Universal Basic Income is Tenure for Writers

Apparently, today is the day that I can’t take it anymore and start ranting wildly about Universal Basic Income.

Years ago I was asked while on a panel at a convention, how can a writer best go about making money with their book?

My answer remains the same:  put your book aside, go into politics, and fight for Universal Basic Income.

Writing is a terrible, awful, horrible way to make money, and it always will be.

Because see, the best and most important writing won’t be recognized and rewarded in its time. It’ll be ahead of its time.

But once we have UBI, that won’t matter, and writers will be free.

Universal Basic Income is tenure for writers.

As long as writers rely on making money to be allowed to spend time writing, they are forced to constrain themselves to what is commercial.

Writers should be looking to the future, inventing new ideas, and pushing at boundaries.

This is incompatible with remaining commercial.

We need Universal Basic Income because it is the right thing.

But as a side effect, once we have UBI, the arts will FLOURISH.

* * *

“Universal Basic Income is tenure for writers.” –me

I was more likely to think of this, because I spent LITERAL YEARS making sacrifices, doing ALL of the childcare, and providing emotional support in order to help my husband get tenure.

And I am SO OUT OF MY MIND JEALOUS of his tenure.

Because you know what? When my husband got tenure, nothing really changed for me.

My livelihood hinged on getting along well with my husband before he got tenure. And then HE GOT TENURE! AMAZING!

And… um… my livelihood hinges in the exact same way on getting along with him.

Sure, my husband is less stressed out now that he has tenure. HIS LIFE CHANGED. And okay, I don’t have to worry about him getting fired.

But I didn’t get a new and more respected status. I didn’t start making money in a more secure way.

Just like a 50s housewife, I sacrificed to help SOMEONE ELSE get a better job, and just like a 50s housewife, my life still fucking hinges on SOMEONE ELSE’S job.

I want Universal Basic Income.

See, I’ve been doing worthwhile, important work for years. I’ve been raising amazing children, and writing amazing books, and goddamned editing a whole magazine all by myself.

And you know how much money I make?

Well, in my best year, I think I made 3k. For the whole year.

We goddamned fucking need Universal Basic Income.

Here’s the real kicker…

My husband wouldn’t have got tenure without my sacrifices. He knows that. He started out with ALL the privileges, like literally ALL of them, and still wouldn’t have got tenure without a whole other privileged person sacrificing her own life.

So, we’ve built a society where success depends on privilege + privilege + sacrifice. Most people don’t have that. Most people don’t have half of that.

And yet, it’s my husband’s tenure that lets me be a writer.

What the hell?

This is a BAD system. We need UBI.

Every argument against Universal Basic Income fundamentally comes down to:  I want some people to suffer.

* * *

Look, this is an unpopular opinion for real… but writers have been fighting the wrong battle all along. Piracy has never been the enemy. Readers, viewers, distributors… aren’t the enemy.

The enemy is a society that squeezes every drop of capital out of its citizens.

We shouldn’t be fighting to get paid for our work. We should be fighting for everyone to be paid a living wage.  Everyone, not just writers.

And our special skill is our voices—using them in a powerful way—so we have a special responsibility to fight for more than ourselves.

I want people to read my work, AND I want to be able to eat and have health care.

I don’t want to be able to eat and have healthcare BECAUSE people read my work.

I’ve lost friends over this distinction, so I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut. But I don’t deserve basic rights because I’m a writer. I certainly don’t deserve basic rights because I’m a good enough writer to make it.

I deserve basic rights because I’m a living, feeling being.

So, yes, Disney should pay their writers. Publishers should pay their writers.

But for goddamned hell’s sake, that shouldn’t determine whether anyone can afford food and health care. And when we act like that’s WHY they should pay, we’ve already fucking lost.

When corporations are able to turn the argument into one of survival instead of ethics, they can make us turn on each other because pirates are taking food out of our mouths.

But pirates never took food out of anyone’s mouths.

The ability to write great fiction should NEVER be a prerequisite to basic survival. When the corporations hoodwinked us into believing it was, they got us to turn on everyone doing the hard labor of working at restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, care facilities…

We’re not better than other laborers, and since writers use their voices to invent new worlds, steering the direction of this world by effecting what this world is able to imagine, we owe everyone else better than clutching at the dollars that piracy might represent.

So, yeah, I know that a lot of the people I know are gonna hate this thread.

But I’ve been scared into being quiet about this for too long.
Everyone deserves food, health care, shelter, and warm clothing. Not just those of us who can spin our words into fancy tapestries.

I support universal basic income.

Once we have UBI, then anyone can be a writer, and it won’t just be for the privileged.  Which, to be clear, RIGHT NOW IT IS.

Society needs to take care of everyone.  Not just people who can somehow prove their worth by making art.

And yes, I know, it’s possible to care about more than one thing at a time. And yes, it doesn’t have to be one thing or the other…

Except it kind of does. Because when you say you need the money represented by piracy in order to eat… you’re buying into the broken system.

If you don’t buy into the broken system that blames writer-hunger on pirate-theft, then suddenly you need the money represented by piracy because…


You want it?

Doesn’t have the same ring, does it? To get that extra punch, you have to throw everyone else under the bus.

We make the narrative.  It’s time we made a better one.

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