Lee Camp Original

Lee Camp: We Know the Silver Bullet to Ending Poverty and Destitution But Choose Not to Use It

Basic income has been tried successfully countless times. So why the hell isn’t the U.S. government implementing it?
[Rodger Evans / CC BY-ND 2.0]

By Lee Camp / Original to ScheerPost

Here’s how the world should operate in simple terms: A certain country or region or city or township or Hobbit hole tries something in order to help their society or group or hovel — if it works, other places then do it. If it doesn’t work, other places don’t do it. It’s like when you were a kid and you saw your brother slide down the banister and rack himself on the newel post — You then thought, “Maybe that activity is not for me.” But if he didn’t nail himself in the jewels, you probably thought, “I think I’ll try that.” 

That’s how the United States government should work, but it doesn’t. For-profit healthcare, corporate personhood, the drug war, funding terrorists overseas that we call “moderate rebels,” etc. — all of these things have been tried, they fuckin’ suck every time, and we keep doing them. The U.S. continually racks itself on the newel post all day long and then responds, “I think I’ll try that again.” 

But the reverse should be true also — if a city or country anywhere in the world tries something and it works great, we should do it. 

This brings me to Universal Basic Income: everybody receiving money from a government simply for being a citizen, no questions asked. It’s high time we try it in the U.S. and see whether it works. Oh wait, I just remembered — it’s been tried countless times and worked every damn time. How do I know that? …Reading

As Rutger Bregman details in his book “Utopia For Realists,” UBI has been tried many times — in Canada, Alaska, Africa, the U.S., Europe, and more. Even backwards lawless lands like North Carolina have experimented with it.

There was a study in Britain where 13 men who had lived on the streets for years were given £3,000 each (about $4,500 at the time). Did they use it for hundreds of pricey almond milk lattes, or giant bags of crack, or maybe just wad it up into balls and wipe themselves with them? Nope, turns out they didn’t do any of those things. Eighteen months after receiving the money, over half were no longer homeless, and all of them had improved their lives significantly.

As Bregman noted, “Even the Economist had to conclude that ‘the most efficient way to spend money on the homeless might be to give it to them.’”

No! We can’t possibly do that! We here in the U.S. have to take the money meant to help the homeless and launder it through all kinds of plans and incentives and bureaucratic digestive tracts that result in one out of every 100 people in extreme poverty receiving a gift certificate for a free basket of breadsticks at Arby’s. 

In another program Bregman describes, everybody in a village in Kenya was given $500, about a year’s wages. Several months later, the village had been completely transformed. People had better jobs, sturdier home structures, and healthier kids. “In Namibia figures for malnutrition took a nosedive (from 42% to 10%), as did those for truancy (from 40% to nothing) and crime (down by 42%),” writes Bregman. 

So basically there’s almost a silver bullet to ending poverty and decreasing crime. Well, we better avoid it like the plague. Let’s go back to giving homeless people a can of soup and a pair of mismatched socks. If they collect enough cans and socks, they can build a house out of them!

The point is basic income has been tested numerous times. By 2010, there were income transfer programs for 110 million families in 45 different countries. In North Carolina, in 2001 the Cherokee were getting $6,000 a year per family thanks to a casino they had built. When that started, for most of those families that money took them out of extreme poverty, and the Cherokee children saw drastic changes. Their crime rates, behavioral issues, and alcohol abuse went down significantly. The money literally changed their lives. (And sure, all casinos are based on drunk people spending money they don’t have on machines they don’t know are rigged in hopes of getting money they will never get. But you can’t get mad at the Cherokee because that’s also the basic definition of capitalism. : Drunk people spending money we don’t have on machines we don’t know are rigged in hopes of getting money we’ll never get.) 

The University of Manchester summarized many UBI programs in poor African communities. They found, overall, the money was put to good use: Poverty decreased, and while the programs cost less than other so-called solutions, there were myriad long-term benefits that impacted  health and safety. How shocking! The thing we know works seems to work! (Hopefully somebody can study this a little more and find out if it works.)

Bregman then writes of NGO workers, “So why send over to Africa expensive white folks in SUVs when we can simply hand over their salaries to the poor?” Great point. At the very least, let’s give away the SUVs. 

The latest basic income “test” reported on last month in Fast Company showed that it worked yet again in Hudson, NY. Despite all of these successful trials, people still argue, “We can’t have basic income because the poor will just use it for beer and cigarettes!” Well, first of all — So what? The world’s on fire. Beer and cigarettes sound like just what the doctor ordered. In fact, I think we’re at the point when we can call alcohol and tobacco survival foods. (I am a longtime supporter of Universal Basic Beer and Cigarettes.) 

But perhaps more importantly, as Bregman notes, “A major study by the World Bank demonstrated that in 82% of all researched cases in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, alcohol and tobacco consumption actually declined.” Declined? Well, then I have to say these poor people have their priorities completely wrong.

Another major argument against UBI is, “It’s not fair. Giving people money for doing nothing simply isn’t fair.” My response to that is twofold. First, it actually is fair because the money would go to literally everyone. Hence the word “universal” in the name. (It would be weird to have something called “Universal Basic Income” that only went to a vintage clothing store clerk named Stanley.) Secondly, who told you fairness mattered in life? Who told you fairness has anything to do with our stupid world? There’s no fairness. In the first three seconds you come out of the womb, life is not fair. You’re covered in blood and mucus, some doctor slaps you on the ass, and you’re told your name is something you’ve never even heard before! Completely unfair. You’re just lying there going, “Chet? My name’s CHET?!” 

Some people are born rich as shit.

Some people are born poor as shit.

Some people are born hot as shit. (I mean, not as a baby but… later. You get the point.) 

Some people are born in wealthy areas with safe streets, good schools and clean water.

Some people are born in poverty with crime-ridden streets, terrible schools, and water that has a crispy film on the top like a cancerous crème brulée.

In our society, on average, men get paid more than women, white people get paid more than Black people and Native people, and most everyone gets paid more than ugly people. (I’m not even kidding — ugly people earn up to 15% less per hour in the workplace.)

Society. Is. Not. Fair. 

So if I say that universal basic income would solve several of society’s problems and someone responds that UBI’s not fair, they’re being completely illogical. It’s like if I said a law against killing endangered species would save the exotic birds, and you retort, “But we can’t do that because it’s not purple.”

Besides, perhaps giving people a better shot at life, a better shot at not struggling day-in and day-out, perhaps that’s actually more fair than this shitstorm we have now.

Another argument against UBI is that it will make people lazy. And I would agree with that except… it’s not true. Studies show it doesn’t make people work less and even if it did, I would say, “GOOD!” Under capitalism you are born free, but then you spend the rest of your existence trying to rent back your life from corporate rulers. So if UBI decreases that slavery by a percentage point, that’s a good thing. 

And the final argument against UBI is that we can’t afford it. Well, as Bregman notes, “Eradicating poverty in the U.S. would cost only $175 billion, less than 1% of the GDP. That’s roughly a quarter of the U.S. military spending.” 

So not only do we have enough money, but we also would be saving hundreds of billions in the form of services we wouldn’t need anymore. We’d have a more physically and mentally healthy population, decreased crime and abuse, etc. All told, we would save so much more than we would lose. And even if we didn’t — I DON’T CARE! I WANT TO END POVERTY! 

Anyway, it’s time for universal basic income. Technology advances exponentially. Most jobs will disappear. And instead of demanding more wage slavery, we should work less and have universal basic income. Will UBI solve all the problems of capitalism? Absolutely not. It’s the first of many steps toward helping people realize the capitalistic market economy is a guaranteed death spiral that we have the power to stop. 

Lee Camp
Lee Camp

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His new book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his stand-up comedy special can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.

For more from Lee Camp, check out RadIndieMedia.com


  1. Look at it another way. Jobs are being taken by robots. Those machines, that technology, are really the property of society at large. We all joined together to support the developers in terms of supplying food, clothes, & everything else necessary while the tech boffins did the R&D thing. However, we became redundant & lost our right to acquire purchasing power. To make it simple, I say we should share out the wages of the machines to be able to buy what they produce. This would be the National Dividend as distinct from UBI. https://www.socred.org/s-c-action/social-credit-views/social-credit-vs-a-basic-income
    Btw, Douglas’s Social Credit is definitely not the Chinese version. The bottom line is that monetary reform is needed since there is deep seated corruption at the heart of the global money system leading to an entire world sinking fast into a quagmire of debt. Financial capitalism is the *lethal* poison we are continually forced to take on board.

  2. Hilariously clever (and I’m not British so I don’t abuse the word). Your comedic wit is spot on to what ails us, thanks.

  3. Lee I respect you a lot and have agreed with you on practically everything you have said over the years but you have missed the boat on this issue. It is probably the word universal which is making you take the wrong turn. Most of us have dropped the word ‘universal’ and instead call it a “Guaranteed Basic Income” whose purpose is to bring everybody up to the poverty line. It is complete insanity to advocate that everybody including rich people should get this benefit. Most of you people think that the income tax department will claw this amount back from the rich people (who don’t deserve it) but we all know that the rich people write the tax laws. Even Warren Buffett has made the comment that he pays less income tax than his secretary. So it is delusional thinking to think the tax department will claw the money back.
    In Canada we have a government program for people receiving pensions called a “Guaranteed Income Supplement” which uses ones income tax return to establish how much extra you will get on your Old Age Security to bring you up to the poverty line. In Canada all we will have to do is expand this department to include every citizen in Canada and not just pensioners.
    So PLEASE stop calling it a universal basic income and call it a “Guaranteed Basic Income” instead. Hopefully this will stop people from thinking that this benefit should go to every citizen, including the filthy rich. Its purpose to eliminate poverty by bringing everybody up to the poverty line not to give rich people even more money.

  4. Sorry, Lee. I know your heart is in the RIGHT place, but a guaranteed income is NOT the way to go. Far better is a guaranteed JOB!

    We have a HUGE deficit of public works and services that needs addressing now. From decrepit, failing bridges roads, sewers, water lines, you name it, to an aging population in dire need of support services to deficits in public education and healthcare that could all be addressed by a public service employment program.

    None of the foregoing needs are being addressed by the current capitalist system, because there’s no private profit in addressing them. Let’s have a public initiative to guarantee jobs to provide the public infrastructure and services that are so badly needed.

    1. When I was a younger person, my ultimate goal in life was to have a JOB.
      You betcha.
      What more could a human being want?
      I’ll tell you what, you can have my JOB, since you think that is the be all end all.
      Me, and us lefty’s will go with a career, a calling.
      Find our talents, and our drive, and be who we are, not who our boss tells us we are.
      As for those who still deny that fossil fuels are the major problem facing the globe, go suck on a tailpipe, and then repeat your denial for me.

    2. Uh, wrong. Not everybody can work. And, what kind of “job” do you propose giving to everybody? It would be a friggin’ disaster, and ultimately it’d simply be means testing of a different sort. What about someone who gets fired from their “guaranteed” job? What then? It HAS to be income, and yes, it goes to EVERYBODY, including the rich. It’s the only way to be fair. That’s how universal Healthcare would work too: EVERYBODY gets it, from the illegal homeless person to Bill Gates. Guess what? Gates would likely not use it, since he can afford anything. No matter. Same goes for UBI.

  5. Contrary to the Trump/Biden spiel, not everyone can work, and US job losses long surpassed job gains. Then came the pandemic, and many more jobs went under. Currently, an est. 10 million jobless, many with $0 incomes. Democrats had ended actual welfare aid 26 years ago. A few million Americans are desperate for any job at any wage, willing to work long and hard for a bag of surplus food. But all that middle classers hear is Biden’s reality-defying spiel that “employers can’t find enough workers.”

  6. I wish you would think about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) more. The MMT economists don’t support a UBI, and I’m not smart enough to remember all of their arguments against it, but you could ask them.
    They say that the money would just flow out of most people’s hands, just like capitalism always does, and end up in the hands of the rich, I do know that.
    They support a Federal Guaranteed Job Program (FGJP) for anyone who wants to work, because they say that most people get their sense of self-worth from their job. They support a livable UBI for those who can’t work.
    Send them an email.

    1. And if someone can’t work, or won’t work, or is incapable of working? A job gives you a sense of self-worth? That’s the biggest load of horseshit to come down the pike in a thousand years. You want to work, in order to have more, and get you some “self-worth?” You go for it! You know what gives you self-worth? Being able to do what you want and live reasonably well without having to get to a shitty job ( by FAR the most common type of job out there–maybe those economists need to get out more). Most people will still get jobs, since the UBI won’t be a king’s ransom. But if you don’t want to work, and the UBI is enough, well then, that’s fine. I’ve worked all my life, and I have a “good” job, but I’m still a wage slave. I’m 65, and I still have to work in order to get my paltry SS money. I’ve got better things to do than go into work every morning, like play music full time, or travel, or just walk around and do nothing. Doing what you WANT to do, what you like to do, that’s where dignity really comes from. And if you somehow get dignity from work, well, bully for you. Work until you drop dead. People are so whipped in this country they actually see merit (especially for other workers) in working for 30 or 40 years. That’s all they know, having been beaten into submission by our Capitalist, imperialist system. What a goddamn waste.

      1. Yep, that.
        What you said.
        Thank you.
        I’m 64, not 65.
        I will be retired 20 years, as on this coming May.
        I started a nonprofit.
        I teach, make, share music with my fellows, especially young people.
        I assist elderly folks with snow removal and lawn care, as a free, gift of friendship.
        I have been a caretaker for multiple family members struck down by cancer.
        So much else in 20 years.
        I couldn’t have done any of this at a JOB.
        And, the things I did, during those 20 years, needed to be done.
        I wish more folks would take a risk, and just walk away from the machine.
        I have a life that I can look back on with pride and joy.
        And, it’s primarily because I could become the beautiful human being that my mother, and spouse brought me up to be.
        Because I wasn’t chained to the factory floor.
        Instead I am an almost free man.
        Also, because well- ‘ Mercia’, the greatest nation in the world.
        Have a wonderful weekend.

  7. Consider the circular logic of this for a moment. Everybody gets a guaranteed income from “the government” (which is just a reified entity for everybody). The guaranteed income would come from taxes on income. So we’d essentially be funding our collective GBI’s by working our butts off…with a little bit of heIp from the Robin Hood Principle, I suppose. Jeff Bezos’ GBI would be no better than mine, but he’d help fund a lot more of them than I would. Would our GBI’s be taxed as income so that we could fund another round of GBI’s for the next year?

    I would favor a Basic Income Housing credit. You can use it to cover or defray the cost of your rent or mortgage. If you own a home free and clear, then you can convert the credit to discretionary income, perhaps. If you stubbornly insist on living inside the drainage culverts under the freeway, you’ll get nothing.

    If you give people with addiction issues money, they will use it to feed their addictions first and foremost. We’ve all seen that first hand. And those are the very people who ought to be the prime beneficiaries of a GBI.

    Money management is a basic life skill that about 70% of the American public possesses to some degree. The other 30% need strict policies to substitute for the fact that discretionary spending is something they can’t be trusted with.

    1. So, because some people will blow it, don’t do it? That lame argument is used against implementing Med4All, too. The UBI would have to, by necessity, be accompanied by other civil and moral public imperatives, like Med4All, massive spending for transit and infrastructure, drastic and deep cuts to the War budget, the reining in of Wall Street, and last but not least, the confiscation of plutocratic wealth through taxation.
      However, it seems there are more than a few Capitalists and plutocrats out there (the smarter ones, anyway) who understand that a UBI would actually work to stimulate good old fashioned buying of goods and services. It might also keep the proles off the ramparts for a while. So we have a chance to get it, without for now, unfortunately, the other public imperatives I listed. But it could be a start. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s real hard to get it back in. Oh, and a UBI coming from the Federal government would require no taxes from the public, including the plutocratic criminals who run things. Taxing the rich is done, or should be done, to reduce the anti-democratic massive income disparities that the Capitalists use to game and ultimately subvert and destroy democracy and the rule of law.

    2. Start your instructions with the geniuses in government.
      If anyone needs some training in money management, it’s those idiots.
      I am not moved by your concern/certainty about addicted people.
      When did you research the effects of guaranteed income on addiction?
      Could you please provide a link to this research?
      Or, are you employing the old ‘common sense’ metric, to this very uncomplicated issue?
      Give it a rest.
      When I need your common sense, I’ll ask for it.
      Would you mind holding your breath while you wait?

  8. I increasingly question Camp’s intentions, as he seems to provide justifications for various aspects of the Great Reset. UBI will be one of those inticements for people to accept digital wallets. Once we accept that we’re toast- Max Blumenthal has done some great reporting of how digital wallets have been devastating for poor people in India. Camp never discusses the role of central bankers and the Bank of International Settlements as a mafia that bends nations’ policies and laws to serve its agenda- “Nice little economy you got there, now you wouldn’t want to see it crash…” Today these central bankers/the BIS need to crash the global economy to enact the Great Reset/4IR. Why haven’t we brought out the pitchforks yet? It will be too late if we wait much longer.

  9. Note to Gary Mills, GBI would have to be given to everyone, I think that’s Lee’s point. Otherwise everyone will be up in arms that they’re paying and not getting a piece of the pie, and the scheme would violate someone’s “freedom” for something, god knows what, and be overturned in court.

    1. Exactly so. It HAS to be given to everyone. Anything else is means-testing, the Democratic Party’s favorite game. Implementation of Universal health care, or Med4All, would mean EVERYBODY gets it. No means testing, no bullshit. Will some people “take advantage” of it, by whatever means, such as eating whatever they want (because, you know, now you don’t have to worry about consequences anymore–“free” Healthcare–woo-hoo, do what you want!), or visiting your Free doctor 5 times a week? Of course! But those will be the tiniest minority of citizens. And most naysayers know that.

  10. You’re right, Lee, it’s one of the first lessons we all should have learned in our school training and indoctrination and ‘socialization’ into ‘our’ dog-eat-dog world: Society (aka Life) is not fair, or at least this one sure isn’t. That’s why we shouldn’t fall for currently fashionable basic income pitches, publications and TED talks of ‘justice’ advocates supposedly out to end poverty and destitution. After all, why would those overseeing our keep in this unfair world be bothered about any of that, given their historical track record of ‘reform’ (especially when absent of revolutionary resistance to our overseers)?

    Those ‘studies’ and ‘tests’ are for other purposes than realistsic utopia, more like real dystopia. As you recognize rather late in the last paragraph, “most jobs will disappear” in coming years, as indeed already underway with the false flag pandemic (which you and other ‘leftists’ and ‘anti-capitalists’ don’t recognize), used like a wrecking ball to the global economy to destroy jobs, people, and the old unfair world.

    Now our overseers need to find ways to transition us from wage slavery into biodigital slavery in their new unfair world. So let the bewildered herds eat ‘basic’ income, grazing on the new austerity of most minimal dependency upon the masters, until depopulation and social re-engineering establishes a fully automated, roboticized new world order for our overseers, no longer bothered by complaints about fairness from the proles.

    Meanwhile, short of this goal, we need to be led into believing this is what we want. So keep cranking out the propaganda, Lee, while the slaughterhouses multiply.

    1. Oh? Homeless people are smarter than you and know that the US would lock up and kill the poor before providing real services. The US HATES the poor and wants us dead. Unlike the shitlibs, we are not fooled.

  11. Thank you, Lee Camp, for your thoughts on Universal Basic Income. If we lived within a society dedicated to the public good, there could be a place for UBI. However, as readers Jho blho and niko noted, the goal of the monied elite has nothing to do with benevolence.

    Much has been written about the establishment of a UBI in context with the Great Reset. Such a program will be tied to some form of digital money that will be disbursed within a person’s digital wallet. As such, all of one’s activities will be monitored and controlled, with an individual’s UBI used alternatively as a carrot or a stick.

    The Great Reset UBI will exist under a totalitarian system of government. All systems of totalitarianism function best within classless societies. With the fraudulent Covid pandemic, we have seen large efforts made toward the destruction of the middle class. The very real potential for an economic crash will surely finish the job.

    Rather than end poverty, a UBI under such conditions will serve to keep people always teetering on financial instability, compliant, for fear of being cut off, and forever dependent and within the control of the State.

    1. Charles Badal makes points clear that I glossed over. People in India have DIED because their equivalent of UBI has been cut off or stolen. The Bank of Inernational Settlements wants to replace the cash economy with a social credit system administered through digital wallets. Its all out there, Augustin Carstens says the quiet parts out loud.

      1. Where to start with your nonsense.
        No one dies because they don’t get a check from the government.
        They die because they are brainwashed into thinking they are helpless.
        You don’t need a check to eat.
        You need two hands, a mouth and a grocery store.
        Eat you dumbass.
        You don’t need a check or a plastic card to do that, do you?
        And, let’s play along with your scenario a bit longer shall we?
        If people in India are really dying because of guaranteed income, I strongly suggest that the US not employ the same system that was used in India.
        Now, don’t you feel better knowing that no one will die because they have income, but no job.
        I know that I do.
        If you know some folks from India, would you please tell them how to eat without a check, so no one else there has to die needlessly.
        Thank you for your anticipated assistance in this matter.





  13. There is not enough profit for the neoliberal capitalist system for things to run smoothly. What is more profitable than never ending wars? A pandemic.

  14. It’s as if this forum is plagued with fourth grade thinkers. but alas, that’s what you get when it’s entertainment.

    I wish this fellow would study —

    International, Western-controlled institutions like the UN (on the policy side) and the WEF (on the private sector side) are poised to step in when the burdens become too heavy for nation states to bear. Social and viral inoculations in hand, they will present governments with a new “social contract” and any country that wants to solve the problems caused by labor displacement and supply chain issues will have to sign on the dotted line.

    At this point, the superficiality that has characterized the UBI debate between political camps will be made to dissipate as the proper conditions and technological requirements to execute a universal basic income model that can’t escape the clutches of an Anglo-American global financial system is on the verge of coming to fruition.

    Opposite branches on the UBI philosophical tree, like that represented by leading light of Libertarian economic theory, Friedrich Hayek, who strongly advocated for a guaranteed minimum income “for everyone“, will be melded with more ‘left-wing’ variations, like Andrew Yang’s “Freedom Dividend“.

    Meanwhile, Big Tech is waiting in the wings and fanning the flames inside the sociological petri dish. Jack Dorsey is just one of the many tech entrepreneurs funneling millions of Silicon Valley money into social justice organizations and UBI through an unincorporated philanthropic project called Start Small, which finances the operations of dozens of socially and politically disruptive concerns, while simultaneously bankrolling experiments and studies for the implementation of a universal basic income.

  15. However, such conclusions become harder to escape once we start to notice the veritable clairvoyance of some notable individuals and organizations, which latched on to the global public health emergency narrative from the very start to push these very ideas forward – namely, a deep global economic crisis and the need to seize the terrible circumstances to bring about a new social contract.

    Barley a month and two weeks into the officially-declared pandemic, the World Economic Forum (WEF), published a blog post titled Universal Basic Income is the Answer to the Inequalities Exposed By COVID-19. Ostensibly written by the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Chief Economist for Asia and the Pacific, the article predicted “unbearably high” social costs and a “flare-up of social tensions” that would result from the incipient outbreak and prescribed heavy handed wealth redistribution as a solution.

    Not to be outdone, Economist Berlin bureau chief, Andreas Kluth, penned a strikingly alarmist Op-Ed in Bloomberg around the same time explicitly titled “This Pandemic Will Lead to Social Revolutions”, warning that the loss of hundreds of millions of jobs world-wide would conspire “to make each neighborhood its own sociological and epidemiological petri dish”.

    If you’re starting to notice a pattern of oddly-placed medical or scientific terminology to describe very broad and complicated matters that relate to how people choose to organize their societies and their relationship to the environment, it is because it is really there and is being used to create the perception that we are sick and need theirhelp.

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