Category Archives: universal basic income

4/8/18: Collapsed Labor Share of Economy 1947-2016

The frightening fate of the U.S. labor is best highlighted by the share of labor in economic output. Fred database only provides the data through 2014, and then stops. BLS provides data through 3Q 2016, and then stops. No one bothers to measure the contribution of the largest factor of production to the economy any more. Here is the BLS data:

The share of labor contribution in total economic output has, basically, collapsed. The slide started with the technological revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, followed by computerization and supply chain management revolutions of the 1980s and 1990s. But the real collapse took place starting with 2002 post-dot.Com bust. Despite the tight labor markets and very low unemployment, labor share never really recovered from this decimation.

If this chart offers a stark cross-reference to socio-political environment we are living in today, such cross-referencing is not ad hoc. Labor is what we, people, have to supply in return for the life's necessities and luxuries. For the majority of us, it is ALL that we can supply.  Even our assets, such as homes and pensions savings are, ultimately, tied to labor, not to capital, because their performance is linked to our peers' labor-paid demand. A middle class house is an asset to other middle class households. It is not an asset to the jet-set shopping for homes in the Hamptons. When that demand collapses, as is currently happening in a number of rapidly ageing economies, real assets we hold turn out to be if not completely worthless (, at least severely depressed in value (

So a decline in economic value added share accruing to labor is a transfer of income (and therefore wealth) from those who work for living to those who invest for living (invest in technology and/or financial assets). This game is a zero sum game even after we account for pensions funds and household investments: someone loses (labor), someone gains (investors). It is made even worse by higher taxes on labor and by transfers via monetary policy (Quantitative Easing).

The only way to offset such transfers is to vest labor with claims to financial returns. In other words, by providing workers with shares in the financial markets. Simply taxing and shifting income from higher earners to lower earners won't do the trick, because some higher earners are generating their income through labor (and human capital), while others are doing so through inherited and acquired financial assets. Taxing income of the latter implies taxing incomes of the former, which, in turn, depresses returns to investment in human capital (or, ultimately, returns to investment in labor).

Basic income structure of the future will have to achieve exactly that: create broad share ownership of financial instruments linked to financial and technological capital amongst those supplying labor.

16/1/2015: Universal Basic Income v Unemployment Insurance

The idea of a universal basic income (UBI) has been in the news recently primarily because of the Swiss referendum on the topic, but also because it is gang traction as a functional substitute for the existent systems of social welfare provision.

An interesting recent paper by Fabre, Alice and Pallage, Stephane and Zimmermann, Christian, titled "Universal Basic Income versus Unemployment Insurance" (December 18, 2014, CESifo Working Paper Series No. 5106: compared "…the welfare effects of unemployment insurance (UI) with an universal basic income (UBI) system in an economy with idiosyncratic shocks to employment."

On positive side, both policies "provide a safety net in the face of idiosyncratic shocks. While the unemployment insurance program should do a better job at protecting the unemployed, it suffers from moral hazard and substantial monitoring costs, which may threaten its usefulness." Much of these effects are addressed through rather disruptive and painful 'labour market activation reforms' that commonly coincide with periods of elevated unemployment, thus inducing even greater personal, social and economic hardship.

The authors conjecture, in line with much of theoretical and empirical literature, that "The universal basic income, which is simpler to manage and immune to moral hazard, may represent an interesting alternative in this context."

The study calibrates an equilibrium model with savings to data for the United States for 1990 and 2011. The results "…show that UI beats UBI for insurance purposes because it is better targeted towards those in need."