Do We All Deserve a Share of the World’s Natural Resources?

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In early July I wrote an op-ed for Inside Sources, which was subsequently picked up by several newspapers, on why the United States should not implement a universal basic income (UBI). The main arguments were:

  • Severing the connection between work and income creates the illusion that the benefits received are somehow automatic and natural, rather than financed by working taxpayers.
  • Universality turns the history of social welfare spending on its head.
  • UBI proposals are historically popular in the abstract but become controversial when details of implementation become apparent.
  • A “grand bargain” by which a UBI would replace most or all current welfare spending is not within the realm of political possibility.
  • Optimistic predictions of secondary social benefits are naive; most able-bodied Americans who don’t work spend far more time watching TV and playing video games than volunteering and caring for sick relatives. 

One response I got from the op-ed was from Twitter user Jenelle Jessop, who asked:

@RichardMorrison I just read an article where you wrote the cons of a UBI. Have you considered that a small amount to represent the natural resources that are our birthright, as inhabitants of Earth would be fair in a world where everything is owned by few and masses are left out

That’s an interesting premise. Here are a few questions in response:

  • Are the natural resources of the world, in fact, the collective birthright of everyone on Earth? Does every person in say, Switzerland, have as much of a right to the cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the Congolese? How might the government of the People’s Republic of China react to such a claim on rare earth minerals?
  • If you think you have a right to a 1 in 7.9 billion share of all of the commercially valuable resources of the world, are you also willing to put up, in advance, an equal share of the annual budget of all of the mining companies in the world? Are you willing to cover prospecting, land acquisition, insurance, regulatory compliance, and other operating costs?
  • Are you willing to wait between several years and multiple decades for your world resource dividend while mining permits are considered and environmental impact statements are reviewed?
  • If you were to receive a personal share of the world’s natural resources, would you settle for small mounds of raw ore shipped to your home, or would you expect some entity to locate, mine, refine, market, sell, and then translate that share into a cash payment for you? 
  • Would your opinion on laws that restrict or forbid commercial development of natural resources change if you were entitled to a personal share?
  • Would you accept a smaller share (or renounce it entirely) if you decided that the environmental impact of resource extraction and processing was too great? Would it be OK for someone else to accept your share instead?

That’s a lot to think about, even without addressing the idea that “everything is owned by [a] few and [the] masses are left out.” One quick response to that premise is that, while most Americans may not own revenue-generating natural resource operations, the home ownership rate is over 65 percent and the share of Americans who own stocks is around 53 percent. I wouldn’t say that that equals most people being left out.