Universal Basic Income + National Service

   The following piece was submitted 2 years ago to an online journal about the future. The idea of linking Universal Basic Income and National Service in more nuanced and detailed than is reflected in this article, which uses Your Money or Your Life as a starting point. Yet I wanted to pull this up into the present to see what you think. Let me know in comments:

In Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and I present an approach to earning, spending, and saving aimed at liberating the mind (spirituality), enabling creativity in need fulfillment (DIY, resourcefulness), and freeing time from paid employment (early retirement). Granted, it is a very Western, individualistic idea.

My observation is that people who have enough passive income (a self-created basic income) to cover expenses do not solve the existential problem of what to do with their time. The work of being human is outside the money economy. Atomized individuals don’t instantly gain communitarian values, a sense of service, a purpose.

It is the very amorality of money that lets us get through life still immature. Is a universal basic income merely an income distribution strategy, or is it linked to the challenging, necessary conversation about “the good life”? UBI is a mechanism for the right to subsistence. The bigger task today is fostering social cohesion, a desire to participate in building a fair, equitable, sustainable, and liberating society and global community. The hill towards such shared prosperity without limiting entrepreneurship is getting steeper by the minute. Is our future merely coping? UBI needs to be embedded in a more inspiring project. Otherwise, there will be a lot of quibbling about where the money comes from as well as class resentment toward people on welfare, the dole, and so on.

When I proposed that people on that path to financial liberation take on a shared political agenda that included UBI (which would selfishly shorten the years to liberation from the necessity of paid employment), few liked it because they would have worked hard for their financial freedom, and thought that others should have to pull themselves up as well. However, when I coupled that with Universal Service, it was very palatable. 

Although “Universal Service” is often talked about in terms of the military, that view is too limited. It could be ecological restoration, it could be social services, it could be apprenticeships, it could be growing food, or it could be environmental cleanup, or a version of Habitat for Humanity, it could be aging-in-place support, or even a self-created pathway of service. In the military, people get to learn a trade as well as get lifelong benefits once they’ve put in their time. We can see examples of this, whether in the Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps or in programs like AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, Vista, and free medical or legal education in exchange for serving under-served populations for a few years.

The side benefit would be mixing people from all classes and backgrounds into a shared experience which could have a similar benefit as military service: bonding, tolerance, and shoulder-to-shoulder camaraderies with people you’d never know otherwise.  Another side benefit would be basic training—not doing ropes courses, but filling in the holes in education and discipline – to provide greater readiness for life.

The Universal Service feature of a basic income would not need to be the only form of giving to society as well as receiving from society. People already in the workplace could fulfill service through something like the National Guard. The basic idea is joining the mechanism of UBI with the struggle by societies to form common cause and common values and restore in our hearts that brotherhood and sisterhood that gets people to hang together and work together.


  1. Sounds a bit like Marxism – and look where that got Russia!
    I think that Denmark has got it right: a consentual philosophy that, if a socity provides the basic services such as good healthcare and education to all its citizens (albeit in return for a higher taxe rate) they won’t be as anxious about obtaining the fundamental necessities of life thereby resulting in a more peaceful, egalitarian and productive society. Afterall, it was the Scandanavians who invented such now-popular concepts as “hygge” and “lagom” (though it was Aristotle who first introduced “the golden mean”).

    Juliet Ippolito
  2. Absolutely agree!! I’ve been speaking with various local agencies in my county to try and develop youth conservation corps type programs for wildfire prevention. They are all pretty set in their ways and stuck in their financial silos with unnecessarily difficult grant applications a common barrier. Now that the money is there — at least in the coffers of the California state government — most people can’t figure out how to get it out.

    I’ve also been helping create an event Nov 2 in Santa Cruz featuring Dr. Delton Chen, a geohydrologist and futurist who has invented the Global Carbon Reward. The time may be right for its universal appeal — creating a carrot for large companies and governments to reverse global warming. In the process, I’ve worked with Bob Stayton, who wrote the easily digestible book Solar Dividends about basic income secured by everyone’s investment in solar arrays for their children. These two are geniuses, and there are more out there just trying to figure out how to get attention for their altruistic and totally achievable ideas.
    The event will be in person but also people can tune in on Zoom. We hope to broadcast it and record it, so you can sign up and encourage people to sign up. I’ve listened to many of your podcasts, and I’m so happy you are still chipping away at these monumental issues. If we can stop labeling these very tangible programs socialism, our enemies will lose interest. I really want to find new ways to build community locally all over the world at the same time. That’s how we succeed and survive, don’t you think?

  3. Vicki – As usual, you are ahead of the times. The combination of these two concepts feels so right – especially for these times. Here’s to more people being open to rethinking one’s role and duty in the concept of community… and what that would look like in practice. I for one, think you’ve nailed that later part!

  4. This is common among religious girls in Israel. While most boys serve in the army, religious girls are exempt, and a large portion spend 1-2 years doing national service. They work at national parks, museums, old age homes, schools, hospitals, boarding schools, etc….it is a fabulous alternative to army service that provides real life experience and skills to young women just out of high school.


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