Liberty in Low-G: Basic Assistance
This article may contain spoilers through the second season of The Expanse TV Show, and the first two novels.
An idea that’s been circulating present-day politics is the potential implementation of Universal Basic Income. In The Expanse, documented Earth citizens who don’t have a job can receive a form of welfare called Basic Assistance (“Basic”). Basic isn’t just free money though, it’s a comprehensive, redistributive socialist welfare program that ostensibly provides food, shelter, entertainment and any other basic needs to those that can’t provide for themselves.
What’s interesting in The Expanse is that Basic isn’t portrayed as a glorious human achievement. It hasn’t liberated the working class from their capitalist oppressors nor freed the common person to pursue their own self-interests.
“Then the world will be for the common people, and the sounds of happiness will reach the deepest springs. Ah! Come! People of every land, how can you not be roused.”
― Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
Far from how Karl Marx expected the communist revolution to turn out, The Expanse realistically portrays massive redistributive welfare programs to be a tool of oppression. The politically-connected (i.e. United Nations officials) benefit through the giant bureaucracy they created while the less fortunate are relegated to perpetual welfare. The only hope someone on Basic has to move up the social ladder is to win an apprenticeship through a low-odds lottery system.
In the second season of the TV show, Madam Avasarala explains to Bobbie how the majority of people on Earth are unemployed, but it’s not because they’re lazy (supposedly), it’s just because the government can’t provide enough jobs. The obvious fallacy being that it’s the government’s role to provide people with opportunity in the first place.
It’s not that they’re lazy, you know. It’s just that we can’t give them enough opportunities.
― Avasarala, The Weeping Somnambulist
Perhaps the most horrifying policy associated with Basic Assistance is the birth restrictions that are put in place to control population growth. Those on Basic are forced to take a contraceptive and can only “earn the right” to have a child if they get a job(1). Although most would agree that it’s a bad idea to have children if you can’t afford to care for them, the notion of the government forcing birth control should be deeply disturbing to any libertarian. It’s reminiscent of the 1909 California Eugenics law which in turn inspired the Nazi Eugenics program. As a result, any children conceived in excess of the population-control laws become “Undocumented”, a new underclass of citizens who don’t even qualify for Basic Assistance.
The Expanse is filled with numerous examples of the problems that massive redistributive welfare programs could bring. The city of Baltimore has turned into a giant, crime-ridden slum, controlled mainly by gangsters(2), and the streets of New York are full of homeless Earthers living in “tent cities”. Either there’s not enough Basic housing for all the people that want it (funny how scarcity works), or those living on the street are “Undocumented” and thus ineligible for Basic.
I believe that every American should have stable, dignified housing; health care; education – that the most very basic needs to sustain modern life should be guaranteed in a moral society.
“Basic Assistance” in The Expanse is an incredibly realistic portrayal of the unintended consequences that come along with “progressive” wealth redistribution programs. Although the United Nations politicians in The Expanse may have conceived the Basic Assistance program from a place of compassion, the inevitable consequence of socialism is heartless totalitarianism and perpetual poverty for the masses.