Valerie Rice | March 15, 2021
I know I have touched on this topic before but I feel that it needs review. Motivation is that thing that gets us up in the morning. For some, it is the heavy bellows of responsibility. For others, the whispered promise of wealth. When those fail, the promise of adventure can be enough to haul a sleeping person from their warm bed to face a wintry day. And still, we are met with those who have zero interest in the above mentioned activities. Does this surprise me? Absolutely not. Almost ¼ of people in the US rely on government assistance to survive. And that is generous, given that the information is pre-pandemic. I shudder to see the 2020 numbers. I ask myself then: do we lack motivation, or are we burned out by capitalism?
THE NEW BIG THING
Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, many parents will now receive direct payments every month based on the number of dependents they have. While this is a new spin on a tax credit, it is essentially a universal basic income, and will pull hundreds of thousands of children and families out of poverty. Click the link above to see exactly how it will affect you. Great. What does this have to do with motivation? Quite a bit. Despite the protestations from republicans, universal basic income has been shown to increase productivity and employment whenever it has been used. Now, some of you may be confused as to why this is. Remember when we said money was not a motivator for everyone? Well, that’s true. Survival is also not a good way to motivate people to work. In fact, when people work for survival only, productivity and motivation tend to not only go down, but disappear altogether.
WE NEED CARROTS, BUT NOT ON A STICK
I am sure we are all familiar with the image of the dumb animal being led by a carrot on a stick; the tempting but not quite attainable reward that the poor creature is constantly plodding towards. That is us. We are the dumb animal. Money is the carrot and the jerk with the stick is our capitalist overlord. Yes, we all have one. Yes, we all fall victim to this dynamic. What happens if we never get that carrot? Well, the animal will die from exhaustion and starvation. So too will we. And no, I am not exaggerating. In fact, an estimated 245,000 people die from poverty in the US every year (pre-covid). For more on how poverty affects people, check out this link. Survival is a great motivator, for sure, but not in the long term. In fact, survival as motivation always does more harm than good.
So we just give people money? For nothing?! Yeah. We do. Because it isn’t just for nothing. Let’s look at Maslow again, shall we? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans will first and foremost try to secure their basic physical needs such as food, clothing, shelter and safety. Until these are met, they will not work on anything else. From the capitalist point of view, this is all they need. Unfortunately, humans are far more complex and will not only fail to thrive, but whither and die, if they are unable to move up the pyramid and work on higher needs. Most companies can’t wrap their heads around this concept because they are stuck on Skinner’s behaviorism in which an animal is either tortured or rewarded for their behavior.
By providing for our basic needs in the form of UBI, the survival mode is turned off and humans are allowed to flourish. Companies will no longer be able to exploit labor (boo hoo) and manipulate their employees with existential threats, which means that people will become more motivated to work to their strengths, availability, and interests. When people can do this, their productivity goes up. So does their mental and physical health. The money provided to people is almost immediately spent in the local community, circulating and generating 3x its initial value, which does not happen when a wealthy individual is given money. Another wonderful aspect of UBI is that the community’s crime rates drop, which boosts the value of the community as a whole. The only people who do not like this idea are the ones in charge of the larger companies and for profit prisons.
Are you lazy or is it just rampant capitalism? Well, what would you do if your basic needs were met? I would finish the books I am slowly writing in between paid jobs. I would probably open a used book store at the same time. I have so many dreams that are unattainable thanks to the cost of living and raising children. If you were no longer burned out from work, how much time could you speed with your children, helping them with school work, enjoying each other’s company, being there for each other so that they don’t have terrible teenage years full of regrettable decisions and perceived neglect? Our lives could be so much better if our society was one of social support instead of social control. This may be a temporary step, for now, the improvements it will make to many should convince us to make the change permanent and hopefully take more steps in the right direction. Until next time, Be Well!