stories of how rich, entitled assholes with trust funds have treated people they consider beneath them. These values do matter.

For me, personally, there’s one particular memory that stands out among all others that helped solidify the importance of those values. To recount that memory, though, I have to warn some readers here that this is not a very pleasant memory. If you just ate or have a weak stomach, I would recommend not going any further.

If you’re still with me, then I commend you because this story may hit a little too close to home for some. It happened on one particularly dreary night at my job. This job, fittingly enough, happened to be at a fast food restaurant. Out of concern for legal ramifications, I won’t say which one it was. I’ll just say it’s a very popular chain.

On this dreary night, I was already in a bad mood. I was exhausted, restless, and still in high school. It was not a good set of circumstances. Then, around the early evening, this family came into the restaurant with a baby that couldn’t have been more than nine months old. He was a cute baby, but he was about to make my life feel even uglier.

After the family ordered their food, I was put on sweeping duty. That meant I had to be out there cleaning the tables and emptying the trash. For a job that was already pretty menial, this was as low as you could get. I didn’t think it could get any lower. That baby I mentioned proved me wrong.

Shortly after the family began eating, the baby threw up. No, I don’t mean a cute little spit-up that could be wiped away with a napkin. I’m saying this baby threw up his entire weight in baby vomit. I swear this kid broke the laws of physics with how much bile he spewed. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but I kind of have to in order to get the point across.

Having just cleaned that part of the floor, I was right there to see a big pile of chunky white globs that resembled partially-digested marshmallows. I wish I could tell you how it smelled. Just imagine what it would smell like if roadkill was dipped in expired milk. That should give you a faint idea.

With that disgusting imagery in mind, imagine how I must have felt being the one who had to clean that up. I had to get down on the floor, the baby and his family still sitting at their table, and mop up those chunks of baby vomit. I don’t care that I wore gloves. Touching it nearly made me throw up to.

In terms of low points in my life, that might have been the absolute lowest. I was a teenage kid on the floor of a fast food restaurant, making minimum wage and cleaning up baby vomit. When you’ve been that low in life, it leaves an impact. To this day, I see that moment as the one that motivated me to work to a point where cleaning baby vomit was not in my job description.

I imagine there are plenty of people out there who have similar horror stories about the kinds of jobs they worked. Some of them probably involve something as bad or worse than cleaning up baby vomit on the floor of a fast food restaurant. I would hope that such an experience was just as impactful on them as it was for me.

It’s only when you’re on the floor, cleaning up someone’s vomit for minimum wage that you really know what it’s like to be on the lowest rung of society’s hierarchy. From that state, looking up and seeing how far you have to climb may seem overwhelming. However, you now know just how low you can get and you know that’s not where you want to end up.

I wish I could say I quit after that night, but I didn’t. I ended up working that job until the end of my senior year of high school. I still remember the last day as one of the happiest days of my life to that point. From that point forward, I made it a point to gain experiences and skills that ensured I wouldn’t have to work a menial job like that again.

I’m happy to say I haven’t worked a job like that since, but I still go out of my way to appreciate those who do. Every time I go to a fast food restaurant or see someone working a long shift at a retail store, I feel compelled to thank them. They may not believe it now, but that kind of job will make them a better person in the long run.

That’s not to say you aren’t a good person if you’ve never worked a job like that before. If you haven’t known the feeling and stench of baby vomit, consider yourself lucky. My point is that working lousy jobs and enduring lousy shifts can help make you stronger in ways that you come to appreciate as you get older.

As much as I shudder at the memory/stench of that baby vomit, I’m glad I had that experience. It helped shape me into the kind of man I am today and I believe it reveals in others just how strong and/or resilient they can be. Given how much we rely on menial service jobs, I think we should all appreciate them and the people who work them.

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